It was thought that the machines would not be able to find an energy source as abundant as the sun.
-Morpheus in The Matrix
I am not a “hard” scientist. I am no physicist, chemist or biologist. I am a political scientist by training (and whether or not that counts is an entirely different post) but I have always had more than a passing interest in all sciences and would like to think that I have slightly better than the lay person’s understanding of those fields, or at least an adequate grasp of them.
Which is why I have a hard time understanding why it is not obvious to everyone that solar and wind energy are the way to go for our needs. We learn, usually no later than seventh grade, that the higher up the food chain you go, the less efficient our energy consumption is. The macro predator gets less energy from his prey than they do from theirs, all the way down to plants achieving the best result getting their power right from the sun. How is this not true for our technological society?
For all intents and purposes, with the exception of a few chemical exchanges and tidal forces, the ultimate source of all energy on this planet is the sun. Even the hydrocarbons we use, whether we mine and drill for them, or grow them, comes from the sun. Would it not just be easier to skip the middle man? Why do we insist on staying this horribly destructive course?
Matt Taibbi does a good job of answering the question in this article. To move away from our addiction to hydrocarbons, especially fossil fuels would mean investors taking a bath. The big wigs in the financial sector, of course, would make sure to socialize the losses on this. Let the little guy take the hurt, but I am left asking another question, why should energy be a private good at all?
I am not anti-capitalist, regardless of what some might believe. If you make a better toy, entertainment, or have a better tool for the job, by all means, you should be able to make a profit off it. There are certain things that are public needs though and along with health care (and obviously there is still a huge debate in the US with that) energy is one of them. It may even be more true of energy. We are required to use it, in our homes, on our jobs, on our way to our jobs and in just about every aspect of our lives. Private companies should be out of the energy game, yet our obsession with the free market as the only source of good keeps that from ever being discussed.
I know I am going to risk some backlash on this, but the state should be running wind farms and helping set up solar panels for every building. Given that it is impossible to not have a monopoly of the delivery process without turning our communities into nightmarish visions of tangled wires, and given that monopolies always seek to take advantage, it seems obvious to me that private interests have no place running that societal need.
It is time we started thinking beyond profit uber alles. Money is a tool, no more, no less. It is a means, not an end, and yet the almost religious zeal with which we revere it threatens our health. Our mental health, our physical health, our environmental health, our individual health and our collective health. We are on a collision course with the consequences of our actions and unless we put the brakes on this unrestrained capitalism train, we are going to smash into them.