We constantly hear “It can’t happen here,” as overconfident engineers and officials assure us that high-tech systems will save us from ourselves.
The promises include: It’s safe to transport oil in single-hulled ships, until the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska; we can safely build cities below sea level, until Katrina smashed through New Orleans’ back door; nuclear power gives us safe energy, until Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl proved otherwise; sea walls and replenishing sand allows communities to build to the ocean’s edge, until the next hurricane; coal can be clean, although our polluted environment proves otherwise; and deep ocean drilling is safe, until one of the world’s most sophisticated drilling platforms blows up in the Gulf of Mexico.
We always expect technology fixes will protect us from our short sightedness. Take South Florida, which decided to store its sewage underground rather than treat it. Only the supposedly sequestered sewage didn’t stay put. It’s leaking, fouling Atlantic beaches and coral reefs.
New Jersey faces four dangerous projects that rely heavily on defective or unproven technologies.
The first bad idea, three, actually, proposes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals off the Jersey coast to receive highly volatile LNG from Europe and the Middle East. It would be unloaded offshore and distributed as gas by pipelines to the mainland. The potential disasters from hurricanes, ship collisions, equipment failures, or terrorist attacks -- such as the failed firebombing in Times Square -- bring to mind the apocalyptic mantra, “Burn, baby, burn.”
The second bad idea is to build a coal power plant in Linden. Proponents say air pollution problems will be avoided by storing most of the plant’s carbon dioxide gasses about 6,000 feet below the Atlantic sea floor, where the gasses should stay for – get this – at least a thousand years. Delusional, at best. Given our polluted land, air, and water; the wholesale environmental destruction from mountaintop mining; and the deaths from underground mining, the slogan “Clean coal” is really a terrible lie.
New Jersey has dodged the third bad idea -- to explore for oil in the Atlantic -- when President Obama, responding to the 500,000 to 800,000 gallons of crude oil – worse than the Exxon Valdez -- polluting the Gulf of Mexico each day, reversed his approval. The mindless “Drill, baby, drill” has been temporarily eclipsed by opponents’ derisive “Spill, baby, spill,” but not for long.
The fourth bad idea is building a new nuclear power plant in Salem County. One small problem -- PSE&G wants site approval before it will tell us which reactor technology it will use, scary, since the safest one are the most expensive. “Glow, baby, glow.”
The United States will never be independent of foreign fossil fuels – we don’t have enough reserves. But New Jersey could avoid these foolhardy, expensive and dangerous high-tech fixes if we had a serious national policy to reduce our “Consume, baby, consume” addiction to fossil fuels.
Our past national energy plan, drafted by industry lobbyists, including Enron, to favor production over conservation, is a predictable failure. Instead, we must reduce fossil fuel consumption, develop alternate energy sources, encourage “green” industries and jobs, slow our uncritical devotion to growth, and change our laws to encourage conservation.
Let’s bite the bullet and “Conserve, baby, conserve.”
Mr. Moffatt is a local conservationist