It's ironic that Merriam doesn't really fit any of the classic American paradigms, because, quite frankly, most of us have already left those paradigms behind. We talk about this country as if it's full of neatly defined small towns, big cities, and tidy suburbs. In reality, the places where we live are lot mushier than that. Merriam isn't the exception. Merriam is the rule.
The Brookings Institution calls places such as Merriam metropolitan areas. Each named community is just one part of a larger symbiotic organism. "Being in a metro means being tied to someplace else," wrote Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, in 2008. The collection of cities in a metro work together, economically and socially, and by the Brookings Institution's tally, this is how most Americans live—as much as 84 percent of the population.
That definition of "metro" is wide-reaching, encompassing places that might think of themselves as cities, small towns, and suburbs. That's certainly true of Tonganoxie, where my paternal grandparents lived. Thirty miles from Kansas City, it was a far-flung Hicksville when my dad was a teenager. Today, Tonganoxie is part of the metro—not really just a suburb, but not truly its own entity, either. The Brookings definition also includes such places as where I live now—a 1920s streetcar suburb that's been absorbed as a neighborhood of Minneapolis. We aren't urban, as visiting friends from New York City often remind us, but we're not suburban, either.
You can see that the Brookings definition is kind of broad, possibly overly broad. Residents of the places it describes might disagree with it, even vehemently. Yet if you're trying to figure out an objective way to group places by shared economic and social characteristics, it makes sense. This is better than a survey, which would tell you more about perceptions than about what places are actually like. It also makes an important point: Independent, small-town life isn't archetypal America anymore. The interconnected metro is.
Kansas is full of places that aren't like Merriam. There are also tiny towns such as Quinter—a Western Kansas community with a population of fewer than a thousand—and mid-size cities such as Salina, which is home to more than forty-five thousand people. If you want to know what's at risk in the future of energy, however, Merriam is the place to focus. It's the place that can teach the majority of us something important about the places where we live and about the risks we're taking when it comes to energy.
There are lots of reasons to care about energy, and lots of reasons to want to change the way we make and use energy in this country. For me, though, it boils down to a concern about climate change and about energy diversity. Those are the big reasons I think we need to seriously alter the way we make and use energy. Why do I think that? In a nutshell: that's what the majority of scientific studies tell me. When many different, unconnected scientists come to the same conclusions, after decades' worth of research, I listen. You should, too.
It all boils down to a preponderance of evidence—evidence collected by many different people, in many different ways, during the course of more than three decades. That's what "scientific consensus" really means. It's not only something a bunch of scientists choose to believe in. It's something they've seen. It's what the bulk of the evidence is telling them.