Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh V

Pompeii, Italy (1993) Photo by author

Yet another of my comments for an article on The Tyee regarding energy and how we should approach our coming dilemmas. https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/10/02/BC-Needs-Wartime-Approach-Climate-Emergency/

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While I certainly appreciate the need to ‘correct’ our global industrial civilization’s path from its current trajectory there is an obvious ‘problem’ with the argument presented here: forcing the wrong ‘solution’ upon society is a recipe for an expedited collapse. As in the movie/series Snowpiercer (where an attempt to ‘correct’ global warming ended up leading to a frozen planet), the human need to ‘do something’ often leads to negative, unintended consequences and, quite frequently, the opposite of what was desired.

A great example of how the above ‘solution’ would likely bring about more quickly the opposite of what is desired is found in this statement: “We must conduct an inventory, determining how many heat pumps, solar arrays, wind farms, electric buses, etc., we will need to electrify virtually everything and end our reliance on fossil fuels.” To me, this shows quite clearly that the ‘solution’ is not to address the dilemmas created by chasing infinite growth, as our ‘modern’ world does, but maintaining business as usual by trying to have our cake and eat it too. It proposes maintaining all the technological, industrial, and energy-intensive baubles/conveniences that fossil fuels have brought us without realising the price that must be paid to do this (in fact, I would argue the impossibility of doing this).

As I have argued several times on these pages, renewables are NOT the panacea they are marketed as. The energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI) is markedly lower than fossil fuels resulting in significantly less energy available for end use. They all rely on environmentally-destructive processes for their material input. They depend upon industrial processes in their manufacture that cannot be done without fossil fuels. They use finite resources, some of which are already experience diminishing returns. They cannot replace fossil fuels.

Then there is the issue of absolute government tyranny/authoritarianism being proposed here. The political class, being what it is — a caste in society whose primary motive is to control, protect, and expand the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue stream — will jump at this kind of power grab and most certainly market it as the best thing since sliced bread for society; and look, it’s been proposed by ‘expert’ academics, so, ‘Science!’ And, of course, nothing could ever go wrong with a government that has such power.

We cannot, nor should we, be trying to ‘electrify everything’ and forcing such a misguided solution down the throats of people. What we need to be doing is having a very frank discussion about what is ‘needed’ in our world (not ‘wanted’) and how we can support a calm and equitable ‘degrowth’ of it. Attempting to maintain our current iteration of society is not only a fool’s errand but one that will simply speed the exploitation of finite resources and bring about all the negative consequences of such a flurry of activity.

An energy descent is in our future whether we wish it or not. We can go through the ‘collapse’ that always accompanies a species that has overshot its environmental carrying capacity in a relatively dignified way by addressing the dilemma head on, or we can spend our last breath attempting to sustain the unsustainable and go out with a bang. I’d like to believe we could do the former but my bet is on the latter for humans very much engage in behaviour that reduces their cognitive dissonance to avoid reality and, unfortunately, the foxes are firmly in charge of the henhouse and seldom, if ever, allow a good crisis to go to waste…

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