May 30 2013

Energy Politicized, and Paralysis, Part 2

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In my first post I gave a brief explanation of the inseparability of emotion, or politics of identity, from issues that some would consider as being strictly scientific, such as the development of renewable energy technology. One might say that this state of things is not ideal. That may be true, however, the paralysis of sorts that we see both in U.S. politics and in the widespread development of green technology is borne from ideals. The problem is that there are, namely, two competing ideals, or metanarratives, that U.S. citizens are attempting to realize through their falling in with one of two political parties. Every new disagreement, be it social or economic, must be filtered through the binary matrix of Democrat or Republican.   After its being filtered, renewable energy development was given a “yea” by the Democrats and a “nay” by the Republicans, and therefore any discourse in the media on these technologies is given from one of these two ever-battling sides. Of course this explanation is highly simplistic, but it will have to suffice given that both my time and space here is limited. Furthermore, when one considers the media’s status as a business that makes money by drawing in more consumers than its competitors—consumers who likely identify with one political party or another—it is easy to understand why news sources would present information regarding renewable technology in a dramatized format.

This article on wind turbines and Avian disruption is a prime example of the multi-layered lens with which people view the renewable energy question—in this case, wind energy. The author includes such vivid descriptions as “knifelike blade whipping down on them from above,” “a death trap,” and “grisly mutilations.”  This article from the New York Post decries the Obama administration for “not lifting a feather” to stop the deaths of birds at wind farm. Bitter puns aside, the author claims, “Because wind power is a preferred pet of the green movement, the government is allowing it to get away with things that other companies cannot.” He finishes, “clearly there’s only one protected species in Washington today: any industry calling itself green.” One can smell the indignation. Now, I cannot help but wonder if this author is as much of an Avian enthusiast as his writing suggests, or if he’s merely looking for any reason to object to wind power because he is a Republican, or perhaps catering to his Republican readership. Certainly an ecological criticism is completely valid in assessing green technologies, but one cannot help but wonder if our current primary source of energy, fossil fuels, are subjected to the same sort of fervent criticism when being analyzed by Republicans.

 

In environmental studies and environmental science courses I have taken, I have heard time and time again that the data strongly suggests surmounting environmental problems as a product of the burning of fossil fuels, and so we should invest in renewables. The scientific method and peer review are highly regarded tools, and would not allow this quasi-conclusion to be made arbitrarily. However, regardless of however the scientific method may function for laboratory work, if that laboratory work cannot be successfully translated into making important decisions with an authority that is universally recognized outside of the laboratory, then it would seem that producing said data is more of a ritual than an actual means of effecting positive change. Certainly science has much to offer for our awareness of what’s going on and what’s creating the environmental problems we face. But as Dr. Manhattan proclaims in the graphic novel Watchmen, “I would only agree that a symbolic clock is as nourishing to the intellect as a photo of oxygen to a drowning man.” At some point, if our environmental problems persist, we will need actual air to breath and not just scientific formulas and models.

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