Johannes Vermeer The lacemaker 1669-71
You could probably say I’m sympathetic to the schoolchildren protesting against climate change, and I’m sympathetic to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call for a Green New Deal. Young people are the future, and they deserve a voice about that future. At the same time, I’m also deeply skeptical about their understanding of the issues they talk about.
In fact, I don’t see much understanding at all. I think that’s because they base their comprehension of the world they’ve been born into on information provided by the very people they’re now protesting against. Look kids, your education system sucks, it was designed by those destroying your planet, you need to shake it off and get something better.
But I know what you will do instead: you’re going to get the ‘proper’ education to get a nice-paying job, with a nice car (green, of course) and a nice house etc etc. In other words, you will, at least most of you, be the problem, not solve it. And no shift towards wind or solar will make one iota of difference in that. Want to improve the world? Improve the education system first.
Climate change is just one of an entire array of problems the world faces, and in the same way the use of fossil fuels is just one of many causes of these problems. And focusing on only one aspect of a much broader challenge simply doesn’t appear to be a wise approach, if only because you risk exacerbating some problems while trying to fix others.
In order to fix what’s broken, you’re first going to have to find out what broke it. The impression I get is that fossil fuels have been named the designated culprit, and people think that if only we have access to some other form(s) of energy we’ll be fine. But species extinction appears to be at least as large an issue as climate change, and the loss of 60% of all vertebrates, and 90% of flying insects in some places, since 1970 is linked to climate change only sideways.
It’s one thing to run into problems you could not have foreseen. It’s quite another to run into them because you elected to ignore readily available knowledge. But it’s the latter issue that’s behind by far most of the problems we’re running into. Because, again, our education system is broken.
And perhaps we should try to be forgiving when well-meaning children and young politicians don’t have a full grasp of political and economic issues heaped upon them by older generations. But physics? That you can only and always ignore at your own peril.
The First Law of Thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed; the total quantity of energy in the universe stays the same. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the use of energy produces waste (because entropy tends to increase). Neither law talks about fossil fuels.
This brings me once more to one of my favorite quotes of all time (because it explains so much):
“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend
And unfortunately, as I’ve said before in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity:
What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.
Not only do we produce waste with every calorie of energy we burn, our economic systems depend on us burning as much as we can. We ‘optimized’ them for it. Energy efficiency is the enemy of our economies. We transport ourselves in vehicles that are 20 times our own weight, and that use only 10% of the fuel we put in them for the purpose of transporting us. That’s what keep the economic engine going. It’s also what destroys the planet.
There’s probably no moment of deeper despair for the world than when I see a Swedish schoolgirl and a Dutch historian pop up at Davos to tell the billionaires and power hungry ‘the truth’. Davos is the last place to be when you have good intentions. All those people owe their money and power to the system you say you’re protesting. You think they’re going to give it up, or even risk it?
What those people will tell you, and what many of you are already parroting (check the Green New Deal), is that ‘going green’ will be a very profitable undertaking. Get the best of both worlds and eat it too. Tempting, for sure, but also incredibly stupid.
I covered that before as well in Heal the Planet for Profit, in which I cited an article by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney literally called How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change.
That epitomizes the Davos crowd. Stay away from that. There’s nothing for you there. They just want you to be inefficient in the use of another form of energy, only more this time. “We’re going to use a huge sh*tload of fossil fuels to build an infrastructure that allows us to use less fossil fuels.” Darn, that makes a lot of sense. “We’re saved!”.
See, saving the planet, and all the species we’re eradicating as we speak, will at the very least require an enormous decline in energy use. Because that’s the only way to reduce waste production. But that in turn will mean a huge hit to the current economic system, which cannot continue without the principle of maximizing waste production that it’s based on.
There appears to be a principle in nature that says when you hand a species an X amount of ‘free’ energy, that species will burn through it as fast as it can. Perhaps that’s simply a move towards equilibrium. The species will maximize energy use per individual, and proliferate, create more individuals, it’s a very predictable process, from bacteria in a petri-dish to the human species.
So maybe it cannot be helped, or stopped. But you can try. It’s just that, if you want to do that, you’re not going to achieve it by insulting your own, and my, intelligence through the complete disregard for the laws of physics, the most reliable gauges we have when it comes to understanding our world and the impact we have on it.
That goes for the schoolchildren, and it goes for Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal proponents too: ask yourself what physics says about it. Ask yourself what will happen to the economy. Never presume it will be easy or even profitable. You’re not going to save the planet for profit; you’ll have to find a different incentive.
And get educated. But forget about universities, they’re one of the leading drivers behind the mess you find yourselves in.