Environment

Greens Offer No Viable, Compelling Vision

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 5, 2011 12:05 PM

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In 1995, Cornell's David Price published an essay in the journal Population and Environment, in which he wrote that

the exhaustion of fossil fuels, which supply three quarters of this energy, is not far off, and no other energy source is abundant and cheap enough to take their place. A collapse of the earth's human population cannot be more than a few years away. If there are survivors, they will not be able to carry on the cultural traditions of civilization, which require abundant, cheap energy. It is unlikely, however, that the species itself can long persist without the energy whose exploitation is so much a part of its modus vivendi.

Sure, his timeframe for collapse hasn't exactly been borne out, but the peak oil crowd keeps saying, just you wait.... Now we have George Monbiot, the most interesting environmental writer alive today, who is not afraid to tilt against windmills (in every sense), writing in this thought-provocative essay:

The problem we face is not that we have too little fossil fuel, but too much. As oil declines, economies will switch to tar sands, shale gas and coal; as accessible coal declines, they'll switch to ultra-deep reserves (using underground gasification to exploit them) and methane clathrates. The same probably applies to almost all minerals: we will find them, but exploiting them will mean trashing an ever greater proportion of the world's surface. We have enough non-renewable resources of all kinds to complete our wreckage of renewable resources: forests, soil, fish, freshwater, benign weather. Collapse will come one day, but not before we have pulled everything down with us.

This admission comes on the heels of Monbiot's recent string of columns that argued nuclear power was the only viable replacement for fossil fuels--at a scale commensurate with the world's energy needs. That hasn't gone over well with most greens. At her site, Judith Curry takes note of Monbiot's current essay for a passage that I too plan on highlighting in a minute. But in her lead-up, she survey's Monbiot's views on climate change and the range of solutions he has proposed over the years, none (as best as I can tell) of which have been adopted, much less seriously considered. Taken together--the failure of Monbiot's ideas to gain traction and the more recent hostile reception to his embrace of nuclear power--has perhaps led Monbiot to an epiphany, which comes in the conclusion of his current essay:

All of us in the environment movement, in other words "“ whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse "“ are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order.

That is indeed a tall order, but is there any other choice?

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