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If we were gunslingers, we’d be in trouble. Several sinister energy challenges are staring us down, but the productivists are asking us to choose our weapon from a rack of toy guns. The alternative-energy project’s fundamental weakness lies in its failure to engage with obvious cultural factors such as consumerism, corporatism, and middle-class desires. Instead, we allow pundits to frame energy challenges as technological problems requiring a technological fix. Every day, media troupes relay news snippets touting the latest bio-eco-green energy sources— all designed to jury-rig a mode of life that is not optimal, desirable, or even affordable for most of the world’s communities. The “energy crisis ” is more cultural than technological in nature and the failure to recognize this has led to policies that have brought us no closer to an alternative -energy future today than we were in the 1960s when the notion was first envisaged.1 In fact, since the 1960s, humanity has become 9. The First Step Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities. –Aristotle  quite adept at intensifying large-scale risks through a variety of productivist pursuits. We’ve built neighborhoods deep in forests that are bound to catch on fire, we’ve built our cities right up to the banks of constricted rivers prone to flooding, we’ve erected tall buildings atop triggered faults, and so it’s really no surprise that we’ve constructed an energy system pressed right up against the very limits of power production.2 Attempting to push these limits back by creating more power through alternative means is a futile endeavor, at least in the current sociopolitical environment of the United States. A growing population insisting on greater affluence will quickly fill any vacancy such maneuvers might pry open. This would not only expand overall energy risks but also increase the number of souls in danger when energy supplies inevitably waver again. This is what I call the boomerang effect. Energy Boomerang Effect A central project of this book is to interrogate the assumption that alternative energy is a viable path to prosperity. I have not only outlined the many side effects, drawbacks, risks, and limitations of alternative technologies but have also indicated that we cannot assume that shifting to them will lower our fossil-fuel use. Alternative-energy production expands energy supplies, placingdownwardpressureonprices ,whichspursdemand,entrenches energy-intensive modes of living, and finally brings us right back to where we started: high demand and so-called insufficient supply .3 In short, we create an energy boomerang—the harder we throw, the harder it will come back to hit us on the head. More efficient solar cells, taller wind turbines, and advanced biofuels are all just ways of throwing harder. Humans have been subject to the flight pattern of this boomerang for quite some time and there is no reason to suppose we have escaped its whirling trajectory today. From Here to There  In the existing American context, increasing alternativeenergy production will not displace fossil-fuel side effects but will instead simply add more side effects to the mix (and as we have seen, there are plenty of alternative-energy side effects to be wary of). So instead of a world with just the dreadful side effects of fossil fuels, we will enter into a future world with the dreadful side effects of fossil fuel plus the dreadful side effects of alternative-energy technologies—hardly a durable formula for community or environmental prosperity. If we had different political, legal, and economic structures and backstops to assure that alternative-energy production would directly offset fossilfuel use, these technologies might make more sense. But it will take years to institute such vital changes. Focusing our efforts on alternative-energy production now only serves to distract us from the real job that needs to be done. Worse yet, if fundamental economic, social, and cultural upgrades are not instituted , the project of alternative energy is bound to fail, which would likely lead to crippling levels of public cynicism toward future efforts to produce cleaner forms of power. As it stands now, even if alternative-energy schemes were free, they might still be too expensive given their extreme social costs and striking inability to displace fossil-fuel use. But as it turns out, they aren’t free at all—they’re enormously expensive. This affront may seem intimidating, however many of the first steps for dealing with it are rather straightforward. We’ll soon discuss...


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MARC Record
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