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Fossil-Fuel Free By 40

We met Reverend Fred Jensen at Dennis Hayes’ luncheon Tuesday on embracing renewable energy sources. Rev. Fred identifies with the vision of environmentalists like Hayes, and has his own ideas on how our region should (and can) move toward a cleaner, greener future by freeing ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels.
Erie County and Western New York are making important strides ahead in the field of renewable energy. All of us know about the hydroelectric power we get from Niagara Falls – here are some other initiatives taking place:
* NanoDynamics, a local technology and manufacturing company, is developing clean energy technology such as fuel cells, is working with an Australian company to produce biofuels, and is also working with Cornell University to develop petroleum-free, biodegradable materials from renewable resources.
* Riverwright Ethanol is building a plant by the lake that will begin producing ethanol by January of next year.
* BQ Energy is in the process of building eight wind turbines in Lackawana. These turbines should be up and running by April or May. The Wind Action Group of Buffalo was highly instrumental in getting this project started. It is a revolutionary project – “urban turbines” are practically unheard of in the world.
* The University of Buffalo, North Campus, is experimenting with hydrogen powered cars. Two Toyota Prius’s modified to run purely on hydrogen, are being driven by campus staff. These vehicles are fueled at new hydrogen fueling station on the campus itself.
* Also at UB, President Simpson has signed a commitment to make the University of Buffalo climate neutral by the year 2020. If UB achieves this, it will have been the first university in the world to make this stride toward a sustainable society.
* Not far away, in Honeoye Falls, General Motors is working on a hydrogen car that could be ready to drive in five years.
Looking at all these exciting developments, I can’t help but wonder if Erie County (perhaps even greater Western New York) could achieve before anyone else in this country what must eventually occur all over the world. If I may use bold language – I have a vision. The vision is that Erie County could commit itself to be free from fossil fuel dependence by the year 2040. In other words, by that year I can see us not using coal or oil for commutes, shipping, other forms of travel, for climate control, or for power.
I was inspired by Sweden’s commitment to be similarly free by the year 2020, but thought their plan was a bit too ambitious. Besides, I am a pastor, and the number 40 seems appropriately spiritual. The flood story in the book of Genesis tells us it rained for forty days and nights prior to God’s first covenantal promise, and the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The number 40 represents a time of trial and transformation, and if we as a society truly are to free ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels, it will require enduring some trials and experiencing great transformation. Nevertheless – we have already taken great stride in the direction of fossil fuel independence.
In addition to the spiritual significance of the number 40, there is a practical reason for 2040 to be our deadline. The Energy Information Administration has estimated that oil production is most likely to peak in the year 2037, although it could peak earlier or later. When it does peak, oil will become very expensive. It would be best if we were done with it before that time comes.
A catchy slogan emerges: FOSSIL-FUEL FREE BY 40.
Adopting this deadline would put us a step ahead of the rest of the country regarding emission reductions. Last July, Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) put a bill before Congress calling for the U.S. to reduce its emissions to levels 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050, called the “Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.” The Union of Concerned Scientists praised him for this bill, holding up evidence that the major problems of global warming could be averted if global emissions were cut in half by mid-century.
Suppose Erie County was to up the ante and commit itself to eliminate all emissions (from burning fossil fuels) ten years earlier than the Jeffords bill calls for? I believe we have the resources to do so. In making such a bold move, we would set an example for the rest of the country.
A great novel refers to Buffalo as the “The City of Lights.” The book of Matthew says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid” (5:14). With our abundant renewable resources here in Western New York, we have the opportunity to be a city on hill in a country that is awakening to the reality that we must find alternative sources of energy. I think we are spiritually called to do so.

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