Thursday, 24 March 2011

Points Of Departure

“We conclude that barriers to a 100% conversion to WWS [wind, water & solar] power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic.”
That's David Reid quoting the conclusion to two academic papers on the possibility of converting world industrial energy use to renewable sources. I would like to comment further at David's post, but since he has, seemingly out of frustration, banned me from further comment on that post, I make my remarks here...

The concluding emphasis on social and political "barriers" in that quote is about half right. Of course, in theory, power production for the entire world could be shifted to completely renewable sources - yet at what cost? More importantly: whose cost? This is the point where thinking and criticism ought to begin, not the point at which it is concluded.

I said "half-right". The reason for this concerns the question of how to conceive of "costs". To restrict analysis to financial and technological aspects alone is to completely ignore the fact that energy policy investment decisions take place in a thoroughly politicized economic context (as Marxists like Ha Joon Chang understand and as I tried to explain to David). There are broader economic and especially political costs to be considered if we are interested in honestly and accurately thinking about the costs of energy policy. In particular, there is the underlying ethical objection to applying the violence of the State through the leverage of institutional distance in the pursuit of any given "solution" whether it be continued support for the nuclear industry or increased support for the renewables. This is where people who value their freedom ought to fight for free-market answers.

Meanwhile I have another comment awaiting moderation in response to I-Fan Lin on her post entitled "The Reassurance Of Nuclear Safety Is Not Convincing":
"Interesting that that BBC report fails to mention the actual becquerel value recorded in the water and the difference between that value, and the range of values normally found in Tokyo tap water, though isn’t it? No matter, the value is given here in this report as a concentration of 210 becquerels per litre – this is a trace amount. To add a little more context, the highest reported dose level of radiation at the edge of the 20km evacuation zone (never mind Tokyo) was 0.16 millisievert/hour – which is similar to that of two dental X-rays. Why do you think the BBC report only alarming descriptions of the radiation without any supplementary data and explanation of that data?"

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