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Letting Go of Carbon

David Blittersdorf’s View from the Top

Letting Go of Carbon: The Five Stages of Loss

David Blittersdorf April 2012@0Stick season is conducive to introspection. This year, after leaves have fallen but before the snow has really arrived, I feel more sad than usual. The reason? I have worked personally and professionally for over 30 years to advance renewable energy, but I have yet to see a decrease in either carbon emissions or fossil fuel use. Americans still consume over one-quarter of the world’s resources while making up 5% of its population. We have to do much more, and quickly, or our complex industrial society will crash.

Change can feel like death, because change always involves loss. There is no way we can continue the current American lifestyle. Energy transition is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, because it requires us to plan a voluntary change. To my mind, humanity first needs to move through the five stages of grief (denial, bargaining, sadness and regret, resentment and frustration, and acceptance) over the coming changes before we can move forward.

Unfortunately, after decades of discussion, we still seem to be stuck in the first stage. At the national level, we are living with a deficit of actionable ideas and leadership, brought about by denial. Both ends of the political spectrum are prone to mischaracterizing or minimizing the challenge before humankind. Climate-change deniers refuse to believe there is a problem, and those who do accept the scientific realities of peak oil and climate change are still in denial about the lifestyle shifts required to meet this challenge and survive. Renewable energy will be essential to weather this transition, but it is not a panacea that will enable us to continue to pursue endless growth on a finite planet. Even with significant increases in our renewable energy infrastructure, we will not be able to continue our current levels of energy consumption. We will need to change where and how we work and live, eat and move. We will not be able to drive personal automobiles, even if they are all electric.* This problem is bigger than any one individual, but it is solvable by individual actions under collective leadership.

It is imperative that we plan an ‘energy descent’ for our culture, beginning right here at home. Our only chance of surviving is to cut energy use to 20% of today’s levels, and switch to renewables such as wind and solar. This requires us to drastically change almost everything we do, and how we do it. The first step is to tax carbon emissions, which will decrease fossil fuel use and generate funds for alternatives – and thereby stop the proposed natural gas pipeline, build a viable mass transit system of buses and trains, accelerate wind and solar farms, resettle ourselves into villages, towns and cities to facilitate walkable lifestyles, support local food systems and electrify our economy. Let’s get out of denial, lift our heads and begin moving in the right direction.

Vermont should lead the U.S. by passing a carbon pollution tax, as soon as possible. Why?  Because we can, and because it will benefit us, long-term. A state carbon pollution tax will provide the necessary group incentive toward a much-needed goal. British Columbia has had a carbon tax for years, with positive effects, and can serve as a model. We are now living within a narrow window of opportunity that grows narrower every year – immediate steps are necessary to take action to prepare for and adequately fund a transition away from fossil fuels that will prepare our society for the years to come. Vermont is uniquely positioned to spearhead this transition effort. We are a small state that values independence and resilience, and Yankee preparedness and thrift are still valued here above the average American trends of overconsumption, deficit spending and expanding personal debt.

* See the essay “Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question,” recently posted to Resilience.org by the Milwaukee chapter of the Transition Towns movement.

David Blittersdorf is the President/CEO of AllEarth Renewables in Williston, VT — a company that specializes in the design and manufacture of the grid-connected AllSun Tracker solar energy system. He founded NRG Systems in Hinesburg, VT, and is the managing partner of Georgia Mountain Community Wind.

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