Climate change seems to become an edgier and edgier issue all the time. There seems to be an implacable rise in obscurantist pseudo-science and ideological hogwash trying to tell us either that rapid and destabilising climate change isn’t happening or that it isn’t the fault of human beings.
Well, I have little patience for such silliness, but even if these claims were correct, I am almost totally convinced that we should still be pursuing renewal energy development. There are many, many other good reasons to make the change other than global warming. Here are a few main ones that have occurred to me.
1. Peak Oil
Like it or not, fossil fuels are finite. We’re going to have to get more and more aggressive to find them, expending more and more technology and damaging the environment in new, cruel, and unusual ways. Cost will keep on mounting – can you say “diminishing return on investment?” Unless of course we just keep hiking up the prices (oh yeah, that’s what is happening).
And then, even after all that, they’ll still eventually be exhausted. Then what? Then we switch to renewal energy anyway.
So why not get ahead start and make the transition now? The sooner we get serious about solar, wind, and the rest, the quicker these options will be commercially viable in a major way and the sooner we can perfect the transition. The sooner we change, the sooner we get off the spiralling staircase of energy costs, and the sooner that “energy security” can be established for nations currently dependent on international fossil fuel supplies (no more stupid wars in the Middle East needed).
Clinging to a technology on the edge of obsolescence, especially out of laziness, fear, or simple lack of imagination, is bad science and bad business sense.
2. Environmental Degradation
Anybody remember a little disaster called Deepwater? Oil spills alone cause massive damage every year. Coal seam gas mining threatens to destroy drinking water supplies worldwide – and seriously folks, in the 21st century water is going the be the most precious resource of all, not oil or gas. Coal mining destroys massive swathes of land, and in the clutch of the Japanese crisis let’s not even talk about the horrors of nuclear power, which has erroneously been passed off as “clean and green” for some time now, but actually produces the most noxious and irreversible pollution of all (and requires more massively destructive mining, too).
Renewable power sources such as wind and solar, by contrast, stand to be far less destructive. They don’t need to consume more and more land and resources in order to keep producing energy. They don’t blow up or release vastly destructive toxins into the environment, the food chain, and our bodies. They’re not only better for the environment, it just makes so much more sense, economically.
Speaking of economics, fossil fuel industries are some of the most heavily subsidised on the planet. The numbers on coal and oil just don’t stack up so well once the tax-payer’s dollar is removed from the fossil fuel barons’ pockets. That’s in part because they constantly have to move on to new territories and new reserves to keep producing even the same amount of power. Whereas solar and wind are far more economical and efficient – once you’ve got the solar or wind farm going, you’re in business, all you have to worry about is maintaining your equipment.
So there you go. There are other good reasons for getting serious about renewable energy than these of course, not least the threat of global warming itself. But even if you don’t take climate change seriously, I think the other three reasons I’ve offered above are sufficiently compelling that I’d like to think you’d be convinced of the benefits of abandoning oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power anyway.
Here’s one final reflection on these issues that seems really critical to me. We are not separate from our planet, but a part of it. Fossil fuels do not take this factor into consideration; their destructive consequences (global warming or not) are analogous to defecating in the water one drinks. Renewal energy, on the other hand, is able to reflect and even take advantage of the brutal reality that what goes around comes around.
The longer we try to pretend that this basic law of nature doesn’t apply to our actions, the worse the consequences will be when Mamma Earth calls to collect on the debt we’re racking up.