Faltering steps forward

Going Green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 22, 2009

As in many other sectors, the green world in 2009 was marked as much by bluster as by tangible positive action. This was exemplified nowhere better than at the United Nations conference in COPENHAGEN earlier this month, where President Barack Obama and other international leaders crafted a non-binding climate-change accord that some observers called toothless (John McCain, amusingly, called it "a nothing burger"). Sure, government officials say that getting China and India on board bodes well for US Senate negotiations in early 2010, but there's nothing forcing substantive action on global warming.

Bates College junior Robert Friedman, who was in Denmark as part of the Sierra Club's student delegation, and whom I wrote about in last month's column, had this post-Copenhagen analysis: "Throughout the conference I tried to remain optimistic about how the conference was going to turn out, but in the end, I could not be any more disappointed with the outcome. Do not even for a moment believe the mainstream media in the US when they tell you that the conference was a moderate success. To the contrary, it was an absolute failure. The agreement that was reached at COP15 is perhaps the weakest UN text ever to be drafted and sets the world back to a time when people still doubted that climate change even existed. Our survival was being negotiated and we pretty much missed the mark."

There were some brighter spots on the state level, especially with regard to WEATHERIZATION EFFORTS, for which Maine was specifically praised by the federal Department of Energy last week. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy also ranked Maine in its top 10 this year. A statewide campaign to create jobs and warmth while saving energy and money got legislative support through the Act Regarding Maine's Energy Future, which established goals and task forces but said less about how to actually fund these endeavors. (See "A Kick-start for Conservation," May 22.) Maine received $42 million through the national recovery act to weatherize the state's old and drafty houses; legislative attempts to put a small percentage of heating-oil money toward an energy-efficiency fund failed.

Meanwhile, the State Planning Office and Department of Conservation identified three sites for OFFSHORE WIND-POWER DEVELOPMENT (off Monhegan, Boon, and Damariscove islands). The University of Maine hopes to have its first demonstration turbine in the waters off Monhegan by 2011; the other two sites are up for private-development grabs. But while wind power still excites environmentalists, the challenge of energy transmission was more prominently in the public discourse in 2009. (See "Transmission Troubles," February 13; and "A Mighty Wind," and "Why Wind Power Blows," both from August 21.) A project with the potential for more instant gratification is the local alt-energy GRIDSOLAR proposal, which would hook up large swaths of solar panels to meet gap demand in high-use areas. GridSolar hit a setback at the end of November, when the Maine Public Utilities Commission "ruled that GridSolar is a generation facility not a transmission and distribution utility." The latter would have better positioned the company to fight Central Maine Power's huge infrastructural transmission-line proposal, which GridSolar says is limited in vision and too expensive.

Still, even as we struggle to hammer out the big questions, our personal commitment to living more simply seems unswerving. Everyone is still super-psyched about the farmers' market (which extended its run into November this year), community-supported agriculture (and fisheries! and kitchens!), and backyard chickens; Buying Local, biking, and smart transportation development. In 2010, let's channel that individual motivation to the large-scale enviro movement.

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com.

  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Maine Public Utilities Commission,  More more >
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