Let Them Eat Electric Cake

I look around my home and do not see a single human object not sourced, in some way, by carbon combustion. The glasses on my face, fueled by the coffee in me, which traveled to my cup in combustion based machinery. Nails and screws, hand tools, cement, glass, metals, ceramics, minerals, plastics, paper, copper wire… most certainly, the food and clothes for the people who worked the lines, hammered the nails, drove to work, read the instructions, farmed the fields – the links are endless.

We want our cell phones, planes, trains and automobiles, our imported foods, hermetically sealed packaging and consumer choice. We want our air conditioning, heating and romantic vacations in Paris. Hell, even though our bodies are bio-fueled that fuel source (say, an organic plantain) has a massive carbon footprint to its consumption; farming, transportation, packaging, swiping plastic bank credit card technology toxic material laden computations of purchasing  and the tissue wiping your nose. Top with a sprinkle of refrigeration and cooking (and the associated asthma or black lung) and bon appetite!

In answer to this comfort conundrum, we have bet our continued existence on adaptive electricity. Humanity will not abandon our technological advancements that have become integral to our existence. The liberal environmental equation goes something like this: conversion (to solar, wind, hydro and TBD carbonless sourced electricity) – (current carbon combusted ÷ sequestration potential) + technology = global unification, consumer plenty, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and, eventually, a return to a sustainable socio-political co-existence with the climate system. Simply put, we believe we can have our electric cake and eat it too.

The global combustive sourced electricity matrix is economically entrenched. As complex as the Anthropocene web of economic existence has become, carbonless electricity is, at this stage, the only viable adaptive solution to climatic shifts. That adaptation will never support, the earth cannot support, all the icing and sprinkles of our current extravagance. We can pray for a technological savior, a lithium Jesus, but where, really, has our creative uniqueness gotten us? Famine, strip mines, blood diamonds, mass migrations, deep poverty and homelessness; ten room mansions for a family of four,  one-room apartments housing four families. Why should we believe this kind of deep sociopolitical change is within our capacity?

At this time, we have reached an ignominious landmark; responsibility for one of our planetary history’s great extinctions, a mass “genomic cleansing” achieved in record geological time. For every lunar cycle, species fade to oblivion in our evaporating tropical forests, warming seas, and burning, bulldozed plantations.  We have massive glacial melt and ice shelf calving across the planet. We have “hundred year” storms annually…Humanity fails to comprehend earth’s finite life giving capacity; to think otherwise is delusional. . .as a species we are instinctively attracted to shiny objects.

Undoubtedly, you have already mentally protested, listing favored paths out of this quandary, from sustenance patterns (remember the green revolution- then hello Monsanto…) to local sourcing, eco-friendly construction, renewables and genomic adaptation research. We can localize solar and wind power where applicable, and, the electric holy grail, find a true technologically efficient electricity storage system. But really, will we overcome the petrochemical profit supply chain and political Himalayas that stand between you and your children’s-children’s well-being?

For now, the only bet is to embrace sustainable electricity, and the entire massive consumer, industrial and daily existence adaptations, costs and immense sacrifices that entails. It means nothing if we do not acknowledge the clear answer to our initial sustainability equation. We can’t have our electric cake and eat it too.


By Tim Pershing


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