Response to "Morality of NIMBY"

In the week following publication of my essay "Morailty of NIMBY," the following letters appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera. All work here is reprinted from 

Harv Teitelbaum: Flawed reasoning

January 6, 2015 (View original)

I don't know Jeff Wagner, but I found his line of reasoning in a recent Guest Opinion ("Morality of NIMBY," Daily Camera, Jan. 2) to be deeply flawed, and his NIMBY label both insulting to Boulderites and lending aid and comfort to a ruthless and toxic industry.

It's one thing to say (and certainly true) that we need to address both the supply and demand sides of fossil fuel use/fracking. It's another to claim that since we may not be doing enough on the demand side, we are therefore "embracing hypocrisy" by microscopically slowing down the frackers.

No, fracking is not a "lifestyle choice," any more than drug addiction is a lifestyle choice independent of the greed and choices of pushers, dealers, and complicit officials. Fracking too is the result of economic, social, cultural, and political factors that all require long-term attention and solutions. Addressing that need for multifaceted solutions, I celebrate Boulder not only for the courage of its commissioners, but for actions including the creation of the county position of Sustainability Coordinator, citizen passage of the city's innovative carbon tax, and CU's successful efforts to reduce it's energy use and stabilize its carbon emissions.

These are all real accomplishments on both the supply and demand sides. But Boulder does not need defending from me. It sets its own course and has always been undeterred by often jealous NIMBY-calling. What Boulder and other cities and counties recognize is that it's ultimately more a position of NIABY (not anyone's) that will help free us from this addiction and reset us on the path to a greener energy future, and that taking that position has to start somewhere. Thank you, Boulder.

Harv Teitelbaum, Chair, Beyond Oil & Gas Committee, Rocky Mountain Chapter, Sierra Club, Evergreen

Martin Ogle: Fracking and new definitions of success

January 7, 2015 (View original)

Being against fracking in one's backyard while still using natural gas is not necessarily immoral or hypocritical. One could be opposed to fracking in areas close to human habitation for health and safety reasons and be for it elsewhere. Someone committed to reducing their use of natural gas could be against fracking — near or far — without holding a contradictory (let alone immoral) position.

These qualifications notwithstanding, I found "Morality of NIMBY" (guest commentary by Jeff Wagner, Jan. 2) full of excellent points. At the heart of the matter is Mr. Wagner's question whether we can "back up our values with action and take some hard steps to divest our lifestyles from natural gas."

To reduce the demand for natural gas we should turn increasingly to renewable energy, including heating air and water with the sun (solar thermal energy) — an enormous opportunity in sunny Colorado, where 75 percent of households use gas for heating. According to the Energy Information Agency, however, Colorado's carbon dioxide emissions increased more than any other state from 2000- 2010 despite having one of the highest renewable energy standards in the U.S.

All efforts in renewable energy and energy efficiency will be overwhelmed if we continue to insist on growing our already huge levels of consumption — not only of natural gas, but of all resources. To move towards sustainable ways of living, we need to imagine new definitions of success, for our present homage to everlasting growth is forcing us towards a dangerous cliff. So, as inspired by Mr. Wagner's commentary, I offer this: limit fracking and other resource extraction at every opportunity, implement renewable energy to the greatest level possible and divest our lifestyles and economic policies from the story of limitless growth.

Martin Ogle, Louisville

Jeff Wagner: Fracking and individual responsibility

January 9, 2015 (View original)

I was saddened to read Harv Teitelbaum's Jan. 6 letter "Flawed Reasoning" responding to my guest opinion, "Morality of NIMBY," Jan. 1. Mr. Teitelbaum's attempt to invalidate my essay is sad and confusing; why would a Sierra Club representative argue against a call to ethical environmental action?

Mr. Teitelbaum's retort denied that individuals can contribute to larger societal problems. Instead, he blames external "economic, social, cultural, and political factors" for environmental problems. This watered-down rhetoric absolves individuals of responsibility. But Mr. Teitelbaum, if we're all just cogs in the machine, apathy becomes acceptable. What I argue is that as individuals, our choices are primary factors leading to environmental problems. We create our own culture, and right now we're creating a culture of consumption. Choosing apathy means giving your vote to the status quo.

As a society, we are unwilling to come to terms with the fact that our opulent lifestyles are at the root of environmental problems, that we pay for environmental destruction. The message in my essay was simple and plain: natural gas from fracking is so widespread that nearly everything we buy, eat, drive, or throw away comes from fracking. A local moratorium is a great statement, but it won't reduce fracking overall. Only reducing consumption will do that.

Jeff Wagner, Boulder


John C. Bollinger: Fracking, violent consumption

January 10, 2015 (View original)

As Jeff Wagner's Guest Commentary "Morality of NIMBY" (Daily Camera, Jan. 2) highlighted, it is hypocritical to continue our over-consumptive lifestyle while banning gas/oil fracking. It is not that our mitigating fracking is immoral, but it is only our "violent consumption [that] demands violent production." As one of many examples, our excess fossil fuel usage may cause a likely two- to three-foot sea level rise by 2100 and a 30-foot rise by about 3000 AD. That's violent.

Emphasizing the imperative to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is important, as in Martin Ogle's letter ("New definitions of success," Jan. 8), but is merely the first step. Only a few of us then take the second step to invest seriously in energy upgrades, solar electricity, electric cars and the like. Our dollar-dominated culture requires the missing third step that would sufficiently increase financial incentives for energy improvements. Thus, we could actually achieve the necessary milestones. Remember the 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed by 2050. Increased rebates and other incentives for sustainable energy are essential to "level the playing field" with relatively cheap fossil fuel prices which exclude the overwhelming costs of their environmental and public health degradation.

We cannot wait for Xcel Energy, our state or federal government to do enough. It must start locally. Now is none too soon to begin laying more groundwork to develop city ballot initiatives to better fund sustainable energy incentives. Lafayette came close to succeeding last November with a respectable 46 percent support (against many odds) of a ballot initiative to fund clean energy incentives with a 2 percent utility bill fee. The city of Boulder has already done similar. Let us not just be against fracking, but be for something constructive, and then put our money where our mouth (and heart) is.

John C. Bollinger, Lafayette


Martin Ogle: Coming together to create an alternative energy future

May 25, 2017 (View original)

Over two years ago, Jeff Wagner wrote a guest opinion entitled "The morality of NIMBY" questioning the moral position of anti-fracking advocates. I responded to that letter, agreeing with his assessment that anyone who is against fracking should put their values into action and "take some hard steps to divest our lifestyles from natural gas."
Recently, Carolyn Hales wrote a similar letter ( "We are not innocent victims of fracking," Daily Camera, May 13) stating that she doesn't think Colorado's regulations on fracking adequately protect us, but calling into question the moral outrage of anti-fracking groups. Since Jeff Wagner's guest opinion in 2015, I have not noticed much collective divestment from natural gas, so I'm compelled to respond to Carolyn Hales' letter with some actions we could and should take. First, we could hold a forum at which alternatives to natural gas is topic number one. Right now, we're so "fracktioned" into silos that we don't work together to find solutions.
Without viable alternatives, I'm afraid the push for fracking will always win out. Almost all of residential (and much of the commercial ) natural gas use in Colorado is for space and water heating. Given this and our state's abundance of sunshine, solar thermal energy should be an important alternative to natural gas. Although solar hot air and hot water are relatively simple technologies, they are seldom discussed and rarely employed in our sunny state, primarily because of low natural gas prices. Let's find ways to transcend this barrier.
Boulder County's Energy Smart program can help homeowners and business owners find and implement a sweeping range of efficiency measures that can help reduce natural gas used for heating and also gas used for electricity generation (27 percent of natural gas use in Colordo in 2015). This program needs much more publicity and participation!
Hales concluded her letter by writing, "When development of the oil and gas we all use happens close to home, we must confront the damage that has supported our comfortable lives all along. We could do with some soul searching along with the finger pointing." I hope we can come together to not only to soul search, but to create an alternative energy future.
Martin Ogle lives in Louisville.