Longing for a Lost World that never was


Tonight I watched a bit of the PBS News Hour but turned it off when the nightly is/is not rant began. In this case, there were two opponents arguing that the US Federal stimulus was/was not having an impact. Then later there was a similar is/is not discussion of the US loans to underwrite new nuclear plant construction. Each side provides an opaque philosophical argument and disregards the evidence of the other side. The part that really caught my ear and offended me was the speaker from F.O.E., Friends of the Earth arguing that we should abandon our civilization and learn to live in a friendlier world powered by wind turbines and solar and stop all of this evil nuclear construction and shutdown all coal plants. Great!

I did not see any evidence of homespun on the speaker. His sole argument against nuclear was that the government was unable to come up with a solution for waste. Yeah, I know that problem — seems that no one would come up with a design that would guarantee absolute integrity of the waste storage for 100,000 years or more using the most geologically stable site in the US. So we leave this stuff on site, while conveniently ignoring the accumulating pile of spent fuel rods — which the government was going to deal with a long time ago. Problem with all of this is that no one can guarantee that any of us will be here in 100,000 years or that any form of communication were devise will still be readable in that interval. Heck, human civilization as we know it has only lasted for a tiny fraction of that interval, not even China.

Somehow there is a part of me that says I know what the problem is, it is not a fear of the future as much as a longing for a past that never was. We think that by turning back the clock we can make all the terrible choices we face just go away. The various religious extremists want this — no abortion, no western moral corruption, etc. I am guilty of this to some extent — I am fascinated by the Ontario around me as it existed 100 years ago. The little towns were very much happening places — one could get to many places that are now tough to reach even by car on the train. There was bustling industry, thriving farms, etc. Almost the antithesis of what I see around me. But the depressing reality is that the activity was driven by a general clearcutting of the land that left lasting scars. Transportation was slow and expensive so food had to be made locally. When the trees were gone the area started to die a slow death. Even so, the damage to the land to generate power was very small — simply because in everyday life the work was done by human and animal muscle.

I dont think the future deniers have really thought it through. They live in a society enabled by unimaginable availability of power. No past age had the forces we call upon without a thought. What is worse, that society ran by the sun — when it was down a lot of activities stopped. The idiots like FOE (an apt name) want to return to that world and work when the sun was up or the wind blew. And if we actualy did this on a large scale, have they thought about what happens to the climate when the wind slows? The handwave of keeping the fuel-burning power sources going being the scenes is just a dodge — the wind blows only 25% of the time, so unless we accept major changes, we will do nothing to slow the warming of the earth. But we will all be poorer.

Unlike the past, the future is scary. We will make mistakes. But the arrow of time goes in one direction only. I would chose a nuclear future untill someone discovers how to light a sun. The alternative seems to be nothing more than to freeze in the dark.

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