Which option do we choose?
Parkersburg News and Sentinel
May 22, 2021
I was quite interested to read “Honest environmental talks,” Christina Myer’s May 15 column in the News and Sentinel.
Myer’s piece deals with the subject of rare earth metals used in various sources of renewable energy, and the potential hazard of “trading one kind of destructive extraction industry for another.”
Broadly speaking, I do agree with Myer’s point that there are no easy answers to the challenges we face. Lithium, a key ingredient in the manufacture of electric car batteries, for instance, can be so environmentally destructive that it’s sometimes referred to as “white oil,” and is frequently mined in hellish conditions through what can only be described as slave labor.
On the other hand, electric vehicles still remain cleaner than their gasoline-powered alternatives overall, and even as I write this there is serious research being conducted into powering EV’s without the use of any rare earth metals whatsoever.
In her column, Myer calls for a “more honest, more difficult discussion” about climate change. And I respect that. What, then, might such a discussion look like?
For starters, it must begin with a few very basic, incontrovertible facts: climate change is real, it’s driven by fossil fuel extraction, and it will cause civilization as we know it to collapse should we fail to transition away from fossil fuels at whiplash-inducing speeds.
From here, as I see it, there are four fundamental paths we can choose to take:
1. Do nothing, continue burning fossil fuels, and allow civilization to collapse.
2. Trade one form of exploitation for another, and preserve the Global North and capitalist extremism by plundering the Global South as we have been, in order to maintain our affluent lifestyles.
3. Find a way of transitioning to renewable energy that ensures materials are ethically and sustainably sourced, at the pace and scale necessary to avert catastrophic, runaway warming.
And 4., probably the most radical option of all to most readers: accept Kenneth Goulding’s sentiment that “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist,” and embrace the reduction and degrowth of Global North economies.
We can choose to like it or not, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt, thanks in overwhelming part to the misinformation and delay tactics of the fossil fuel industry.
I wholeheartedly back Ms. Myer’s call for engaging in difficult conversations about climate change. The bigger issue, to me, is whether or not we’re mature enough as a society to accept the difficult answers we’re likely to be presented with.