Don’t just sit and scoff.
ALEX KORMANN • ALEX.KORMANN@STARTRIBUNE.COM
A ship carrying a cargo of wind turbine tower segments pulls into the Duluth Harbor in November.
The headline “This is how we ‘modernize’ the Republican Party” (Opinion Exchange, Jan. 25) was as intriguing as the byline and raised hopes of reading some fresh new ideas from the Star Tribune’s favorite conservative think tank. No such luck. On the menu was a description of the limitations of wind and solar energy, an unhelpful reminder that physics is a science and an explanation of the electric grid oddly evocative of Ted Stevens’ description of the internet.
While it is true that wind and solar are not currently good options to address base demand, mankind has been inventing ingenious ways of converting energy from one form to another since the dawn of civilization, and serious investments are being made to pursue conversion of energy from wind and solar into forms that can be stored for later use. It’s a significant point that, in author Isaac Orr’s mind, didn’t even garner passing mention.
The core weakness in Orr’s way of thinking about the issue, though, is his inability to start with a clear statement of the problem and the consequences of failure to address it. Carbon dioxide is warming the planet. Failure to address it invites global environmental and economic collapse. In that context, all this development, innovation and investment in pursuit of fundamentally new ideas begins to seem worth it.
It’s certainly worth more than the offhand mention of nuclear and hydroelectric energy at the end of the article, both old options, not new ones, with significant obstacles to public acceptance. A more positive contribution would come from explaining why these two options deserve a second chance, rather than pooh-poohing the efforts of engineers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, utilities and the many others who are actually trying to solve the problem.
John L. Ibele, Minneapolis
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Orr, who wants to modernize the Republican Party by supporting the existing technologies of nuclear power and Canadian-sourced hydroelectric, has missed the mark. While carbon-free, these sources are quite limited by high cost and environmental issues.
Nuclear power is the most expensive energy option and new plants take far too long to build. We don’t have time — the climate crisis is happening now. There’s also the intractable issue of where and how to store the deadly radioactive waste.
Hydroelectric power is also expensive, with limited suitable resources for expansion and an outsized environmental impact. The dams flood huge areas, destroying forests, wildlife habitat, farmland and sometimes whole communities. They are not a viable answer to our current or future energy needs.
Wind and solar are the lowest-cost sources of energy today and getting lower all the time. It is true that, as these sustainable sources grow, the challenges to managing the electrical grid will also grow. However, battery storage technology is advancing rapidly and the costs are dropping.
Climate change is extracting an extremely high price on the world’s economies. We’ve run out of time to keep hanging on to costly old technologies hoping they alone can save us. Nuclear and hydro energy may remain part of the mix. But low-cost renewable and sustainable energy sources will be the workhorses of the future.
Laurel Regan, Rochester
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Orr’s opinion piece about the insufficiency and wrongheadedness of society’s embrace of wind and solar power is annoying in that there should be a serious ongoing discussion of how best to slow down the CO2 bulldozer mechanism that causes climate change. However, getting policy statements from the Center of the American Experiment on how to do this is like getting cancer treatment advice from a witch doctor. I guess it’s progress that there was no denial of man-made climate change, but now it is a badmouthing of current green technologies. Certainly, wind and solar have variable output, but they are a very important part of reducing Minnesota’s total CO2 emissions. It was misleading for Orr to suggest that the use of renewables leads to increased costs and that we barely did better than the rest of the country in reducing power plant emissions, but I suspect that was his intent. In actuality, emissions dropped throughout the country because renewable energy sources made coal uncompetitive and coal power plants went offline, eliminating huge amounts of CO2 emissions. If not for states like Minnesota mandating these changes, we would not have the technology where it is today.
I don’t know what the CAE is trying to achieve except slow down the conversion to a sustainable world. I do agree other technologies are needed to get us to a carbon-neutral place, including battery storage, energy efficiency, innovative hydroelectric technology and maybe someday the holy grail of fusion. But to bad-mouth the green technologies because they are imperfect makes me imagine the policy fellows at the Center for the American Experiment in 1903, running up and down the beach at Kitty Hawk, yelling at the Wright brothers that their new technology is too slow, impractical and just a ridiculous waste of money.
David Brockway, Hopkins
A patriotic education with depth
The second-grade colonial concert at my school was a rite of passage that most students at my public school looked forward to. We dressed up in bonnets and colonial garb and sang our hearts out to “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee).” We learned about the Bill of Rights and the innate sanctity of the United States Constitution. In fourth grade, I remember learning about the American Indians who first inhabited the stolen lands I now inhabit. We were taught to believe that World War II was won by the United States’ unwavering commitment to protecting human rights around the world. My understanding of the Cold War was laced with a diluted version of Red Scare-era sentiments. My knowledge of the modern era began with the belief that foreign adversaries and Muslim states were plotting to destroy Western democracy as evidenced by the 9/11 attacks. My vision of history was clear-cut and one-sided. Patriotic, according to the report of the 1776 Commission.
The commission’s report, released under former President Donald Trump and which the Biden administration has since removed from the White House website, is anti-American. It lacks nuance. This narrative borrows from the Soviet school of revisionist history it is meant to denounce. A patriotic education must prepare our students to dutifully examine our past, question the present and advocate for long-needed change in the future. Educators and leaders must denounce this report for what it is — state-sponsored propaganda. Our classrooms are not the place for evangelical Christian ideals. The integrity of our democracy and system of government rests on our vigilance and critique of our own systems in the never-ending battle toward improvement.
According to the report, the major threats to American democracy are slavery, progressivism, fascism, communism, and racial and identity politics, the last of which appears to be an unapologetic attack on the growing social movement for change that has taken shape during the Trump years.
The greatest threat to democracy and American national security really is our deep-rooted inequalities.
On Jan. 20 we began a new chapter of history. While Trump may have left the White House, the politics of hate and fear radiating from the White House forced those on the sidelines to grapple with our uniquely American inheritance of inequality, violence and white supremacy. We can look to the future but mustn’t forget the lessons we learned from Trump’s America.
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