Prescription for the Planet was written by Tom Blees and published in 2008. It was recommended to me, with a strong sense of urgency, by a couple friends. It is written in a very compelling style, which is too bad because it suckers people into the kind of wishing thinking for which we’ve become infamous in this country.
Indeed, Prescription for the Planet promises to save the planet. But instead, it develops a prescription for furthering the industrial economy and therefore killing the planet. Saving? Killing? Apparently some people think these words are synonymous.
Ultimately, Blees’ plan boils down to two “solutions,” both of them extremely suspect. First, he claims we can we can ramp up production of renewable energy systems and also fourth-generation nuclear reactors to keep the power on. Indeed, Blees claims our lives depend on electricity. As such, he dismisses the first two million years of the human experience. If our lives depend on electricity, it’s because we’ve abandoned a viable, durable set of living arrangements in exchange for endless opportunities to destroy the living planet. Second, Blees promotes the notion that boron-powered automobiles will keep us on the highways. And he thinks that’d be a good thing. After all, boron seems to be essentially limitless on this world. Just as crude oil seemed, not so long ago.
First, let’s consider and dismiss Blees’ electrical option. Figures on energy supply and efficiency are readily available for renewable systems, so it is relatively simple to evaluate Blees’ map to determine whether “alternative” energy sources can fill the void at the scale of a world with nearly seven billion people.
They can’t. And it’s not even close. I don’t know a single energy-literate individual who thinks we can replace fossil fuels with alternatives by 2030. Most people who write about energy issues have concluded we’ll be firmly in the post-industrial Stone Age well before 2030. I’ll not run the numbers here because I’ve run them many times already, and so have a lot of people a lot smarter than me. But I’ll start by picking a few nits, then I’ll move on to the big-picture moral issues we try so hard to avoid in our national conversations.
And, I’ve written about one kajillion times, all electrical power is derived from oil, even nuclear power. We use plenty of oil to transport nuclear materials (even the stuff Blees discusses). And also for maintaining the grid. And then there’s the massive mountain of concrete needed to build cooling towers for nuclear power plants. As a result, nuclear plants become carbon neutral only after about 20 years in operation, at which point we start shutting them down for safety reasons.
And what about those cars? Building a planet’s worth of boron-powered cars will require a lot of oil. My Prius uses less energy than the cars Blees writes about, but it still requires more energy to construct than a Hummer. I seriously doubt we have enough oil in the world to make enough cars to replace the U.S. fleet, much less get a billion Chinese cars on the road. And then there’s the issue of financing, in a world where credit is drying up faster than Lake Mead. Who will be able to buy a $40,000 car with cash?
If all goes according to Blees’ plan, the first fourth-generation nuclear power plant will be producing electricity in 2015. I strongly suspect, and hope, that we’ll be in the new Dark Age by then. This Dark Age will cause much suffering and death among industrial humans. And I think it’s our only chance to save the living planet, and our own species.
Further along Blees’ road to ruin, by 2020 plasma energy will fulfill 5% of our energy “needs” and boron-powered cars will be filling the roads. I cannot imagine a scenario in which we will avoid landing in the post-industrial Stone Age by then.
And even further along the route of Blees’ nuclear wet dreams, we’ll have all the nuke plants we need to satisfy the world’s demand for electricity by 2050. If we come even remotely close to that goal, there will be no humans on the planet to use the electricity. The latest (ultra-conservative) projections indicate extinction of our species by mid-century.
And that’s just the small stuff. The moral issues are much more daunting.
The further we go into ecological overshoot, the worse the outcome will be for every species on the planet, including our own. Maintaining the ability to produce more cars, and more babies, is a prescription for the planet, all right: a prescription for disaster. There are limits to growth. I strongly suspect they’re driven, in this country, by the price of oil. If not, rarity of other materials will force our hand.
Hopefully, our hand will be forced in time to prevent our extinction. It won’t happen, though, if we return to the American lifestyle of happy motoring. We certainly do not need to export car culture, and its many attendant consequence, to other nations.
Meanwhile, against Blees’ backdrop of fourth-generation nuclear ambitions, Barack Obama is pushing for an older version of nuclear dreams. He’s committing serious bling to build nuclear reactors in all the wrong places, ignoring the fact that nuclear power is the twentieth century’s most expensive technological failure. Even Time magazine knows this bet won’t pay off, that the nuclear dream is really a nightmare. Even as Obama pursues failed technology in the homeland –- while denying other countries the same option — he wants to maintain or expand our nuclear arsenal in the name of security (sic).
Fortunately, the next great economic crash is right around the corner. After the China bubble pops, the human population bubble surely will follow. It’s time to grow accustomed to chaos as an everyday event.
As usual, you can count on me for the good news associated with life in the doomosphere. Soon enough, we won’t be threatening the entire living planet with extinction via carbon dioxide emissions. Or by flooding the atmosphere with methane. Soon enough, we won’t be spending all your hard-earned tax money on oil, much less on securing that oil at the point of a bazooka. Soon enough, Afghanistan will be a distant memory instead of a broad expanse of imperial killing fields. Soon enough, Obusha will not be able to order the massacre of civilians on a whim. Soon enough, the world’s largest companies will not be able to cause $2.2 trillion worth environmental degradation each year. On the other hand, it’s time you started thinking about how to spend your own money, while sellers still think it has inherent value.
I know my message is not the one desired by industrial humans. We want our children to have more stuff than we had. Instead of more stuff, I want them to have more of the living planet, if only to insure their own survival (and that of our species). In contrast, Obama’s dream is the same as Ronald Reagan’s dream: economic growth at all costs, including obedience at home, oppression abroad, and the devastation of the planet and all non-Americans (with the possible exception of Israelis).
Western civilization is omnicidal. We need to stop murdering the living planet on which we depend, instead of attempting to extend the reach of western civilization. And we’re running out of time. Fortunately, the conquest of the living planet has turned into a war. And now, finally, this war has two sides. Which side are you on?
This essay is permalinked at Island Breath.