Energy Policy: Dealing with the Facts As They Really Are

I just read the Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and noted that it’s the birthday of May Swenson, an author of the 20th Century who once wrote to a friend, “Not to need illusion—to dare to see and say how things really are, is the emancipation I would like to attain.”

It’s true that we force-fit the facts into our theories. Though we all like to think we’re one of few who doesn’t fall prey to this syndrome, but I sometimes wonder how true that is in my case. My over-arching viewpoint on the world today is that we’ve reached the end of cheap energy and easy credit, and that we’re due for a large-scale correction in terms of our ability to increase our energy consumption, and thus our “standard of living” as we have (erroneously) come to define it.

But what if this isn’t true? What if we will continue on with a business-as-usual approach, with fracking, tar-sands pipelines, new coal plants, etc? After all, how close to a political consensus are we on an energy policy that contemplates reducing greenhouse gas emissions — here in the US, let alone in lands that are a home to even larger polluters, like China? About a million miles.

And what will be the result? Our scientists tell us that the consequences will be dire, but in truth, no one knows exactly how quickly and to what degree the destruction will take place, as this is the first time in the planet’s history that this concatenation of events has taken place. What sort of feedback loops will we encounter as the Earth continues to warm? Will they hasten our demise or delay it a bit? It rather looks like we’re in the process of rolling the dice and coming to an answer on these questions.

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