Speakers say to think globally to save the environment

Local environmental experts gathered at the Belle Haven Club last week to discuss civilization’s impact on the environment and how to responsibly plan for the future.

The discussion was led by local landscape architect Peter Alexander, who focused on the significance of cleaning up Greenwich’s rivers and viewing environmental regulations in a positive light in spite of the politics that dominate them.

“I want some hope instead of being afraid of our rivers,” Mr. Alexander said. “They tell us we can’t go swimming in them and they’re going to flood us and that we shouldn’t even think about swimming in parts of Long Island Sound. So let’s clean it up.”

Although the Byram River watershed is fairly small at 29 square miles, there is little effort to maintain it, Mr. Alexander said. Straddling the New York and Connecticut state borders, the watershed includes two states, two Environmental Protection Agency districts, two engineering districts and six municipalities. The result of the conflicting politics is that virtually nothing is done to keep the area clean, he explained.

Because both Westchester and Fairfield counties are in good financial shape and have opportunities that other municipalities do not have, they should “be a beacon of hope for planning in the future,” Mr. Alexander said.

Part of that planning should include a town plan that is voted on by residents rather than various town boards, he added.

“It would get positive results. … Instead of getting a permit, demand a plan. That’s my message.”

Jerry Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (NY AREA), spoke at the meeting and agreed that planning is vital to the future of both civilization and the environment.

“Everyone assumes when you hit the light switch, the light will come on,” Mr. Kremer said.

Unfortunately, that isn’t a certainty, particularly in the Northeast, which is an “energy starved region without a comprehensive plan,” he said.

“The lights will be on for the next 10 years in this area but I can’t say beyond that that energy has a great future in this region.”

With coal plants still in existence and no electricity grid of its own, the area’s energy systems are becoming archaic, Mr. Kremer said.

Accordingly, “This region has some of the worst air quality you can imagine,” he added.

When it comes to long-range power needs, Connecticut can’t view itself as different from nearby states such as New York and Massachusetts, Mr. Kremer explained.

“We have to start thinking globally about how we keep the lights on.”

The keynote speaker for the event was Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace and an adviser to NY AREA. In his remarks he also focused on energy resources and explained that he has spent the last 25 years trying to devise “a logical scenario to both continue our civilization, be prosperous, and reduce our negative impact on environment.”

Dr. Moore began his environmental career in the early 1970s when he earned a Ph.D. in ecology. During that time, he heard of a small group meeting in a church basement to plan its protest voyage across the Pacific against hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. That little involvement led to the beginning of Greenpeace, Dr. Moore explained, and he went on to work with the organization for 15 years, becoming a top international director for an association that began in a basement and evolved into a $100 million per year force to be reckoned with.

The experience helped him take on the challenge of trying to figure out how to get the food, energy and materials civilization needs to survive everyday while changing practices and learning to reduce humans’ negative impact on the environment over time.

They key, Dr. Moore explained, is reducing the use of fossil fuels and replacing them with hydroelectric and nuclear energy. The best energy option is hydroelectric to the extent that it can be used, but it is confined because the world’s water resources are limited, he said.

Therefore, nuclear energy is the most viable option in terms of being clean, sustainable, affordable and reliable, he added. Although many people associate the word “nuclear” with “weapons,” all things nuclear are not evil, Dr. Moore explained.

“Nuclear reactors have proven to be one of the safest technologies we’ve ever invented in terms of impact on civilization and people’s health,” he said.

In fact, France uses 80% nuclear energy, while Sweden uses 45% and Switzerland uses 35%.

Furthermore, the world should be learning to recycle used nuclear fuel, Dr. Moore said.

Reusable fuel in the form of uranium and plutonium is not waste, but one of the most important domestic energy resources in the United States, he said. Only about 1% of uranium is used in the first cycle of a nuclear reactor but it could be taken much further.

Unfortunately, electrical utilities companies in the U.S. are privately owned, meaning there is no incentive for the companies to use recycled nuclear fuel because buying new uranium is cheaper, Dr. Moore said.

What people need to understand, he added, is that there is enough nuclear fuel in the world to use as an energy source for tens of thousands of years into the future, while fossil fuels will likely run out in 200 to 300 years.

“We should be working hard to make nuclear technology even safer,” Dr. Moore explained, because it is the “future of energy.”

 

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