Guest Commentary: Beyond "NO!"

By Michael Grossman, Fifty Plus One, August 31, 2011.  If you studied physics, you’re familiar with the formulas for kinetic energy (K= 1/2 mv2), light energy (E=hf), electricity (E=I2Rt) and, of course, Einstein’s famous formula for mass and energy (E=mc2). Add to these a new seemingly invincible hybrid of physical and mental energy in our democracy: E= stomp your feet and yell, “Hell NO!”

“No” is simple; “no” is easy; “no” is about absolutes. That’s probably why most infants learn “no” before they learn “yes.” Whether you call it stasis, inertia, status quo or any other operative term, the deck is always stacked towards “No” in a democracy, which is why it’s always easier to stop an idea than to implement one.

One of the great modern ironies is if we took all the physical and mental energy used in the inputs and outputs of saying “No” in this country, we could probably solve all of our energy problems.

The recent debt ceiling debate was an excellent test of this new natural law. The ideologically rigid (especially on the right) succeeded with the tried and true tactic seen by every long-suffering parent of a two-year old (read two paragraphs above).

While the rest of the country gnashed their collective teeth over Tea Party ransom demands, the environmental left is now using essentially the exact same formula to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from bringing Canadian (oil sands if you support/ tar sands if you oppose) to the U.S. Sure, the tactics are different–instead of filibusters, it’s flash mobs–but yet the unwavering energy thrown into both of these efforts is eerily similar.

These two groups would proudly proclaim they have absolutely nothing in common, yet they’ve both come to embody this Formula Pox on Americana. Think about it: where do both of these groups put most of their time and energy? Fighting the things they are against while clinging desperately to their beliefs in an attempt to ignore any and all other rational laws of physics or macroeconomics.

Personally, I’m not wild about the idea of scraping Alberta’s earth to meet our nation’s insatiable need for oil–and have fought against similar foreign fossil fuel importation schemes in the past–but the facts are the facts. If you care about carbon emissions, chaining yourself to the White House fence to oppose this pipeline project is wasted time you will never get back. The barn door for Canadian oil/tar sands was opened long ago; the only question now is to which nation it’s going.

Only the Canadians can stop this project, and frankly, its going to take a Fukishima-sized environmental accident to get them to do it. All the traditional scare tactics are going to fall on deaf ears. Honestly, the only Canadian pipeline most Americans are threatened by is the seemingly endless supply of circulation clogging cheddar cheese that crosses the border.

So here’s a message to all of the senders of the “Take Action Now!” emails in my inbox on a daily basis. Be better than the Tea Party, and be “for” something. Don’t wait for the irresistible force to meet the immovable object. Change the physical laws of our republic.

Put all this energy from “Hell No!” into “Hello, Yes!” In 2009, there was a proposal that passed the U.S. House to cap carbon emissions. It would have unleashed a domestic clean energy revolution, but the “Hell No’s” had all the momentum.

If you’re willing to be arrested over a pipeline you can’t stop, unleash an exponential wave of “Yes” on behalf of clean energy projects, and make it impossible for large oil companies to ignore the investment in biofuels and hydrogen technologies of the future.

Instead of enjoying the climate change schadenfreude in the wake of Hurricane Irene that convinces absolutely no one of the righteousness of your cause, scream “Yes” to policies that will create thousands of clean energy jobs–even if it means we have to use some domestic coal and natural gas in the short term to win a national clean energy standard.

Fight for a feed-in tariff. If they could pass one in Pakistan to assist their wind industry, maybe we’re the ones living in the stone age.

We’ve seen the brink that “Hell No!” has lead our nation. Expending all of your energy to duplicate that effort doesn’t make us any better; it just makes you equally culpable.

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