As you might recall, in last week’s televised debate, Mr. Romney stated that as president he would eliminate funding for public broadcasting. He singled out Sesame Street’s Big Bird for particular attention, which touched off a firestorm of public protest. Of course, we here at CleanTechnica could not resist adding our own two cents. After all, in what world does it make sense to dispatch a walking, talking icon of mainstream American culture like it was some common Thanksgiving turkey (h/t Rick Santorum)?
Big Bird and the Keystone XL Pipeline
From a clean energy perspective, the hit on Big Bird is the flip side of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Mr. Romney also singled out for special attention in the debate.
In that regard, perhaps what makes Big Bird a target for Mr. Romney is Sesame Street’s environmental curriculum, which is raising a whole new generation of U.S. citizens to cast a more critical eye on high-risk fossil energy projects. Its message about local environmental stewardship falls squarely into Keystone XL territory, as the pipeline will cut through sensitive farming communities and conservation areas.
The curriculum, called “My World is Green and Growing,” was introduced in 2009. It does not mention or even hint at global warming, which is a critical issue for the pipeline. However, it does provide traditional, Scout-worthy (as in, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts) guidance for exploring nature. As the introduction for educators explains:
“Early experiences with nature help tap into that innate curiosity and provide opportunities to be physically active and learn about science. The more children learn to enjoy nature, the more likely they are to develop a sense of respect for the environment — and care for it too.”
Those themes are echoed in another Big Bird adventure that was introduced in 2008 to teach kids about space exploration, another science topic that hardly seems controversial enough to be singled out for extermination.
Big Bird and Alternative Energy
In a world without wind power and other energy alternatives, reliance on fossil fuels is just the way things have to be, which is what’s been going on since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. That’s where the general “learn about science” message of My World is Green and Growing comes in.
Because of, you know, science, realistic alternatives to fossil fuels are finally emerging into the mainstream, and there are new choices when it comes to national energy policy. That leaves projects like Keystone XL open to new vulnerabilities and new questions that it would not have faced just a few years ago.
One area in which the project is particularly vulnerable is job creation. Keystone does create some jobs, but almost all of them are temporary. Meanwhile, the U.S. wind power industry alone is creating far more jobs in the alternative energy sector, and the solar and biofuel industries are coming on strong, too.
Keystone is even more vulnerable on another critical issue, domestic energy security. Loosely speaking, it is an energy project, but it contributes nothing to the U.S. energy supply. In contrast to wind, solar, biofuels, and other forms of alternative energy that are streaming straight into domestic use, Keystone is designed to ship oil down from Canadian fields to Gulf Coast refineries for the export market.
In any case, regardless of the fate of Keystone, Big Bird’s place in American culture is secure (for now, at least).
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.