Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Green Backlash

This Times story about rural people upset over solar farms can stand for many:
“You’ll have people that get up and say, ‘I am green,’ and ‘I’m for the environment,’ and ‘I’m pro this whole green agenda,’ but then all of a sudden whenever one comes in, it changes,” Mr. Masters said. “What I notice is people have ideals and values that they will put forth — until it comes maybe around their house.”
Exactly. It's one thing to support solar and wind power in the abstract, quite another to have a vista you love covered with mirrored panels or giant windmills.

To get the amount of solar and wind power we need, we are going to have to get creative about incorporating the sources into our lives: solar panels in parking lots, solar panels on warehouse roofs, windmills in cities. And this is incidentally why I do not think we will ever get to 100% solar and wind power; it would just take up too much space. We need either some kind of nuclear power (fusion?) or major increases in the efficiency of everything that draws power.


Shadow said...

Specifics may differ, but in general this is how this kind of thing can proceed.

G. Verloren said...

We need either some kind of nuclear power (fusion?) or major increases in the efficiency of everything that draws power.

Fusion is still very much a pipe dream - the obstacles are just humongous, and the advancements that would be required to make it remotely practical are very far off with even the most optimistic predictions.

The nuclear energy source with the most actual extant potential currently is thorium - it's a super abundant element, it can't have a traditional "meltdown" because the reaction isn't self-sustaining and you have to actively work to maintain it, the waste is phenomenally less dangerous, and the technology already exists to start rolling it out on a global scale

The big obstacle thorium energy faces is that the way the physics works out, you end up needing to build a decentralized network of many small reactors, rather than a smaller number of total reactor with large individual outputs as is the current case with uranium, and that's just never going to happen while societal views of nuclear power remain so overwhelmingly negative. People barely tolerate the small number of reactors we already have, they'll never accept having one in every city, even if they're small and inherently safe.

Thus, the problem is no different than that of solar and wind power. We have the means to solve our energy and environmental problems - we just lack the will. The technology is there, but society won't sign off on it.

The NIMBY attitude that you describe in relation to other clean energy sources is the single biggest problem we face. The simple fact is that stubborn, self-entitled luddites and "traditionalists" care more about preserving the aesthetics of their rural landscapes than they do about combating global warming. They'd rather condemn future generations to suffer needlessly from catastrophic climate change than put up with having to look at solar panels or live in the shadow of wind turbines themselves.

We could start converting to clean, safe, abundant energy for everyone in the world tomorrow and work to avert a global catastrophe we know is coming, but small numbers of inflexible people who are already old enough that they won't live to see the climate disaster resist any and all such efforts that will impact them directly in even the smallest of ways. What insane selfishness and cruelty...