Sunday, July 4, 2010

Counting the cost

It’s a beautiful place with steep hills, valleys, waterfalls and hiking trails nestled on the banks of the Ohio River.  We took our first family camping trip there when Mary was barely walking, and have returned to celebrate our fifth and tenth wedding anniversaries.  We love Clifty Falls State Park.

clifty falls waterfall

We took time for a visit just a few weeks ago to celebrate our tenth.  Since we rarely get away for an evening without the kiddos, we lived it up and stayed at the very nice state park inn.  It’s beautiful!  The inn is set on the top of the ridge, overlooking the Ohio River and the cute little town of Madison, Indiana.  Looking from the ridge to the east, the view is simply gorgeous. 

Looking to the west, it’s another story altogether.  This doesn’t diminish our love of the inn or the park, it’s just a reality that most of us don’t see every day.  To the west of this God created beauty, sit three very large towers of a coal powered electric plant.  A reality that we can pretend away, if it isn’t located near our home or a place we love.

On every previous visit to Clifty Falls, I have found the contrast between the beauty of nature and the reality of electricity production to be unsettling but easily dismissed as the power plant is not visible from most of the places we enjoy in the park.  On this visit, the many signs that lined the highways protesting a planned biomass incinerator kept me pondering the placement of the power plant near my beloved state park.

My first reaction is indignation.  Why!  Who would be so dumb as to put that ugly thing near one of my favorite nature spots.  The inn was built in the 1920’s, so I’m pretty sure it pre-dates the power plant.  Surely there were folks who protested!  Perhaps they had signs in their yards, begging that the monstrosity be placed elsewhere. 

Further thought on the subject makes me question my first assumption.  You know, life before electricity was very different.  Perhaps folks were not so opposed to having the plant there if it meant they could have a radio, a few light bulbs and a refrigerator.  Somehow, I am not so angry at the folks who let the plant be built when I consider the pull of rural electric and the improvements it meant for their lives.  Maybe I shouldn’t judge their decision so harshly.  (By the way, I have no idea when the plant was built or under what circumstances.  Stay with me folks, and I’ll attempt to share my line of thinking.)

So these thoughts nagged at me until we were driving home.  Again, I saw sign after sign protesting the planned biomass incinerator.  Then, it struck me with force.  Regardless of their reasons for not wanting the biomass incinerator in their neighborhood (who could blame them), protesting the placement will make little or no difference in the long run.  The demand is high and the electricity must come from somewhere.  Someone is going to have a biomass incinerator or a coal fired electric plant or a nuclear reactor or a bunch of wind turbines in their back yard.  Plain and simple.

What makes me angry isn’t the fact that folks don’t want those things, but the fact that so many of us take the electricity for granted.  We see our bill, but never see the true cost.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Turn on the switch, crank up the air conditioning.  Leave that TV on all night long.  Who cares!?!  It won’t make that much difference on the bill.

Thing is, it does make a difference.  Our usage and our wasting of electricity means that there will be more power plants.  Whether they end up in your back yard or next to your favorite state park, more plants will be built to keep up with demand.  All the yard signs in the world won’t change that.

How selfish I am.  I was so angry that someone was so thoughtless as to put a power plant next to my favorite place to camp.  Now I realize that I am as much to blame as anyone.  Dang.  It’s so much easier being mad at some unknown, pompous, rich old man.  Turn off the LIGHTS, people! 

So that leads me to even further thinking.  How many other things do we take for granted?  How many other things do we purchase for the sale price without ever seeing the real price that goes into producing the item?  Who made that cheap shirt I bought the other day?  Who produced the cotton?  What were the conditions they worked under?  Who took care of their kids while they made my shirt?  Was my shirt made by a child?  Yikes.

So, here I am, encouraging you to put a little extra thought into what you consume, be it electricity, food, clothing or anything else.  I can’t go without electricity, but I can use less and help my neighbor’s cause.  I need clothes, but I can make do with what I have a little longer or pick things up at yard sales out of respect for the true cost that went into making those items.  I can shop for food at local farm stands and seek to purchase meat from folks who give their animals a decent life (or I can grow my own cheeseburgers ;)).  I can’t change overnight, but I can take steps towards consuming with the real cost in mind. 

Turn out the light, y’all!


  1. Well written. It takes a lot to see what you're saying. We live off the grid, solar power our own well water.Trying to be self sufficient. But still we are using propane for our water heater, freezer, frig. and our cooking fuel( although we also have a wood fired brick oven).We are trying to work towards getting away from that as well.We only heat with wood.
    Why can't our tax dollars work small incentives for alternative options? We still have the U.S. mentality of having whatever we want( not looking at the cost) whenever we want it.
    Look how gas guzzling SUV's became so popular when oil had reached it's peak production and was on the decline. WHAT?? Are we thinking?? Let's talk to everyone and try to make a difference.

    Happy Life, Katie


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