Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Kilowatt Ours" and the energy chimera

Last night I tuned into the program "Kilowatt Ours" on the New Jersey PBS station, NJN.  The synopsis sounded interesting -- a look at our energy usage and how it interacts with our health and environment.  Now, I did turn it on about 17 minutes in, so I'm not sure how it started out, but the first part I caught was discussing the link between burning coal, skyrocketing child asthma rates, and higher levels of mercury in expectant mothers leading to decreased cognitive ability in children.  All good stuff and well documented.

Then, however, the program lost me.  The documentary producer proposed his two-step program for solving these problems: 1) Energy efficiency, and, 2) Clean energy.  Perhaps the most important part of the equation -- doing with LESS -- was not even broached.  Then again, this was not all that surprising, since the main thrust of environmentalism and "sustainability" now seems to be continuing the same energy-rich lifestyle of the affluent by exploitative mining of the environment in means other than fossil fuels.  Paul Kingsnorth, co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, discussed this trend in environmentalism -- a moving away from concern with preserving wild spaces in a wild and unspoiled form toward this alternative mining of the environment under the mantra of "sustainability".  You can read his piece here.

Quite simply put, I remain unconvinced that there is any magic bullet out there that will enable us to continue our current lavish and energy-rich lifestyles in the face of declining resource bases.  Rather, we need to first prioritize our "needs" and "wants/luxuries," and then look more inwardly and locally for securing the means to the former while realizing that we need to let go of the latter.  Also, I don't think that doing so requires us to abandon any hope for a good life, it just means that we need to re-define the metrics by which we define it.

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