"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Thanks to a timely tip from Quark Soup, I caught the PBS Frontline broadcast "Heat" at broadcast time.

I must say it was excellent. There was no bristlecone pine nonsense, there was no greenhouse effect physics lesson, there was no Lindzen paranoia. It was just the bottom line. Energy, sustainability, politics, international and intergenerational equity behind everything, and various alternative technologies and their various drawbacks in the foreground.

I also really appreciated the woman with an east coast vernacular pointing out how much local interests dominate over the general good in energy issues; something about West Virgina miners, Michigan autoworkers, Iowa farmers each pursuing their own interests so vigorously and paying so little mind to the needs of the whole country (never mind the world).

Then there was the assertion by a wonderful Indian woman that if India reached an American standard of living the planet would surely be doomed. And Jerry Brown's assertion that while we could solve our problems technically, it is far from clear that we could manage it socially. And Stephen Schneider's calling the growth shibboleth itself into question, ever so gently.

Less positive, but equally striking to me was the efficacy and skill with which corporate spokespeople (notably two women speaking for Exxon in one case and General Motors in another, but also a couple of utility CEOs) so expertly delivered responses to interviews precisely calibrated to maximize shareholder value, with absolutely no other purpose in mind. It was stunningly chilling. T. Boone Pickens (remember, he was an instigator and primary funder of that Swiftboating calumny a few years back) was a breath of fresh air, candor and human decency in that crowd.

A little disappointing that they felt compelled to shy away from quantitative reasoning, but given that constraint, this is really about the clearest painting of the whole messy picture that could be offered at present. (They also steered away from Hubbert's Peak which may be for the best.)

I am glad they stressed electricity more than vehicles, and even mentioned cement before vehicles. It is awfully tedious how so many Americans think this is all about their vehicles.

You can see the whole thing online, which I recommend even to the seasoned participant in energy debates.

Congratulations and thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and the other funding agencies, and especially to producer Martin Smith for a job well done. I think anyone watching this program with an open mind will gain some perspective on the daunting mission we all collectively face.


Dano said...

I do a small subset of this sort of thing for a living - making the concepts behind the show - work on the ground.

So I confront the realities of change for a paycheck. In my view, the best part of the show was the attempt to lay out just what we have in front of us - human nature. I'm not sure I've seen such a gloomy compendium of the task ahead (or maybe I'm gloomy -who knows).

Highly recommended, esp for policy-types.



giordano bruno said...

Peak oil is going to hit way sooner than the worst of ACChange. So Industrial society will crash, no longer to afford those HVDC trans-continental cables and other fancy fixes.
The sensible thing is to concentrate on the oil, which is Vehicles and BuildingHeating in NAmerica.