OWLS HEAD, Maine — Faced with a finite amount of fossil fuels and the escalating cost to extract them, Maine must turn its focus to alternative forms of energy if it wants to secure its future generations.
That was the message delivered by Peter Arnold, director of the Chewonki Foundation’s Sustainability Office, during a discussion on the subject at the Owls Head Transportation Museum on Saturday, the last talk of the season in the museum’s winter lecture series.
“Our civilization as we know it in the United States is based on oil. We love it,” Arnold told the 40 people attending the session. “There probably has been nothing as amazing for human development as oil has been. … It’s the fabric of our society.”
Arnold said that fabric was fraying, as the cost of oil and the toll on the environment of burning it has made it imperative to look to the sun, earth, wind and tides for answers. He said though still in its formative stages, the technology to harness electricity, biofuels or heat from the natural elements was improving at a rapid pace.
Situated on the Sheepscot River in Wiscasset, the Chewonki Foundation has been managing conservation lands and teaching how to live with nature for nearly a century. Its 400-acre peninsula supports a diverse array of ecosystems and many of the buildings on its campus are working laboratories in alternative energy sources.
The Sustainability Office is part of Chewonki’s conservation and energy curriculum. The group is responsible for developing materials and demonstration projects on topics such as solid-waste management and the use of renewable fuels such as solar, wind, hydro, biofuels and nitrogen, Arnold said.
He said the campus was dedicated to reaching its goal of reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels and that the current generation of students was committed to solving the problem.
“Their generation is realizing there are good jobs and money to be made in changing the world,” he said. “It’s their generation and they’re going to make it happen.”
The need for the country to change its habits is obvious, he said. While the country has about 5 percent of the world’s population, it produces more than 25 percent of all greenhouse gases. As the population increases, Americans will continue to produce a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases, he said.
One gallon of gasoline weighs about 7 pounds, but when burned releases 26 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“We just toss it into the air,” he said of the greenhouse gases.
Arnold asked his audience to consider what would happen if there were a way to convert the gaseous emissions from their cars’ tailpipes to solids. Every 35 miles or so, there would be 26 pounds of briquettes to dispose of, he said.
“Think of the liability each of us has made. It may be infinitesimally small, but it’s real,” he said. “We have a significant responsibility and we are just beginning to acknowledge that, rather than just putting it off. You don’t make change by thinking about it — you take action.”