Updated: Oct 16, 2022
I have been reading about the now-global spike in natural gas prices and its causes. This got me to thinking about the governments-funded and mandated move toward renewable energy, which could not currently compete in a free market. While sprung from a well-meaning ideal (a CO2 atmospheric data point assigned to 1850 in the Paris Accord, what I like to think of as the “utopic point”), I think the movement (not a science) has been basing current power generation decisions, that have very real impact on lives and livelihoods, on a bet that future technology will arise between now and 2030 to solve the problem of intermittency (storage), and balancing infrastructure across a grid, and that per capita energy consumption will decline.
I admire this optimism but can’t help but wonder if an appropriate analogy would be John F Kennedy’s goal to land men on the Moon by the end of the decade (1960s). It was a goal - more than that, it was the gauntlet thrown down, and from that point forward a bunch of men in crewcuts, and women I don’t think were in crew cuts, hunkered over paper with slide rules and lots of coffee and busted their butts and figured out how to do it, and did so in 1969.
Today’s energy challenge seems half done: we have kind of figured out how to send men to the moon but are hurtling them skyward before we have unsnarled the pesky detail of bringing them back.
Some food for thought on what I call the “utopic point”, the year 1850, which I tend to think was chosen not by some scientific calculus but in coincidence with Pastoral imagery as expressed in landscaping painting and literature and 19th century critiques of industrialism like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s : (see pastoral imagery contra industrialism in The Cry of the Children)
Pre-industrial CO2 levels: https://www.friendsofscience.org/assets/documents/FoS%20Pre-industrial%20CO2.pdf
English pastoral literature:https://www.jstor.org/stable/1769616
Pastoralism in English landscape painting: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/english-landscape-painting.htm
I realize that the pastoral in Western art is a widespread theme across time periods and cultures; that it is invoked contra industrialism is what I wish to point out.
Final, tangential thought: An ideal of a return to Nature or at least a “purer” way of living also permeated 19th century America, as illustrated by various alternative communities, almost all of which petered out, if for no other reason than if people didn’t like it they could leave. The Shakers made it work, and Oneida made it work, but for example, Brooks Farm did not.
A good, readable source on this subject is Stewart H Holbrook’s “Dreamers of the American Dream.”
final thought, 2: Every culture that has invoked the pastoral has always located the ideal state of man-in-nature in some blissful time before the current time. This goes all the back to the ancient Greeks and, of course, the Garden of Eden.
See Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City
final thought 3: What I present above is for consideration and rebuttal, a mind-jogger. I don’t aspire to dogma because the voices in my head and countless voices outside it have already staked claim to that domain.
And if I meant to present this as an academic paper I would have prevaricated a lot more.