Developing Non-polluting Energy
Excerpted from Re-Inheriting the Earth, Chapter 2
© Brian O'Leary, Ph.D., 2003
"Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall.
He will end up destroying the earth."
AS A NASA astronaut appointee in the Apollo program in 1967, I felt proud to be on a team with a positive and focused vision: to land a man on the Moon and return him to Earth safely by the end of the decade. In those days I felt a sense of technological optimism, that in our enterprising wisdom, if a problem came up, we would find a solution. We in fact got there ahead of schedule and within budget. It all was a great success.
I generalized my positive ness to the free enterprise culture. For example, if a given approach to energy production were bad for our health, we would explore cleaner alternatives that would eventually compete in the marketplace. The government would give a special boost to those research efforts and those companies that could solve the problem.
We all would want to fully explore the most promising directionsÑones that would help both the economy and the ecology. I carried my idealism into the 1970s while working on Udall's committee to develop renewable alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear power. But, as we have seen, little has been done to bring clean and renewable options to the marketplace, in spite of enormous efforts to do so and with little Government support. For all practical purposes, fossil fuels still represent the only show in town. I slowly learned that the free market may not be so free when it comes to the multi-trillion dollar vested interests.
How wrong I was to have been so optimistic...and how right I could be, given a positive cultural political or economic shift in attitude, policy, new ideas and creative collaboration between the public and private sectors.
The world energy establishment has become enormous and unassailable, above public discussion. In 1997 seven of the twelve largest corporations in the world provided either fossil fuels or automobiles and four others are involved with related financial infrastructures. Through elaborate public relations campaigns and influencing politicians and media, the energy monopoly wants you to think that there is only one way: central station power plants and distributed internal combustion engines, both burning dirty and unrenewable fuels. Nothing could be further from the truth. Renewable and clean energy is feasible and cost effective.
Even newer sources now being researched promise more elegant solutions. This chapter will show that the fossil fuel binge could come to an end, soon to be replaced with sustainable energy. This is an idea whose time has come.
The New Energy Crisis
History teaches us that the bigger an institution is and the longer it has been around, the more implacable, unwieldy and corrupt it becomes. The vested interests become a tyranny, an ego trip for those on the top. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." It is therefore not surprising that, once we awaken to solutions, the very success of institutionalized "profitable" extractive processes may also become their downfall. Deep inside we all can sense that the end of the pollution paradigm may be near.
drastic price increases for an infuriated, impoverished and blacked-out public. Once one cuts through the greed and propaganda, it becomes obvious that the only solution that makes sense is a shift to clean renewables.
It follows that the wealthiest entities in the world, the energy companies, the U.S. Government and their media mouthpieces are not where you're going to find the answers. There's too much at stake for these multitrillion dollar giants to want to give up their power. Whether it's Exxon, General Motors, the U.S. Department of Energy, the President, the Prime Minister, Congress or Parliament, we can expect to get the stone wall of suppression of viable alternatives to the internal combustion engine and to the fossil-fuel-fired power plant.
These energy developments come from nineteenth century science. Fossilized hydrocarbon fuel is ignited to either: (1)explode to move some parts to run a vehicle, or (2) boil water to turn turbines which generate and pipe electricity through a grid system. This was the choice we made about 100 years ago that would to a large extent define a whole century.
Perhaps the die was cast when U.S. industrialist J.P. Morgan withdrew Nicola Tesla's funding because of Tesla's interest in researching wireless "free" energy. Morgan owned most of the copper mines that would be used profitably as wire in the rapidly growing electrical grid system, made possible ironically by Telsa's own invention of alternating current for grids in 1882.
Since Tesla's time, there have been ample opportunities to look at new ways of providing energy, but most all of them have been beaten down. My own research confirms over and over that the suppression of clean alternatives is more robust than ever. Even our efforts to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency have met with great resistance economically and politically. But our awakening to the truth will prevail as the facts become more obvious to more people. In Chapter 4, we'll return to the question of the shift in economic and political power needed to move on to a sustainable future.
Along with many other analysts of our energy-environment picture, I believe that merely reducing emissions or improving efficiency will be too little too late. No number of fuel-efficient automobiles or powerplants, catalytic converters, stack scrubbers, batteries or fuel cells could replace the deployment of clean, renewable, inexpensive energy sources. We need both. Dennis Weaver, actor and founding president of the Institute of Ecolonomics, put the situation this way: "We've tried the band-aid approach for solving the smog problem for years and predictably it's not working...(efficiency) can no longer be our thrust. We need new technology for a New Millennium."
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