Darkside of the Sun: Fossilized thinking

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan
BN Columnist
My father helped build the modern world. He helped construct the Portland Pipe Line, and after he got back from World War II, he took a job with the company. He was proud of the pipeline and of the fossil fuel industry then, and it’s fair to say almost everyone was.
Fossil fuels powered prosperity in the West, it made life better for the middle and upper classes especially. Then, almost 30 years ago now, came knowledge about climate change, and really, soon after that, certainties.
Now, we know it’s simple arithmetic. It would take six earths to provide the resources necessary to continue the world's present fossil fuel-powered growth, to sustain agricultural and industrial output and levels of economic activity. But, we don’t have five more earths in stock. I just checked.
It’s past time we acknowledged that fossil fuels have had a good run, but that run must come to an end. Climate change was first forwarded as a model in 1988 and was proven to within a whisker of a shadow of a doubt 20 years ago. Yet while Rome burned… Melting ice caps, sea level rise, permafrost rendered un-permanent, changing ocean chemistry and species extinctions on land and sea — we don’t know the exact symptoms and effects, but we do know we are and will be dealing with very large problems, some caused, some exacerbated, by human activity. Read Nature, read Science. These journals aren’t in the propaganda business; corporations and their pet politicians and media outlets, however, are. They and their lackeys have tried to deny entire populations into a satisfied complacency, because there is money in it. All the money in the world.
Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest of fossil fuels, dangerous to ship and much dirtier to process and burn. Every day, oil tank cars (many not up to standards for shipping tar sands, by the way) rumble past my home in Lewiston. Someday, despite official press releases to the contrary, tar sands oil may well pass through the Lake Region on the old pipeline right-of-way. Yes, South Portland recently passed a local ordinance regulating the port away from tar sands storage, but we’ll see how long limited democracy can stand up to unlimited money.
As a society, we have become addicted to oil and its byproducts. But were solar power granted the same federal tax breaks and supports as those that the oil industry has grown fat on, then a kwh of solar electricity would cost less than a kwh of electricity generated by oil. (Nature) That’s at today’s level of technology. Solar has the added benefit — the crucial, planet-saving benefit — of effecting no macro negatives on climate and the ecosphere. But continued use of fossil fuels is certain to have catastrophic worldwide effects — just because there are no exact timetables for various optional disasters does not mean our civilization is not on a collision course with a brick wall. We seem to think that if we get going fast enough we’ll go right through that wall. God rest our souls, if that’s the case.
President Obama’s recent carbon agreement with the Chinese, years too late, at least acknowledges the problem, and underlines the big economic powers’ responsibility to action. Europe has already made substantial inroads, many with government-corporate partnerships, but Europe must do better, too. Meanwhile, our unenlightened Congress, intent on returning to the Dark Ages in public policy at least, has nixed solar energy subsidies. Those tax breaks for solar expire next month. One step forward, another step back. That good old Congress — Dinosaurs R Us. It takes a fossil to know a fossil, I suppose.

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