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The next generation of climate change disputes

As the tide of public opinion tips ever further toward the reality of climate change, a much greater arena of dispute has opened up.  Once we acknowledge that climate change is happening, we move on to the much thornier question of what we should do about it.  Here, the moral ascendency of the green movement becomes much more questionable.

Writing for Forbes, Alex Epstein – author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – portrays environmental activists as misanthropists bent on taking humanity back to some kind of hunter-gathering harmony with nature:

“Why does the green movement oppose every practical form of energy?

“There is only one answer that can explain this. Greens oppose every practical form of energy not out of love for the non-existent virtues of solar and wind energy, but because they believe practical energy is inherently immoral… To ‘be green’ means to minimize our impact on nature. In the green philosophy, the standard of value, the metric by which we measure good and bad is human nonimpact—does an action make our environment more or less altered by humans?”

Epstein’s criticism is extreme, and his article deliberately provocative.  In fact, most greens are guilty of thoughtlessness rather than of misanthropy.  They genuinely believe that governments have the power to reverse global warming, and that renewable energy is all we need to save the day.  Epstein quite correctly points out that this is a non-starter, and that in the end there are only two low-carbon energy technologies that offer any chance of providing the energy needed to continue operating a civilisation as complex as ours – hydroelectric and nuclear – both of which, most environmentalists oppose.

From the opposite direction, Chris Martenson – author of The Crash Course – arrives at a similar conclusion:

“There’s some really important information in this study, not the least of which is the realization that, to achieve just the wind power goal, the world would have to increase its rate of wind tower installation by 3,700% (or 37 fold).  This translates into going from installing 36 towers per day (the current rate) to 1,329 per day. Every day. 365 days a year. For 13 years straight. With no breaks.

“But our fossil fuel addiction goes well beyond the desire/need for electricity. Transportation fuels are just as essential to our current human condition.”

What separates Martenson from Epstein is their response to the understanding that the numbers simply do not add up.  Epstein favours the continued use of fossil fuels because these provide the only means of maintaining our oil-based civilisation while we desperately hope to develop nuclear fusion – a technology that has been 20 years away for the 55 years that I have been alive and that I can reasonably predict will continue to be 20 years away long after I have gone.  Martenson, who also argues that fossil fuel extraction is becoming economically unsustainable, calls for both a radical restructuring of the economy and an effort greater than the Manhattan Project and the moon landings combined to develop a zero-carbon energy system:

“The world is just not yet serious enough about the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.  The math says that without a tremendous change in behavior, far greater than anything currently on display, we simply won’t ‘get there’ waiting for market forces to do the job for us.”

In truth, this is the debate that we should have been having for all of those decades when, instead, we found ourselves obliged to engage in yah-boo quarrels with the oil-industry funded head bangers who claimed climate change was not real.

As our civilisation gets squeezed by climate change on the one hand and increasingly expensive energy on the other, business as usual condemns us to a catastrophic collapse.  We desperately need  a Plan B based on sound science rather than personal prejudice.  It really is time for both sides of the argument to grow up.

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