Untenable Environmentalism

In the May 17 issue of The New Yorker there's a great piece profiling a brilliant inventor Saul Griffith.   Griffith is involved with many projects, a large proportion of which have to do with alternative energy technologies or energy conservation devices.  Two excerpts are really worth my time typing in here (the article is only available online to subscribers, though an abstract is here) and well worth your time reading.

The writer, David Owen, explains that limiting global warming to a level of 2 degrees C would mean replacing 13 of the 16 terawatts of total energy use that the human race uses with non-fossil fuel sources. Doing that, according to Griffith's calculations, would require that we build the equivalent of the following every second for the next 25 years: "a hundred square metres of solar cells, fifty square metres of new solar-thermal reflectors, and one Olympic swimming pool's volume of genetically engineered algae (for biofuels)" as well as "one three-hundred-foot diameter wind turbine every five minutes; and one hundred-megawatt nuclear power plant every week."   Theoretically possible but probably politically and financially impossible.

So Griffith understands that a purely high-tech fix to generate the same amount of energy we use now is not the whole solution.  He works on low-tech projects to make our livess more energy efficient, like cheap insulation for homes, but even with these advances we still as a society need to change the way we live and use resources. He describes a problem that I have observed over and over again, on the personal as well as public level:

"environmentalists... are bold-facedly hypocritical, and I don't think the environmentalism movement as we've known it is tenable or will survive. Al Gore has done a huge amount to help this cause, but he is the No. 1 environmental hypocrite. His house alone uses more energy than an average person uses in all aspects of life, and he flies prodigiously. I don't think we can buy the argument anymore that you get special dispensation just because what you're doing is worthwhile." Griffith includes himself in this condemnation. He said "Right now, the main thing I'm working on is trying to invent my way out of my own hypocrisy."

I've seen this hypocrisy many times, with professional enviros jetting around the globe so they can, for instance, hike up a mountain in order to publicise the plight of the Andean glaciers, or go to meetings about climate change. These people somehow think they have a magic pass to spew carbon into the air because their jobs have something to do with saving the world. This is simply not going to fly (pun intended).