Green nationalism vs. resource nationalism (9/9/09)

The Woodstock Town Board in 2007 resolved to make Woodstock carbon-neutral in ten years. Thanks to our forests, which are superior absorbers of carbon, we have a leg up.

That places our town in the very vanguard of green nationalism. It implies an embrace of green technology. We do not, however, wish to be too close to the cutting edge, because we definitely do not want to be cut by that edge.

We should certainly aim for optimum energy efficiency by addressing our municipal building needs.

We should also aim for greater energy independence, continuing to explore alternative energies like photovoltaic panels, geothermal wells, inline hydroelectric generators. As it is, the Town purchases 18% of our energy from wind farms.

Other than a few older cars—a sedan and a couple of four-wheel drive SUVs—our vehicles are mostly trucks, mostly big, and run on diesel. I remain leery of bio-diesel: inconsistent in supply and quality, it has a significant role in the reduction of the food supply and the deforestation of Third World regions.

I think we need to be generally careful of embracing green technologies without first making ourselves aware of some of the costs.

My personal vehicle, purchased under the dealer's certified pre-owned program, is a ten-year old sedan that accomodates my lengthy frame. Up to a point (my car's not there yet, knock wood) it is greener to maintain a used car than buy a new one. On the other hand, the many new Priuses and other hybrids help to make Woodstock feel like a greening community.

Personally, I look forward to owning one of those when the cabins get a litte bigger, but for a municipality, tne drawback in purchasing a hybrid car is the expense of the battery, which needs to be replaced after a few years of heavy use.

Then there's the engine of, say, the Prius, the lightweight permanent magnet of which requires a kilo of neodymium, one of the fifteen rare earth elements; metals common (as oxides) but problematic to mine.

We don't hear much about neodymium, which is necessary also for the generators used in wind turbines. Lisa Margonelli, in Clean Energy's Dirty Little Secret (Atlantic Monthly, May 2009), calls neodymium "the pixie dust of green tech.”

Nearly all of the world’s roughly 137,000-ton supply of rare-earth oxides in 2006 came from China. In the three years since, China has steadily cut exports and begun developing its own permanent-magnet industry.

As we in America increasingly pursue green nationalism, China is beginning to implement resource nationalism. Margonelli observes: "As green nationalism’s potent mix of idealism and fear changes the kinds of cars we drive, it also promises to change the course of globalization."

Our current dependence on fossil fuels carries significant hidden costs, and individual efforts to reduce our collective dependence are laudable. As a municipality, however, we must proceed judiciously as we invest in our future as a community.

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