Julius Caesar had it right when he wrote the following in De Bello Gallico: “Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.” A slightly modernized translation might read: “Most people tend to believe whatever-the-hell makes them feel good.” Even, perhaps especially, when that belief represents such a departure from the real world as to boggle the mind of anyone who bothers to train a couple of neurons on it.
Cases in point abound but we’ll limit ourselves to a few for the sake of brevity and coherence with the ‘banner’ topics of this blog:
- Climate change: fix it with geo-engineering, i.e. shoot sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to promote global dimming (less sunlight reaches the Earth)
- Ocean acidification: fix it with geo-engineering by fertilizing the oceans with iron
- CO2 emissions: fix that with CCS – carbon capture and storage; alternatively with the “renewables revolution”
- World per capita available-energy reduction: fix it with the “hydrogen economy;” alternatively with Iter (nuclear fusion)
- The economy and its all-time record debt overhang: fix it by creating massive amounts of computer-generated ‘quantitative easing,’ etc to save the banks
Let’s take the first two in one swipe: geo-engineering on those scales would require large injections of ever-scarcer capital and the research is still in its incipient test phases for both of these projects. In addition, one might ask whether messing with Mother Nature in these ways is really a good idea to begin with. The possibility of unintended consequences is not only real but high. Several clever plans to reduce pest populations by introducing non-native predators into the eco-system, for example, have back-fired spectacularly : not content with feeding on the pests, the predators also wiped out other species (see ‘mongoose in Hawaii’ for one example).
As for CCS, a recent study by a Stanford University team has declared it non-viable as “There is a high probability that earthquakes will be triggered by injection of large volumes of CO2 into the brittle rocks commonly found in continental interiors.”
Forget hydrogen. The necessary infra-structure build-out would be huge. Its extreme volatility makes it hard to contain i.e. existing natgas or oil pipelines wouldn’t be usable and it’s not an energy source but an energy ‘carrier.’ Concerning The Iter (for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) fusion installation in Cadarache, France, has announced with great pride that its ‘switchyard’ got “live” last June 27th. Experts have, however, repeatedly stated that, should it succeed ( a big ‘if’), any energy benefits to the general public would still be at least 30 years out. A little problem: we don’t have 30 years.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m hardly an anti-tech fiend. It’s just that I think technology has limits that its hymn-singing purveyors are loath to admit. I truly believe (to come to the renewables bullet point) that near or mid-term solar energy breakthroughs or things like heat pumps and pumped hydro or wind power can bring appreciable mitigation to the way our predicament plays out. Just remember, considerable energy is needed to build these things and electricity is no more a source of energy than hydrogen is. It is an energy carrier and a rather inefficient one at that (about 10% lost in US power transmission).
Moving to the last point, the economy, we find ourselves less in the presence of heat pumps and more in the presence of unbridled shit-pumps. The reeking cesspool that our Western economies and financial system have become is now on public display for all to see. It’s a very sick kitty.
When deceit, manipulation and fraud are the prime movers of an entire system (which should be at the heart of providing investment for the mitigation measures mentioned above), there is reason for concern. We’ll delve into some of the sordid particulars indicating just how deep the rot runs in a later post. Suffice it to say for now that putting the treadmill worker (blue or white-collar) on the hook for clueless, bankrupt companies’ mistakes or, even worse, for criminal “elite” behavior in banks, corporations and politics can only exacerbate the crisis and foster increasing divisiveness in all Western countries. Then again, maybe that’s the way all empires end.
Returning briefly to the quote at the beginning of this post, it is doubtful that those who derive some sort of perverse pleasure in having great puffs of variously-colored smoke blown up their ass will fare particularly well in the approaching Great Commotion.