May 30 2013

Energy Politicized, and Paralysis, Part 1

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“I’m a boring speaker and I like it that way…I doubt that people are attracted to whatever the persona is…People are interested in the issues, and they’re interested in the issues because they are important.”

-Noam Chomsky

 

A good writer can write about any mundane thing and make it seem interesting. Similarly, any good politician can weave the right buzzwords together and get a whole crowd nodding along to a cause that, voiced in plainer language, would be rejected almost immediately. One of the greatest examples of this from literature is the figure of Satan in John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,” who, in convincing Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, is described,

 

As when of old some Orator renound
In Athens or free Rome, where Eloquence
Flourishd, since mute, to some great cause addrest,
Stood in himself collected, while each part,
Motion, each act won audience ere the tongue
Sometimes in highth began, as no delay
Of Preface brooking through his Zeal of Right.
So standing, moving, or to highth upgrown
The Tempter all impassiond thus began (IX. 670-8)

Probably the greatest embodiment of this phenomenon from our written history is Adolf Hitler, whose skills as an orator led to the deaths of some 5 million Jewish people and 8.5 million non-Jewish people.

 

So, people are hopelessly attracted to eloquence, brazen self-assurance, and even dramatization. After all, a black-and-white battle of ideologies is a far more compelling myth than the all-pervasive ambiguity one encounters in any sincere, thorough examination of an issue. This pattern is perfectly reflected in American politics, in which you are either with the Republicans and against the Democrats, or with the Democrats and against the Republicans. Any mention of third-parties is so often met with mockery, or a sort of qualified sympathy not unlike the tone one adopts when reflecting on a long past adolescent naivety.

 

Since the 1970’s, both energy and the environment have become highly divisive political issues. The binary opposition at work here is simple enough–Republicans are not concerned about the environment, but are all for the furthered use of fossil fuels. At the 2012 Republican National Convention, a single mention of rising sea levels by then presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was met with uproarious laughter from audiences, undoubtedly echoed by the millions of Republicans across the nation who were watching the convention from home. Meanwhile, Democrats are the default party for so-called environmentalists– Americans who are concerned about global climate change, and, therefore, consider renewable energy a worthy cause. An environmentalist in a group of Republicans knows that he must keep his mouth shut or be prepared for a debate, since, in order to be a “proper” Republican, one must denounce environmentalism and the renewable cause as being, at best, misguided, and at worst, an elaborate hoax concocted by scientists for grant money and academic prestige.

 

Thus, all dialogue in the United States concerning global climate change and renewable energy has become infused with the the vitriolic condemnations of two longstanding rivals–the Democrats and the Republicans, or perhaps the Liberals and Conservatives. It is no secret that major news sources have taken sides in this bout, which explains the vast gulf that exists between the viability of renewable energy technology according to Fox News and the viability of renewables according to CNN. Information regarding this technology is further distorted by the need for news sources to function successfully as competing businesses, which means winning consumers. When these consumers would rather read a story that fits the us-vs.-them political ethic around which they have constructed their worldviews, news sources provide this specialized product, and so any potential for rational, science-based deliberation walks out the door. Of course, the presumption that human beings would ever be strictly rational is a completely misguided one. As George Orwell once wrote, “The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions–racial pride, leader worship, religious belief, love of war–which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so  completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.”

 

In my follow-up to this post, I will go through several articles on coastal energy technologies, attempting to point out both the scientific backing as well as the ideological underpinnings of each.

 

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