The letters of June 10 expressed urgency about shedding our oil addiction. A few points:

1) Hydrogen is not an alternative fuel; it is a fuel-delivery package possibly more efficient than those used currently. Energy is obtained from its recombination with oxygen.

Separating hydrogen from oxygen requires energy — more than you get back, according to the second law of thermodynamics. Only one non-carbon energy source has the current potential to provide this amount of energy, and it — nuclear power — wasn’t mentioned in any of the letters.

2) It’s not clear yet that any high-mileage automobile actually spares carbon fuel in its total economy. Plug-ins don’t help, because of the high fossil-fuel contribution to all electric grids.

3) France has been getting most of its electricity from nuclear power for 40 to 50 years without any fatality or major incident associated with it, in marked contrast to our own fossil-fuel industry. One reason is the intimate concern of government and regulation, but more important is the standardization of facilities, so that if a problem appears in one generator, it gets fixed in all of them.

Having each reactor as an independent, reinvented machine makes sense to free marketers, but not to a program aiming for economy and optimization of the general good. The Chernobyl disaster resulted from very sloppy safety regulation and practices.

4) The BP episode reinforces the Wall Street lesson of 2008 that “free” enterprise needs regulation. Our government was structured on David Hume’s insistence that people are self-interested and need checks and balances. Despite Jefferson’s conviction to the contrary, there is no evidence — as John Adams knew — that people in the public are any more trustworthy than those in government.

Dr. Lyman A. Page

Kennebunkport

As oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted June 10 for a misguided bill that would have increased Maine’s dependence on oil by more than 2 million gallons in 2016 and cost consumers billions at the gas pump.

The U.S. Senate thankfully rejected the proposal, introduced by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and backed by Big Oil, which would have blocked new rules requiring cars and light trucks to use less oil, as well as other common-sense actions to reduce America’s dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.

We don’t need another bailout, especially one for Big Oil right in the middle of an enormous oil disaster.

If Sens. Collins and Snowe truly believe that Congress should regulate global warming pollution — as they each have said — then they must now do everything in their power to help pass a comprehensive climate bill that cleans up the Gulf, holds BP accountable, provides real solutions to end our oil dependence, and jump-starts America’s clean-energy economy.

Zoe Geer

Field associate, Environment Maine

Portland

It’s no surprise that biomass- and wood-burning plants produce carbon dioxide, and even produce slightly more than fossil-fuel plants when associated processes are considered. However, it must be recognized that all living things — plants and animals — provide only temporary storage for carbon, which will be returned to the atmosphere when the living thing dies and decays, or is burned.

Whether a tree decays into mulch or is burned, it returns the same amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. A tree might live for centuries, but it will eventually die and release its carbon one way or another.

This is the fallacy of “sequestering” carbon dioxide by planting trees. The only way to truly sequester carbon, using trees, is to harvest them and keep them in a form that will not decay or predictably be burned, such as furniture or wood buildings, or to permanently store them, in some form, in deep wells or caves.

The transfer of carbon from living things to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and then back into living things is called the carbon cycle. It’s been going on for as long as there have been living things, and the term “cycle” reflects the stable nature of the process.

The carbon dioxide problem is caused by the use of fossil fuels. The balance of the carbon cycle is being overwhelmed by the addition of carbon that had been locked out of circulation for millions of years, and is now being added to the formerly stable cycle. Significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels and the carbon cycle will be fine, even with biomass- and wood-burning plants.

Dan Krell

Hiram

If “cap and tax” is ever imposed on us, the complexity of measuring the volume and carbon dioxide content of every smokestack — and tailpipe? — emission will require a new bureaucracy to rival the IRS and a cadre of technicians 10 times the number of census takers. It will be the end of unemployment!

If increased income from taxes, and the reduction of CO2, are really imperative, there is a very simple alternative. Namely, tax the actual carbon content of all coal, oil and gas coming out of the ground and across our borders.

It’s a simple fact that, with some adjustable exceptions, during combustion every atom of carbon ends up as a molecule of CO2. The numbers already exist; producing companies and importers keep records. No measurement needed — just mail the bill.

The tax people, alternative energy people and climate people should all be happy. Of course the public will pay the total bill, as is true with every plan.

Art Hall

Buxton

I sure hope those charged with promoting Maine lobsters take advantage of two opportunities recently brought about by the plight of others.

First, Maine lobster can be a great substitute for shrimp recipes — U.S. shrimp production has been badly affected by the BP oil mess. Maine chefs should pool ideas and promote lobster.

Second, Maine lobstermen will be able to continue taking their quotas because they did not overfish like others in the Northeast. That should help both demand and prices for lobster, creating a great platform to establish and strengthen a true Maine brand. Go for it!

Charlie Galloway

Kennebunk

What do the financial meltdown and oil spill have in common? Us. That’s right, you and me.

About 30 years ago, this nation embraced Reagan’s mantra: Government is the problem, and taxes infringe on our economic rights. Ever since, we have been eviscerating the only entity powerful enough to protect us from greed, which surfaces all too frequently in free-market capitalism.

We starved government by cutting taxes. We deregulated with abandon. We gutted what little ability it retained to regulate and inspect by underfunding and appointing cronies of the regulated into federal oversight agencies. We did this with our electoral choices.

We failed as citizens to see that a government healthy enough to stand between us and special interests requires our financial commitment. How can one expect top-notch people to work in underpaid government jobs, or enough inspectors to keep us safe without funding their positions?

We failed to see what deregulation would unleash. When the bottom line is all that matters, everything that lessens profit must be bulldozed — like following environmental regulations or considering how risky financial gambling affects Main Street.

So, when once we had a government to make us proud — that helped European reconstruction after World War II, that built a highway system second to none, that landed a man on the moon — we now have a shambles without enough inspectors even to keep us safe from food-borne illnesses, never mind to carefully review complex response plans for deep-sea drilling.

What are we — you and I — going to do? Continue to elect those who promise to cut taxes without impacting important services? Or reconsider an appropriate funding level — from our own pockets — for a government that will once again make us safe and proud?

The answer is in our hands, starting this November.

Pamela B. Blake

Freeport

Public displays of faith no place for government

 

The Rev. Richard Petersen’s defense of public displays of faith (“Religious freedom first among five ‘Firsts’ for very good reasons,” Religion & Values, June 5) was a bit off the mark. In it, he leaned on the First Amendment to provide support for his supposition.

While it is incontestable that it does indeed protect a citizen’s right to worship freely, he may have a misunderstanding of private vs. public worship — more specifically, public displays of faith by a private citizen vs. public displays of faith by a government body.

My initial point of contention is with his rather nebulous choice of wording. To summarize, he stated, “A prayer in a public setting and a religious symbol in public view are in no way an establishment of religion.”

This is a bit misleading. For example, we may be speaking of a religious invocation by a private citizen given publicly in a non-disruptive manner. This, of course, is perfectly within the boundaries of the First Amendment.

However, that same invocation given on taxpayer-funded government property during a government assembly, for example, is an entirely different situation, and one that has become increasingly — and unfortunately — all too common. Any such invocation that in any way, shape or form endorses a particular religion is a direct violation of not only the First Amendment, but also the Supreme Court’s 1983 ruling in Marsh v. Chambers.

Our constitutional republic was instituted as a secular body, and this was done so in no uncertain manner. From the Treaty of Tripoli to the Constitution itself, the Founding Fathers were explicit in their desire for a secular government that neither hindered nor endorsed religious worship. The Rev. Petersen, and any others who may be confused on this matter, would do well to remember that.

Nicholas Bridges

Scarborough