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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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The Road From Here, Part II

1. “…oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills” stated President Obama on April 2.

2. Mike Miller, the near-legendary Canadian oil well fire-fighting consultant, has been widely quoted around the world regarding the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion (“I expect this will be the biggest oil spill in the world by far”). This is not me.

 

3. The United States used to have an economy that was largely dependent on abundant whale oil. Some predicted catastrophe for the country and for hundreds of communities when we replaced the whale oil with fossil fuels. We got through it. We can get through it again. We can do this. But the longer we wait to enact a little controlled disruption now risks major uncontrolled disruption down the road.

4. A century ago, the reclusive genius Nikola Tesla came to Long Island and built a lab and a prototype for the wireless transmission of mass electrical power. Much of his lab, Wardenclyff, still sits at Shoreham, and there is an effort under way to restore and preserve it as a national site. Tesla’s plan might have generated large amounts of low-cost or free power, but it could not generate large profits and investors, led by J.P. Morgan pulled out when they realized this. This is a good example of how free market forces do not always produce the best results.

5. Tesla has been rehabilitated in recent years and is now a growing cult icon. Matt Damon tools around Hollywood in his Tesla Roadster, an electric car named in honor of the man who invented and designed things our government still won’t let everyone see.

6. There are 48 coal-fired generating plants in New York, in 17 locations. These plants produce about 4,300 megawatts of electricity, which is about 10 percent of New York’s electrical generating capacity. They also produce some 21.5 million tons of CO2, 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 29,000 tons of nitrogen oxide each year.

7. The national average “emissions factor” for electricity is 1.37 pounds CO2 per kilowatt-hour used. In 2008, Long Island residences used on average 9,518 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. A decade earlier, the average Long Island residence used 7,737 kilowatt-hours.

8. The average home on Long Island has been steadily increasing by 25 square feet per year. Extra lighting alone accounts for a quarter of the increase in electrical use.

9. Most people my age and younger no longer prefer to live in the kind of Long Island so valued by our parents and grandparents. Not everyone wants homogenous neighborhoods of single-family houses from which you must drive to anything. There’s a place for that, but we can’t sustain a region of millions with just that. The market is moving toward places where people can walk to interesting things, or to rail lines that take them to interesting things.

10. Within 15 years, America will have as many single-person households as families with children.

11. Some residential-only neighborhoods are in a good position to remain in high demand, and to hold their value. Others are going to have problems. Suffolk, further out with many more truly ugly, culturally-bankrupt ZIP codes, will have more problems than Nassau.

12. Look at the market. Look at the culture. We’ve never had so many television shows that portray the suburbs as a place of decadence, shallowness, soullessness.

13. Making believe it’s 1955 will crash dozens of Long Island communities. We held off long-predicted blight on most of this island because residents were willing to make public investments that created a desirable market. Some of us are no longer willing to do this, even if it we could create a better system of paying for it.

14. In their desire to keep Nassau County from “becoming Queens,” some people are going to accidentally recreate the least desirable aspects of huge swaths of Queens. Try to park in Elmhurst sometime.

15. Or maybe some people actually mean something else.

16. To some, nothing is scarier than the thought of a trolley, or an apartment over a store, or a neighborhood with nightlife. But this part of Long Island has reinvented itself again and again over the past 350 years.

17. Greener, sustainable, survivable. That is where Long Island has to go.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net