Sustainability challenge 

There's been a lot of talk recently about wind turbines and natural gas and how they fit into Oklahoma's future.

T. Boone Pickens, a political conservative and one of Oklahoma State University's important benefactors, wants Oklahomans and Americans to lasso the prairie winds for electricity and build cars to run on natural gas, which burns cleaner than gasoline and remains abundant.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon recently told members of a congressional House committee "nothing less than the American way of life is at stake" when it comes to converting cars to run on natural gas.

Pickens is shooting as straight as Pistol Pete and McClendon's comments are no hyperbole. Developing renewable energy sources and converting cars to run on natural gas could help define whether the state can prosper in coming years, or become a museum of The Oil Age.

With wind power still relatively little utilized and natural gas vehicle conversion still developing, Oklahomans need to become more aware of sustainability in their personal lives and communities.

A study conducted in 2006 by the green organization ranked Oklahoma City second to last in terms of sustainability.

That ranking shows local attitudes about personal sustainability need to change. Attitudes might change faster if state leaders invested more in educational campaigns about sustainability. These campaigns could cross political lines and reach into schools and local communities.

The problem for Oklahoma, and especially Oklahoma City, is that the state was built with the philosophy that cheap gasoline would be around forever. This philosophy, it seems, has become permanently imprinted on the local culture. Oklahoma City's massive sprawl poses many difficult issues for the city's future: How can residents drive less, yet still have easy access to health, education and retail centers?

The trend for progressive cities has been to build up, not out, and to increase mass transit capabilities. These cities recognize the need to center important institutions. But is this possible in Oklahoma City? What would the cost be to center, and thus move, the area's important institutions, such as hospitals, colleges and major employers?

Locally grown food is another important facet of sustainability because of lowered transportation costs and health issues. But farmers will not be willing to grow produce and raise livestock primarily for local consumption if there is not public support. Oklahoma's cities need more farmer markets placed in central locations and around crowded institutions. Given the recent scares in the news, doesn't it make sense to have some idea of who grows and raises your food?

Personal habits need to change. Why drink water from manufactured plastic bottles when tap water is just as healthy? This would conserve the energy it takes to create the bottles. Oklahomans should make sure their homes are energy efficient. Using water-saving devices on faucets can save money and help the environment. The point is to minimize consumption without reducing quality of life. 

With Oklahoma's capacity to produce wind energy and its abundant natural gas resources, these can be exciting times. But can the state meet the sustainability challenge?

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the blog, Okie Funk: Notes From The Outback.

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Kurt Hochenauer

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