05/10/2010 05:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Get Your Sharp Sticks Ready

Talk about cold-hearted energy policy.

In what I can only describe as appalling commentary, Patty Limerick of the Center for the American West, ostensibly a think tank on the Western United States, has the audacity to claim that proposed oil and gas leasing in Colorado's North Park simply "has to go forward" because, in her words, "of our energy habits and our inability to change them."

The commentary comes in response to WildEarth Guardians' and other groups' challenges of the U.S Bureau of Land Management's decision to open up more than 11,000 acres of North Park, a treasured Northern Colorado valley located between the Zirkel and Medicine Bow Mountains, for oil and gas drilling. According to EOG Resources, the company intending to drill in North Park, the region holds only 10-80 million barrels of oil. At current daily consumption rates, this might be enough to meet our petroleum demand for a little more than four days.

Now, I'm not an expert historian like Ms. Limerick, but I know enough to know that most all of us would change our energy habits if we could. Problem is, most of us can't. The simple truth of the matter is that alternatives to fossil fuels are still beyond the reach of the majority of Americans--they're either unaffordable, unavailable, or both.

The real question is, how do we make clean energy more affordable and available? Well, we can start by telling the oil and gas companies "no," especially when they propose to open up scenic Western treasures, like North Park, to more drilling.

Because the bottom line is nothing's going to change if we continue to say "yes" every time the oil and gas industry clamors for more land to drill. If there's no incentive to invest in and develop cleaner energy, it's never going to happen. To take a page out of an elementary school teacher's handbook, part of building that incentive is to reward the good behavior and punish the bad behavior.

So, contrary to Ms. Limerick, I don't accept it that we're damned to let the chickens come home to roost when it comes to drilling in North Park. That's because we didn't let the chickens out in the first place. We've been forced into a fossil fuel reality that's given us little choice but to acquiesce to the use of oil and gas.

But that doesn't mean we can't shift the paradigm to create cleaner, affordable, and more accessible alternatives to fossil fuels. It doesn't mean we can't influence investment and development to favor clean energy. And it sure as hell doesn't mean we have to say "yes" to drilling in North Park.

It's true that if everyone decided tomorrow not to use fossil fuels, things would shift in an instant. However, while I won't entirely discount such a monumental event from happening, the reality is that people have jobs to get to, kids to take to school and daycare, patients to care for, families to feed, etc. In other words, people have to survive and sadly, that survival is, for the vast majority of Americans, tethered to an unavoidable fossil fuel paradigm.

We should all "hold the mirror up to ourselves," Ms. Limerick lectures, but let's get real. That mirror should first be held up to the oil and gas industry, the elected officials that shill for the industry, and our own Federal government that seems to be bending over backward to give the oil and gas industry everything it wants, usually at the expense of the American West's wildlife and wild places.

To cast full blame on fossil fuel consumers, and worse to insinuate that they would be responsible for despoiling a treasured Colorado landscape for four days of oil, as Ms. Limerick does, is simply heartless and ignorant. It's akin to blaming exorbitant health insurance premiums on the sick and injured.

"Simply taking a sharp stick, and poking it at the BLM, is not really much of a social policy," says Ms. Limerick. I disagree wholeheartedly. The only logical, credible, and meaningful way to shift our fossil fuel paradigm is to attack the very decisions that promote fossil fuels at the expense of clean energy. As consumers, we have every justification for saying "no" to drilling in Colorado's North Park and "yes" to a future where clean energy is available and affordable for all of us.

I've got my sharp stick ready.


Colorado's North Park (photo by U.S. Forest Service)