As I look into the distance, deeply absorbed in my endless search for meaning, I leave myself open and thus quite vulnerable to the mystery of our existence. I ponder on how long the human species has left on our wondrous planet. After all, millions of species have come and gone and millions of others face extinction within a few decades unless humanity changes its relationship with planet earth. I worry that my grandchildren will face environmental catastrophes on a scale never before seen by humans. It’s a special way of being afraid. I know that many of the things I worry about will never happen. This one will.
The source article for this post is Energy: Alternatives versus Time (Desmond Berghofer).
Grandparents have a compelling relationship with time. It has been a familiar companion with whom we have travelled all our lives. However, with every passing year we know its certain departure from us is coming that much closer. This puts a keen edge to thoughts we have about things that still need to be done. This is certainly felt most powerfully in personal and family circles, but it’s now increasingly true for broader issues that will affect the future of our loved ones… We grandparents have lived our lives on the abundant up slope of the curve. Our children and grandchildren will live their lives in the increasingly difficult times of the downward slope.
We grandparents, knowing what we know about the shortage of time for radical change to begin and take hold, must decide how we will act in the time we have left for the best interests of the grandchildren we love. If we were those little ones coming into the world right now, what would we wish, 60 years on, our grandparents had done for us? That’s a rather riveting question, don’t you think?
The Long Emergency Debunked
In 2006, James Howard Kunstler published The Long Emergency, a very controversial book which depicts a frightening future in which the end of the fossil fuel era would spark untold chaos resulting from world powers competing for dwindling energy supplies after reaching a global oil peak. This outcome now appears less likely with the emergence of new extraction technologies for fossil fuels, the discovery of shale oil deposits around the globe and the sudden emergence of natural gas as an alternative to oil.
There are enough proven coal reserves – over 861 billion tonnes – to last 112 years at current rates of production. According to the 2010 World Energy Outlook by the International Energy Agency,“the world oil shale resources may be equivalent to more than 5 trillion barrels (790 billion cubic metres) of oil…For comparison, the world’s proven conventional oil reserves are estimated to be 1.317 trillion barrels (209.4 billion cubic metres), as of 1 January 2007.”
The IEA, in its 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, said “the United States is expected to be a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and the North American region should follow suit in terms of oil by 2035.”
The emergency is less about finite energy supplies, peak oil and depleting fossil-fuel resources. The emergency is about the immorality of continuing to use an energy sources will will literally choke the future of our grandchildren. It’s an existential question about the very survival of our species.
It’s just simply not good enough for us to say we care and will do what we can to give our children and grandchildren a good start in the material world with whatever resources we have acquired on the abundant up slope of the energy curve. Unless we act now, with time pressing so relentlessly, to push for change in the fundamental character of the material world they will inherit, all the resources we can leave them will not keep the lights on or put good nutritional food on their tables…It is already past time to get deadly serious about alternatives.
Putting Alternatives into Context
Let’s be clear. The search for alternatives as our primary energy source is critical. It is critical for two reasons. Firstly, fossil fuels are not renewable. At some point we will run out of these resources in spite of new exploration and extraction technologies and in spite of the discovery of new deposits. The demand for energy is expected to surpass available supplies as China, India and South America catch up to Western lifestyles. Secondly, the most important reasons for finding alternatives to fossil fuels is the need to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to mitigate against global warming and environmental catastrophes. For more on alternatives – Energy: Alternatives versus Time.
Daniel Yergin says in The Quest “by 2030 overall global energy consumption may be 35 or 40 percent greater than it is today. The mix will probably not be too different from what it is today. Hydrocarbons will likely be somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of the overall supply. . . It is really after 2030 that the energy system could start to look quite different as the cumulative effect of innovation and technological advance makes its full impact felt.”
If this turns out to be the future, it is likely that by 2030 concerns about global warming will be dominating everyone’s agenda…Whichever way we turn, the difficulty and urgency of freeing ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels in order to keep civilization going looms large..What all of this suggests is that humanity must make a huge effort now—not next year , not even next month, but now—to move to alternatives.
As a grandparent, I recognize the importance of generational continuity. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I too was a grandkid. I remember my own grandparents; they seemed so old and uncommunicative. I seem to be caught between extremes. On the one hand, there are joys in grandparenting beyond anything I could have imagined. On the other hand, there are monumental worries many of which I cannot share with my grandkids.