Howdy, Howdy, Let's Get Rowdy---About a Path to Renewable Energy & More
If I were to write the autobiography of my life, at least in one version, I might entitle it How to Live the Life of a Nerd, in Three Easy Lessons. While I don't exactly look out of the mirror with a nerdish persona, the inner nerd is omnipresent beneath the surface. I mean, first half of sophomore year, my semester paper for my one-on-one major area history tutorial was subtitled "Welcome to the H-bomb Breadbasket," otherwise known as Dixie, or in the insulting parlance of H.L. Mencken, "the Sahara of the Bozart."
In fact, in many ways, this paper was the launching pad for almost forty years of following, trying to make sense of, and developing a 'concerned citizen's POV' on the history, science, economics, and politics of the labyrinthine intersection of the military industrial complex, the prison octopus, energy policy, and several other aspects of contemporary existence that interest me. One way this intersection became apparent, in the Autumn of 1972, just before the OPECification of the Seven Sisters and that long ago manifestation of economic malaise that shares so many attributes with our present dilemmas, was in seeing that, from the inception of the Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons had been inseparable from nuclear reactors.
Thus began a long trek along a pathway that came to include a passionate and principled opposition to radioactive killing machines and radioactive water boilers; a lively and inquisitive support for sustainability, which includes sustainable energy---essentially a combination of conservation and tapping into the sun as our primary source of power---and sustainable business; and a compulsive curiosity about what in capitalism seems ever drawn to magna methods. I've continued to ground myself in history as a necessary starting point for any rational conception of things, at the same time that the burgeoning development of technological and social models in the present has also commanded my rapt attention.
As one or another cult of expertise has insisted on primacy, I have remained a confirmed generalist, one who insists that clear questions and participatory conversation is much more likely to yield sound policies for citizens than a priesthood of Ph.d's who, like the Wizard of Oz, insist that we don't 'look behind the curtain.' In finding my way to Justmeans, I am hopeful that open and factual and reasoned dialog can somehow or other help to bring about a renaissance, a transformative energy that, through discussions about energy, might even manage to salvage capitalism itself.
A key framework that I bring to this discourse is that of Science, Technology, and Society(STS). Basically, this approach suggests that neither knowledge nor machines emanate from 'objective' or neutral labors of unbiased ubermensch, any more than the castles and guilds of feudalism emanated from God's commands. Instead, everything that is results from complex webs of relations that inherently blend social, political, and economic factors in a dynamic interplay of human conflict and cooperation that yields the present from the past, just as the only route to the future is through the now.
So saying, since my particular focus concerns energy, I must first of all address the issue of what in the heck that little word means. Just about everybody who is anybody talks about it---President Obama and seemingly every politician from Korea's head of state, Myung Buk Lee, to the current crop of Republicans and Democrats(who often seem to be 'Republocrats' or 'Demopublicans)vying for victory here in Georgia; Bill Gates and almost any businessman right on down to the little contractor who rents out my basement; pundits galore, and on and on and on. But before we embark on a journey of discovery and mutual exchange about the topic, perhaps we ought to explore, at least briefly, what we think we mean when we talk about 'energy.'
The SOP for defining energy always involves the capacity to do work. Such links as the following are helpful in this regard:
However, in these discussions, I want us to have a more down-to-earth, more social, more everyday way of thinking about the issues that we consider, ultimately, to be 'energy issues.'
As an operational definition for the output here, therefore, something like the following might serve us admirably. Energy consists of three sorts of increases in human capacity beyond that in our bodies alone: the first drives machinery that has brought us a world of plenty; the second produces either process heat---anything from cooking to the necessity of speeding up reactions at paper mills--or the ability to warm water or ourselves; the third involves any current of energy---now overwhelmingly electricity---that we use for comfort, light, entertainment or otherwise. Obviously, electric current can run factories, proffer heat of almost any sort and at almost any temperature, and give us voltage for whatever personal use we like. Still, for a variety of reasons that mainly concern what should by now be a mantra that everyone affirms---the absolute necessity of energy efficiency---noting that large scale motive power, process heat, warmth, and consumer-level current are distinct manifestations of our energy needs makes sense.
In any event, I look forward to continuing this Justmeans unfolding of ideas. Up next? A profile of an organization at the cutting edge of a sustainable future, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research(IEER), a look at its brilliant founder, Arjun Makhijani, and a brief introduction of Dr. Makhijani's recent monograph, Carbon Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for United States Energy Policy. As for myself, I'll close with a couple of things: first, a personal pronouncement that synopsizes my view of much of life: "I'm Irish, I always have a good time, even if on occasion it's only in retrospect." Second, I'll offer an excerpt from a poem particularly apropos for a consideration of problems and prospects about energy today, Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other as just as fair...
I shall be telling this with a sigh,
somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.