Too Little, Too Late for Sure

Now that presents have all been opened and we’re at least beginning to think about cleaning up the resulting mess, we might also want to consider a parallel situation.

We are not quite finished opening up all the presents from fossil fuels. It’s been a process of several centuries since Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine was used in 1712 for pumping in a mine. Although there are a few presents still to be unwrapped, we are certainly beginning to notice the mess left behind – climate change, acidification of the rising oceans, persistent organic pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides and endocrine disruptors, and the cascading consequences of the sixth Great Extinction.

It’s quite a mess to clean up. With the exception of a few efforts here and there, the cleanup has not yet begun. For an idea of just how serious this issue is – far outside the scope of issues hotly debated within our corrupt two-party system – you should really read John Michael Greer’s latest essay “Too Little, Too Late.” 

Go ahead, read it, and then come back.

[… Intermission …]

bigger risks

There’s one substantial point on which I disagree with Greer. Well, more than one, but this one is important. He says: “The shills [for nuclear power] in question are quite correct, as it happens, that renewable energy can’t be scaled up fast enough to replace fossil fuels; they could have said with equal truth that renewable energy can’t be scaled up far enough to accomplish that daunting task. … neither one {nuclear or renewables] can provide the kind of cheap abundant electrical power that makes a modern industrial society possible.”

That’s an interesting assertion, but not an obvious certainty. As a society, we have not even come close to making the sort of effort that went into making either the atomic bomb or interstate highways. Unless we have the political will to scale up renewable energy sources, we will not know the limits of that effort. While it may well be true that we will not have, from renewables, enough cheap abundant power to maintain a modern industrial society, it should still be a good thing to have enough clean power to maintain some amenities such as communication, education and essential transportation.

In other words, Greer’s attitude is that the effort to scale up renewable energy is doomed to failure, and therefore not worth the effort. Mine is that is should be worth the effort, even if it is inadequate to deliver all the luxuries of our late fossil-fueled industrial system.

I do agree with Greer when he says that COP-21 resulted in an “embarrassingly feeble agreement.” Even if all the supporting nations follow through, it will not stop climate change. It will not even have any great effect in slowing down the rate of climate change. The agreement, in that sense, is simply a fraud.

Your comments are welcome.


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