Life is full of tough choices…
…but this isn’t one of them.
Or is it?
The trouble is, of course, that removing all the subsidies and tax breaks given to the fossil fuel industry (which are delaying the creation of a free market in power generation) will make fossil fuels even more expensive.
In the USA, the fiscal cliff was narrowly avoided by last-minute agreement on budget cuts (hence the above choice). However, the fiscal cliff arose out of over-spending and economic stagnation; and both of these can be blamed – at least in part – on rising fuel prices.
In the UK, fossil fuels are already more than twice as expensive as they are in the USA (as they have been for decades). However, as a result of a weakening currency, they are now expected to reach an all-time record next month.
Even if we ignore the impossibility of perpetual growth in resource consumption and waste generation on a finite planet — and the consequential reality that we cannot rely on perpetual economic growth to pay-off the massive debts denying it has caused — we all need power to heat and light our homes; and get us to and from work.
The end of the era of cheap energy is therefore cited by many as the reason for the end of growth. This is a reality the World urgently needs to take on board. This will require radical thinking; and radical changes in policy in all areas of government policy. Thus, Richard Heinberg has been proven right:
Is it time to go “cold turkey”?
Sadly, electric cars are not going to be the answer; unless the electricity is generated from renewable or nuclear energy. Therefore, since the latter will take decades to become a reality – and our governments are still not doing as much as they could to invest in renewable energy – power generation capacity is clearly developing into a serious problem.
Here in the UK, we are facing a double-whammy: Record-breaking high fuel prices and the EU-enforced early-retirement of 10% of our oldest (and most-polluting) coal-fired power stations. Therefore, unless we, as individual consumers, invest in renewable energy, we will soon be paying more than ever for something whose supply will be more uncertain than ever. Believe me, if I could install solar PV panels on my roof I would. Sadly, without a job, I cannot.
Sadly, too, opposition to the radical solutions needed for us to resolve our problems is unwelcome irrespective of its origin: Denying that we have a problem is just as much an impediment to implementing solutions as is disregarding potential solutions for ideological reasons. For example, if our governments had not given up on fast breed reactor programmes in the 1980s (as a consequence of the campaign for nuclear disarmament mutating into ideological opposition to civil nuclear power generation) we would probably by now have solved the technical problems and be extracting uranium from sea water (wherein there is more of it than there is beneath our feet).
Must we embrace nuclear power?
In the long-run, yes, I think we must. The only thing that will make this unnecessary is the increasing possibility that Nature will soon intervene – and reduce the global human population to pre-Industrial levels (i.e. 1 billion). However, in the meantime, an awful lot of poor people need low-tech solutions. The good news is that such solutions definitely exist and, as Stephen Leahy pointed out over the weekend (reposting an item from over 3 years ago): “Bringing clean energy to billions costs far less than fossil fuel subsidies”.
Will we choose to fail or choose to succeed?
Just how long, I wonder, until expensive energy (and therefore expensive food) causes social instability?
What will our governments do then? Admit they were wrong and make radical changes, or send the Army on to the streets to maintain order? Sadly, I think we know the answer to that one – Jared Diamond gave it to us several years ago: