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Invest in renewable energy, not fossil fuels

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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner community perspective:

As we step into 2018, I would encourage everyone to have hope. Opportunities exist to fund the bright future we all want. It simply requires an alignment of policy to the principles of the natural world as described by the science of permaculture.

Portland, Oregon, is one of the major cities proactively envisioning solutions to work toward a resilient community driven by the focused efforts of its Office of Sustainability and Planning. Here in the Interior, we recently began this alignment by transitioning the Recycling Commission into the Fairbanks North Star Borough Sustainability Commission. This is a major step in unlocking the bountiful potential of our future, but it’s not without its challenges and not without the unified and proactive engagement of the residents of this community. Oregon also has the ecodistricts program that provides metrics to measure quality of life, environmental health and economic prosperity. These resources are presented, along with financial and technical assistance, to move thoughtfully through evaluation, developments and long-term program management. Permaculture metrics have been around for a while and used by other communities with great success. But it has taken the current political and ecological climate to shake us from the dream of returning to the past.

In the 1950s, many people thought that by 2020 we would have flying cars and live on Mars. Two years out, and we’re constructing a new coal plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling; trucking natural gas from Point Mackenzie; and the Healy 2 coal plant still is not operating. These are investment in choices that keep us bound to the past with little hope of clean air and affordable energy. We talk about the importance of renewable energy; we talk about the importance of Interior air quality; we even talk about divesting in the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile, in action, the U.S. clean energy industry continues to grow 17 times faster than the rest of the economy combined.

As the distant future becomes the present, we must realize the opportunities being denied to us and our children by remaining reliant on fossil fuels. Hope must be born from the courage to face the past and accept that we, as a society, have become addicted. Admitting a problem is the first step in returning to security, prosperity and increased quality of life for all.

We must stop believing the myth that without fossil fuels Alaskans would freeze, or that we are not smart enough to meet our energy needs with clean locally generated renewable energy. Alaskans lived for thousands of years before oil. Without a centralized utility, the community would look like every other village in Alaska: microgrids of buildings clustered around a diesel generator. These days we have the technology to balance the energy equation with suitable chemical and mechanical sources to offset seasonal fluctuation in generation.

According to reports by the Rocky Mountain Institute, in the 21st century, communities across the U.S. and around the world that experienced climate disturbances are rebuilding with a more resilient infrastructure, beginning with energy. More and more rural Alaska communities are developing locally available clean sources of energy, saving thousands each month and ensuring a resilient future for their children.

Solar and wind power are talked about a lot because they are the simplest to maintain, thus the cheapest. Continuing along the spectrum however is micro-hydro, geothermal, then biofuels. This portfolio of diversified sources is how we can establish the on-demand base loads that provide the stability and security we rely on from the modern electrical grid. As an example, without a centralized utility, Fairbanks would build community-scale biorefineries and tap geothermal and micro-hydro baseloads. With conservation and building efficiency programs in place, solar potentially could provide the rest.

Political literacy should be a priority for people everywhere because policy drives economic growth and creates the resources to provide quality of life. Permaculture is a science of the modern age that translates the wisdom of nature, which indigenous people have known for eons. In permaculture, people thrive by learning from their elders and teaching those principles to their children. Like The Force, it helps us understand the connection between our society and nature, between our past and future selves.

The simple and direct principles of permaculture provide a road map for addressing economic diversity, infrastructure development, budget gaps, crime and drug epidemics, unemployment, education, social services, economic development, transportation, energy, recycling and clean air.

Certainly a sustainable future is worth investing in.

Robert Shields lives in Fairbanks and is the founder of the Alliance for Reason and Knowledge.

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The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers’ letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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