Saturday, June 28, 2014

Euro Woodpiles

Yulia and I were pleased to read in the news that two counties in the Rogue Valley of Oregon have voted to ban the growth of GMO crops. We spent the spring of last year working on a farm in the Rogue Valley and met some really terrific people there. It's wonderful to hear that this corner of the United States is leading the way in the fight against GMO's.

While GMO's are a big issue in the States, we don't face that same problem here in Ukraine. There is already GMO labeling here, for example, while the US is still working on its GMO label laws. However, we have a different problem that concerns this corner of the world--shale gas. I wrote about the brewing shale gas fracking problem last fall. Since then there has been no fracking near where we live. But recently fracking has come up in a different context--as a way to circumvent Ukrainian and European reliance on Russian natural gas. Right now people are beginning to push the idea that shale gas fracking can create energy independence from Russian gas.

NATO says that Russia is funding anti-fracking groups. Shortly after this report came out, an article titled, "Fracking could free Europe from Putin," followed. The author of this article argues that, while there are some valid environmental concerns, "with good regulation [emphasis mine], shale gas will not only make Europe less dependent on Russian supplies, but that it is also this decade’s best solution in terms of cutting CO2 emissions and improving living standards."

This creates another layer to the already tricky fight against fracking in our area. Firstly, it frames the discussion as if being anti-Putin necessitates one's being pro-fracking (i.e. If you are against Putin you should support fracking). Secondly, what the argument in the above quotation hinges on is "good regulation." We see very little evidence of good regulation around us, so the suggestion that regulation will stave off environmental consequences is not reassuring. While the author of this article is writing in the context of the European Union (which is slightly reassuring since Ukraine is not part of the EU), other major publications do support fracking in Ukraine. The staff of the Kyiv Post, in an editorial called "Frack ahead," makes an almost identical argument: "[B]ased on the record in the United States and elsewhere, we think the environmental concerns are not serious enough to stop fracking." They conclude that Ukraine needs to move forward "even if it means accepting more risks." Like the article, "Fracking could free Europe from Putin," the Kyiv Post recommends that along with fracking, Ukraine should invest in renewable energy: 
Ukraine needs to move in all directions at once – more coal, more nuclear, more gas, more oil – and an even greater effort for more renewables, including solar and wind. These efforts have to be coupled with greater energy efficiency in apartments, factories and commercial buildings.
We happen to actually live on the Olesska shale gas deposit that this article mentions. When we hear that we must "accept risks" from people living in Kyiv, I understand that to mean that we deal with the environmental problems so that they can continue using cheap gas. After all, the environmental risks are local.

These writers treat the discussion as if it were entirely academic. They disconnect themselves from the discussion by focusing on statistics that they read about somewhere else. They propose using shale gas with renewables, which adds another layer of separation. Someone else must create those renewables first. They will not be developing them themselves.

This helps shift the responsibility from the writer to someone else. Someone else calculates the statistics. Someone else develops renewable energy. Someone else deals with the environmental risks.

Since all of us are users of energy in one way or another, it would be a lot more productive to focus on what people can do themselves to fix the problem. Energy use and economics are not self contained abstract ideas. They are fundamental to the way we live. After all, it does not make sense to come to the conclusion that, for example, eating processed foods is unhealthy and then continue on eating processed foods. Energy use is just as fundamental.

The Kyiv Post is on to something when they write that energy diversification needs "to be coupled with greater energy efficiency in apartments." Before starting the enormous project of hauling in tons of water and chemicals to remote fracking sites, maybe people should think about things like insulating their attics. This isn't to say that journalists shouldn't make recommendations to policymakers and the managers of large industries. But to only spend one part of one sentence discussing personal responsibility is not good enough.

One could argue that it is very difficult to change a system as complex, corrupt, and large as energy in Ukraine. I think that this shows a lack of imagination. I think it is possible to abstain from Russian energy without sacrificing the natural environment of Ukraine, but it will require a readjustment to the way we live. Take, for example, the Victory Gardens of the World Wars. Rather than relying on buying food at the store, people began to grow their own to support the war effort. This freed the few large farms that there were at the time to send food to the military. There are precedents, but we'll have to see if Euro Woodpiles catch on. It's a humble idea, though it just may help.

Yulia and I enjoy academic discussions and learning new information, but we came to a certain point where we realized, "Alright we've thought about this stuff, now what?" That is why we are living the way we are and why we write this blog. We felt we had to act on all the lofty ideas we were always talking about.

Next week marks our one year anniversary of living in our home, so maybe I should write a post reviewing everything we've learned about not only using energy, but also about gardening, home repair, living with new neighbors, staying happy in a new place, and blogging.

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