SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 16, 2014

Anderson: Thank you, Mother Nature...

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — Part one.

The state income tax rate, which voters mandated be rolled back from 5.85 percent to 5 percent with a 2000 ballot question, has started rolling again: For 2014, the rate will drop from 5.25 percent to 5.2 percent.

This doesn’t mean much money for each of us, but I always say it’s not the money, it’s the principle: Taxes that are sold as “temporary” should end. However, this year it’s also the money: I am spending my share on a patchwork flannel shirt I saw in a catalog, on sale for $49.

I’ll need this flannel shirt, as local environmentalists who fought to close the Salem coal-fired power plant are now fighting the natural-gas powered plant they had always argued should replace it. As we prepare to live in the dark and the cold, counting on emergency generators and wood stoves, it will be nice to have a flannel shirt.

Wait, the EPA wants to control the use of wood stoves because they pollute the air. Proposed new rules require manufacturers of wood and wood-pellet stoves to make them burn 80 percent more cleanly than current models — somehow.

I suspect that using a gas-powered generator doesn’t solve the pollution problem. New-model generators can be run on natural gas, somehow, but that wouldn’t address whatever makes enviro-radicals oppose a natural gas plant on Salem Harbor.

It’s something about “fossil fuels” that upsets them. It is sad that dead dinosaurs, whose species was destroyed by something going wrong with their environment, turned into oil and are now used to damage today’s environment.

Wait. That’s what I was taught, but now that I think of it, this doesn’t make sense. How many dinosaurs would it take to fuel our homes, planes and automobiles all these years of modern civilization?

So, using the electricity at my fingertips, I went to About.com and learned that, according to the best theories currently available, “microscopic bacteria, and not house-sized dinosaurs, produced today’s oil reserves ... As tiny as the individual bacteria were, bacterial colonies, or “mats,” grew to truly massive proportions...

“As members of these massive colonies died off, they sank to the bottom of the sea and were gradually covered by accumulating sediments. Over the ensuing millions of years, these layers of sediment grew heavier and heavier, until the dead bacteria trapped beneath were “cooked” by the pressure and temperature into a stew of liquid hydrocarbons”, i.e., oil.

Heartwarming. All those little critters, whose long-ago dying helps keep us alive, allowing other bacteria to live in our bodies, mostly doing good there. Though I usually don’t dwell on these bacteria, I now find myself singing “The Circle of Life.”

Maybe the dinosaurs made coal? “During the Carboniferous, the earth was blanketed by dense jungles and forests; as these plants and trees died, they were buried beneath layers of sediment, but their unique chemical structure caused them to be “cooked” into solid coal rather than liquid oil ... but it’s not inconceivable that some dinosaurs perished in conditions that lent themselves to the formation of fossil fuels — so... a small proportion of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas reserves can be attributed to rotting dinosaur carcasses.”

I’m glad. As I turn up the heat in the morning for my shower, I’d rather think about rotting dinosaurs than compressed bacteria masses. Well, since my house is heated with natural gas, I actually think about the substance created by the rotting and compressing, the pockets of gas which are byproducts of the bacteria, plants and a few dinosaurs.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for this complicated creation of stuff that humans have learned to take from the earth and use to keep themselves warm, cook their food, run their vehicles. The addition of the human mind is what gave meaning to all that death and decay.

I suppose we could build a nuclear power plant on the Salem site, but I’ve disliked nuclear power since I learned about the Price-Anderson Act, which limited industry liability for accidents. Whoa, I thought, even before learning about the lack of responsible plans for storage of the nuclear waste. You want to send it across the country in trains to a mountain near an earthquake fault near my grandchildren?

But wait: Seabrook, just north of us, is on an earthquake fault. I asked an Edison executive about this once, and he told me not to worry, there hasn’t been a major earthquake here in 200 years. But, then, aren’t we due?

And even if we aren’t, maybe the earthquake schedule will be accelerated by the fracking about which many people, not just enviro-rads, are concerned, not only about polluting water supplies, but disturbing the geologic plates near which frackers frack. Are we reassured to learn that the government, which is overseeing Obamacare, is overseeing this new technology?

When I first heard about Cape Wind, my only concern was birds. I checked with Mass Audubon, which said not to worry. But, now, I hear about dead bald and golden eagles and learn that the federal government allows wind companies to kill eagles free of prosecution.

Recently read about firemen falling through solar panels on roofs. On the ground, the panels take up acres of open space that, at least here on the North Shore, we don’t have.

I need a bigger income tax cut, to buy another layer of flannel shirt.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.