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Synthesis/Regeneration 44   (Fall 2007)

There Is No Shortage of Energy

by Don Fitz

Consider the following two assertions:

These two statements appear totally contradictory. Yet they are both true.

It is similar to food and starvation. There is enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Yet hunger is increasing.

Agribusiness says that we need to fight starvation by increasing food production via another “Green Revolution” with pesticides, herbicides, genetic engineering and leveling of rain forests to plant crops to be sold to distant lands. None of those are necessary and they will, in all likelihood, increase hunger.

People starve not because there is not enough food, but because available food is not distributed to those who need it. It is more profitable to process food and send it to those who overconsume in rich countries than it is to sell it to those in poor countries who can pay less for it.

Local food production for need, combined with aid during times of crisis, could feed everyone. But increased corporate control of food means more production for the international market and food drained away from those who need it the most. Corn for people to eat locally is transformed to corn to feed cattle for international hamburger chains. Less corn is available to solve hunger as American obesity skyrockets. A thousand food commodities and diabetes follow the same path.

Just as an increase in the quantity of food can be followed by an increase in starvation, an increase in the quantity of energy available can accompany an energy shortage. If people controlled their energy locally, they could decide how much to produce and, more important, what types of energy-draining activities need to be limited.

In a type of perverted Malthusianism, the market creates artificial desires faster than the planet’s ecosystems can sustain them.

But increases in energy production occur simultaneously with control by big energy corporations. The more en-ergy that it produces, the more big energy is motivated to sell it for wasteful practices. Will big energy propose to end nighttime sports events with huge lights? To require that only fluorescent light bulbs be produced? To advocate for urban centers free of private automobiles? Not a chance.

In a market economy, the goal of big energy is to make as much profit today from selling as much energy as possible and energy for real needs be damned. Big energy gleefully provides electricity for trivial pursuits in the overdeveloped world as poor villagers fell their remaining trees for firewood.

Even if perpetual motion machines or Star Trek replicators could increase the production of solar and wind by nine million percent, there would still be a shortage of energy. In a type of perverted Malthusianism, the market cre-ates artificial desires faster than the planet’s ecosystems can sustain them.

The flip side is that just as plenty of food exists right now, there is already an abundance of energy. Humanity can live better, healthier and longer lives by changing habits of producing food, altering methods of transportation, building off-grid homes, limiting the manufacture of unnecessary junk, and halting the killing of people to steal their oil. If we do these, there could be a smooth transition away from coal, oil, nukes and gas to solar, wind and other renewables. Without these changes, no quantity of renewable energy is enough.

[7 jan 08]

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