A Drive Through the Heartland, the Nexus of Energy in the US

November 1, 2011 at 1:20 am Leave a comment

Contributed by Dr. Sarah Warren

As I drove from Chicago to Normal, IL to the Governor’s Symposium on Sustainability in Higher Education, I noted that the corn fields that bring us ethanol (for better or worse) surround Coal City, IL, reminding me that I live not just in an an agricultural state but a coal state. And just past Coal City on I-55, I found a big wind farm– reminding me that the Midwest is a wind energy corridor. And, surprise, surprise– the wind farm sits on active corn farmland.

And the town of Normal?– (I will pass on making a joke as a psychologist about the name)– Perhaps you’ve seen this Mitsubishi commercial featuring a hip, forward-thinking grandmother? It’s short and delightful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wx_X6tCwet4 . Watch out Chicago– there’s competition to the south for cool, green places in Illinois!

At the symposium on greening our colleges and universities, Governor Quinn mentioned his objective of making Illinois the electric vehicle capitol of the US, and that Illinois soybeans form the base for the white paint that now reflects sun off the Shedd Aquarium.

At the conference I learned that nearly 1 million students attend community colleges in Illinois– that’s a lot. And that those community colleges are full of percolating ideas for sustainability solutions in higher education. And all across the state (and US), students, faculty and administrators are innovating, developing new curricula, collaborating, and figuring out solutions to reduce environmental impact, like turning off the hot water in the laundry rooms. (That last one– that’s students at DePaul in Chicago!)

On my return drive to Chicago, I wasn’t in such a rush, and I got to thinking, “This is really the nexus of energy in the US at this juncture in history.” All that was missing were tar sands and an old nuclear plant.

I pulled over to snap some pics of the wind turbines amidst the cornfields (with my beloved iphone), and happened to see a tractor rolling under the wind turbines.  Alas, the tractor is barely visible on the lower left side.  It seemed to evoke the working aspect of these fields– they’re not fallow and replaced by wind turbines.

When I turned around after taking this photo, I saw that I had stumbled onto Old Route 66 (captured below in a blurry manner). It seemed fitting. The road that was used to traverse the US, prior to the influx of the current superhighway system that brought us our ‘burbs and car-dependent lifestyles…

As I drove that day I listened on the car radio to accounts of historic floods threatening to shut down Bangkok– including its historic section with its gorgeous and culturally significant temples.

The next day, an unprecedented October blizzard dumped over two feet of snow in parts of New England, causing 11 deaths as of this writing. See pics and video here: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/240154/20111030/snow-storm-batters-northeast-october-2011-photos.htm And because early snow is wet and heavy, and trees still have leaves, lots of power lines were downed, causing 3 million (that’s right, 3 million) people to lose power.   This is what I call “global weirdness”– the price of our addiction to coal and oil.

As I post this, the 7 billionth baby has been born. The world’s population has doubled in my life time. What will life be like for that 7 billionth baby? And for all the kids who will grow up with that baby and the all the other millions of babies being born, here and abroad? What does this mean for our children? How will we provide food, water and energy for the world’s burgeoning population? Are we creating a world for them in which they can thrive?

So here we are at an energy crossroads in history, not just in the heartland, but everywhere in the US.

Will we use the clean energy technologies we already have that will allow us to protect the planet for our kids? Will we elect officials who will implement policies that promote electric vehicles and level the playing field for clean renewable energy? Will we as voters hold our elected officials to account and engage them in dialogue on the legacy we leave our children?

Are you ready to step up? Post a comment about how you’re prepared to use your spheres of influence!

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Unplugged, Part III: Our Green-ish Family Vacation in Maine This is Why I’m Working to Protect the Planet…

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