HAVANA TIMES — An article published by 15/15/15 Magazine provides us with statistics that demonstrate what was already evident: the issue of environmental damage has significant media impact, while next to no one is worried about the energy crisis. The UN has several institutions devoted to the study of environmental problems (such as the IPCC and the CMNUCC), but none dealing with the energy dilemma.
Could it be we are much closer to a climactic catastrophe than we are from an energy crisis? Or is public opinion off the mark once again? Let us try and answer this question.
A society is a dissipative structure and, as such, has characteristics akin to living organisms: it feeds on matter and energy from the environment. It then employs part of this energy to get rid of waste products somewhere convenient.
Dissipative structures tend to live in harmony with their surroundings, but, when they go down the road of exponential growth, sooner or later they run out of food sources (an energy dilemma) and places where to dump their metabolic waste (an environmental dilemma).
Climate change and energy scarcity are therefore intimately linked aspects of the same problem, but the press, politicians, experts and most of those who address environmental problems tackle it as a discrete and specific problem that can be fixed with technology and political will (the much lauded documentary by Al Gore is a case in point).
If things were that simple, why haven’t we managed to solve the problema once and for all? Is it because of technological limitations?
The center figure with data on consumers was taken from the animated film The History of Things
The technology has been there for years. The latest contraptions I heard about can capture as much as 90 percent of the carbon dioxide generated by thermoelectric plants. I have no doubt they will soon be able to sequester it all. Other devices can extract the gas from the atmosphere, compress it and store it. There are still concerns about the final destination of this nasty gas, but, as a last resort, it could be put in a rocket and fired off towards the sun.
The problem is not technological. Could it be political, then? Why can’t the major powers reach an agreement?
The world’s nations have successfully negotiated far thornier issues, from the military and economic standpoints. As a precedent, we have the non-proliferation treaties, the Montreal Protocol (which managed to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting substances), the Stockholm Convention (which regulates the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants) and many others. What’s so special about carbon that it manages to sabotage all agreements?
What’s special about it is its close links to the resource that provides 85 percent of the energy consumed by modern societies and more than 95 percent of the energy used in transportation. I am of course referring to fossil fuels.
To avert a climactic catastrophe in this century, we would have to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. How could we do this?
- By drastically reducing oil, gas and coal consumptio
- By destining an important part of the energy produced (between 25 and 40 percent) to capturing combustion residues.
The implementation of these measures would deal a blow to the already declining flow of energy and put the capitalist-development model at risk of collapsing. Undermining the system is not negotiable, so it seems we’ll continue to warm up the planet until we wake up with the water up to our waist.
This is my point of view, but, if anyone still believes this is a political problem (in the sense of our inability to coordinate opposing interests) or a technological problem, we will have a chance to prove or disprove this soon. Those who know about these issue are saying that the major powers and polluters will finally arrive at an understanding in Paris. They will lay their bets on more of the same, on vast bio-technology and geo-engineering projects. We’ll have to wait and see what makes this whole thing blow.
To conclude, I pose the question from the beginning again. Why are we more worried about climate change than the energy crisis? The first thing that comes to mind is: because we are a bunch of irresponsible, alienated individuals. What do you think?
Note: A more elaborated response to the question may be found in a post by Antonio Turiel, titled “Why Citizens Do Not Understand the Oil Crash”