Saturday, December 9, 2006

Does economic analysis run your life?

One of the arguments being used against solar installations on homes and businesses is that from an economic perspective, photovoltaics stink, even when partially subsidized by local utility companies, because the payback period is so long.

If economics were the only thing that really mattered, this argument might hold water, but it ignores what's actually going on in the world today and their interconnections. The global growth economy is a completely fabricated reductionistic fantasy--the only things that are growing are sprawl, destruction, and the printing presses that create the money. It's no longer a question of if it will collapse, but how soon and how spectacularly.

On the energy front, Peak Oil is here today. It will most likely be possible to stretch the plateau out for a bit longer, but this just makes the eventual descent even steeper. There goes our plastic throw-away economy--everything from iPods to the elastic in your underwear.

Catastrophic climate destabilization is also here today. When people finally arouse themselves from the stupor of the consensus trance, coal fired power generation will be a thing of the past. Even if a technological miracle were to occur so coal could be burned "cleanly" and not just be a bit less polluting, the only way to get the quantity of coal at the rate necessary to continue powering the doomsday economy of the Industrial Growth Society is through mountaintop removal, and that is simply not worth the environmental and human suffering it creates.

Nuclear is a chimera. Processing all the concrete necessary for a reactor is energy intensive and polluting, uranium mining is environmentally devastating and toxic to life, core safety and decomissioning are still problematic, and a safe method of handling the waste is still a pipe dream. 50,000 year (or even 500 year) deadzones so people can run their hair dryers? I don't think so.

This leaves solar, wind, and hydro, which all have drawbacks as well, but these drawbacks are mainly related to the fact that our beleaguered planet is vastly overpopulated and much of this population is either already addicted to overconsumption in order to make up for loss of natural fulfillment, or clamoring to get to this point.

But currently available renewables also represent our best hope of creating a sustainable future. They allow people and communities to regain control of their lives, their well-being, and their economic destiny. Being asked to consider an economic payback of 15 years on a solar installation is a total red-herring when basic survival over the next 5 years is what we should be considering. This means a whole lot of rebuilding and retrofitting, combined with redevelopment of city design on a more human scale instead of being totally automobile dependent.

Of course, the vast majority of people still go into full tilt denial mode when asked to consider the bigger picture.

Energy descent will be combined with increased energy efficiency and energy conservation, of that there can be little doubt. One very radical suggestion would be to tax at about a 90% rate the profits of the pollution economy and use that to invest in renewables, efficiency, and sustainable development within relocalized steady-state economies. This would take the onus off the individual and put it square in the realm of the polis--used in the original Greek meaning of the term.

In all the schemes I've evaluated, the only one that continues to make long-term sense, for both the human species and the planet, is one where people generate the majority of their energy needs at the home, business, and neighborhood levels, with a community or regional utility picking up the slack. This also requires a global population about 2/3rds smaller than it is today, with about half of this population involved in some aspect of biointensive organic food production using permaculture techniques. This social and economic system will stay within bioregional carrying capacity limits, as well as be administered by democratic confederations within these same bioregional boundaries.

Or, we'll continue to elect maniacs on the national stage who will continue to promise a better tomorrow just as soon as we exterminate an "other" who is keeping us from this better tomorrow. In the meantime, we'll continue to drive the SUV to MacDonalds on the way to the Mall to buy plastic closet organizers, where the biggest hill that land yacht is ever going to see are the speed-bumps in the parking lot.

As always, it comes down to choices. Which story do we decide to put our faith in? Which one not only feels right to you, but makes the most rational sense? Which one seems to be in alignment with the way natural systems have been self-organizing mutually beneficial attraction relationships that have supported life for billions of years?

1 comment:

JaneAnneJ said...

Hi, David--

Do the Greens have a candidate for 2008? If so, who?

JaneAnne Jeffries