An arresting photo in a recent business supplement shows a floating oil rig temporariy moored in Seattle harbour prior to being towed to the Arctic, very probably to the Chukchi Sea mentioned in my post on 28 April. It is surrounded by hundreds . . . of environmental activists in kayaks with banners and all sorts, I don’t suppose they were trying to prevent it being moved — or even imagining they could. They were simply making a protest.
As someone who has been a concerned environmentalist since a young man, I think it is reassuring that the present young generation is still feeling strongly about trying to save the natural environment — which happens, even though growth economists don’t realise it, to sustain us all in a total ecological pyramid. And this applies from man at the top of the pyramid — as the supreme predator — right down to the bottom-most layer — bacteria. Without this broad bacterial base, from which all other life forms have since evolved in the last two billion years, then we would not have come into existence a long time ago nor able to exist now..
The reason for the last statement is that some bacteria have not remained as independent life forms but only in synergy with other life forms — and we’re included. Each of us have thousands of specialised types of bacteria in our gut which we happily feed with part of the food we eat. In exchange, the bacteria supply us with biochemicals that our own body cells can’t make, among which are vitamins, essental fats and some transmitter chemicals vital for brain functioning. If we were deprived of our microscopic associates we would die within a few days.
However, I didn’t vote for the Green Party in the General Election two weeks ago, because many of their policies are, quite frankly, rather ridiculous. The greenies have yet to realise that their policies have, perhaps unfortunately, to start with the world as it is and not to try and jump immediately into a set of circumstances which are so unrealisable as to be utopian.
Thus the Green Party, if it had the power, would wind down the use of fossil fuels far tlo quickly. The oil rig in Seattle harbour would not be towed to the Chukcha Sea but be broken up for scrap. The Green Party talks of expanding renewable energy technologies such as wind power and solar cells, but these can only create electricity at many times the cost of electricity generated from oil or gas. At best, the presnt so-called renewables can only supply the smallest fraction of the electricity needed without the world falling into something close to total breakdown.
It’s symptomatic that the Green Party are dead against the use of shale gas despite the fact that, when used in power stations, it produces only about half of the CO2 that oil or coal does. If one believes that the addition of man-made CO2 into the atmosphere endangers the earth — as the Green Party does most ferventy — then it ought to go all out for shale gas to replace the present fuels. Moreover, the Green Party could appeal to the selfish instincts of the electorate at election times — always a sensible thing for political parties to do! — by telling them that shale gas is on average at the low end of the costs of most energy sources.
Oil and conventional gas from Saudi Arabia is presently cheaper than shale gas, but their future long term supply is more problematical than shale gas which exist in thick underground strata in very many countries of the world. The present low cost of oil is only becaue Saudi Arabia is pushing its production along faster than it’s in its long term interests. The average price of oil will undoubtedly rise well above the cost of extracting shale gas before too long.
But shale gas will take at least another 30 to 50 years to develop as a mature technology around the world and, in the meantime, the existing fossil fuels can’t be more than marginally replaced from year to year without causing a great deal of economic costs and human distress in one country after another. And this situation is not one in which governments would want to bring about environmental policies. By then, assuming that Africans will also start to get the message that almost all other countries are now responding to, the world population ought also to be going down. That, and the use of shale gas ought to be transforming the overall picture of a much less damaging word ecology.
By then also, the Green Party might be developing policies which are practical as well as being sympathetic to the environment. With luck, the greenies will also be a much more scientific party than they are now. Paradoxically perhaps, it’s only been since the rise of science that man has actually been conscious of the vulnerability of the complex ecological systems on earth. Until relatively recently man has been totally unconscious of the harm he has been doing to the world during and since hunter-gatherer times.