None of the Above
How lies, overpromotion and political correctness conceal those energy breakthroughs that can help us survive the ecological crisis
by Brian O’Leary, November, 2007, www.brianoleary.com
Nuclear power. Carbon sequestration at coal plants. Ethanol-from-corn. Other kinds of biofuels. Carbon cap-and-trading. Hybrid cars. Gas-turbine micropower. Efficient powerplants. Hydrogen economy. Hydropower. Geothermal energy. Solar. Wind. Tides. Waves. Ocean thermal gradients.
Which one(s) of these will solve the climate crisis and give us a significant push towards sustainability? The sobering answer to any truthful inquiry, I am sorry to say, is none of the above. We, in our mainstream discourse, are almost literally tilting at windmills.
Only second-generation new energy such as zero-point, cold fusion and advanced hydrogen and water chemistries, have the potential to reverse humanity’s perilous course towards runaway climate change and irreversible pollution. Yet nobody with significant public access knows or wants to know this. Why is there such a disconnect about this?
In my 68 years in this embodiment, I have experienced increasing awareness from within as well as decreasing integrity among policymakers from without, about how humans have lost the capacity to cope with the challenges of our war on humanity and nature. My native country, the United States, leads the way into this insane destruction of ourselves and our habitat.
The most conspicuous two examples now are our inability to extract ourselves from genocide in the Middle East and to answer the clarion call to do something about global warming, climate change and carbon emissions. Those in the public eye stop short of the solutions we so desperately need to reverse the climate crisis, even among the so-called environmentalists themselves.
Moving into lasting, elegant breakthrough energy solutions is denied even by those who should know better—the mainstream progressives, environmentalists, scientists and investigative journalists. They, too, seem to be defending their own vested interests in incremental remedies, which, like the Kyoto Protocols themselves, would lead to results that are too little, too late.
The deception, whether conscious or not, has become so glaring, the public has become bewildered by fear, disinformation, obfuscation and conformity to politically correct but environmentally catastrophic norms. By default and through clever propoganda, we are blinded into waging pre-emptive war on what it will really take to solve the climate crisis, because nobody of influence wants to bite the bullet of the profound changes we need to make. Meanwhile, our corporate masters accumulate ever more wealth and the power to suppress innovation as we go down the road of denial and destruction.
I sometimes liken this process of problem-solving to peeling an onion whose successive layers contain increasing germs of truth but decreasing levels of conformity. An unpleasant process of tearful revelation emerges only for those who choose to look. Most of us don’t want to navigate beyond our own comfort zones out of fear of personal consequences, ranging from the loss of friendship and career to the prospect of humiliation, imprisonment, and even torture or murder.
So, by default, most of us give into living the lie of a false political “consensus” that represents only the outermost layers of the onion, sealed by the tyranny of the elite.
I call this model “concentric circles of conformity versus truth”. We have been led to believe that we are in a state of perpetual war in an Orwellian world in which our leaders lie their way through power. And, as we all know, truth is the first casualty of war. Conformity rather than truth becomes the standard of our behavior. We dumb down.
The outermost layer contains the most blatant falsehoods, controlled by a corporatocracy of money, weapons, dirty energy and “security”. The Republican neocons of the Bush-Cheney regime and their financial supporters effectively carry this banner. Judging from the most lucratively funded, media-dubbed Democrats in Congress and presidential “front-runners”, they, too are waltzing into their own Tweedle-Dum roles as the new perpetrators of the lies of war, tyranny and pollution.
But the next layer into the onion, which I call the standard progressive critique of the way-things-are, can be even more deceptive. Going after the politicians and corporations in charge, these individuals and groups, whose expression can be eloquent, nevertheless offer no significant or lasting remedies to our massive carbon dioxide discharges into the atmosphere.
Yes, the progressives might even give up on the Democrats and vaguely seek political strategies. They want the war to end. They want the illegal surveillance, secrecy and torture to stop. Some of them want to impeach the president and vice president. But, based on results, they too are spineless and so the noises they make are just that.
The progressives and mainstream environmentalists seek 1970s incremental energy solutions such as solar, wind and increasing efficiency without having the foggiest idea that breakthrough energy such as zero point, cold fusion and advanced hydrogen chemistries wait in the wings with real answers that could give us clean, cheap and decentralized energy.
In 1975, I served as energy advisor to presidential candidate Morris Udall. I also worked with some of the Democratic majority on his U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, where we envisioned a largely renewable energy economy by 2000. We felt we could accomplish this with a dramatic increase of solar, wind and geothermal energy, plus improvements in efficiency. These actions would allow us to replace the burning of uranium and hydrocarbons with much cleaner energy.
The Congressmen and I felt these approaches could some day become the mainstay of energy use, using today’s technologies bound by the traditional “laws” of physics. But such a Manhattan-type commitment would require new investments on the order of trillions of dollars reallocated from defense spending and dirty, unsafe energy that dominated, and still dominates, our energy policies. Going for the renewables would be a hard sell, but feasible in the event we had a re-awakened Congress and a visionary administration.
But now, 32 years later, the results have been just the opposite. The vested interests in coal, oil and nuclear energy are soaring in profit and power. Solar, wind, and a renewables-generated hydrogen economy, while on the increase, still represent only about 0.2 % of total global energy use. Meanwhile, during that interval, we have tripled the burning of coal, oil and gas—this in spite of the warnings of the climate scientists.
And, now, we’re finding out that solar and wind are not as renewable as they first appeared to be. Any careful study free of advocacy, shows these sources are too intermittent, diffuse, and materials-, land- and capital-intensive to come even close to meeting world energy demand. Geothermal and hydropower are also approaching their limits.
The solar and wind advocates comprise the bulk of mainstream clean energy thinking. My colleague Keith Lampe calls these solutions “first-generation alternative energy” or “transition energy.” Lampe writes that the No-Warming activist element talks about these solutions “without mentioning-even briefly!-that none of these are adequate and that we must proceed with utmost pace to applications of second-generation modes (new, or breakthrough energy technologies).”
Some progressive scientists and environmentalists criticize nuclear power, ethanol-from-corn, carbon cap-and-trading and carbon sequestration at coal plants. But they stop short of acknowledging the possibility of breakthrough energy. They are satisfied with a solartopia of “renewable” solutions, none of which are adequate to turn the tide. But why settle for less, when we have better choices? Why are we so paralyzed by such a paradigm?
From forty years’ experience in analyzing these tried-and-true energy options, I join many of my scientific and journalistic collegues like Nathan Lewis, John Holdren, Richard Heinberg, George Monbiot and many others to assert that the bulk of our future energy can come from “None of the above.”
By that, I mean that renewable energy is not really renewable when full life-cycle environmental costs are considered. How could ethanol-from-corn be taken seriously when scientists such as David Pimentel of Cornell calculate that even more carbon emissions come from burning our food than from burning hydrocarbons (when we include planting, harvesting, transporting and storing the fuel) and can only exacerbate hunger and high food prices? Quipped Lester Brown, “One SUV tankful of ethanol could feed one hungry person for one year.”
Nuclear power is an unmitigated disaster. It is expensive, dangerous and has the potential for creating monstrous weapons that could end civilization. We don’t even know how to dispose of radioactive waste that could be with us for tens of thousands of years.
Carbon sequestration at coal plants is a joke. The Bush Administration wants to spend $324 billion on the coal industry to blast their dirty emissions back into the ground in a macro-engineered terror-forming grossness, reminiscent of removing mountaintops, nuking and zapping the ionosphere with radio waves, or spewing particles into the atmosphere to try to offset global warming. Even if this sequestration technology were to work, it wouldn’t come on-line until 2030. According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, this would already be too late to reverse climate change or to prevent the melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps, resulting in tens of meters of sea level rise and the inundation of the world’s coastal populations.
My answer to all the Ponzi schemes and industrial handouts—and to even the solartopia solutions, in the long run, is None of the above. Cruising through the layers of discourse all the way between the corporatist Republicans and Democrats to the progressive critics and establishment environmentalists, can only seem to uncover, at best, a set of transitional strategies which could increase from a few tenths of per cent now to a few percent later, of the world’s total energy mix.
We must dig into deeper layers for our answers. They lie beyond the realm of “respectable” political discourse, for we are dealing with physical problems that demand physical solutions which no amount of hubris or propaganda could dispel. Undeveloped, unsupported breakthrough solution energy technologies are everywhere waiting for their opportunity to avert the climate crisis and rampant air pollution. But King Cong (coal, oil, nuclear, gas) don’t want us to know that, and so, with all the zeal of the powers-that-be, systematically suppress the new technologies through threats, assassinations, ridicule and no support.
I believe the next layer beneath the standard progressive critique and solartopia proposals contains the key to understanding what we must do. This layer represents uncovering truths that are even more inconvenient than Al Gore’s call for a 90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. These unsung layers include new energy truth, water resource truth, biofuels truth, 9/11 truth, war pretext truth, depleted uranium truth, electoral fraud truth, and a host of other truths awaiting our analysis, if we only have the courage to step outside the box of conventional thinking and political correctness.
Yet my repeated attempts to call attention to the possibility of breakthrough energy fall on deaf ears, ranging from Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass energy policy group, to leading progressive Democrats--even Al Gore himself, so far. In each instance, I have gotten a courteous dismissal or no answer at all. To entertain this possibility is to be perceived as a scientific outcast or conspiracy theorist. This is career-destroying stuff, so those energy scientists charged with having the best new ideas really don’t have the best new ideas, and so join the established elite in unwitting alliance as guardians to the gates of acceptable public discourse and scientific credibility.
We are now caught in a stalemate of rhetoric without action. Those of us operating outside-the-box have been suppressed. The most important truths lie deeply within layers of deception and distraction while business-as-usual prevails and nature dies.
Yet the deeper layers must be uncovered if we have even a prayer to survive. Do we have the courage to do that, to question authority and to seek those answers that lie outside this suffocating conformity? In my opinion, we have no other choice but to address these deeper issues and to act soon.
Dr. Brian O’Leary is a veteran scientist-author-activist specializing in energy and environmental solutions. Over the past fifteen years, he has visited the laboratories of dozens of researchers on five continents to see demonstrations of unconventional breakthrough energy that could solve the climate crisis and give us a decent chance for a sustainable future. With his wife Meredith, he is founding a retreat center in the Andes of Ecuador to advise and educate activists to develop second-generation sustainable solutions in energy, water use, agriculture and forestry (www.montesuenos.org).
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