Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


May 24, 2014

Climate and survival woes as we seek elusive end of energy rainbow

— — Merle haggard used to sing, “one of these days when the air clears up and the sun comes shining through, we’ll all be drinkin’ that free bubble-up and eatin’ that rainbow stew.” The oceans are full of plastic that scientists say will not decompose for perhaps 1,000 years and the glaciers are disappearing around the poles. Whatever we have or have not done is in the books, or as the farmers say, the hay is in the barn.

This global warming business may or may not be true but any serious student of earth’s history knows that cycles repeat themselves. Our industry has not helped the atmosphere protect itself, but the fact remains that much of this may have happened before. Our job as good stewards should be to take care of what we have the best that we can. At the same time, we do need jobs. What are the children leaving school — high school and college — supposed to do?

If we continue to restrict the coal industry, for example, the alternatives do not appear to be very promising at the present time. Nuclear energy is not yet proven to be a safe, cost-effective alternative. The “green drive” sounds good and may eventually succeed but presently the gasoline engine and electric power plants are required to do the job.

It is true that utility companies did know years ago about upcoming regulations and often did little to comply. That might be regrettable but it is understandable in the business principle of putting the bottom line first.

Of course, they did not jump to add new equipment. Naturally, they hoped that political changes would do away with many of those regulations. It might be questionable environmentally but it is almost exactly what any company might try. Those who don’t like seat belts are very likely to avoid fastening them and hope that the law changes.

Time for another reference here — Thomas Paine wrote that a generous parent would say, “if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so that my child may have peace.” If somehow, this generation can find a solution to some of these problems then maybe the members of the class of 2014 will have an easier and better life. We hope so.

In the meantime, the United States Department of Agriculture’s natural resources and conservation service has some advice for all of us about taking care of the land. As I look out my window, I am happy to say that our cows are taking care of a few acres right now. They are keeping it clear and giving back good fertilizer at impressively regular intervals to maintain the soil.

Soil is precious. I notice that a creek project over near Spanishburg is ongoing to help the water flow more naturally and thus preserve the natural landscape.

Water can certainly change the land’s contour. We found that out with our cows and we have to keep them from trampling through the water source so that it can be kept clean. Good soil holds the grass they need — and a little bit of the growing things we all need to breathe — and so protects each and every one of us.

Protecting the good earth is not easy and not a fast fix. For example, in the time it took to build up an inch of soil around the planet from the year that German geographer Martin Waldseemuller first used the word “America” the population had exploded from less than 500 million to some 6.5 billion persons.

Making a single inch of ground took so long that John Smith could bring the first tobacco to Virginia and Princess Pocahontas married John Rolfe and 12 generations would pass before tobacco as an industry would be under siege for its devastating effects on our lungs.

Building up just an inch of good old Mercer or Tazewell or Buchanan county dirt takes up the time it took for Halley’s Comet to first be discovered and then return four times on its epic 75-year round trip journey through the cosmos. All 44 American presidents have been born, raised, and inaugurated. Baseball, football, basketball, tennis, soccer and a host of other sports have come into existence and then grown old in the process.

That is exactly what we all hope to do.

Energy crises have come and gone in the past. Unless we — or our children — can solve some of our current issues, it surely appears that much of society as we have known it is also going to be gone.

Without the rainbow stew.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.


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