Engineers vs Druids

Posted on Tuesday, September 25th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link Categories: Long Term Thinking, Technology   chat 0 Comments

An excellent editorial by Long Now board member Paul Saffo on the Planktos carbon sinking project came out today. It is the first in a monthly series he is writing for ABC News. Saffo does an excellent job in clarifying what has become a characteristic battle in the green tech industry.

On one side are “engineers,” people convinced that we must work our way out of the climate crisis by engaging in planet-scale efforts like sequestering carbon, unfurling orbital sunshades, tossing dust high in the atmosphere to block sunlight, or moving wholesale to nuclear power to eliminate coal-based emissions. On the opposite side are individuals — call them “druids”– who are equally convinced that the only sensible option is reduce our human planetary footprint, to conserve, preserve and remediate the threatened natural environment.

We have seen this now playing out all over the world where the “druids” have some out against many low-to-no carbon methods of generating power (wind, hydro, nuclear and in some cases solar all fit this bill). What is often missing from these arguments are the larger contexts that now global warming is forcing upon us. We see opposition of wind farms world wide due to ‘unsightliness’ or because they may kill several hundred birds per year (However it is estimated that there are 32,000 air quality related deaths each year in the US, and hundreds of thousands world wide due to coal burning alone).

It seems that while we argue over how pretty a wind mill is, the earth’s climate continues to change. And soon the New England beach homes whose views may be adulterated by the windmills will be underwater.

  • I think you’ll find that there are many, *many* environmentalists who don’t want to see expansion of nuclear power for a variety of reasons relating to long-term impact, safety, centralization of power, and so forth, and a comparatively *much* smaller number who have come out against wind and solar for aesthetic reasons. The latter group seems to be limited to upper/upper-middle class residents of remote locations, who by no means represent anything more than a tiny fraction of the overall environmental movement. The differences between the two perspectives are so profound that lumping them together as you have above pretty much renders the argument non-sensical.


  • You are right that the reasons are diverse, and I don’t think any one is representative. For instance I am not a big proponent of nuclear because it promotes secrecy and is far too difficult to share with the world. But irregardless of the reasons, the number of large (and even small) very low carbon power plants (like wind) that have been shut down due to aesthetic, or bird kill reasons is large and growing. And all the while we continue to suck down coal generated power with much less of a fuss because those plants are increasingly not in our affluent back yards.

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