Pale Blue Dot
George Carlin said it is likely the earth considers us at best a flea infestation, and she will be just fine with or without us. I have to agree with him on our relative insignificance but we are an industrious species, and the earth’s ability to be a diverse biosphere with or without humans is fully in our hands. I am concerned for the human race in a timing and a strategic manner. We are not guaranteed success, and we are currently dependent on a very new and limited energy source even in relation to our short history as a species on this planet.
At some point, we have to recognize that the earth is a closed system. Nothing comes in or out of our atmosphere but sunlight. All of our resources are here, and they have a limit. Our resources, therefore, are finite except for sunlight. If we all do not recognize the absolutely undeniable fact that the earth has limited resources, and one of those resources is fossil fuel we will quickly deplete them and in doing so we will have invested in a dead-end.
|NASA Voyager1 picture of Earth |
from 3.7billion miles away 1990
If you look at the earth in relation to our solar system and the galaxy as a whole it is easier to understand how important stewardship of the earth is to our survival. It was at Carl Sagan’s request that NASA commanded Voyager1 to take a picture of earth before leaving the solar system. Known as the “Pale Blue Dot,” this now famous picture shows how small our world is, and it reminds me how important it is to get this balance between human endeavor and the earth’s ability to provide for us right. The problem, as I see it, is, with the advent of modern media, we are bombarded with “news” of new discoveries of fossil fuel, “the economic challenges” of other forms of energy, intermittent supply of sunshine, protecting established economic models of growth, and politicizing all forms of energy. It can feel that all of these events are out of our control, too big for us to intervene or impact in any way, and, even if we did, the scope of the earth is so vast we can’t possibly have any impact.
I believe it’s wrong to describe the challenge ahead only in terms of CO2 emissions. While I can’t deny that discharging millions upon millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year will have detrimental effects by trapping more and more solar energy; the more pressing concern is how will we power our air conditioners or put fuel in our cars when we’ve run out of dirty energy to burn. This is horribly self-serving, but I believe that the needed change in our energy economy is so great that incremental change within the confines of the current political divisions in America today is the only practical way forward. If we put the argument in concrete terms of, ‘what will we do when fossil fuel is gone’ then everyone will understand that fossil fuel is a dead-end investment; a reliance on a finite energy source that more and more people will be accessing will only deplete it all the more quickly. Moving to sustainable energy sources is the only worthwhile end result.
Around the world, changes are taking place but in small and incremental ways. Germany hit 22GW of solar capacity in May of 2012, reaching 40% of German electricity requirements. Saudi Arabia has announced a $1.9 billion solar initiative. Around the world, industries, people and societies are recognizing that good ideas like solar are key to moving us to a sustainable future. Closer to home, New Jersey, Tennessee and North Carolina have installed, in one month, more solar than South Carolina has installed period. We have the resources here in South Carolina. We have the same technological capabilities. Why has South Carolina done so little work in the renewable arena even though everyone recognizes it will be more and more important going forward?
It could be South Carolina’s failure to develop a Renewable Energy Portfolio (RPS). A RPS is a legislative consent for electric utilities to invest in renewable energy. SC has a state controlled energy industry. Either the Public Utilities Regulatory Council or the Public Service Commission decide what utilities can and cannot do and what they charge for electricity. Many times I have heard from utility representatives that they can’t invest in solar because of mandates from the PSC. It could also be because SC is primarily a rural state but so is Tennessee. Even though South Carolina is investing massive amounts of money in Nuclear power, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. There are several regulations that bar investment in renewable energy, and there is currently very little state support for renewable investment. I believe that a large part of the reason is we are not asking for investment in a secure energy future. I am asking you to demand solar energy research and development in South Carolina. We have such a long way to go and only so much time. Our generation can be the turning-point in moving from a finite, dirty energy power to renewable and sustainable energy; we won’t see the end result, but we can see the tide change. You will be securing future generations of fleas a shot at living on this pale blue dot.