In 1905 the Spanish writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez described the horrible conditions of day laborers in the vineyards outside Jerez. Barely paid, almost starving, and sleeping on hay, the day laborers in Blasco Ibáñez’s novel, La Bodega, stumble through life as “cadavers, with twisted spines and dry limbs, deformed and clumsy.” But Blasco Ibáñez—a sort of Dickens of Andalusia—imagines a different fate for his protagonist. Our hero escapes with his fiancée to South America, “that young world” where land ownership is not a prerequisite for a good life. “What an Eden,” the narrator interjects, “so much better for the eager and strong peasant, a slave until then in body and soul to those who do not work.” The lovers “would be new, innocent, and industrious.” The novel ends happily—there is no doubt of that—but on a mixed metaphor, with an Eden where people work hard. Indeed Blasco Ibáñez’s term for “industrious”—laborioso—also translates as “toilsome.” What sort of Eden is this, where women and men till the soil? In Genesis, Adam and Eve simply pick fruit from orchards in perpetual bloom. At the Fall, God invents work as punishment and commands his children, “You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your own brow.” Blasco, however, views a certain form of labor as a reward, and most social critics have shared this perspective. Like most myths, Eden tolerates ambiguity.
Tag Archives: Energy
Here’s the good news: wind power, solar power, and other renewable forms of energy are expanding far more quickly than anyone expected, ensuring that these systems will provide an ever-increasing share of our future energy supply. According to the most recent projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, global consumption of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables will double between now and 2040, jumping from 64 to 131 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).
And here’s the bad news: the consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas is also growing, making it likely that, whatever the advances of renewable energy, fossil fuels will continue to dominate the global landscape for decades to come, accelerating the pace of global warming and ensuring the intensification of climate-change catastrophes.
The rapid growth of renewable energy has given us much to cheer about. Not so long ago, energy analysts were reporting that wind and solar systems were too costly to compete with oil, coal, and natural gas in the global marketplace. Renewables would, it was then assumed, require pricey subsidies that might not always be available. That was then and this is now. Today, remarkably enough, wind and solar are already competitive with fossil fuels for many uses and in many markets.
That Donald Trump is a grand disruptor when it comes to international affairs is now a commonplace observation in the establishment media. By snubbing NATO and withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, we’ve been told, President Trump is dismantling the liberal world order created by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the end of World War II. “Present at the Destruction” is the way Foreign Affairs magazine, the flagship publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it on its latest cover. Similar headlines can be found on the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. But these prophecies of impending global disorder miss a crucial point: in his own quixotic way, Donald Trump is not only trying to obliterate the existing world order, but also attempting to lay the foundations for a new one, a world in which fossil-fuel powers will contend for supremacy with post-carbon, green-energy states.
The Russia sanctions bill that passed the US Senate by 98:2 on June 15 is a bombshell; it directly demonizes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, under the Baltic Sea, which is bound to double Gazprom’s energy capacity to supply gas to Europe.The 9.5 billion euro pipeline is being financed by five companies; Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall; Austria’s OMV; France’s Engie; and Anglo-Dutch Shell. All these majors operate in Russia, and have, or will establish, pipeline contracts with Gazprom.In a joint statement, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern stressed that, “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, not the United States of America”; “instruments for political sanctions should not be tied to economic interests”; and the whole thing heralds a “new and very negative quality in European-American relations”.
LIKE vinyl records and popped collars, rows between the United States and Europe over Russian energy are making a comeback. In the early 1980s Ronald Reagan’s attempts to thwart a Soviet pipeline that would bring Siberian gas to Europe irritated the West Germans and drove the French to proclaim the end of the transatlantic alliance. The cast of characters has shifted a little today, but many of the arguments are the same. In Nord Stream 2 (NS2), a proposed Russian gas pipeline, Germany sees a respectable project that will cut energy costs and lock in secure supplies. American politicians (and the ex-communist countries of eastern Europe) detect a Kremlin plot to deepen Europe’s addiction to cheap Russian gas. They decry German spinelessness.
People are putting their lives on the line to protect the waters in Standing Rock, but the choices we make every day mean that pipelines are being built through sacred sites, carrying fracked oil, and vast areas of wilderness are being destroyed for tar sand extraction. Our climate is overloaded with carbon and the speed of the melt and change to our climate life-support system is staggering. The future for our children is looking uncertain. Do we really want to be a part of this?
Scroll through Donald Trump’s campaign promises or listen to his speeches and you could easily conclude that his energy policy consists of little more than a wish list drawn up by the major fossil fuel companies: lift environmental restrictions on oil and natural gas extraction, build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, open more federal lands to drilling, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, revive the coal mining industry, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. In fact, many of his proposals have simply been lifted straight from the talking points of top energy industry officials and their lavishly financed allies in Congress.If, however, you take a closer look at this morass of pro-carbon proposals, an obvious, if as yet unnoted, contradiction quickly becomes apparent. Were all Trump’s policies to be enacted – and the appointment of the climate-change denier and industry-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests the attempt will be made – not all segments of the energy industry will flourish. Instead, many fossil fuel companies will be annihilated, thanks to the rock-bottom fuel prices produced by a colossal oversupply of oil, coal, and natural gas.
Scroll through Donald Trump’s campaign promises or listen to his speeches and you could easily conclude that his energy policy consists of little more than a wish list drawn up by the major fossil fuel companies: lift environmental restrictions on oil and natural gas extraction, build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, open more federal lands to drilling, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, revive the coal mining industry, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. In fact, many of his proposals have simply been lifted straight from the talking points of top energy industry officials and their lavishly financed allies in Congress.
If, however, you take a closer look at this morass of pro-carbon proposals, an obvious, if as yet unnoted, contradiction quickly becomes apparent. Were all Trump’s policies to be enacted — and the appointment of the climate-change denier and industry-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests the attempt will be made — not all segments of the energy industry will flourish. Instead, many fossil fuel companies will be annihilated, thanks to the rock-bottom fuel prices produced by a colossal oversupply of oil, coal, and natural gas.
Indeed, stop thinking of Trump’s energy policy as primarily aimed at helping the fossil fuel companies (although some will surely benefit). Think of it instead as a nostalgic compulsion aimed at restoring a long-vanished America in which coal plants, steel mills, and gas-guzzling automobiles were the designated indicators of progress, while concern over pollution — let alone climate change — was yet to be an issue.
Last week, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota emerged as climate change heroes when, with little political clout or media spotlight, they halted construction of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline. After tribal chairman David Archambault II and others were arrested for pushing past barricades to block excavating machinery, Leonardo DiCaprio tweeted that he was inspired, and Bill McKibben touted Native Americans as the “the vanguard of the movement.” As the tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop crews from burrowing beneath the Missouri River immediately upstream from their land, the homely, unpronounceable hashtag #NoDAPL surged—short for No Dakota Access Pipeline.
Meanwhile, the defiance evoked America’s ugly racial past—and present. “It feels like 1875 because Natives are still fighting for our land,” tweeted Native American writer Sherman Alexie. Archambault could have been describing Ferguson or Baltimore when, in the New York Times, he decried racial profiling and claimed that “the state has militarized my reservation.” In a touch of epic derp that would be funny if it didn’t actually reveal how people of color are assumed to be violent, when the Lakota invited relatives to pack their peace pipes and gather with them in solidarity, the (white) county sheriff thought they meant pipe bombs.
Yes, I still believe that nuclear power can make a useful contribution to low-carbon energy. No, I do not believe that the new plant the government has just approved at Hinkley Point is part of that useful contribution. Far from it: this preposterous white elephant could scarcely be better designed to persuade people that nuclear energy is an expensive and dangerous distraction from the decisions we have to make.
Let’s start where all such discussions should start: at the most important place. The overwhelming priority for those who make decisions about energy must be to avert climate breakdown. They need to keep the lights on, but not by sacrificing the future welfare of humanity and Earth’s living systems. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. It is also better to curse the darkness than to burn your house down.