Power Flashbacks

As With Any Drug, Access to Cheap and Reliable Energy Has Become Addictive

Opinion | Margaret Childs | June 2007

"Heal the World" Michael Jackson once sang to millions. In the Nineties, the main focus of activists was towards lifting racial barriers and raising awareness and money for starving regions like Somalia or Bangladesh.

Now, the West sees that greed at home plays out not only in form of children with bloated stomachs and the African HIV epidemic – although these pictures still pepper the international Press – but also in immediate consequences for the greedy themselves.

Sadly, we the affluent are not the ones who are first to feel the blows of global warming. We are isolated by sturdy buildings, by air conditioning or central heating, or simply by having the right kind of clothes. We have protection from almost any way the planet might choose to fight back.

We need to start seeing energy as a drug. Because, like any drug, reliable access to cheap energy has become addictive. The idea of having to survive without gasoline, electricity or heating makes many of us nervous. During the industrial revolution, people were trained to increasingly rely on machines for everyday tasks.  Now we are attempting to retrain people to think of the consequences first.

Europe and Austria pride themselves in having taken on the Kyoto goals, which will be hard to reach by 2012. The EU, unlike the Americans and Chinese, has made a commitment to reorganize our use of resources.

But before we get too self-congratulatory, sober calculations of our progress to date suggest that Europe and Austria have to radically shrink CO2 emissions, if we are ever to reach this optimistic but necessary goal.

"What we’ve done until now is really just a drop in the ocean," said Helga Kromp Kolb, expert meteorologist in an interview on Ö1 in early June.

There are indirect ways to save energy, she said. In addition to saving household energy, she recommended purchasing only BIO (organic) products because the path from their origin to the customer is vastly more energy efficient than normal agricultural products.

Affluence is habit forming, and most people who want to pamper their spouse with a lobster dinner in Vienna, would rather not know that the lobster has probably traveled further than they have in the last six months.

Many admire celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Billy Joel or Leonardo DiCaprio for climate activism and having hybrid cars.  They set a fine example for the parsimonious age to come.

So who might manage the energy shift from power plants to wind mills and waterpower? Not DiCaprio, of course, but perhaps Angela Merkel, or George W. Bush or Vladimir Putin.  Unfortunately, none of them either.

Why not? Global warming has become a concept like "World Peace" or "Global Poverty." Those in power have found that small initiatives keep the citizenry placated, enough that leaders keep the millions from breathing down their necks.

Because their isolation consists not only of central heating and A/C, but also of a grossly unequal distribution of luxury resources. They are safe behind the palace wall.

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