Sunday, May 08, 2005

Energy and Despair

Is it possible to be serene and yet despair at the same time? In my experience Yes, but only in fits and starts because I am not a man of faith.

People I know who have religious faith don't seem to have this trouble (at least with respect to the things that bother me), which is something that has been observed and commented upon for a long time. The way I see things might best be summed up by a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw, "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." (Yes, a faithful one's happiness is different from a drunk's happiness, and the quote is less about relative happiness than about the applicability of the proposition that the faithful are happier, but you get my drift. If you think this world is nothing but a stepping stone then you don't have to worry about it as much.)

I try to pay attention to the things I think most important. My thinking style involves looking for trumps - to look for aspects of an issue that dominate the issue - to find the most sensitive variables - to identify the things that render the rest inconsequential.

The problem is that in looking for trumps I think I find them, and they frequently seem intractable - there's not a goddamned thing that can be done about them. Not reasonably. Sure, you can always tilt at windmills but that's not my style. (I got in trouble with a respected elder relative once when, in the context of a discussion about a development project he was working on in the Third World, I accused him of tilting at windmills. He angrily replied to the effect that if nobody tried then the end was certain. Sure, but sometimes hope is misplaced - wrong even - and resignation is appropriate. Whatever...)

The energy situation is dire. Everybody says "Renewables! Hydrogen!" but nobody cares about net energy. Politicos don't care (or can't be seen to care) about energy efficiency or anything beyond the cost of gasoline next week. We still get tax credits for buying Hummers, and every energy development effort is met with NIMBY or BANANA.

Serentity through apathy? Naaa. That worked for a while, but I wasn't able to remain apathetic because I love my son. Serenity through medication? Naaa. Serenity through religion? Naaa, I don't want to try to lie to myself (which is not to say that people of faith are lying to themselves).

Imagine finding out that Chicxulub 2 is headed our way. Could you be serene in the face of the near certainty of upcoming calamity?

In fits and starts, maybe. I'd hope the impact calculations were off, just as I hope now that I'm wrong in my interpretation of what I think I see when trying to pay attention, when I think I see nearly certain calamity ahead.

Serenity through doubt? Hey, whatever works.

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