We're not that green, but there's more to the story

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

As we approach Saturday’s Earth Day, a study shows Nebraska, like most “red” voting states, isn’t very “green.”

A study by WalletHub.com shows the Cornhusker state ranking far below “blue” states like Oregon and California in conventional measurements of environmental progress.

With 1 being best, Nebraska ranks 33rd among the states in water quality, 32nd in recycled municipal solid waste, 49th in LEED-Certified buildings per capita; 43 in energy consumption per capita, 31st in gasoline consumption per capita, 46th in methane emissions per capita and 45th in nitrous-oxide emissions per capita.

But before condemning ourselves for our irresponsible stewardship of natural resources, we need to take some other factors into account.

We’re a large, sparsely populated agricultural state.

That means we have to burn more fossil fuel to accomplish anything — consolidated schools send students many miles to attendance centers on a daily basis, long drives are required for many other activities and many gallons of diesel are consumed bringing us the essentials of daily living.

Like places such as Wyoming and Alaska, that means consumption is spread over a smaller number of people, driving up the per-capita figures.

We know about water quality in McCook — over fertilization polluted our drinking water with nitrates, which drove us to seek other sources, which revealed leftover industrial pollution that required a long-term, costly cleanup and installation of a water treatment plant.

Our wide-open spaces and the distances involved make it less feasible to recycle municipal solid waste, making more widespread recycling efforts more unlikely to be self-supporting.

As a leading producer of red meat, we’re also high on the list when it comes to methane emissions per capita. Much of our agriculture effort, however, goes into producing renewable energy in the form of ethanol, which probably wasn’t credited to our WalletHub ranking.

We’ve heavily invested in coal-fired power plants, and our status as a public power state has slowed adoption of renewable sources of energy. Plus, the miles of power lines that would have to be constructed to deliver wind-generated electricity to customers add much to the cost.

Even if these are legitimate excuses, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can, within reason, to protect the quality of our air, soil and water, and do whatever is economically feasible to promote renewable energy resources.

Being slow to adopt renewable energy may even turn out to be an advantage, as we learn from the experience of earlier adopters and take advantage of the latest technologies.

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