Monday, 6 December 2010
Green Technology is Green, Alright
Although not the green you're thinking. It's green at the serious business capitalist game. As in untested, inexperienced, disappointing, and feeble. Totally in over it's head. The kind of "green" one describes oneself as in the early days of ones career.
Started 3-4 years ago and trumpeted earnestly with the onset of the '08 crash, the promises of ethanol, biogas, biomass, wind, solar, hydrogen and other various "green technologies" were seen as the key to fuelling the next wave of economic growth, solving the problems making the earth's ecological system burst at the seams with pain, and gainfully employing millions of disenfranchised, unskilled, out of work middle aged workers. I'm not going to lie and say that I wasn't optimistic, that I didn't see a lot of promise in the scenario. But the dream is dead, hopelessly, rottenly dead.
Nobody is more ideologically blunt about this than Terence Cocoran in the National Post who lays down some painful, brutal, truth in his article that I can't deny: As long as oil, gas, and coal are available, Russia, China, and India will be eagerly gobbling them up. Gasoline consumption is also expected to rise in North America. Yikes. How is that even possible?
It's really not a surprise. Methods of recovering these resources and extracting energy from them are proven and the networks to deliver them are in place. Terry even thumbs up his nose at nuclear, too risky, too high maintenance, too expensive, he says.
Over at the business network, the guy they had on today to give his analysis and picks had a pretty good investor track record over the last five years. In fact, he had beaten the markets regularly. This is not an investment column but I will give you two of his main money makers - an auto-loan finance company for high-risk borrowers that finances cars with built in GPS that ground them immediately when they go deadbeat on the loan, and a coal company. He also is into banks, who invest heavily in the dirty resources, because they are profitable. His biggest frown on the program? A biogas company in Saskatoon. Overvalued, because tons of capital had been sunk into it and who knew if it would ever produce any considerable amounts of energy or even be profitable.
The promise of the new decade and the optimism of new possibilities have quickly faded into a gruff, sinister, back to the dirty work vibe. Green technologies were never anything more than a cute sideshow, a grade 8 science project, and a feel good paragraph in the hollow speeches of well-meaning politicians. It doesn't mean I don't wish they could compete with bad stuff - I think if they could, we'd already be onto them en masse. But it does mean that governments and business have grown tired of the charade and have gone back to the dirty stuff they never left in earnest - even though we can all agree that this stuff has finite limits to its supply, and terrible consequences when it is burned in large quantities.
Green technology did not fail because it doesn't work or because the people working in the sector aren't smart. It fails because it will simply not produce anything close to the scale that would be needed to provide a viable alternative to our current oil coal gas and uranium burning system. The autos can't be mass produced, the energy can't be stored and moved, and the power grid will keep whirring along on the energy it constantly burns through every day. The use of the clean stuff will never get over 5%, and people need to get away from the idea that some elaborate technology is going to save the earth, because that's the same damn thinking that got us into the unsustainable rolling off a cliff humanity is taking. Trying to take on fossil fuels in 2010 with hazy promises of solar cars and wind planes is like an anorexic 14 year old getting in the ring with Mike Tyson in his prime. They're laughing so hard all the way to the bank that they can even afford to waste money on hilarious joke ads about carbon capture, clean coal, and biodiversity. There's no way of even knowing if this is a good investment - the people who care won't believe them and the people who don't care will never see them and, well, don't care. Mike Tyson was always a little bit twisted and sadistic, which I feel describes the behaviour behind these ads.
Rather than wasting time and resources trying to convince people of the benefits of "smart" power (what is smart about something that allows you to feel good about yourself and a few other people to get rich - hybrid cars, carbon credits, bullfrog power - but is inaccessible to most, is not a mass solution, and does nothing to address the fundamental issue of dirty resource dependence?), why don't we encourage people to do a little more of what the future, sooner or later, will really hold? Go "no" power. Because the people pounding on the table to let us at the rest of the fossil fuels and coal with battering rams will refuse to understand the implications of burning through the remaining amounts of these materials at record rates even as the waterways choke, the atmosphere chokes, the soil turns to junk, and industrial agriculture collapses. I don't know which one of these things will happen first, the stuff running out or the earth pushing back. But when it does, we are going back to walking, fire, villages, and scavenging. And I don't know whose face will be funnier - the mean bespectacled white hair capitalists who thought the planet would take being shit on forever or the misty eyed "liberal" dreamers who thought we'd be whizzing around jetsons style on light speed green technology.
Anyway, I'm trying to rely on the dirty stuff as little as possible today. Not continuing to use it while counting on someone else to phase it out. If we starve the dirty bastards, which we have the power to do, we have a hell of a lot better shot than clinging to heavily subsidized techie daydreams. Presidents can take turns putting solar panels on the white house only to have the next one take them off until the cows come home - it just distracts us from the real problem, which is consumption of the bad stuff itself. I stumbled across the quote that follows today, and I believe it remains a prevelant view at the heart of many of our problems today
"Not being the offspring of a family with any claim to distinction, not coming from a background I felt any need to live up to, or live down to, I have always been impatient with those who express emotional attachment to the past. Man might not yet be perfect, but it suited me to think he was better than he had ever been. The belief that he was once wiser and kinder, more courageous and more beautiful, that he once has instinctive understanding we have lost, I dismissed as sentimental myth." - M. Ebbitt Cutler, 1967
I wasn't really surprised when I finished reading this statement that I related to the first part of it and disagreed entirely with the second. But I don' think we will get back to that "sentimental myth" until the fact that we are being forced to is staring us in the face and weighing on us like the ass of two ton gorilla.