I’m not sure how long this post will be, so let’s just dive headfirst into it, shall we?
I’ve seen a rash of opinion articles (sometimes masquerading as “news” pieces) making the rounds lately that have left me feeling just more than a little put out. They’ve been on Facebook and social media, and I’ve seen people posting and sharing them with comments like “Yes, I’d never thought of it this way!” or other statements of affirmation. I’ve even had some of my direct family members talk about them with me.
The thing is? I disagree with these “news” pieces on a very firm level. See, these “news” pieces are written by what I would call “clockstoppers,” or what Axtara would refer to as “a near Pardellian Order.”
Maybe you’ve seen some of them around. There’s been a serious rash of them lately. Articles on the “dangerous conditions of lithium mining.” Or on how maybe “solar panels aren’t so green 30 years down the road.”
These articles make long, emotional appealing arguments about how everyone “thinks” electric vehicles are green, but look at this one lithium mine and what lithium mining is like! Or talks about how everyone is really excited about solar panels and wind turbines, but what will we do when those panels and turbines reach the end of their life in 30-50 years? What will become of us then?
I say “emotional appeal” because that’s what it is. These articles don’t address scientific data or real numbers, or when they do, it’s usually just the one that backs up their point. Which is? Well, to put it bluntly:
We should all refuse these new things because they’re new and scary, and we have something that works “good enough” already.
I wish that was where it ended, but it isn’t. These articles then back it up with an appeal to fear. With the anti-solar and wind articles, for instance, they often make the spurious claim that sure, solar looks good now, but what will happen in 30-50 year when the panels are at their end of life and it’s impossible to recycle them or fix them because we can’t do that very well now, and therefore there is no proof we’ll have it figured out decades from now.
Better, the articles conclude, to stick with what we know. Oil and gas, where we have refined some manner of making them a little less ecologically destructive (not than solar or wind, just more than they were initially).
Yeah, clockstoppers. Pardellian Order. “The future is new and scary, stick with what’s comforting … even if it’s worse. Trust us, the future will never improve.”
That’s the real problem here: These pieces ignore their own history and reality (deliberately so) and conceal it from the reader in order to build a false argument that they themselves would collapse if held to, in order to make the future seem “scary and different.”
Take the solar panels for example. The articles I’ve been reading against them (which have been shared by an alarming number of people I know with comments like “I never thought about it like this) make the argument that solar panels only have a life of 30-50 years right now, after which what will we do with them? The authors seem to envision of a future world where panels began to wear out and society collapses screaming “What will we do for power now!?”
No mention at all is made of the fact that standard coal and oil-based power plants in the US have an operating life of 40 years, nor of the majority of them (51%, according to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) being over 30 years old now. Guess we’re due for a collapse in the next decade.
Or … we’re nearing the date of choosing what to rebuild and replace, and articles like these are hit pieces urging people to “trust in oil” so that those plants can be around for another 40 years. Because why go for “new and scary” when it’ll need to be replaced in 30-40 years? Don’t think about how the alternative already has that same need.
But there’s another bit to this. These articles like to pretend that improvement doesn’t happen.
Here’s an example pulled right from one of them: Solar panel recycling. One of the articles argues that at the current time, we don’t have any institutions that exists to recycle solar panels in large numbers. Therefore, it asks, when the solar panels of today reach the end of their life in 30-40 years, who will recycle them? “AHA!” it concludes. “Look at all this waste that totes will happen!”
It is, after all, impossible to conceive that during the next 30-40 years, anyone would establish a business based on recycling solar panels. There isn’t one now, therefore that will never change. At least, this is what the article carefully insinuates.
Of course, if one thinks about it, why would a solar panel recycling company exist now? Solar panels have really only taken off in the last decade as a viable tech, and with a life of 30-40 years … how many will there be inside of ten? That’s like asking how many companies exist selling houses on the moon now then concluding there will therefore never be a lunar real-estate market. Ever.
But there’s another deliberate exclusion from these hit pieces: The idea that tech exists in a bubble. Note that the articles use 30-40 years as a kind of ultimate number. “That’s all we’ll get!” they say. But … is it?
When I was in high school (about 15 years ago) the life and the power output of a solar panel (or wind production) was significantly less. But as more companies have turned to solar and wind generation, the technology has improved. Right now, wind and solar may have a 30-40 year life. But fifteen years ago it was more like 5-10.
What will it be in another decade? Because we’re far from done improving this technology. 40-50 years? A century? We don’t know! All we do know is that right now it matches its competitors … and it’s still getting better.
But the articles don’t want you to think about that. They want you to think about the negatives, and pretend the positives don’t exist. Why?
Because they want the clock to stop. The future is scary, so stick with the old tried and true. Don’t think about how the “tried and true” have had a much larger ecological impact than any of the tech they’re trying to get you to turn away from. Just look at the scary stuff about the new!
These articles are written by clockstoppers. Luddites. They show you a picture of a single lithium mine and say “Look how big this mine is!” ignoring that it’s cleaner than a lot of other mines that back the enterprises they’re saying we should find “comfort” in. And far less numerous for the same output.
“But but!” they counter. “We’ve had decades of experience making our operations less ecologically disruptive! Those new things are our equal maybe right now, but that’s new disruption! We’re already here!”
True … but again, that’s leaving out that these new mines will also improve as those other industries once did, reducing the impact as time moves on. Furthermore, they’re more efficient, meaning that if you compared an equal output, the older “comfort” techs would still have a larger impact overall.
But as I said, none of these articles address this. They don’t address the constant improvement of new tech, tech that already in many aspects is the equal of tech that is centuries old … and has already been refined to a point of decreasing returns on new investments (while solar and wind still deliver large leaps for smaller investments, carrying them past the old tech).
No, they don’t address any of that. Instead, they attempt to scare you by painting a thoroughly unreal picture. Or taking a real picture and very deliberately not comparing it to their own image.
And, as I noted, just as the majority of America’s power plants—most coal and oil—are coming up on their end of life periods when they all need to be completely rebuilt. Hmmm …
I think I see why we’ve had an outbreak of these pieces lately.
Problem is, these articles work. A large number of people won’t bother to dig past the picture presented by them, nor think on them in anything approaching a critical manner. They’ll read about the specter of an America collapsing as 30-40 year-old solar panels all die out en-masse and think “That sounds awful!” or look at a picture of one of the world’s few lithium mines and think “Well batteries are clearly bad then!” while never stopping to consider all the vast swaths of open mines and aging tech that is the alternative.
“The future is scary,” these articles say. “Stick with us. We’ve been around for a while.”
Imagine if we had applied that logic to these industries a hundred-plus years ago when they had first arisen. We’d still be using horse-drawn buggies and—okay, well we’d be out of coal at this point.
But we didn’t. People looked at some of the negatives of those early innovations, and said “Even with the downsides, they’re the equal of the other, and those downsides will improve.” And hey, we don’t use gasoline with lead in it anymore. Imagine that.
The same will happen here. Solar and wind generation? Will continue to become better, more efficient, and long-lived. EVs will continue to grow more powerful and efficient. The techniques to gain the needed materials will continue to sharpen.
But coal? Gas? Kind of already at its peak. There’s not much refinement there without massive tech breakthroughs that are statistically unlikely.
So don’t fall for it. Don’t let the clockstoppers, the Pardellian Orders, the Luddites, etc, fool you with their emotional appeals of “future bad, don’t think about it!” Do think about it! Yes, sometimes stepping into the future means leaving what we’ve always known, and that might seem a little scary.
So did walking for the first time. Or learning to drive. Or moving out of our parent’s home.
Because sure, the crib might be what we know. But it’s a bit awkward to be a grown individual still living in a baby crib and expecting to be spoon-fed.
That’s what these articles would have people do in a nutshell, really. Pretend that the future isn’t there. It’s scary. Better to stick with that familiar comfort no matter how old you are or where you could be. Don’t think about it.
As for me? I say think about it.
I’ll never stop stepping toward that horizon. There may be stumbles, sure. There may be some adjustment. But I’ll take the drive to improve over sitting doing wasteful any day.
There’s a parable in the New Testament I’m really fond of called The Parable of the Talents. Long story short, a businessman goes away to a far country and gave each of his servants a stipend of cash for while he is gone. The amount varies from servant to servant, but was a part of the businessman’s estate. Well, two of the servants go and work with that cash, and by the time the businessman returns, have doubled their master’s investment.
But the other servant? He confesses that he was scared of losing the small bit of money he was given, and so he hid it and didn’t to anything with it, and where the other two have doubled their master’s investment, he has only what he was originally given.
At which point the master berates him, noting that simply sitting on it was a loss, and the master would have been better served giving his money to a bank to at least have received an interest! But by fearing the unknown and, as the master points out, choosing the comfort of sloth, the last servant had done nothing, and was fired from his place of employment.
I’ve always liked that parable. Maybe that’s why with all these articles making the rounds telling everyone to just sit back and take comfort in the familiar sloth, I narrow my eyes and question their motives. I say we should be like those other servants. Sands, the master in the parable even makes it clear that the money was his to lose: had the servant just tried and lost, it still would have been better than doing nothing.
Yes, the future is scary sometimes. So is risk. But better to try and fail then do nothing and lose even the barest scrap of interest.
As for me? Maybe I’ll look into investing in a solar/wind recycling company. Looks like there’ll be a demand in another twenty years.
Enjoy your weekend, everyone.
Feature Image from Pexels.
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