Reactions and Reflections from a Week of Fishing: “Green” Energy

Reactions and Reflections from a Week of Fishing:  “Green” Energy

August 7, 2020

I took some time away from my work with Power The Future last week to recharge and rest.  My family and I spent a week outside of Sterling, Alaska, on the banks of the Kenai River. I decided before leaving for vacation that – aside from catching my limit of three sockeye salmon each day – my “work” for the week would be to ask people about themselves; their jobs, their families, and their views on life. 

I spent nearly 40 hours fishing last week and talked with over 100 people while doing so.  Some were Alaskans, some weren’t.  Here are some thoughts from the banks of the Kenai on the push for a “just transition” to “green” energy:

Much like Tuesday’s piece on climate change, you can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I’m Rick.  Let’s talk about green energy!”  You have to ease into it, and so the number of people willing to engage with me on that deep a discussion weren’t many.  I talked with seven of them – four from Alaska, two from the Lower 48, and a chatty, personable lady named Veronica from South Africa.

Veronica was in Alaska celebrating her recent retirement, after 30 years working for the South African Red Cross.  She was an exuberant fisherwoman who gleefully celebrated not only catching her own fish, but those of her three colleagues on their guided salmon charter.  She also was a proponent of wind power, acknowledging how great it was to see the small wind farm on Fire Island as she landed in Anchorage the week prior.  Her ex-husband worked at one of South Africa’s largest mines as an energy engineer, and she told me – in extensive detail – how mining could be cleaner by harnessing the wind that blows across much of her country.  To hear Veronica tell it, the world could move to nothing but wind by 2030; if only the national governments would allow it.  While I admired her passion, those of us who live in less-windy environments know that might be tough.

The four Alaskans – three from Anchorage and one from Fairbanks – were representative of most of our state’s residents.  While there is always a desire to have cleaner, less costly and less impactful energy, the fact is that Alaska’s sheer size and amazing fossil fuel assets combine to make “green” energy a tougher ideal to meet.  Much of rural Alaska still heat their homes with heating oil, or even wood.  Only communities along the Railbelt have natural gas.  Even Fairbanks is still heated by a combination of natural gas and coal from the Usibelli mine in Healy.  The Alaskans I talked with acknowledged that, and only one, from Fairbanks, was in any hurry to rush a transition to cleaner, “greener” energy.

The two gentlemen I talked with from the Lower 48 couldn’t have been more different in their approach to “green” energy.  Seth was from Chicago, and worked for an investment firm there.  He was in Alaska to celebrate his 25th anniversary, and he willingly told me how he and his wife had extensive investments in oil and gas stocks, because “they power America, and always will.”  Seth marveled at the oil rigs he’d seen in Cook Inlet the day before on a halibut charter, and compared them to his thrill at having seen all the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico many years before.  “Those rigs mean jobs, and mean that my investments are making me money.  What’s not to love about that?”, he opined.  As for “green” energy, and the push for it?  Seth was unequivocally skeptical.  “The largest solar farms in the Midwest can’t even power small towns.  How are they going to power cities like Chicago?  Wind?  Yeah, it blows a lot – we’re the ‘Windy City’ after all – but not enough to power Willis Tower, let alone a whole downtown.  They’re terrible investments, too, those “green” companies!”

Stuart was from Silicon Valley, and the day he was fishing, the temps were in the mid-70s on the Kenai.  He was wearing a t-shirt that said “Green Makes Sense”, with a picture of the Earth on it.  I was expecting a zealot, and I initially thought I got one.  “There’s only one planet.  We can’t keep destroying her.  I try to do my part to save her, Rick.  That’s why I started buying carbon offsets for my private jet.” 


It turns out Stuart is exceptionally wealthy.  He has three houses scattered across America, a private jet, and has attended “a couple” of Davos conferences.  Stuart embraced his role as a high-roller; he loved to take his jet to Vegas, or even Monte Carlo “if I feel like splurging a bit.”  When I pointed out his propensity for using fossil fuels and what I figured was an enormous carbon footprint, and how that lifestyle might be harming the very Earth he was so passionate about protecting, he went back to the fact that carbon credits were easy to purchase.  He grilled me on why an organization like Power The Future would even exist, stating that “environmental groups are only there to protect this glorious planet, not start fights with anyone.”  Ummm…OK, Stuart.

This is the last article in the series, and I hope that my reflections have given you a snapshot into how random Americans (and even some international residents) feel about energy in America today.  Talking with the diverse group of people last week left me with two thoughts: First, my job of educating people on the importance of energy workers, and advocating for their future opportunities, is vital; especially so as we approach a critical election that may very well define their potential employment for generations to come.  Second, the ENGOs and anti-development groups have done a good job with talking points.  Many people I talked with sounded at times like they were reading a NRDC press release.  But, take away the feelings-over-facts veneer, and talk with people factually, and most relent on their initial excitement, understanding they may be being misled by anti-development zealots. 

I’m proud to work for Power The Future, and I know we make a difference by being the voice of energy workers each and every day.  I appreciate each of you who stand with us in our efforts.