‘Your facts are just wrong. Natural gas is the bridge fuel we need as a state and it is far cleaner than coal.’
‘Ma’am, as I just said, natural gas is composed mainly of methane, which is more potent and effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. This is why it may have a harsher atmospheric impact than coal in the short term. Furthermore…’
‘That’s just not true!’
We had been told time and time again that the fight in Salem would be contentious. There are residents who actively oppose the idea of setting dangerous precedent by replacing a coal-fired polluter with another polluting plant. There are residents who believe that shutting down the coal plant was disastrous for the town’s tax base, regardless of its health impact. And there are residents who do not even know that the coal plant has shut down and even less that another fossil fuel project is proposed for the space.
Yet, besides these warnings, we decided to canvas the Salem Fireworks (sponsored by Footprint, the corporation trying to build the gas plant), perhaps foolhardily so. We stood in front of the crowds with an American flag decorated with our values, and little handouts titled “Declare Independence from Fossil Fuels”. While holding the flag was physically exhausting and logistically difficult with the blowing wind, people did read the flag – either reaching the last value (“We can stop the Salem Natural Gas Plant!”) and smiling, or shaking their heads and continuing walking. Most people we talked to were completely in agreement with what we said, some listened to us only out of politeness, and some blatantly disagreed with us.
Disagreements are central and important to this and any movement. But these disagreements were sometimes bizarre, such as arguing about facts that came straight from papers published by third party groups or denying that natural gas was a pollutant and fossil fuel. Or those that somehow claimed that we were responsible for the closing of the coal plant in town.
I recognize that I am not an expert in the economics of the proposed plant. I can’t fully explain to you how the shutdown affects the tax base of Salem. I can’t fully explain the transmission lines that would connect an offshore wind farm to land to distribute the power. I can’t fully explain how your friend who just lost his job at the coal plant will find another job.
Perhaps I should know, and I’m working to learn, but this frustration is not directed at any specific experience we had in Salem, but rather at how people perceive youth in this movement: naïve because we stand by our ideals. We are not here to solve every economic and social injustice that exists on the North Shore. We are here to draw a moral line.
This is our future. Every generation to come will have to combat the suffering that accompanies increased pollution and altered ecosystems.
So while I cannot tell you how much it costs to build 30 wind turbines off the coast of Salem, I know it must be done. It will be more expensive and take extra work and infrastructure, but creating permanent solutions is worthwhile.
There are people like Bill Koch and Footprint Power who are inhibiting the progress of an entire generation. They are damaging the world in ways they will never directly see. And then spur people to criticize us ‘kids’ as unrealistic in our ideals and visions of the future – the future that we will live to see.
We may be young, but we are struggling to fight a system that intrinsically inhibits progress. Some think that the idea that we can make change is foolish and unrealistic, but we do not think that valuing human life over profit is foolish at all.
I know this vision of a renewable-powered future is possible. It is harder, more expensive, and requires people to actually make change. But this is the fight that will determine the fate of an entire planet. So to the people who currently make decisions that impact those things for the rest of us, we have no more time to spare. Do not wait for future generations to make these hard decisions because it will be too late. Make the choice that is right for the future of this planet and all its inhabitants, not just the choice that is easy.