Wrong Business

We are in the wrong business. Instead of investing in biofuels, we should have gone into flag draped coffins. I was naïve when I started down the road of biodiesel, since I ignored the political piece.

When I moved to the Triangle in 1990, as a NAFTA refugee from Canada, I decided to pass on politics.

No more signs in the yard. No more mind numbing meetings. No need to see my candidate lose time after time. At the time Harvey Gantt was trounced by Jesse Helms, and Jesse cast such a large shadow over North Carolina’s political scene that I elected to ignore politics entirely.

My involvement in elections was limited to dragging a scrap of wood in from the shop on election night, painting a map of the country on it, and filling in the states with red or blue paint as the returns came in over the radio.

That tradition grew. People started flying in from far and wide for election festivities at our little farmhouse.

In 2000, when Florida ended up purple on our homemade map, it dawned on me that my lack of participation was part of the problem, so I discarded the last vestige of my Canadian citizenship, and started voting.

Which led to caring about which candidates won. Which led to signs at the end of the lane, which led to mind numbing meetings.

Fortunately the political tide in Chatham is changing. My side has swept the past three local elections. Various groups, from the Chatham Coalition to Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities have managed to organize, filter out candidates, and plant progressives into public office.

Now that I am immersed in the biodiesel industry, I am required to engage in policy discussions.

Which means talking to politicians. And their handlers. And aides. And interns. It has meant burning a fair bit of homemade fuel running up and down the road to Raleigh.

I’m pleased to say that Joe Hackney gets it. He not only listens, he also has the savvy to get things done around the legislature. I’ve watched him move ideas down the field, and have been impressed by his effectiveness. Same thing with Bob Atwater. These guys have picked up on renewable energy, and have gone to work on changing our energy regime.

Our position at Piedmont Biofuels has provided us with an accidental pulpit from which to preach about energy concerns, and we now see lots of politicians jumping in.

The other day I heard Beverly Purdue speak. Apparently she is not actually running for governor, even though she is out speaking, raising money, and polling.

And I was impressed. She nailed climate change, and seems to have a grasp on the urgent need to retool our backward economy. I was so excited by her message that I came home and Googled her.

Oops. It turns out she is the mastermind behind the current statewide advertising campaign which reads: North Carolina; America’s Most Military Friendly State.

Drat. Celebrating our militarism is a long way from green energy. Our current energy regime demands that we sustain a massive military so that we can impose our will on those with the resources we need. We use our beloved troops to ensure our cheap fuel so that we can make pointless trips to the mall to buy cheap junk that we don’t really need.

An economy based on sustainable energy can not require that. Supporting our troops should mean having them build better levees rather than using them to start civil wars in the Middle East.

Politicians need to realize there is a connection between peace and the environment.

But I guess North Carolina is not there yet. While we light up the RBC Center with glossy billboards depicting fine young men and women in uniform, we lay off employees over at the Solar Center, and starve our State Energy Office for funding.

Apparently we prefer an economy based on fighter jets, tattoo parlors and strip joints to one based on meeting our own energy needs. I suppose we can simply watch our vistas vanish to pollution as we stick magnets on our SUVs which read “Support Our Troops.”

The other day one of my son’s teachers enquired about bringing a field trip by our biodiesel plant. I asked my son what he thought of the idea, and he said he would rather go see the battleship that is on display down in the Wilmington harbor.

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"This is a wonderful, often funny, and inspiring book. Lyle Estill weaves a tapestry of stories of local people and places that, taken together, begin to form the outlines of sustainable, self-reliant communities united by the desire to cooperate for the common good. Small is Possible offers hope and encouragement to those engaged in the difficult but rewarding task of reviving communities that have been devastated by globalization, corporate greed, and apathy. Creating strong, caring, local communities offers one of life's biggest adventures--and opportunities."
Greg Pahl, author