when your tool is a hammer…

January 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

800px-18th_century_arctic_whaling

…every problem becomes a nail.

Bill McKibben’s excellent New York Times op-ed yesterday makes several points about the pipeline battles that have galvanized upper midwesterners and other environmentally- and culturally-minded citizens over the last couple of years.  This hits close to home–the Dakota Access pipeline is scheduled to slice right across architecturefarm’s home county–but to me the most relevant paragraphs describes the outdated mindset behind these projects:

On questions of energy economics, Mr. Trump is stuck somewhere in the Reagan era, when energy independence at any cost was the watchword. He’s lost the plot of modern technological development. It’s sun and wind that are going to be our dominant sources of power as their prices continue to plummet. In fact, his approach may be even more antique: Fixating on Canada’s tar sands — where the economics of extracting low-quality crude have driven one big company after another out of that oil patch — is roughly equivalent, in its energy logic, to planning a sperm whale expedition.

There are many reasons why these projects have troubled activists, but this, to me, is the most symptomatic and worrying.  I imagine future archaeologists looking at these projects–which, after all, aren’t even about supplying energy to North America, they’re about getting Canadian oil to shipping in the Gulf of Mexico so that it can be exported–and seeing them as one of two things.  Either they portend the last gasps of a society so locked into its obsession with fossil fuels that they literally poisoned their groundwater and spent billions of dollars to suck the stuff out of tar sands in one of the most inhospitable and fragile ecosystems in the world.  Or they’ll be seen as indicators of oil’s end game; in hindsight, I’d imagine these will be barometers of just how far we’ve passed peak oil, and how much more economic sense sources like solar, wind, and even nuclear are going to make in the next century or two.  (Yes, it kills me to include nuclear.  But in the interests of keeping open minds, let’s acknowledge that the damage it’s caused in the last sixty years pales in comparison to that caused by fossil fuels).

The most depressing thing about these pipeline projects is how they so totally ignore the design and production advances that have–for the first time–made solar and wind economically competitive.  You don’t have to be a card-carrying progressive to feel disappointed that, just as the world’s design ingenuity seems to be paying off, and renewable energy seems not only feasible, but logical, these whaling expeditions are garnering so much attention, and so much support.

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