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Approval of Cape Wind is a burst of fresh air in an otherwise grim month

by Gabe Wisniewski

April 28, 2010

If you watch any TV or spend any time online, you’ve seen the commercials: Music swells in the background as a normal and sincere looking engineer locks eyes with you and tells you how ExxonMobil is leading the way to environmentally safe energy. Or you’re treated to a montage of everyday Americans just going about their lives as Big Oil, King Coal or the nuclear industry labor selflessly to keep the economy humming and keep the lights on while, of course, protecting the planet.

This Exxon ad has the requisite affable-looking engineer, meant to reassure you that the oil industry is looking out for you and your children’s future.
Recent events have shown the terrible impact oil drilling can have on people, communities, and the environment.
oil rig explosion in Gulf

The ads are slick and highly effective, and the message is always the same: We care about the environment, just like you. And through the miracle of technology, we’ve made fossil fuels safe and clean. Don’t worry about a thing.

Over the past month, though, we’ve borne witness to the awful truth about our dependence on dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil.

The month began with a spate of coal mining accidents in China, where dozens of Chinese miners were killed in a flood. On April 3rd, a coal barge ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, leaking tons of heavy fuel into the ocean and causing damage to the reef that won’t be repaired for decades. The following week, 29 American coal miners were killed in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. And two weeks after that, eleven workers went missing and are presumed dead when a BP oil platform exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, an accident that continues to release 42,000 gallons of oil into the water every day.

All this in just one month. We can add the horrific toll of these tragedies to the thousands of deaths in the US and around the world that are the direct result of air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels as well as the lives cut short by the impacts of climate change. None of these events can simply be chalked up to bad luck. Catastrophic accidents, cancer and other diseases, and climate change are simply realities of our dependence on fossil fuels.

Every American should be outraged that in the face of disasters like these our leaders continue to parrot the ad campaigns of the coal and oil industry rather than doing what’s necessary to get us off fossil fuels and start a clean energy revolution. At the beginning of this ill-fated month, President Obama announced that his administration would open up leases in new areas of the nations’ coastal waters to Big Oil. Obama declared, "We’re responsibly developing traditional sources of energy," and that, going forward, we’ll “employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration.” Sound familiar?

A campaign by the oxymoronically-named American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity seeks to portray coal as a postitive force in American communities.
This picture points up the devastating loss West Virginia has suffered because of the coal industry.

Image credit: stephendamron

Across town, the Senate could soon begin work on legislation that would increase offshore oil drilling, give away billions of dollars to the coal industry, and handcuff the EPA and states from taking action on climate change — all giveaways to polluter lobbyists and corporations who agreed in return to support the legislation. The politicians are already saying that their bill will lead the way toward environmentally safe energy, and that they’re doing what’s necessary to protect the planet while keeping the lights on. But it’s no truer coming from them than it is when Don Blankenship says it.

But there’s hope. Today, the Obama administration approved the first American offshore wind farm—Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound. These 130 turbines will provide three quarters of the power to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, creating hundreds of new jobs in the meantime. Projects like these are possible in every corner of our country, if we can muster the courage to follow its example.

We’ve been saying it for decades: The solutions exist. We just need to take the first step of saying no to fossil fuels.

Talking points, flashy ads, and political horse-trading can’t change the reality of coal and oil. If our leaders are serious about protecting people, protecting ecosystems, and creating a sustainable global economy, they’d better get to work helping us make our vehicles and homes more efficient, putting up wind turbines and solar panels, leaving coal and oil in the past where they belong, and dropping risky investments like nuclear power.

If you haven’t already, please become a member of Greenpeace and join me in telling President Obama that his decision about increasing offshore drilling is dead wrong. And as legislation begins to move over the coming weeks and months, be ready to work with Greenpeace to remind our leaders that lives hang in the balance.

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