Many living at the top of the energy consumption pyramid fervently believe there is a green, sustainable, renewable clean energy available for our future. Much of this belief is founded in the fervent wish to maintain a significant aspect of our present energy way of life. To foster and support this belief, a couple of parables help us understand how factual this might be.
A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "This is where the light is."
This parable offers several insights. First the obvious, that we look where it is easiest to see. But there is I believe a deeper lesson, that we look where we want to see.
This next parable adds a second dimension to seeing the truth concerning green, sustainable and renewable devices for the future.
ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."
They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who
touched his leg.
"Oh, no! It is like a rope," said the second man who touched
"Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan," said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated.
A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?"
They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like.
The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant.
So, actually the elephant has all those features as you all said."
Clearly a primary lesson of this parable is the need to see the whole picture.
When you look at solar energy collecting devices:
Is this your image?
Or do you imagine this?
OR ARE YOU AWARE OF THIS?
PERHAPS YOU WOULD FIND INTERESTING THE VIDEOS SHOWING
THE INFRASTRUCTURE REQUIRED TO BUILD THESE DEVICES AT:
So what do you think of when you call something green?
Or call something renewable?
Or call something sustainable?
HOW DO YOU DECIDE THAT A DEVICE, A THING, HAS THESE QUALITIES?
Grass is green but that is not what you mean, not the color. Do you mean it doesn’t harm the earth? If so do you see the whole elephant or only look where you want to find the key?
How about renewable? Do you mean it can create itself? If so, are you saying it can duplicate itself? If so, are you talking about all the parts renewing themselves – panels, inverters, controllers, all their internal parts, batteries, wiring and all that is mentioned in the box above. Does it create itself like a horse or an oak tree? What do you mean when you say it is renewable?
Sustainable – for how long? When I plant my garden, part of it I put into clover to build the soil for the following years. Where do I get the clover? If I grow it myself, I deplete that soil somewhat when I harvest seed (harvesting with personal or machine energy). If I buy the seed, do I let someplace else consider how to deal with the depletion? There simply is no free lunch.
There is the assumption that humans will change their ways and conserve energy and not consume, consume, consume. This is akin to Jevons' paradox (perhaps there is one more germaine). If the energy is available, what will stop continued consumption of tools and toys? Who will go first with this restraint and restricting? Think of the uproar if legislated.
I think it is incredibly difficult to wrap our heart, mind and spirit around the massive changes facing us. A world no longer powered by fossil fuels, no matter what incarnation, is almost inconceivable and for many terrifying. It is indeed traumatic for what it might (probably) means not just for us but also for our love ones, children, grandchildren. Our hearts break. We want to fix it. So we do more technology and more ultimate harm.
It is comforting to prefer the noise of delusional magical thinking and pretending that the system of perpetual growth can work forever; that some variant of business as usual can persist. There is just too much tied up with it and any unraveling would be far too chaotic and unpredictable. Wrapping our heads around the eventualities of global warming; of overshoot; of the desecration of world wildlife; of the acidification of the oceans; of the poisoning of pollinators stymies.
We are slowly technologizing ourselves into extinction. Technology is seductive. Is it the power? Is it the comfort? Or is it some internal particularly human attribute that drives it? Technology surrounds us and becomes part of our story and myths. Technology tantalizes the human mind to make, combine, invent. There are always unintended consequences with technology. It affects how we experience the world in time and space. It affects how we feel about the world. If all the externalities were included in the prices and cost to nature, we would be very, very wary of technology.
I think we have moved from technology in the service of religion (pyramids and gothic cathedrals) to religion and culture in the service of technology. It isn't a deity that will save humanity but in the eyes of many - it will be technology.
We will do more of the same, business as usual until there are no more holes in the ground to dig, no more water above and below to contaminate, no humans to wage slave, no other lifeforms to eliminate. Yes, we are building Trojan horses in our hearts, minds and spirits. It will be elitist and entitlement and hubris – it will end with both a bang and a whimper.