(#285) – Super Storm Sandy flooded major parts of New York City with ocean water levels that were not predicted for several decades ahead. Several blocks of residences burned to the ground. Tens of thousands still live in one-room motels from week to week without any assurance of financial, food, work, mail assistance. The winds and rain were not that great. Yet the devastation and the 1100-mile extent of the same storm system, was unprecedented.
To understand what is happening to us we need to understand the actual results of our energy economy. Several descriptions are available. The one the next several columns will focus on is: our energy economy is toxic to nature, people and good government. I cannot think of a more devastating ghastly or truer statement.
Prevailing economic development, including local authorities, is based on the catastrophic assumption that we are Managers of the Natural world, which is limitless in its resources. This results in the absurd insistence on growing the economy and doing so without confirming to the laws of nature’s economy. By far, the greatest single error is the misunderstanding of the changing impacts of energy.
For the half of the human population that lives in industrial society, energy, even more than tens of trillions of dollars, is the most important issue of governance.
Industrial society persists in economic activity that assumes that the early commitment to fossil fuel energy rests on limitless natural supply and natural eco-system absorption of the toxic wastes of industrial production can continue until human ingenuity finds new solutions to its energy addiction. The fact is that the fabulous fossil fuel ride has already crashed. We may find more fossil fuel resources, adapt to higher prices, but the natural world upon which all life is totally dependent, is already 50 years into the poisoning of the biosphere where all life support systems exist, including, atmosphere, land, water, air. Every year, locally and globally, weather events, reacting to human energy production and consumption, remind us of the closing window for human commitment to an energy economy that satisfies the requirements the natural world and human society. Of course, this is too short and partly false. Humanity is but one of the Earth’s living communities and is just another part of the natural world and subject to its laws.
All of this has immediate practical impact on local private, not-for-profit and government economic development planning. Thousands of families, businesses and municipalities in our area have recently invested several millions of dollars in gas, propane or electric generators. Thousands of new generators, burning fossil fuels to generate energy increase the toxicity of our air, cost tens of thousands of new dollars every day they are turned on. Their life expectancy is around seven years, partly because of poor maintenance and the increasing incidence of poor quality fuel. Given the dramatic fall in solar electric prices, the same investment in solar electric panels would shift to clean, renewable energy with a decade or more of free energy.
Future columns will identify many more positive outcomes that are readily available. We can build a new energy economy that is appropriately scaled to mirror the local natural energy economy and provide security and prosperity on a sustainable basis for everyone.