|Psycho Killers: Qu'est ce c'est?|
I just finished reading an article by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute on Resilience.com entitled "Our Renewable Future", a rather nonsensical title, seeing's how something that is entirely unpredictable, despite the New Year's annual rostrum of those who try to do otherwise, having any possibility of renewability. But of course, he's referring to renewable energy, but then again, Energy is never, by its very nature, renewable, so even taken for its implied meaning, it, ie, the title, is still nonsensical. So, although it leaves me apt to be accused of being overly pedantic, I think that letting the illusion that energy is renewable stand is what invites idiotic linguistic gymnastics like this title for Heinberg's essay.
Whether it is generated via burning fossil fuels or by manufacturing photo-voltaic cells that utilize the rain of photons from the sun to generate electricity which then must be stored or consumed immediately, it is manifestly apparent that none of this energy is in fact renewable in any sense of the word. It is generated, used, with a concomitant cost in the form of heat loss, as in every energy conversion anywhere in the universe, never to be available again. Then, when it is stored for future use, twhich in and of itself requires further energy to be used, such that when solar radiation that is transformed into usable energy must use some of that energy to first of all transport it to the batteries in which it's to be stored, then use the embedded energy that went into the manufacture, transportation, and deployment of that storage medium to place it there, and then repeat the same process (minus the embedded part) to retrieve it at such time when it's subsequently needed.
It is only when once again the wind blows, the water flows, or the sun shines that a new flow of electrons is available for use. That is not, in any sense of the word, renewable energy, it is always the case that a new supply of energy needs to be generated if future needs are to be met.
What the term "Renewable" does, is the same thing that the finance industry did for unplayable mortgages after the financial crisis: extend and pretend.
As I have insisted in the past, whenever you see anyone anywhere anytime refer to anything as "free" you know they're are not being truthful, and yet that is exactly what Heinberg says: that wind solar and hydro power are "free". As though there was someone who went up to any source of fossil fuels and paid one of Nature's cashiers for the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole, or the gas in the pass. But, of course, they didn't, they were provided to humanity free, in fact, considering the amount of energy embedded in them and the amount of work by plants, gravity and chemical reactions that went into their production and sequestration, so-called fossil fuels are far more free than any of the cited sources of renewables, because the work's been done for us upfront, whereas, for wind and solar, we have to do all the work of concentrating their diffuse potential in order for them to be able to be used as energy inputs to our industrial or domestic use.
What this reminds me of is a conversation between the Sales reps and the Network Consultants on a project we were discussing for implementation of a VOIP system, in which one of the Sales Reps argued that the consultant was being nit-picking in his objections, to which he replied, "If a tech uses a comma instead of a period in a configuration file, it won't work. Nor will it tell me why it won't work. I have to debug that config file and figure out the problem, so, as you can see, nit-picking is what I get paid to do."
It is in the spirit of that remark that I object to the term renewables. Not to be obstructionist or semantically pure, but because the term was chosen for specific reasons, the same as the term "War On Terror" was. It wasn't referred to as the "War on Terrorists", or the "War on Terrorism", but the "War on Terror" for reasons that the public wasn't made privy to, and the public, being of an incurious nature that makes it easily led, just swallowed it without asking too many, well, any really, questions. But each of those terms, as close as they are to one another in absurdity, all imply different things, and all were discussed before settling on the one in use today. Consultants were paid, arguments were put forward, objections were countered. That is the nature of propaganda, and all Corporate-speak, (and the US government is basically a Corporation of Corporations, that is why it's so closely aligned with Wall St., because its structure is so similar, just as Wall St. is an exchange for buying and selling pieces of Corporations by special interest groups referred to as stockholders, Washington is an exchange for buying and selling of politicians by special interests groups called Corporations), by its very definition, propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.
So you can see why the Corporations that peddle solar panels and windmills prefer to have their publicists, which is basically all the news media is anymore, use the preferred, and absurd, term, "Renewable Energy". The main reason I can see for it would be to use, in a disguised form, the rubric against which I warned about previously in this post: "Free". That is the implication of the term renewable, and of course, like free, it is impossible, but no matter. The two ideas are inextricably linked, because, the very reason nothing is free, is that, in energy terms, everything has a cost, and if it can't be delineated in any other form, it can always be expressed in how much energy a certain procedure or activity, consumes.
Thanks to that implied assumption, the homeowner who installs those solar panels rarely considers that the costs of his little energy scheme are manifold. They include not only installation and upkeep, but payment for the loan it invariably entails, including interest, and the added insurance that is now necessary to guarantee against destruction, albeit only by vandals, as "Force of Nature" is explicitly excluded from most homeowners' policies. In California, for example, you can only buy earthquake insurance from a state agency, no private insurance company will insure you against earthquakes, such that in one of the sunniest states in the country, the risk of losing your source of electricity as a result of one of the most likely events to cause that loss, is borne by you, as is the cost of having it repaired, should the damage prove to be less than catastrophic.
Now all of this may be what you want, it may be inevitable, it may be preferable, but one thing it isn't is discussed. Like any ad in any Capitalist economy, all the propaganda to entice you to buy is based on distortions and half-truths, if not outright lies. I mean, Subarus are built with Love. Really!? What does that even mean? We pay for advertising in the price we pay for the vehicle, so scads of money is thrown out the window to tell us a lie we all know is a lie. The same with cell phones for example. You may prefer to carry around what's really a mini-computer with you, but, as it turns out, that is no longer a choice, although it started out as one. There are no public phones anywhere anymore. And should you lose the one you have, or forget it at home, you are now wandering in a no man's land with no way to call the person you were going to meet but now can't. Also, in the olden days, the one metric AT&T was good at was network reliability, as measured by dropped calls, which they were getting close as you can get to 100%, which is now a useless measure, because it's your carrier, not AT&T, that drops the call, or the reception is so static-laden that even though you're connected, you can't understand a word the other party is saying.
Just as conversion from fuel to usable energy comes at a cost, so does conversion from a legacy system to a new one, and those costs, instead of being confronted and dealt with, are instead purposely obscured and minimized, and there's no sign that the paradigm of using deceptive language and carrot-on-a-stick sales techniques are going to be changing even as our needs to use considerably less energy to do what we need to to get through life becomes more acute. Instead we show every sign of doing the same: wasting incredible amounts of energy, in the form of our own limited money, which is a form of stored energy, being convinced of something that is patently untrue (Subarus are made with love) for completely arbitrary reasons.
They called Jimmy Carter a pussy because of his MEOW (moral equivalent of War) heard around the world, but, looking at his proposals, and what we did instead, ie, engage in actual Wars year after year, decade after decade, with no end in sight, nor even wished for, the wisdom of his ideas has become self-evident. From Wikipedia:
Carter noted that the energy crisis was likely to progressively worsen and could result in a national catastrophe, so he called the effort the "moral equivalent of war". (A term first used by William James in a 1906 address, although what he was referring to was trade)
He cited historical energy changes from wood to coal then oil. He foresaw the renewed use of coal and solar power. Our consumption of oil would keep going up every year. Our cars would continue to be too large and inefficient. Three-quarters of them would continue to carry only one person -- the driver -- while our public transportation system continues to decline. Looking at California roads, that amount is far closer to 90% now.
10 principles were introduced:
1) the country can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices. (They didn't and they aren't).
2)healthy economic growth must continue. Only by saving energy can we maintain our standard of living and keep our people at work. An effective conservation program will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. (How this was to be done, I'm unclear, but what I do know is that while using more and more energy, far from maintaining our standard of living, it has declined practically in inverse proportion).
3) must protect the environment. Our energy problems have the same cause as our environmental problems -- wasteful use of resources. Conservation helps us solve both at once.
4) must reduce our vulnerability to potentially devastating embargoes. We can protect ourselves from uncertain supplies by reducing our demand for oil, making the most of our abundant resources such as coal, and developing a strategic petroleum reserve. (Until very recently, we, again, did exactly the opposite, we increased our dependency on foreign oil until 2/3's of it was imported, even as our production of coal increased more than 50%).
5) must ask equal sacrifices from every region, every class of people, every interest group. Industry will have to do its part to conserve, just as the consumers will. The energy producers deserve fair treatment, but we will not let the oil companies profiteer. (No comment necessary).
6) the cornerstone of our policy, is to reduce the demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy. Conservation is the only way we can buy a barrel of oil for a few dollars. (Bingo. This is the crux of my argument here, that what "renewable", ethanol, diesel, and all the greenies' 'solutions' are all just another way of telling us what we want to hear, that we can go on wasting energy in such a profligate way because, as stated above, we demand we not be asked to change in the slightest bit our slothful, ridiculous lifestyle, such as traveling in circles powered by a vehicle that requires no effort on our part, but hours of our time to pilot, to get to a job we need mostly to pay for that same means of getting there and back).
7) prices should generally reflect the true replacement costs of energy. We are only cheating ourselves if we make energy artificially cheap and use more than we can really afford. (By allowing power plants and other burners of fuel to not pay for the effluence that sickens populations, destroys property, and kills other animals, we subsidize these industries. Whenever there's an oil spill, we expect the company responsible to clean it up, yet we blithely allow burners of that same oil to pour the waste thereform into the atmosphere ... by design. When they created jobs, the government could at least tax the populace, but now they employ more robots than humans, so any tax preferences and waste allowances should be terminated).
8) government policies must be predictable and certain. Both consumers and producers need policies they can count on so they can plan ahead. This is one reason I am working with the Congress to create a new Department of Energy, to replace more than 50 different agencies that now have some control over energy. (yeah, that worked well; now they only need to have one Agency in their pocket).
9) must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are more plentiful. We can't continue to use oil and gas for 75 percent of our consumption when they make up seven percent of our domestic reserves. We need to shift to plentiful coal while taking care to protect the environment, and to apply stricter safety standards to nuclear energy. (Well, at least he got it half right).
10) must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century. (Complete failure to do this, and it shouldn't go unnoticed that that's the case despite the fact that it was called for by the President of the country that was by far the largest user of energy on the planet).
He also set some specific goals, none of which were met, and now we have to fool ourselves by calling energy renewable. Because, yes, there is another reason that it 's called renewable, so that the little fact that a photon that is reflected back into space unused is not the same thing as one whose energy is captured and used, generating waste heat in the process. Whereas in the world during which Carter made that speech, there was far less CO2 in the air, that heat could have escaped out into the universe, in today's world's CO2-enshrouded atmosphere, the waste heat from all the solar arrays that we are planning on installing, is still trapped in the atmosphere, just as in the car that's left in the sun with the windows closed.
So it isn't free, and it isn't renewable, it is just more and less so than what we are doing now, but if we insist on having a growth model for our economies, it will still lead us to a dead end or destroyed planet, because the one thing that would reduce it, conservation, isn't even discussed, and for good reason: it's completely incompatible with Capitalism, and it is Capitalism, not our well being, that is of the utmost importance in preserving. We should know this. We are told every day that the only reason anyone does anything for anybody is self interest, yet all of a sudden on this particular topic, we think that the corporations that are bringing us solar arrays and manufacturing windmills are doing so to make our lives better. What nonsense; of course they aren't! They care about the same things other corporations care about: The bottom line, increasing their sales, ensuring your dependence on them for your future needs, and placing people from their industries in positions of power in the media and government to push their agenda. If you agree with their agenda, well okay, but first at least realize that they have one, and its purported one is most likely out of sync with their real one. And you're paying for them to advertise the lie that you will buy via your purchase. Gee, no wonder they don't want it to end.