The daunting task of energy education perfectly illuminated by the stupidest news story of the year
Another year of drawing attention to energy literacy draws to a close, with a bleak reminder of what we’re up against. In the news recently was a popular item that displays the immense challenge of getting the general public to understand complexity.
First, and by way of analogy, let’s say you were at a huge convention with 5,000 people milling around the floor, mingling. You know two of them. One happens to be near the back of the room, the other near the front, near a stage. Everyone is flitting about randomly. You climb up onto that stage, and watch your two friends mill about. At some point, though separated by the entire length of the convention centre, the two people cross your line of sight at the same time, one appearing to be right next to the other, and that proximity isn’t real – it’s an illusion caused by the fact that your line of sight places them in the same linear path.
Would you run around the stage flapping your arms, getting people to come look at your observation? Do you take a picture and post it on Twitter, with a message to the effect that Hey look, from where i was standing it looked like my friends were close together?
No, you’re not an idiot. But someone sure the hell is. I refer you to “The Great Conjunction”, hailed as a “once-in-a-lifetime illusion” by such dwindling intellectual stalwarts as Reuters.
What happened was that there was a “near convergence of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn”. No, their orbits didn’t become one. What happened was that, from our singular vantage point in this infinitely large universe, two celestial bodies that we’ve chosen to name due to proximity appeared to be in line with our point of observation. And because it happens only infrequently, this is “news”.
And we want to try explaining propane to these people? Or energy reliability? Or explain how hard it is to build anything big these days? Not a chance.
That’s not to say there isn’t beauty in small things, or stargazing, or looking at trees and sunsets and rocks. Of course there is. But when an illusion that even a five year old isn’t dazzled by makes the news, it is easy to see the quagmire we’re in.
We see the same forces of dingbat in the financial world, time and time again. Tesla is now worth more than most other car companies combined, and has only ever become profitable by selling green credits. The tech bubble is similar to the dot-com boom of 1999, but memories fade within a year, never mind two decades. John Kenneth Galbraith said it well: speculative bubbles keep forming because “built into the speculative episode is the euphoria, the mass escape from reality, that excludes any serious contemplation of the true nature of what is taking place.” Hoo boy, did he nail that.
2020 was a write off in so many ways, and was apparently in energy education as well. The forces of mass euphoria have grabbed the wheel, and, indeed, seem totally devoid of any serious contemplation of what is taking place. Many, many good initiatives are indeed happening around the world in terms of innovation, efficiency, and awareness of environmental footprints, but the paths chosen aren’t going to achieve what proponents think they will. Energy consumption rises in lockstep with human development, and we will need all forms of energy to meet those needs.
We can hope that 2021 is the year that lights bulb goes on. But it’s going to take more than pointing out facts – the world is going to need something as silly and irrelevant as The Great Conjunction to grab their attention. I have no idea what it is, but it will happen.
Happy holidays everyone.
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