The Post Carbon Economy
The Moors Can Go
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
“The moor has done his duty, the moor can go,” says a character in Friedrich von Schiller’s play, Fiesco’s Conspiracy at Genoa. Anyone who has read about the history of major revolutions will come to the same conclusion: The initial revolutionaries are all being destroyed by the latter-day power takers. The former are the foot soldiers-turned cannon fodder, the cogs of the revolution, the latter are the new leaders. Once the cogs have done their work, they can be dispensed with.
A Common Course
The following examples describe briefly the main characters and events of some revolutions. The astute reader will recognize the common theme. What starts out as a “reasonable” complaint by some soon becomes an avalanche of discontent. That is when the original proponents and propagators start to lose control and, at the end of that revolutionary process, the majority of the population is in no better circumstance than before. Just that a few of the early activists in the game are no longer around.
As an aside, a similar progression can be found with peaceful demonstrations as seen in recent years in some major cities on the continent. What starts out as an entirely benign and lawful demonstration is soon getting hijacked by a small group of hooligans and quickly turns to vandalism.
French (1789) and Bolshevik (1917) Revolutions
Writers and philosophers like Rousseau and Maximilien Robespierre were the driving forces of the new mood pervading the country. Their ideas, then widely circulated thanks to the new mass media – printed newspapers and pamphlets at that time – became widely known. The French physician Guillotin had also just invented the guillotine. Both came in handy for the purpose. Storming of the Bastille was just the opening act of the French Revolution. Soon thereafter much of the existing elite was separated from their heads, including Robespierre.
The great Bolshevik Revolution of the early 20th century was initially organized by Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) and associates. Trotsky was the founder and first leader of the Red Army, but it did not take long, before he was eliminated by the powers that rose from his initial work. Lenin, and after him Stalin took over the system with ruthless control. Trotsky was a cog and he knew what was coming. He fled to Mexico where he was assassinated by Stalin’s agent in 1940.
Iranian (1979) and Current Revolutions (2011)
As in many other revolutions, young liberal-minded people started the movement. While the regime of the Shah Pahlavi was certainly not par with western democracies, most people in Iran enjoyed a reasonably good life at that time. Commerce flourished, goods from around the world were widely available, but he suppressed all criticism. The Shah was driven out in 1979 to be replaced by the current regime. The liberal-minded revolutionaries who were looking for a less despotic new system no doubt have changed their minds by now if they are still around. The revolution ended up turning the previous monarchy into an Islamic republic, with a different supreme leader and more state control of everything than before. Dissent is even more discouraged now than a few decades ago.
There are at least two examples of recent revolutions more or less still in progress right now. They are the upheavals in Egypt and Libya, both having started in early 2011. “Armed” with Twitter, Facebook and other social media communication technologies, the young revolutionaries who occupied Tahir Square in Cairo for weeks eventually succeeded in toppling the regime in Egypt, and their brethren (aided by many bombing raids from NATO countries) accomplished the same in Libya. However, the hoped-for western style “democracy” is no closer to them. Actually, it may be further away than before. The occupiers of Tahir Square already found reason for an encore to the original “successful” occupation; this time against the new powers in charge. It probably came as a great surprise to most occupiers that this time they no longer enjoyed the freedom to protest as they had before under the old regime. In Libya, the situation looks even more grim.
The 350 Org
Now about the 350, the primary reason for this article. What I am referring to is the “350 Organization” (350). In case you never heard of it before, it is a diffuse group of people who want to limit the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to 350 ppm (parts per million). Currently, some 95% of mankind’s energy comes from fossil carbon sources, i.e. coal, oil and natural gas. The end by-product of using that energy is CO2. However, mankind’s energy consumption causes only a part of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere. The natural emissions from volcanoes are the major source.
In order to reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to 350 ppm almost the entire world population would have to revert back to the pre-industrial age of the 1800’s. All evidence indicates that the CO2 then was more around 300 ppm, compared to the current 390 ppm. The world’s population has also increased in that time more or less by a factor of ten. Therefore, reducing today’s level of CO2 to 350 ppm in a “post carbon economy” would have to mean a reduction of mankind’s fossil energy use by approximately 90%. Without alternative energy sources to compensate for that loss, of course, that idea is preposterous. Why not go back to Neanderthal times and huddle around some smoldering twigs in a dark cave?
The 350 people have a web site  which lists Bill McKibben as the President and Co-Founder of the group. Official “messengers” of the 350 are, inter alia, such luminaries as David Suzuki, James Hansen, and Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Program on Climate Change). Together with Al Gore, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. Hansen’s claim to fame includes such items as being arrested in front of the Whitehouse, and being involved in other petty offenses, such as distorting climate records.
The 350 revolution is of a slightly different kind than the others mentioned. It does not involve physical conflict using bombs, mortars, and tanks. It simply uses modern systems of communication, such as email, websites, and all the electronic social media offshoots thereof. That makes them able to respond extremely fast to any event or news which can be passed on to followers almost instantaneously, anywhere on the globe.
Another one of 350’s messengers, David Suzuki, actually seems to be the only one to explain where this value (of 350 ppm CO2) comes from. His bio says “Why 350? We must return to the earth’s natural balance!” There is no further justification for this number anywhere, but at least he states why he thinks that this number is of importance.
In contrast, McKibben, a (co)founder of the 350 club does not even bother with such petty detail as to the origin or reason for their goal/limit value of “350 ppm”. His bio on the 350 web site curtly says “Civilization is what grows up in the margins of leisure and security provided by a workable relationship with the natural world. That margin won’t exist, at least not for long, as long as we remain on the wrong side of 350. That’s the limit we face.”
The Post Carbon Economy
The idea of a “post carbon economy” is total rubbish.
Altogether, the “alternative” energy sources touted (wind, solar, geothermal, oceans) amount to less than 1% of the world’s current energy consumption. On top of that, they all are highly irregular and unreliable energy sources. Hardly ever mentioned is that the production of that alternative energy requires a significant amount of carbon energy during the manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance processes. Furthermore, even the 2.5% of energy provided from nuclear power plants is considered “no good” by proponents of the post carbon idea.
Therefore, one has to ask, how did the idea of a post carbon economy even come about? According to Bachmann’s book , it was strictly an attempt to control the world’s energy for financial gain (especially by control of crude oil resources). One of the avenues to be embarked on for that goal was to prevent European countries’ and Japan’s move towards nuclear power in the 1950’s to 70’s. This anti-nuclear stance became the mainstay of Germany’s newly founded Green Party at that time.
In Germany, many of the nuclear power plants are close to their design end of operational life and will need to be either replaced or decommissioned. After the earthquake and following tsunami last year in Japan, the German government decided to turn away from nuclear power. Several plants have been shut down already; the others are to follow in a few years. Economic reality, however, is beginning to teach some hard lessons there. Germany needs to import increasing amounts of electricity from its neighboring countries, generated there mostly by nuclear plants. Between the higher cost for such imports and the high feed-in tariffs for alternative power from wind turbines and solar (photovoltaic) cells the rising cost of electricity is hitting home. Major energy consuming industries are moving out.
A few days ago, I attended a public lecture hosted by a university’s “Centre for Climate Change” – everyone welcome it said in the newspaper announcement, except for me according to a 350 activist. The subject of the presentation by the invited speaker, a young professor from another university, was essentially nonsense; namely a pitch for the “post carbon economy.”
The foot soldiers of the 350, the young university professors who hope to stake their careers on the “post carbon economy” and “climate change” theorems are all just little cogs of the much larger machine and when that machine stalls, they’ll be sorry for having jumped on the wrong bandwagon.
Lessons for Revolutionaries
History ought to provide some valuable lessons to current and future would-be revolutionaries. As long as the revolution is in its infancy, their work, activity and fervor is most welcome by the real power brokers without fail - but once the new order begins to take shape, better watch out. Exactly when you start thinking of taking “your rightful place” in the new system, you’ll become its enemy faster than you thought possible.
The grassroots volunteers and university-associated sympathizers of the 350 are just little cogs in the global struggles for cheap and reliable energy shaping up. It does not matter if they are true “believers in the cause”, or opportunistic mercenaries selling their souls to the highest bidder. Like their predecessors in the more violent revolutions described above, they will be deemed to have become “dispensable” by the new powers at one point in time. Then the cogs’ time is up too and like the playwright’s moor, they can and will go.