Midcoast Green

Midcoast Green Collaborative > Home > Articles > Energy and Paris

Energy and Paris

Paul Kando

Just days ago ISIS terrorists killed 130 Parisians and injured several hundred. The city is still under a state of emergency. In spite of that, in just a few days, world leaders will gather there to address a problem even more serious than terrorism: climate change that threatens the planet’s very life support system. Both these events have an energy connection.

People arranged as a peace sign in front of the Effiel Tower
Peace and Renewable Energy for Paris Summit
photo credit: Reuters

The Paris atrocities were committed by Europeans, members of a desperately hopeless youthful minority, with little prospect of a future living in the prosperous West. They have nothing to lose and are attracted by an equally desperate radical movement rising from the ashes of a collection of failed Middle Eastern states, promising the exhilaration of hitting back and a sense of at last being in control – although only of one’s own death, courtesy of a suicide vest.

The modern history of the Middle East is inseparable from the bloody history of oil, the life-blood of western economies, and the consequent colonial exploitation of the region, going back to the early 20th Century. It is not my role to delve into this history, except to call attention to the obvious: oil is energy.

The Paris climate change talks will also focus on energy. The scientific consensus is clear: greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels cause planetary warming and hence, through the interaction of heat, air and moisture, climate change. The challenge is that, to keep the already manifest consequences of excess emissions within bounds, the world must leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. The good news is that renewable energy alternatives exist, in terms of both resources and technology. Consider, for example, that several times more solar energy is radiated to Earth in a single year than all of Earth’s known fossil fuel reserves. And we know how to harness this energy in its various forms – and how to integrate them with mankind’s existing energy network.

Fossil fuel dependency and worldwide terrorism are surely not easy problems to solve — especially not with conventional methods — but not impossible. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is exactly a century old as I write this on November 25. He “went back to the blackboard and set down the equation that rules the universe” relates the New York Times. As compact and mysterious as a Viking rune, it describes space-time as a kind of sagging mattress where matter and energy, like a heavy sleeper, distort the geometry of the cosmos to produce the effect we call gravity, obliging light beams as well as marbles and falling apples to follow curved paths through space. His insight “changed everything”.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them Einstein is quoted as saying. Worldwide terrorism and climate change are likely to have the same solution: “going back to the blackboard,” as Einstein did, recognizing that apparently straight paths are actually curved, and also re-thinking our approach to energy and the severely skewed social and economic order which depends on it.