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Speaking truth to crazy
Truth be told, the truth is elusive.
It can never be “final” since it is grounded in the human mindset and limited to facts known at a point in time.
As more details become known, social attitudes and customs change and a new truth emerges.
This is our life story, yet humans hunger for a reality that is anchored to our senses. If we can’t see, hear, touch, smell, or taste it, our social conditioning tells us it is not true.
Our eyes tell us the world is flat, but photos taken from Apollo spacecraft show a round Earth.
Our senses tell us the ground we stand on is stationary, but if we were hovering above the equator the Earth would be spinning around beneath us at 1,675 kilometres per hour.
Our perception is that objects like tables are solid, but that’s not true either. We know that everything is made up of atoms that are in constant motion.
Obviously, our senses can lead us to false conceptions.
Galileo wrote, “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
We are prisoners of our intellect and we mistake our image of reality for reality itself. Rather than seeing ourselves as powerful, boundless, immortal and free, it is more comforting to cling to the illusion that the here and now is as good as it gets.
In doing so, we deny knowing our real selves and our possibilities, trapping ourselves in ignorance and suffering.
I write this to explain my reaction to a series of recent temporary “truths”:
- Stephen Harper says his government “intends to build” a Canada that is an energy superpower
- Christy Clark declares natural gas (a fossil fuel) to be a clean energy source “to make sure that B.C. can win in the global marketplace”
- Leonardo Maugeri’s report that “oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption”
- BC Hydro’s projection that energy demand in our province will rise 50 percent by 2032
Valdimir Lenin said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
On the surface, these revelations may sound good to us, ensuring our civilization will chug along as usual even though the usual means we’ll continue to be dominated by politicians with short-term thinking and fossil fuel corporations whose coffers are already overflowing with profits ($137 billion in 2011).
Accepting these intentions, definitions, analyses, and predictions as “truths” have many people worried that the proselytizing is yet another example of authority figures telling us what to believe.
Some say the “defining opportunity” for Canada to export tar sands dilbit and liquefied natural gas will result in the country suffering “Dutch disease” – an overreliance on fossil fuel exports that will drive up energy prices at home and drag down our manufacturing sector due to an inflated dollar.
Others are troubled by the threat of oily disasters on our fragile coastline or the possibility of pipeline spills.
The root meaning of the word science is “to know” yet almost every scientist knows there is no such thing as perfect knowledge.
Since the time of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, humans have thought they understood the universe; to this day, new scientific discoveries are proving us wrong, throwing curve balls into our belief systems.
Josh Billings said, “As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”
With increasing frequency, scientists are courageously speaking truth to crazy, challenging the climate change deniers and the captains of fossil fuel industries. Andrew Weaver, Michael Mann and James Hansen are just three who are suffering abuse for telling what they know.
Marty Hoffert, an emeritus physics professor at NYU and energy researcher, has just added his voice to the fray. “The truth is that if we burn identified fossil fuel resources, particularly the so-called unconventional ones now making free marketeers dance with joy, it is only a matter of time before a transition to ‘hothouse Earth’ occurs,” Hoffert told the New York Times.
Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab have produced studies that foresee futures virtually free of fossil fuels.
In our own province, the Liberal government obsesses about keeping hydro rates affordable, while ignoring a policy option to aggressively assist customers to use less power and let electricity rates find a level commensurate with its real energy value.
Somerset Maugham wrote, “The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth.”
Prompted by new state legislation, Connecticut’s two largest utilities will triple current efficiency investments – from $113 million to $352 million – by 2014, and reduce demand below current levels by 2018.
Last month, the consultancy Environment Northeast reported that $14.5 billion invested over a 15-year period in Eastern Canada would increase GDP by $84 billion and create over 22,300 jobs per year, while generating over $60 billion in avoided energy costs.
My own analysis shows that a 10-year program investing $5 billion in deep energy retrofitting of the province’s oldest residences would generate a minimum of 90,000 jobs in local communities, save more energy than will be generated by the Site C dam, and increase government tax revenues by more than $10 billion.
Our provincial government is following in the short-sighted footsteps of our federal government and ignoring the untapped economy in efficiency. The Harper Conservatives closed the ecoEnergy Retrofit-Homes program to avoid exceeding its $400-million budget, yet the 250,000 homeowners who had accessed the program generated $4 billion in economic activity.
The words of TransCanada (“It’s About Doing What’s Right”), Encana (“Working together to strengthen B.C. communities”), and Enbridge (“It’s more than a pipeline. It’s a path to our future.”) have the hollow ring of crazy propaganda about them.
Maybe, just maybe, we are hearing only one side of our life story.
As a species, we humans must quickly discern who we really are, what we want from life, and whose “truths” we are going to believe. The risks of continuing with business as usual are as clear as the current wildfires in Colorado, the heat waves across America, and a rained-out July 1 festivity in Nelson.
Perhaps it is time for us to consider giving up the goal of finding a perfect truth and instead replace it with the idea of continually evolving our understanding of ourselves and our world.
Michael Jessen is a Nelson eco-writer, the owner of the consultancy Zero Waste Solutions, and the energy critic for the Green Party of BC. He can be reached by email at email@example.com
RESOURCES– Leonardo Maugeri’s report Oil: The Next Revolution – The Unprecedented Upsurge of Oil Production and What It Means for the World is accessed at http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/22145/new_study_by_harvard_kennedy_school_researcher_forecasts_sharp_increase_in_world_oil_production_capacity_and_risk_of_price_collapse.html
A report about the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River –The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of – can be found athttp://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120626/dilbit-diluted-bitumen-enbridge-kalamazoo-river-marshall-michigan-oil-spill-6b-pipeline-epa
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed a $3.7 million civil penalty and 24 enforcement actions against Enbridge for the Kalamazoo spill. Read more at http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2012/07/37_million_penalty_proposed_ag.html
BC Hydro is currently seeking public input to its draft Integrated Resource Plan on how it proposes to meet future power needs of its customers. Go to http://www.bchydro.com/energy_in_bc/irp/get_involved/spring2012.html to review their plan and provide your input.
A Climate Progress commentary on Marty Hoffert’s email to Andrew Revkin can be read at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/06/28/508563/game-over-hoffert-on-unconventional-gas-oil-and-unconventional-self-destruction-of-civilization/
Andrew Revkin’s blog about Leonardo Maugeri and Marty Hoffert is at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/25/a-fresh-look-at-oils-new-boom-time/?comments#permid=29
Dr. Jonathan Koomey is the author of Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-Based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs. His blog about the Earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases is at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/04/14/464584/why-fossil-fuel-abundance-is-an-illusion-unless-your-goal-is-humanitys-self-destruction/
The IPCC report on how renewable energy could account for almost 80 percent of the world's energy supply within four decades can be downloaded from http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/
Read about the International Energy Agency’s book, Energy Technology Perspectives 2012: Pathways to a Clean Energy Systemat http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2012/june/name,27474,en.html
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory report on how renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today is more than adequate to supply 80 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050is available at http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re_futures/
Highlights of the report by Environment Northeast on the benefits of energy efficiency for Eastern Canada can be found at http://www.env-ne.org/public/resources/ENE_EnergyEfficiencyEngineofEconomicGrowth_EasternCanada_TalkingPoints_20120611_Final.pdf