Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time to Call It Quits

I have a nuclear engineer friend from college who bristles anytime someone questions the safety of nuclear power. On the assumption that she doesn't read this blog (or is reasonable enough to view recent events with alarm), I will say the following:

We have now had major natural disasters within the space of about 10 years - Katrina and the Sendai Earthquake. We have also had two energy-related environmental disasters in the space of a year - the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear meltdown. In our reckless pursuit of cheap energy we are forced to employ ever more fragile and questionable technologies, deepwater drilling, nuclear power, tar-sands and natural gas frac-ing. At what point do we sell our SUVs and admit that we are not living in a Star Trek universe where dilithium crystals will solve all our energy needs. We might prepare for situation X and Y but Z is always out there along with a thousand cousins. The Black Swan will always be poised to strike at our softest points.

I can't speak for my spouse but I think I am prepared to make some changes. I already drive a two-door Speck that gets 36 mpg on the highway, the best alternative I can afford. We have already moved from the ex-urbs to the suburbs and think I am ready to move far enough into the city to make public transportation a viable alternative if it is available. The problem is that our society is organized to make these lifestyle choices difficult. For instance, if I moved downtown, my job would still be in the suburbs and the hopes surrounding telecommuting are not being realized on anything approaching a realistic scale.

There have been numerous calls after each disaster for more investment in alternative energy but that is a dead end. The answer is not "more-but-different energy". That let's each of us off the hook of personal responsibility. Sadly, the answer is "less".

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