The Young(ish) Fogey

A few days ago, I was confronted by a real-life fogey, and while neither of us is young, neither are we truly old, and my Young(ish) Fogey is definitely not sufficient in his years or dryness of ears to espouse what he openly shared with me. Of similar views on many things, and even proximate views on the very thing, we nonetheless diverged in a way I will essay to describe.

Familiarity, and a kind of nonexistent kinship, led me to quickly, too quickly, venture where I should I not have when my Young(ish) Fogey was apprising of the latest in personal developments. We were standing in the midst of an under-lavish event, raising fundraising drinks with an expected enthusiasm, but not more. It was only when I extended too quickly, dashed into an opening that was not one – and I should have known better – that the room and our association shrunk back to its actual dimensions. I will only say, as for his occupations, he is a lobbyist. But that’s okay! We need those, I thought and still want to believe.

It was on a related subject to his issue – central in my mind but certainly not to his – that I for better and likely worse parried, drifted too quickly, giving him the obligation to correct my wanderings, follow them up with further remonstrances, all tell-tale of the Fogey, I already knew. ‘But he was so young(ish),’ I ignored my own warnings. You think you may speak freely, but you may not understand how little your interlocutor may have given themselves to do so, or how long since they had given up on doing so. A quarrel was afoot, one that I had no real use for, nor did I wish to engage for amusement – either of which would have been a better prospect.

Friendship – really acquaintance – is not openness nor grounds for sharing. People can get offended by forward comments, especially in under-lavish settings. An assumption that he might provide helpful insight turned into a realization that I was dealing with a guardian of the middle. It was genuinely startling – a young(ish) fogey in the wild, though actually it was I who had wondered absently into his habitat. I was exhilarated, but all the same terrified with indifference. Convinced that compromise, a return to some unstated agreement and mutual concession was the key to progress and problem-solving, he counseled further, extensive negotiation with the facing-eating leopard Party as the ONLY way forward. I looked around the room and all the exits were sealed. I realized even the bar staff were trapped behind scrimmed tables. The folly of continuing was real and apparent, of further incursions where I only emphasized my blasphemy, or of re-winding the preceding five minutes back to some reparable shore, was all but impossible. I could go neither forward nor back.
I explained the leopards, the half-eaten faces littering our discourse. But, he objected then summarily effused, ‘if you demonize the leopards, you are part of the problem.’

I assured him that I would continue the treachery of leopard portrayals, based solely upon the mangled faces left in their ruin. This only precipitated a kind of filibuster that drained my interest as it went, so much that I was able to finish my drink. Uninterrupted, my young(ish) fogey soon also lost the vim of his harangue. I puffed hm back up with a couple of pepper-ish comments on related leopard doings, until he finally asked me: is everyone who voted for the face-eating leopards Party evil? To complain of binaries but reduce your argument to one is almost the truest sign of the young(ish) fogey. But there is one worse, one still more true. Should they deign to make the charge of ‘revolutionary’ in your pitiful direction, it is two-part gambit. For you will be re-assured, at least in the young(ish) fogey’s mind, when he calls himself, as captain protector of his mighty, right and true intentions, a ‘radical moderate.’

All just to remind: we really should be careful about what we say to people.

The Cost of What You’re Not Doing

Should energy oil companies continue to receive government subsidies at a time of record profits? Seems like an easy one: No! Congress does’t agree, but there’s certainly a case to be made.

But what about us? Our highways are heavily completely subsidized. Gas taxes are relatively low, encouraging us to drive. Single-family, detached houses with minimum lot requirements? Check. Minimum parking requirements for new business? Ccchhheccckkk. The government requires all of these things of us, or we do of ourselves, through our government, that in turn compel us to, um, consume mass quantities, in the common parlance. And of course, when we do some things, we don’t do others. If we drive, we can’t also bike, sure; but what about all those other things we might be doing to save money or use less energy that we’re not doing – and our government is not forcing us to not do them… we’re just not. Hey, wait a minute! They can’t not make us not do something! But they are.

JR has this post on energy efficiency as a resource… not a resource but the resource.

Energy efficiency is the most important climate solution for several reasons:

  1. It is by far the biggest resource.
  2. It is by far the cheapest, far cheaper than the current cost of unsustainable energy, so cheap that it helps pay for the other solutions.
  3. It is by far the fastest to deploy, without the transmission and siting issues that plague most other strategies.

People on the right freak about this all the time – although they seem to believe with 1st century zealotry in eliminating government waste, they are wholly ambivalent about their own. Anything but being told what to do, ha. As if. It’s true that energy companies and their legions of shills have to demonize efficiency all-day every-day because if people found how easy it is – we would soon begin taking on the harder stuff. But that would be good, right? What are they/we so afraid of?

Even without the government subsidies, we could do it. We could pay our utilities more for selling us less – or at least incentive them properly in that direction. As it is, the more we use the more they earn. Like everything else. But maybe this is our greatest resource, the one we’re not using.

Cost vs. Price

Another in a continuing series of the gross misunderestimation of the externalities for the ways we presently produce energy and how these skew the perceptions of renewables. Take it away, Tom:

Let’s start with a recent editorial from the home of “free markets and free people,” the Wall Street Journal. Photovoltaic solar energy, quoth the mavens, is a “speculative and immature technology that costs far more than ordinary power.”

So few words, so many misconceptions. It pains me to say that because, like many business leaders, I grew up on the Wall Street Journal and still depend on it.

But I cannot figure out why people who call themselves “conservatives” would say solar or wind power is “speculative.” Conservatives know that word is usually reserved to criticize free-market activity that is not approved by well, you know who.

Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar business. Many more receive their power from solar.

Solar is not a cause; it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

Read all about it. Clueless minions being manipulated by the producers of ‘ordinary energy’. This is all of piece with the Jane Mayer story from last week. Like the politics, the arguments against non-fossil energy sources fall apart if their proponents grant even the most minimal parameters of reality – which is why Al Gore must be fat, and Obama must be a Muslim.

Butter and Jam

Guinean students, with no electricity at home, study under street lights in the Conakry airport parking lot in June, 2007. Any girls? (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)
Guinean students, with no electricity at home, study under street lights in the Conakry airport parking lot in June, 2007. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

Knowing how much energy you use on an hour/daily/weekly basis would be one thing. As it is, we’re greatly ignorant of even this, and the idea that if we began unpacking what exactly is a kWh and what it takes to produce one, maybe, just maybe we could re-construct that perception – who knows, maybe even based on how fast a little whirl-y-gig on top your house would have to spin just wash your clothes or grind your coffee beans. Maybe we would decide a little whirl-y-gig just wouldn’t do the trick and other measures would be more effective, in tandem with using less or developing ways to use sunlight or building different kinds of houses or… you get the idea. While it may be hard to retro-fit our world – we should consider trying to retro-fit our habits based on everything required to support them. That would actually be much more difficult, though probably only at first.

Trying to understand how much energy you use on an hourly/daily/weekly basis in terms of how much people elsewhere in the world use at all, per the photo above, is a route to a wholly different transformation. Really, it has little to do with the first. We would have a hard enough time justifying our energy use in the first instance; there is very little chance we could do so at in the second. Alas this is the issue, and this is one of the reasons why there are climate change denialists.

So should we (the haves) pay more for our energy than those who haveless? This anecdote from Copenhagen paints a nice picture of our unwillingness:

That was the only talk about poverty for the night. But that’s not the discouraging part. This is: One of the moderators, CNBC anchor Louisa Bojeson, asked the crowd to raise their hands if they were willing to pay 10 percent more for their home’s electricity if it came from a carbon-free source. Two thirds of them, give or take, raised a hand. Would they pay 20 percent more? Fewer than half kept a hand raised. Would they pay 50 percent more? All but a minority, perhaps ten percent, dropped their hands.

These are the royalty of our age—well-compensated, well-heeled corporate leaders, the owners of at least some of the private jets that landed in Copenhagen last week. Home electricity bills, even for mansions, constitute a minuscule portion of their salaries. If they’re not willing to voluntarily pay more for the common good…

There are a number of conclusions you might draw. Maybe the business leaders were defending the right of consumers to choose the lowest price in a free market. Maybe they don’t like raising their hands. Maybe this shows clean-energy choices must be economically appealing—green has to be cheaper than brown if it’s going to catch on. Maybe it means leadership must come from politicians, or social movements. It wasn’t an encouraging moment.

Though perhaps a revealing one.

photo from Revkin’s blog.