Saturday, December 12, 2009

Green, the new Black

When I first watched "An Inconvenient Truth," I remember thinking how much better it would be without AL Gore's self-aggrandizing personal narrative about his passion for the slide show. And then, just yesterday, I heard that same voice on NPR, extolling the potential fecundity of a "green economy." Everyone's home will have photovoltaic panels, and jobs will be created to, um, create new battery technologies, the likes of which haven't even been conceived of yet! Gore sounded like a second rate huckster, the guy at the dealership who swears he can get me a deal despite my awful credit.

Why am I picking on Nobel Laureate and erstwhile inventor of the Internet, Mr. Al Gore? Gore isn't the disease, but he is a symptom. Green has become the new black, and sustainability has become the vision of the future. And baby, they are selling it.

The problem with the buzz around the concept of sustainability is that it fails to ask some very, very critical questions. The very first being, do we really want to "sustain" anything? The American way of life, characterized by suburbia, the automobile and the acquisition of consumer goods, depends fundamentally on growth. This way of life also relies on the comparative advantages brought out by exploiting labor and materials markets overseas. Globalization, and the resulting goods and market advantages, are not simply energy intensive, they rely on cheap and dense energy. There is no combination of wind, solar, hydrogen, or any other 'clean' technology, that will allow globalization to be 'sustained' in anyway. Petroleum is simply too energy rich. In fact, it is vital to remember that it is the literally explosive energy richness of petroleum that allowed us to build the civilization we live in today.

Of course, it is always easier and more comforting to say that we can save what we are so deeply invested in, rather than suggest that we may need to radically rethink our civilization. Al gore may be eloquent, even persuasive, but the high-priests of the Green Economy are not telling the whole story. They are telling you that if you change the color of the drapes, the structure of the palace will be saved. But the palace is built on a rotting foundation.

Buyer beware . . .

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