Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Alternative energy

David MacKay, a University of Cambridge physics professor, is a straight shooter and he hits the bullseye with a commentary on

We need to introduce simple arithmetic into our discussions of energy.

We need to understand how much energy our chosen lifestyles consume, we need to decide where we want that energy to come from, and we need to get on with building energy systems of sufficient size to match our desired consumption.

Our failure to talk straight about the numbers is allowing people to persist in wishful thinking, inspired by inane sayings such as "every little bit helps.

Read the whole thing here: (Sorry, hotlink isn't showing up).

Alternative energy has become a front in the Culture War instead of a scientific/economic quest for the next paradigm. People identify their "side" in the war with symbolic icons like the cars they drive: Hummer vs. Prius.

Fortunately, it seems that thinking like MacKay's is becoming more widespread. More and more people are seeing that environmental and economic interests are not necessarily in conflict when it comes to alternative energy. That maybe it's in all our interests to pursue clean, diverse sources of energy in addition to fossil fuels, which aren't going to go away any time soon.

MacKay is right; we need an honest discussion about costs and benefits and the scale of the questions we're facing.

Nothing inhibits that kind of dialogue more than a holier-than-thou attitude, which attaches as much value to marginal symbolic actions as to substantial ones. We need to lose the cultural baggage that too often attaches itself to environmental and energy issues and start talking about what it would take to sustain the American way of life as it currently stands.

Then, when we have a real assessment of costs, we can talk — without preaching — about ways we should change for the better.

Jim Cornelius, Editor

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