Pic of the day: Why Norwegians don't particularly mind building more gas power plants. Taken late in March on the south coast of Norway.
MUST we Just Go On?
It is seemingly agreed by most civilized people that man-made greenhouse effect is a bad thing. I don't agree with this: In moderation, such as it has been so far, it only restores our climate to how it was in historical times. But that's beside the point, and anyway if we continue along our current course, we will in due time far overshoot what has happened before and cause changes so profound they will be visible from neighboring planets. This may or may not be a good idea, but the fact is that "we" – humankind in general – don't want, wish or intend to do this. And still we are doing it at an ever faster pace.
Here in Norway, the socialist government is encouraging new huge power stations burning natural gas (as opposed to the hydro power we have used since the introduction of electricity in this country). The rationale is that natural gas pollutes less than coal, and we can import less coal-derived power in the winter and export more power in the summer to replace coal power elsewhere. This is all very noble sounding, but there is one question not answered: Why are we using more and more energy in the first place?
Population growth has pretty much stopped all over Europe, and we don't export our power any further than that. Here in Norway too population growth is at a crawl even with immigration, negative without it. Still it is taken for granted that we use more energy and more electricity than a generation ago, and will continue to do so at a brisk clip. Why? Our houses have double-insulated walls and triple-insulated windows and are so tightly sealed that children get sick unless we open the windows. Our parents and grandparents lived in homes that were barely insulated at all and where you could feel the air inside moving when the wind picked up outside. Highly efficient reversible heat pumps are available for about a month's pay for most families. Since I was young we have had access to energy-saving everyday technologies like black sun collectors on the roof that heat water during the daytime, which can then be stored for heating during the night or simply to supply hot water with minimal use of electric power. But people cannot be bothered because energy is so cheap and we earn so much money, we simply don't need to use sun collectors or heat pumps. They are not pretty, and we can afford to do without them.
Computers become ever more energy efficient, and LCD screens use very little power whereas the old tubes – whether for TV or computer monitor – were space heaters. The fridges don't use any more power either, and I doubt you run two food processors at the same time. Yet somehow mysteriously we continue to use more and more power. I guess a clue can be found when you look at the new trend of heated driveways. Why shuffle snow out of your driveway (or hire the neighbor's kid to do it) when you can simply melt it all away with almost-free electricity?
If electricity was expensive and people did not swim in money, they would quickly save energy and there would be no need to build more power plants. But the power plants are popular because they employ laborers, so naturally the Labor party wants them.
Here in Northern Europe we have carbon tax on car fuels. The idea is that this should encourage people to use more fuel-efficient cars (which they do) or use bus and train (which they don't). In practice it is just another tax. Politicians always want to play Santa Claus, and this gives them more money to do so. But we can't raise it so far that people actually drive less, or there would be less taxes. That, and they might vote for the Progress Party, a party vaguely similar to the Republicans under G.W. Bush: Less taxes than expenses and hope for the future to fix it somehow. They are also nationalist and tolerant of moderate racism. Currently the largest party in the opinion polls, they call themselves a "party for common people". Which may be the problem.
Democracy is not the ideal government. The best would be to let benevolent and competent people rule. However, benevolent people hate ruling with the same gut-deep disgust with which small kids hate spinach. And competent people usually can get power and money elsewhere, though I suppose absolute rule might attract them if that was an option. But sadly the people who desperately want absolute power are the losers and the conscience-free egotists. Therefore any other government than democracy inevitably fall in the worst hands within a historically short time. So we are stuck with rule of the people, although people are stupid. The only thing I can think to do is to try to make them less stupid, and I need your help. Since we can't just kill off the stupid, we have to try to find the people who might think if it didn't hurt so much, and smuggle some thinking into our conversations with them. Not so much that they panic, but enough that they now and then look around and ask themselves: "Does it really have to be this way?"
If we don't want more greenhouse effect, can we really continue to use more energy from fossil fuels? If we want to feed 10 billion people, can we really eat two beef meals a day? If we want to live long, healthy lives, can we really eat like a pig and spend the day on the couch staring at the TV? And so on in every part of life. A lot of things are really obvious if we first stop and look around. If you hope to arrive somewhere, you don't walk in the opposite direction. That's just stupid. All we need to do is to not Just Go On being stupid. I think that is a reasonable goal for a human life.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.