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Page added on July 3, 2012
The Kid’s Page in the July 3 Washington Post features a story with an intriguing headline: “Where does electricity come from? Hint: Not from that switch on your wall.”
Documentary film maker Gregory Kallenberg, maker of the 2009 film “Haynesville,” found while promoting the movie that many adults were equally in the dark about vital energy issues. ”Running into people who didn’t understand where energy came from or how much we used of it was a common occurrence,” Kallenberg says in one of several new short films he is making under the title of “The Rational Middle.”
What Kallenberg found was that people really are yearning to have a reasoned, informed discussion on key energy issues and want to find common ground for moving ahead with a future that is less dependent on fossil fuels. He began to call these people “the rational middle.”
What, no shouting? No finger pointing? No rhetoric?
“The rational middle wasn’t these extreme ends of the argument. They weren’t the people behind their barricades heaving Molotov cocktails and insults at each other,” Kallenberg says in the first episode in his new series. “This is the group that was willing to sit down, to compromise, to look at the risk and rewards of energy and to start working on a cleaner energy future.”
Even more amazing than the existence of this group of rational thinkers is what happened when a major oil company found out about the project. They didn’t try to squelch it. They sponsored it.
Shell agreed to bankroll the series and also agreed to Kallenberg’s conditions that the company have no control over the content of the films.
“This has to be told from an independent point of view,” Shell CEO Marvin Odum says in the film. “It can’t be influenced by a company like Shell, because then it won’t have the credibility it really needs.”
It makes sense that Shell would back a project that strives for balance, given the success of the 2010 documentary, “Gasland,” the incendiary film that, despite its one-sided approach, was nominated for an Oscar.
The national debate over the shale gas revolution has sparked a lot of discussion over the use of hydraulic fracturing, the amount of water needed for the process, and natural gas’s role as a “bridge” fuel to a renewable energy future.
“You’ve got the tails on either end, the ‘drill, baby, drill’ end or the ‘I don’t want anything but renewables’ end,” Russ Ford, executive vice president of onshore for Shell Upstream Americas, told Platts in an interview. “There’s an awful lot of people in the middle who might not agree,” Ford said.
Shell, which is very active in the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana, might not agree with groups that accuse drillers of spoiling air quality or polluting ground water, for instance.
“But we respect the fact that they’re willing to talk to us,” Ford said, “and they’re willing to work with us to come up with fact-based or data-driven decisions. Those are the ones you want to have a conversation with, because I think we can teach each other.”
That kind of pragmatic approach is sorely missing in Washington, where politicians have staked out the most extreme positions and seem hopelessly deadlocked.
“I think that there’s a lot working against a rational middle type concept having a huge impact,” Shell’s Odum says in the first of Kallenberg’s films. “When I say that, immediately what I’m thinking is…think of the political situation in Washington coming up on this election year — Republicans all the way to this side, Democrats all the way to this side.”
Anyone who is really thinking critically about issues such as fracking, offshore drilling, Arctic development, federal backing for risky solar energy ventures, knows that the answers, if they lie anywhere, lie somewhere in the middle. “But that’s not where the dialogue is,” Odum said.
That doesn’t make the answers easy to find or eliminate the pain involved in compromise. And, despite Kallenberg’s optimism, ultimately the search for the rational middle may be fruitless.
“I want people to take away a different way of thinking,” Kallenberg says in his film. “I want people to realize we have to work on this together, we have to compromise on what’s there, how we use it and what we use in the future”
To join the conversation, start watching the films at http://www.rationalmiddle.com.