Tag Archives: all energy crisis

An Even Shorter History of Progress

It’s easy to be aware of all the environmental problems facing us today (climate disruption, toxic waste, new pathogens, genetic engineering, antibiotic resistance, peak oil, peak air) without understanding what’s at the root of all these seemingly unrelated crises.

One of the best people to turn to for an explanation is Ronald Wright, bestselling author of A Short History of Progress. Last weekend The Toronto Star printed what was going to be the keynote address at tomorrow night’s Couchiching Conference, which Ronald had to withdraw from for personal reasons:

A span of five millennia may seem long enough to declare the experiment of civilization an unqualified success. But its entire run is barely one-fifth of one per cent of the human career on Earth. Even our modern subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens — people with the same physical and mental abilities as us — has existed between 10 and 20 times longer than its oldest civilization. The settled, urban life we regard today as normal is not the life that made us; not the life by which we evolved.

For me, the greatest mystery of what we call the “ancient world” is how recent it really is. No city or monument is much more than 5,000 years old. Only 70 lifetimes of 70 years have been lived end-to-end since civilization began. Yet civilization has displaced almost all other ways of living, often forcibly. There is now no viable alternative, no blank on the map, no going back without catastrophe. As we climbed the ladder of progress, we kicked out the rungs below…

The whole thing will probably take you about 22 minutes, and is a good primer on why unlimited economic growth is a myth that we need to get over as soon as possible. Or, you could watch a Simpsons rerun instead. I don’t want to tell you how to manage your time.

Energy = Massive Crisis2

Nothing hurts quite like being called a “bad blogger” by a friend. (Actually, now that I say that, I’m reminded of a number of things suggested by childhood games of “would you rather…” that would hurt more, but they’re not worth listing now.) The point is, it’s enough to jolt you back into typing action.

I could list all the reasons why I’ve been too busy to blog, but I’ll spare you. After all, we’re all too busy these days, aren’t we? I don’t want to start a you-know-whating contest.

What I do want to do is comment on Ontario’s ever degenerating (some pun intended) energy policy (or lack thereof). The “four sisters” of the Lakeview coal generating plant were brought down by a controlled implosion this past Monday, and yesterday the Ontario government announced that they’ll be turning to nuclear for the majority of our energy needs (as well as our energy wants).

Let me say that when I first joined the Green Party I wanted to give nuclear a chance. I thought that not supporting nuclear meant being unrealistic.

Now that I’ve seen the (compact, florescent) light, it’s actually hard to know where to begin dismantling the well-founded well-funded nuclear myth. There’s already been a lot of talk of the dangers of nuclear waste, and of the plants themselves, so let’s focus on some things that you may not know, and that demonstrate why nuclear is actually an exceptionally unrealistic choice.

First, according to National Geographic Magazine, with current technology there’s only 50 years of nuclear fuel left. Now, chances aren’t bad that technology will improve and that we’ll find some more fuel, so 50 years will likely become 100, or maybe more. However, I still think we should be aware of the fact that nuclear is in no way renewable or long-term before we put too much time and money into it.

Speaking of money, it’s even more important to recognize that nuclear power isn’t economically responsible. Nuclear is extremely expensive to build, maintain, and insure. The last nuclear power plant built in Ontario went 300% over budget. If consumers were asked to pay the real cost of nuclear power in their electricity bill (instead of through their taxes) they’d refuse, and the market would favour renewable sources over night (in tandem with efficiency and conservation), because in reality they’re less expensive.

Finally, even if you still thought nuclear was a good idea, you’d have to admit that energy policy is extremely important and deserves to be debated publicly. In fact, a year ago even energy minister Dwight Duncan promised “an open and public debate” before his government would decide to go nuclear. I guess he’s changed his mind. As Murry Campbell points out in today’s Globe and Mail, this isn’t just bad energy policy, it’s bad democracy.

The energy policy decisions we have to make are complex and critical. What we need is a mix of conservation, efficiency, renewables, and demand shifting. What we absolutely can’t do is just build a large, new, centralized generator every few years in perpetuity. The longer we take to realize that, the greater the crisis becomes.