If I ask you what colour the sky was, you’d say blue. If I asked what colour it was right now where you are, the only way for you to answer correctly would be to go and look. That’s science: the go and look bit. Science is where we try and get past the rote answer and use evidence to understand what’s going on.
There have always been people who don’t like the go-and-look philosophy. Most of the time they’re the same people who would prefer we all take on the listen-to-them philosophy. It rankles with a certain type of person that they can’t just say anything they like without being fact-checked. It used to be religious authority who were most guilty of this; now it seems to be marketers & PR people working for rich corporations, billionaires and politicians. Or at least so the documents about the Heartland Institute released this week would lead us to conclude. (I’ll not go through this, you can read more about it here if you’re interested.
I don’t like this war. To me, if you want to know what colour the sky is, you go and look. If you can’t do that, you use the scientific method to find the most probable answer. You don’t ask yourself, what is the most beneficial answer? And then shout out to everyone who’ll listen that the sky is in fact black-and-white-stripes, punching anyone who disagrees with you in the mouth. The trouble is that in human affairs, what matters most isn’t what you can prove, it’s what you can get people to believe. And the anti-climate-change lobby have been very, very effective at getting the public to accept the idea that there’s any scientific controversy. There isn’t. Human action is causing the climate to change. (The graph in that last link is particularly compelling.)
Over and over again, I encounter the idea that renewables are only being developed for the subsidies; like there are fat cats putting up useless wind farms and then laughing at us all the way to the bank. I’ve seen no evidence for this. Firstly the subsidies are generally paid out alongside the electricity being generated, so that if you build a wind farm in a bad location or if you don’t maintain it you get far less in terms of subsidies. Secondly the expense of building the project and the risk of failure all fall on the developer, and many wind farms do fail at various points after significant time and money has been invested in them; not really something that encourages risky development and then running off with the cash. Thirdly, the renewables lobby, like the climate change lobby, are nowhere near as effective as their various counterparts. And fourthly, electricity prices are driven by gas prices. Renewables aren’t driving profits or costs to any large extent, and a lot of their profits goes back into the next development. Profits which are being invested in infrastructure aren’t lining fat cat pockets.
If there are powerful people with lots of spare money about, they’re not coming from the renewables industry. They’re more likely to be coming from the oil and gas sector. Those are the people who don’t want us to invest in renewable energy which doesn’t require a constant fuel source. Those are the people with both the motivation and the money to actually get their voice heard. And the evidence seems to suggest that they’re using that voice: they’re using it to lie to you.
The worst thing about it is that if we don’t know the facts we make poor decisions. We all want our grandchildren to live on a planet that’s at least as good as the one we have. No-one wants the luxury of a private jet if the direct cost is watching their grandchildren starve in a climate-change induced drought. If we change things now, we can do it slowly, keep the level of technology we have. If we don’t…
Well, the way I see it, if we don’t reduce our reliance on oil and gas we face much bigger problems than just climate change. We face the increasing instability of the Middle East, and hugely fluctuating prices. We face increasingly desperate technologies (like fracking) used in increasingly unsuitable environments. We face dwindling global supplies and perhaps even wars over what remains (the question of who owns North Sea oil if Scotland gains independence will seem tame in comparison). On a human level there could be a global crisis of a level not seen since the second world war. And on top of that we could have hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and monsoons, rising sea levels and dwindling water supplies.
Unless we work to avert it. Now. Little by little.
‘Turbinetastic’ is a wind industry professional who has kindly agreed to syndicate their posts to this blog. This post was originally published on turbinetastic’s own blog on 22/02/2012.