I am saddened much by this. But not surprised.
GLEICK: … My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved.
The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the “rational public debate” that he wrote — correctly — is so desperately needed.
While this might seem like another trite pleading for eco-fairness, it’s actually getting at something deeper, in my opinion. The article is getting at the awareness issue that is ultimately at the core of both ‘slavery’ and how we deal with our energy needs. Slaves were once the source, and their usage drove society, built pyramids and empires and societies. Fossil fuels do take some of that role now - which is why I like the remarks about “presenting alternatives” - but I think, at this time, the transition towards seeing how we use fossil fuels now as “problematic” or “immoral” is not close by. Which ultimately will mean there’s a lot more work to do, and suffering to take place, before the lesson is learned for the course of mankind’s history…
Why is all of this relevant for climate change policy? Our contemporary economies have become extremely dependent on fossil fuels, just as slave societies were dependent on their slaves – indeed far more than the latter ever were. As one scholar remarked: “That US Congressmen tend to rationalise fossil fuel use despite climate risks to future generations just as southern congressmen rationalised slavery despite ideals of equality is perhaps unsurprising.”
It should thus come as no surprise that there is so much resistance to climate science. Our societies, like slave-owning societies, have a vested interest in ignoring the scientific consensus. Pointing out the similarities between slavery and the use of fossil fuels can help us engage with the issue in a new way, and convince us to act, as no one envisages comfortably being compared with a slave-owner.
Furthermore, because of the striking similarities between the use of slaves and of fossil fuels, policymakers can find inspiration from the campaigns to abolish slavery and use them to tackle global warming. For example, the history of the abolition of slavery, in the UK at least, suggests that an incremental approach and the development of compromises worked better at moving the cause forward than hardline stances.
The evidence also implies that slavery came to be challenged and finally abolished when people became aware of an alternative. This alternative – steam power – was of course a great moral improvement until we came to know the consequences of fossil fuel consumption. This, in turn, suggests that we will restrain our use of fossil fuels if we can favour a new energy transition and find clean sources of energy – and that we should concentrate our efforts on developing “green” technologies at the same time as reducing our consumption of fossil fuels.
Jean-François Mouhot is a visiting researcher at Georgetown University. He is the author of Past Connections and Present Similarities in Slave Ownership and Fossil Fuel Usage, published in the journal Climatic Change, and the book Des Esclaves Energétiques: Réflexions sur le Changement Climatique.
A good recap for what has happened so far and how KXL has become so politicized.
The amount of adds for ‘clean energy’ relating to KXL or natural gas development has definitely skyrocketed in the last few months. Almost every news station I watch on TV has a good does of energy companies explaining how economically beneficial the project/s will be, and how they won’t do it if the project isn’t safe.
I think the problem is that there is a huge need in many ways for the project, but the thing that perhaps isn’t getting as much publicity is the number of cases that are springing up about the negative side effects of the projects (although I’ll say more so that’s in regard to Hydrofracking, for now).
I personally would like to see more deliberation about what exactly each thing will do - what will KXL do, what are the jobs that will be made, where is the new route - Nebraska state government was able to get Transcanada to adjust the route. But cut out the flamboyance, the exhaggeration of job numbers, and don’t pretend like there aren’t any risk.
I think what Americans are most hungry for, deep down, is to be treated like adults who are willing to listen to serious situations and understand the world is a complex place — not appeasing to histrionics of any broad sense of ideology. I actually would like the energy companies themselves to be more open about the risks, and not just talk about the benefits. And I wish the government was more unified in presenting energy challenges and opportunities to the public, as opposed to making it seem like some choice about what or who to believe is ‘right’. There isn’t an easy answer to any of this, so nobody should act like there is.
The article seems to focus on Solyndra as overly representative of all “clean tech” or renewable energies (yet maybe it is the easiest and most recognizable name to reference)… but it’s focus on the politics behind US Energy and the ‘economic bubble’ (which I don’t feel is an accurate term here) that was in place has come to pass. I see it more as a ‘window’, I suppose, or an opportunity. And yes, a window that will not be as large as it was in 2011; the new hype and hope and legitimate opportunities in US Fossil Fuels will likely strain opportunities for clean tech — especially if elections result in (so it appears now) anyone other than Obama being president for the next four years.
If anyone has been following this site, there have been a lot of coverage of the multiple pulls and facets of the energy / US energy industry and also its politicization. 2011 has been a record year for renewable energy investment… and at the same time, the developments of shale gas in the US, and the allure of being able to draw new fuels from old / pre-used wells via more advanced technology and hydro-fracking techniques, it puts many motives and incentives in play for different groups of people.
For sure, the economic struggles of the US that linger, and the opportunity for the already dominant fossil fuel industry in the US to say “Hey, look, we have lots of new technology and new toys and can get a lot of energy for the next few centuries right here in America!” is a significant force in taking away R&D for new non-fossil fuel based energies. There’s also an element of deceptive easiness - ah, there’s no more urgency because natural gas and offshore drilling will have us covered.
While that’s fair, and while in reality I’d be very surprised if nothing happens with Keystone XL for the US, I think the deeper and more long term battle is going to be America realizing it is going to have to compete globally for advances in energy as well as other technologies - and the only way to do that is by putting emphasis on such. If you look at this article about how the UAE is speaking of an R&D culture, I’d like to see that perspective taken more seriously in the US; I believe that perspective “is” there, but, the money and support is still predominantly in “Big Oil”. Other countries that aren’t so heavily dominated by such an industry seem to be more open to developing new energies, which could be potentially beneficial to them in the longer term.
But there is an investor: the taxpayer. Government coffers have been compensating for a number of market challenges solar faces, including the incumbency advantage of the fossil fuel industry and private investors’ distaste for capital-intensive enterprises that will take years to deliver a return. And in 2012, the solar industry may face a sudden reduction in these subsidies, as the post-Solyndra political climate grows less and less receptive to investments in clean energy. Despite the fact that renewable energy received only a quarter of the subsidies that fossil-fuel-based electricity received between 2002 and 2007, it’s wind and solar that are on the chopping block.
Even solar’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill—people like Edward J. Markey, a top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee—fear the industry’s oil and gas foes may have gotten the upper hand now that the clean-tech bubble has burst. “We are not Panglossian about what lies ahead,” Markey says. “The fossil fuel industry and its allies in Congress clearly see the solar and wind industries as a threat and will try to kill these industries as they have for the preceding two generations. They want this to be a five-year aberrational period.”