So, let me talk about electric cars and “green” power.
C’mon, don’t look so shocked. I know I write about racial issues a lot — it’s my main focus — but longtime readers will (I hope) recall that I also care and discuss issues like food insecurity, supporting local agriculture, homelessness and more that affect white people in major ways, particularly in Maine.
And power, too. We’ve had battles over wind-power installations in this state, with people more concerned about the aesthetics and politics of opposing them rather than thinking about reducing our use of fossil fuels by taking advantage of what nature does naturally. I’ve seen arguments against letting people sell excess energy from solar panels to the grid or letting them get rebates for installing solar panels.
Now, thanks to our mini-Trump Gov. Paul LePage, the Maine Department of Transportation is proposing annual fees for hybrid vehicles and electric cars because owners of such vehicles pay lower gas taxes than drivers of gasoline-only cars. So, punish the people who want to reduce carbon emissions — and more than that, by making them pay more than the average Mainer actually pays in gas taxes.
How is this about diversity? (In this column, titled DiverseCity?) Because we need more diversity in the ways we produce and use energy. We’ve been burning coal, oil, gasoline, natural gas and other petroleum products enough. Those resources are limited and will, no matter how many oil shale or fracking operations we develop, run out. And we’ve seen the limits and dangers of nuclear power play out, so that’s not the ultimate answer either.
No single answer is, frankly. Solar can only do so much, and comes with its own costs in terms of the resources needed to produce solar panels, the space needed for solar power farms, and so on. Wind power is limited because the towers can be noisy and problematic if placed near homes and businesses, and they too take up space. Hydropower ideas using waves and tides to produce energy have both promise and pitfalls.
And those aren’t the only alternatives to fossil fuels. We have plenty of ideas, and creating more options can only be for the greater good, particularly if they are less polluting and/or use renewal resources.
What we don’t need are people, all the way up to the White House, who are actively hostile to and dismissive of solar power, for example (to the point at least one ignorant politician worried solar power operations would drain the sun of its energy) — and who tout things like “clean coal,” which (a) is something that doesn’t even exist and (b) wouldn’t help anyway because coal has been a dying industry in America for decades and is mining coal is among the most dangerous work there is in terms of American occupations.
More than diversity of power sources, though, we need diversity in transportation, another reason I felt inspired to write after hearing about the plan to tax owners of hybrid or electric vehicles. Having more options for getting around is one of the key answers to having fewer cars on the road. And aside from the fewer accidents that would come from fewer people driving, there is also the issue of fewer emissions and less need for highway maintenance, which is one of the excuses being used for taxing owners of hybrids and electrics.
This leads to more bus services, more ride-sharing, more train access and better accessibility to sidewalks and bike lanes — all of which are things I see sorely lacking in many parts of Maine, and would help people in need. It would go toward a world where we waste less power and spew fewer pollutants into the air.
I’m not saying any of things will bring us to a state of nirvana. I’m not saying that we can necessarily reverse climate change at this point. I’m just saying that we need to do something. And more options — more energy and transportation diversity, or perhaps diversification — steps in the right direction rather than skipping back to a past that no longer serves us.
Shay Stewart-Bouley is the editor of Black Girl in Maine.