Friday, May 6, 2011

Ruffling Feathers

A letter to the editor I recently published has angered some people (which is not surprising, of course; that's what letters to the editor are supposed to do). This time around, however, the people I've angered happen to be my friends.

It goes like this: in my letter, I question the wisdom, and the impartiality, of the environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (Penn Future for short) in its stand on the natural gas issue. Penn Future has been promoting natural gas as a clean alternative to coal, and I find this problematic, for obvious reasons. Hence the letter.

But I've got friends in Penn Future. I've attended their conferences, supported them financially, met with individuals in the organization socially. So this seems, I guess, like a betrayal.

And maybe it is. But that may be the best reason it had to be said.

At root, my problem with Penn Future's stand on natural gas is that the organization is too much of an insider to see the issue objectively. Penn Future prides itself on being pragmatic and politically savvy, which means it focuses on lobbying politicians and working with state and local governments, as well as industry, to achieve its objectives. That's fine, and it may produce some positive results. But it also places severe strictures on what the organization can say and do.

You won't get radical critique, visionary thinking, or even impolite discourse from Penn Future. What you'll get is tame, middle of the road, compromise measures. The organization's slogan says it all: "Every environmental victory grows the economy." That's about as centrist a position as you can take.

But the environmental crisis, in my view, will not be solved by centrists; it'll be solved by radicals. Centrism gets us nowhere on important social/political issues. It got us nowhere on slavery, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement. Every environmental victory may grow the economy--but it needs to be said that growing the economy is the root of the problem, and we can't solve the environmental crisis by continuing to promote the behavior that produced it. We can't overcome our addiction to fossil fuels by consuming them. Neither can we "bridge" the gap to a non-fossil fuel future by investing astronomical sums of money and building exorbitant new infrastructure as we are doing with natural gas.

Penn Future can't see this, or at least, they can't say it. If they did, they'd lose their ability to influence the political process. But from my perspective, it's not worth influencing the process if, in so doing, one becomes merely another failed part of it.

Penn Future has its approach to natural gas, and I have mine. I can't stop them from pursuing their approach; no more can they stop me from pursuing mine. If they want to criticize my position, they're free to do so, just as I'm free to criticize theirs. And if a few friends get their feelings hurt--I'm sorry, but this issue is too important to let that stand in the way.

So for the record: I'm sorry I upset people. But I'd be even sorrier if I let my fear of ruffling feathers interfere with the work I believe needs to be done.

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