What is the purpose of Power? It doesn’t matter if it is something physical like electricity, or something more esoteric like the authority wielded by politicians, business leaders, or even church leaders. The purpose of Power has always been to affect change on the world around you. In other words, it is the ability to do Work (physics jokes are the best).
Let The Metaphors Begin!
For example, if you are invested in a hobby I can almost guarantee that you have experienced the problem of not Quite having the right tool to do something. Maybe you want a new table saw for woodworking, a better lens for your photography, or a new microphone so your Twitch followers can hear you better. These are all examples of where a lack of “Power” is holding back progress in a desired field.
Contrary to what degrowthers and demand response proponents want you to think, progress and benefit, personal or otherwise, are not things that can happen when you aren’t able to pursue a chosen path due to restrictions placed upon you by a lack of resources/Power. Everyone who works on their own car, or maintains their own house has experienced this. Stuff breaks, and must be fixed. But if you don’t have the tools or the time, an afternoon spent replacing a leaky faucet, a weekend to fix a transmission, a week to replace the roof, then things get problematic quite quickly. And these cost more than money, they also need time and energy, therefore they require Power to do. And the longer something is used, the more Power that is required to counter its decay.
Entropy is the Worst
Simply counteracting the inevitable decay of our creations requires growth and a reliably available source of power. Simply operating changes the system you are wanting to maintain, pulling it farther from it’s initial optimum construction and operation. Metal rubs and abrades, semiconductors have their doping elements migrate which changes their properties, wood decays and rots. The machines and things we buy, the machines that make them, the vehicles that bring the materials to the factory, the machines that make those… And if you want to do more than just attempt to maintain in a steady-state, you need to have more available than you can use. Maybe there is a way to only have enough and to not fall short somewhere, but I can’t see it.
We hear about digital improvements in sensors and systems, and how we are on the verge of information services that will deliver us into a world where only what is needed is provided so we can maximize efficiency. I’ve made my thoughts on the pursuit of efficiency before all else very clear before (spoiler, I think it’s a one way trip to a world painted entirely in Taupe). People might think that this would be a way to monitor the ins and outs of society’s material and energetic habits to make that steady state or even negative growth society possible, but all that system would be is one more turtle on the stack to feed.
If Less is More, Think how much More More is!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of being more responsible with how our society goes about building and creating things for our use and benefit. Reducing our materials footprint, reducing our impact on the environment, maximizing the amount of recycling/re-purposing/reprocessing we do in all sectors, and being as conscientious as possible of the impacts that our way of life causes to our ecosystem are necessary things to be cognizant of. But we need to also provide for everyone in a manner that doesn’t restrict access or ability to utilize that power.
Nuclear is the Clean Power source with the least amount of maintenance required per unit of energy created. Not only that but it also is the most concentrated form of power production we have, so we can build the most of it on the finite area that we have. That gives us the potential for the most power possible, which opens up the most options for everyone to alter the world around them for their and others benefit.
With Great Power, Comes Great Spiderman Quotes
But what about that whole “Power Corrupts” thing? Isn’t more power always a negative influence on the ability of those who wield or control it when they try to interact equitably with the rest of society? Isn’t this understanding one of the foundations behind the whole movement in the renewables lobby devoted to “democratizing energy“? The idea that a dispersed energy generation system is more equitable, prevents people not in the local area from deciding how local energy gets allocated, and therefore allows more people to have a hand in how societies’ energy is produced and managed to benefit them? Well, fundamentally yes, and this is a good idea. Yet it suffers from the same limitations as were discussed earlier. Namely that you need to have enough power to provide for everyone, only now you are also adding in the complexity of coordinating more people attempting to figure out how to do that (Yet Another turtle on the stack). So how do you balance the intensity that society needs with the responsibility to use it for the benefit of more than just the person providing it? Find out next time on Dragonball Z!
WRT to the “Proportion of materials required …” chart, you forgot to include the biomass fuel material.
Yeah that image didn’t include it, and the footnote saying that is a bit small, but it would be as far off the top as the two fossil fuels bars if not more