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Energy and consequences PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 16:35

The Gulf oil spill, already one of history’s great environmental disasters, reminds us that our energy demands exact a price in more than dollars

It’s no slight to the enormity of the disaster to say that a cartoon character may have the wisest take on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is sure to rank among the world’s worst environmental accidents:

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Those are the words of cartoonist Walt Kelly, spoken by his possum-philosopher character Pogo, fittingly, in a poster promoting Earth Day 1970.

Any happening as awful as this—an oil rig explosion killing 11 people and resulting in 210,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf daily with no end in sight, threatening wetlands, fisheries, the economy, in fact a way of life in Louisiana—requires something to blame. BP, the giant oil company that owns the out-of-control well, and government agencies are candidates.

When all is said and done, though, the blame cannot fall anywhere but on the unquenchable thirst for energy from oil. The enemy, indeed, is us.

The lesson is not that oil wells shouldn’t be in places where the environment is vulnerable. The way things stand, they have to be. We need the oil. The lesson is that until we reduce that need we will have to face the consequences.

You can say, if you actually want to repeat a mindless slogan of the last presidential campaign, “drill, baby, drill,” but know that a price will be paid in human and environmental consequences.

It is not the exclusive curse of oil. Coal is said to provide cheap energy, but the coal mine explosion in West Virginia in April reminds us that some pay a very dear price for it, including the 29 miners who were killed, and the many hundreds like them who have perished in coal-mining accidents over the years, and the thousands sickened by coal-related illnesses. The price the rest of us pay in the environmental degradation caused by coal-fired energy is less, but still a consequence to be reckoned with.

Government energy policy should be about mitigating and eventually eliminating the consequences. The Wisconsin Legislature’s failure to pass the Clean Energy Job Act means that this state still has no energy policy to do that.

The legislation would have set goals for reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy generated from renewable resources. Beyond that, it would have made a change in state law that could have had an important impact on converting to clean energy—it would have lifted Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants.

While the consequences of oil and coal accumulate in a grim toll of human and environmental suffering, nuclear power plants have been producing carbon-free energy in America for 55 years without the loss of a single life.

There is no more efficient way to produce clean energy in the volume needed to meet America’s needs than by nuclear reactors. Even though no new nuclear plants have been built in the U.S. since 1980, and some plants have been shut down, nuclear power is still able to produce 20% of the nation’s electricity and more than two-thirds of its carbon-free electricity. (Wind power produces barely over 1%.)

Think of the clean energy that could be produced, and the carbon the atmosphere would be spared, if construction of nuclear power plants were not discouraged or prohibited, but promoted as the way to meet growing power demand while cleaning the air by displacing coal plants.

Nuclear power relies on a process that is inherently dangerous and creates dangerous waste, but the technology to deal with those problems has advanced to the point where it is no longer responsible to restrict nuclear power options.

Until most cars are electric, of course, increased used of nuclear power would not prevent disasters like the one playing out in the Gulf of Mexico, but it would deal with one consequence of the demand for energy.

 
Church bells toll for themselves PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 14:57

The other Catholic church crisis—the priest shortage—is threatening to change a way of life in our rural communities

Catholics in the villages and townships of northern Ozaukee County and southern Sheboygan County knew circumstances in their parishes were not improving. They knew that the two priests serving their three parishes, condensed from five parishes some years ago, would be retiring soon. They saw that the large parishes of the Port Washington and Saukville area were down to two priests to meet the needs of thousands of Catholics attending three churches, work once done by as many seven priests.
   
Still, the news that the parishes of St. Mary’s in Lake Church, Holy Rosary in Fredonia and Holy Cross and Our Lady of the Lakes in Dacada and Random Lake may have to merge into one and that three churches could be shuttered and sold as real estate must be profoundly troubling—not just in a religious sense, but as an erosion of the foundation of these rural communities.
   
These churches are more than beloved places of worship. They are cultural and social centers that have nurtured community life, physically and emotionally, for Catholics and other residents as well, for more than a century. One of the communities, Lake Church, is named after its Catholic church, St. Mary’s, built in 1884.
   
The unsettling choices facing these Catholic communities are manifestations of a worsening crisis in the American Catholic church. No, not that crisis. The sexual abuse crisis, ongoing as it is replenished by new accusations and revelations, continues to sap the energy and financial resources of the church. But the crisis that afflicts parishes here and elsewhere in America most directly is the one caused by the failure of one of the world’s most powerful religious organizations to provide enough professional ministers to serve its faithful followers.
   
The priest shortage will mean the end of three parishes and three churches in this area if a recommendation by consultants is approved. Three northern Ozaukee-southern Sheboygan County parishes would merge into one parish headquartered at Holy Cross in the Town of Belgium. St. Mary’s Church in Lake Church, St. Nicholas Church in Dacada and St. Mary’s Church in Random Lake would be closed. St. Rose of Lima Church in Fredonia would become part of the Catholic school and not be used for regular church services.
   
The plan seems to make organizational and financial sense, but no one should underestimate its impact on parishioners. Some would have to travel many miles to attend a church service. Most would have to come to terms with the demise of a way of life in which loyalty to a hometown parish, long preached by the church, was a rock-solid element of the spiritual life of generations of Catholics.
   
Nonetheless, if the plan is adopted, we are quite sure the congregations will make it work. This has been the experience across the country as the rank and file of the church, whose membership, in spite of the challenges facing the church, is robust and growing, take on more of the responsibilities once handled by priests and accept change with, if not cheerfulness, at least resilience.
   
Even as they make the best of the situation, though, there must surely be a yearning among Catholics that the drastic changes they are enduring will somehow trickle up to the church hierarchy and encourage change in that rarefied atmosphere that could relieve the priest shortage on the ground in American communities—the other church crisis.
 
Offshore shrilling PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 16:32

Jet skis enthusiasts have every right to use Lake Michigan, but some sensitivity to the noise they make would improve relations with other lake lovers

You know it’s an early spring when complaining about jet skis starts in April.

Several people who live along the Lake Michigan shore asked the Belgium Town Board on April 5 to do something about a group of jet skis, or personal watercraft, that have been frequenting the lake on evenings near Sandy Beach Road.

The residents said a number of the boats are regularly launched from the beach at the foot of Sandy Beach Road at around 4:30 to 5 p.m. and then zoom back and forth close to shore until after dark.

As one town taxpayer told the board, “you get eight or nine running together and it’s noisy.” He added that the jet skis are often within 100 feet of shore.

It’s not hard to feel empathy for the shore dwellers. Their appreciation of the ambience of Lake Michigan includes hearing the natural sounds of the maritime environment. The lapping of waves and the cries of seagulls don’t stand a chance against the syncopated varooming of jet skis carving turns and jumping wakes.

The terrestrial equivalent of what the townspeople describe would be something like living next to a street on which motor scooters race back and forth for a several hours each evening.

Town Board members expressed sympathy for the residents’ plight, but acknowledged that they are limited in the help they can give. The board may have some leeway in regulating launching times, but the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has authority over the lake. What’s more, the DNR is famously protective of lake access and takes a dim view of efforts to limit it.

That is as it should be. Lake Michigan is everyone’s natural resource, and enthusiasts who prefer to do their boating with personal waterfront have as much right to use it as do fishermen, sailors, kayakers and owners of traditional powerboats.

Still, not all boats are created equal. Slow-trolling fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and sailboats make hardly a sound. Engine noise from conventional powerboats is rarely an issue because these vessels pass quickly by, usually traveling to a destination.

The same might be true of jet skis if they were moving from one point to another, but much of enjoyment of jet skis seems to involve gathering in groups and speeding around in a confined area. For people nearby trying to enjoy the lake in other ways, it is understandable that this can be annoying.

So what to do? Let the jet skiers can handle it. An easy remedy would be for them to move offshore and keep most of the noise that is the inevitable byproduct of their sport at sea. In good weather, in groups, with the wet suits personal watercraft operators routinely wear, and with the mandated safety equipment they have onboard, it should be safe to perform the various jet ski handling exercises far enough from shore that the sounds of their fun don’t disturb other lake lovers.

A conversation about this between the homeowners and the jet ski owners might prove fruitful. After all, they have something in common—both groups take much pleasure from Lake Michigan and have an interest in enjoying it in ways that do not detract from others’ enjoyment of this magnificent body of water.

 
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