Thursday, March 17, 2011


This is the opening weekend for Limitless, a movie starting from the false premise that humans only use a small fraction of their brains and following a character who takes a drug that supposedly opens up that vast untapped brain power to basically make him superhuman.

Once more, that entire idea of our only using something like 10-20% of our brain and thus having "limitless" potential is quite wrong but a fine enough premise for a fictional movie. However, basing energy, environmental, and other policies on the notion of a "limitless" Earth is ludicrous.

Yet The New Republic editor John B. Judis penned a recent column with the theme of how in recent decades the Republican Party has come to adopt that "limitless" stance, which also dovetails with my previous post.

This is exceedingly childish thinking, and civilization is past the point where it needs to act adult. The idea that the world is basically infinite for humanity is dangerously persistent. We see it in climate science denial with the summary dismissal of the idea that human activities could possibly affect nature such that it can alter climate. We also see it in the notion that we just need to open up more area to drilling, mining, logging, etc. in order to satisfy our needs.

One might think though that the "limitless" mindset would make those people who have it amenable to the idea that we can do the work required to transition to sustainability. But instead the response is like a child that goes from boundless energy for play to a don't-want-to, whining, feigned inability to even stand up when it is time for chores. Americans are apparently so exceptional and capable of anything... except, for instance, shifting toward an infrastructure not utterly dependent on massive burning of fossil fuels. We can do it later. Or preferably we do not have to worry about it at all, and somebody else (i.e., in the future) will deal with the problem without our having to do anything. A kid would appreciate the attitude, or at least one not saddled in the future with our mess would.

The major problems we face are not simply the result of big, bad government that by taxes and regulation blocks the path to limitless production. The much bigger concern is that the world is not limitless - there is only so much fossil fuel, there are consequences to adding CO2 to the atmosphere and oceans, and we could only ignore these things for so long. Time to grow up and deal with the limits to the world.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Old Way or No Way

Today brought a couple of good examples of the death grip of so many on massive burning of fossil fuels and the idea that has no drawbacks and is the only path to prosperity and happiness.

First, this morning was the syndicated op-ed point-counterpoint run in the Herald asking, "Should the U.S. push fast development of oil resources?" The "con" by A. James Barnes does a nice job of debunking the simplistic idea that more drilling here will ease a load of problems like high gas costs, dependence on foreign oil, etc. that the "pro" by feet-planted-firmly-in-the-20th-century Andrew Morriss made. It is not surprising someone like Morriss makes the case to drain-America-first or that he seems oblivious to issues like climate change or that oil will not last forever.

What is exasperating is the argument by Morriss that development of renewable energy will be slow and cost money, so we should not put effort into it. But development of more oil production will not happen overnight, so we have to pour money into that and start right away.

Current North Dakotans need not worry about the black gold cash cow - it will be providing over the coming decades. However, it is exactly those issues that Morriss ignores like scarcity and climate change that are why we need to start working today for the solutions we need tomorrow that wean us away from burning fossil fuels.

Second, today we got another demonstration that climate science denial is a litmus test in the current Republican party as the Energy and Commerce Committee steps toward blocking the EPA from enforcing climate-related rules.
House Republicans rejected amendments offered Tuesday by Democrats that called on Congress to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, it is caused in large part by human activity and it is a threat to human health.

All three votes fell exactly along party lines.

Of course there was at least quibbling with the science and claims that it was not sure enough for any conclusions. But the brunt of the Republican push is based in the idea that doing something about climate change by reducing emissions can only cripple the economy. Essentially an entire political party think that the only way to use energy is just like we have and refuse to hear reasons why this cannot be so.

This backward-facing view, with a mindset we guzzled gas before, guzzle gas now, and so have to keep guzzling gas, crimps the future. Such short-sightedness short-changes the now too. Imagine energy usage (and thus costs), say, 25% less because of efficiency effort. Imagine pushing to lead on building the clean, renewable energy systems that must be the future. Please imagine anything but pretending the pages of the calendar do not turn or that "have been" means "gotta keep on".