Questions on growth & power in a weather-worn world
Last Wednesday morning – January 10th, 2018
View of the rising sun . . .
Come, you lost atoms to your centre draw near and be the eternal mirror you saw.
Rays that have wondered into darkness wide, back into your sun, subside.
Sufi poet, Attar
Growth and Power
Humanity has harnessed water power since earliest civilization. Dams have changed the natural flow of rivers to run mills, control flooding and provide irrigation and water.
Water mill near St. Catharines, Ontario – bruce witzel photo
In the Great Depression of the 1930’s large hydro electric projects were built to create power for homes and industry and hence, a multitude of jobs for the American people. The developed world’s lifestyle is largely based on using vast amounts of power.
Although hydro-electricity is considered a renewable energy source, it comes with an ecological cost – flooded valleys and loss of habitat, farmland and ways of life.
There’s pros and there’s cons to all forms of power.
Roosevelt Dam – bruce witzel photo
Site C on the Peace River
Here in British Columbia controversy has developed over construction of a 3rd large dam on the Peace River, known as Site C. It will be the most expensive public megaproject in Canadian history. When construction began in 2015 it was estimated to cost 8.7 billion dollars.
On June 29, 2017 the freshly elected New Democratic Party formed the provincial government. This ended16 years of Liberal Party rule. Then in fall of 2017 the BC Utilities Commission were ordered to do a special review of the Site C dam.
Site C dam, September 2017 – photographer unknown
On December 11, 2017 the BC Premier John Horgan announced that his government would reluctantly continue the project, but that it was now predicted to cost 10.7 billion dollars. In typical political fashion he blamed the previous government.
Reactions were swift. Many business groups and trade organizations lauded the decision – other groups did not.
Kwatsisthah Totem on North West Vancouver Island – Bruce Witzel photo
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, immediately released a strong condemnation:
“We are truly shocked at the callous disregard for the rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples, despite the Premier’s acknowledgement of what is at stake…
The Premier knew coming into office that flooding the Peace River Valley would be profoundly destructive for the Dunne-Za and Cree peoples whose histories and cultures are inseparable from that land…
He (Premier Horgan) has even acknowledged that construction of the Site C dam would violate Canada’s legal obligations under Treaty 8. The fact that he would allow the destruction of the Peace River Valley despite such serious concerns is a blatant betrayal of his government’s commitments to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Children overlooking the Peace River Valley – photographer unknown
Another contentious issue surrounding the dam is the question, does the province actually need the power? An opinion editorial published by Dermond Travis, the executive director of Integrity BC, points this out:
“B.C. consumed 62,467 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2010. Last year, it had jumped to 62,951 gigawatt-hours, an increase of 0.8 per cent, In 1996… we consumed 64,664 gigawatt-hours of electricity. By 2016, B.C.’s population had grown to 4.75 million, there were 468,000 more households (than in 1996)… and we consumed 1,713 less gigawatt-hours… In 15 of the last 20 years, we’ve used less electricity than we did in 1996.”
This has come about from energy conservation and better efficiency standards. The public electrical utility, BC Hydro, has an aggressive Power Smart program. Even so, they have repeatedly overestimated long term demand for power in British Columbia.
The Road Less Travelled
The powers that be tell us that the Site C damn, and indeed all destructive energy mega-projects, are simply about supply and demand. I believe it’s something profoundly different.
In 1976 the physicist and energy policy analyst Amory Lovins coined the term soft energy path to describe a future where energy efficiency and appropriate renewable energy sources steadily replace a centralized system based on fossil and nuclear fuels.
A solar powered home in Carbondale, Colorado – bruce witzel photo, Oct. 2016
Here is Amory Lovins take on the matter:
“The energy problem, according to conventional wisdom, is how to increase energy supplies to meet projected demands. The solution to this problem is familiar: ever more remote and fragile places are to be ransacked, at ever greater risk and cost…
We must… take care to preserve resilience and flexibility, and to design for larger safety margins… recognizing the existence of human fallibility, malice, and irrationality (including our own) and of the present trends that erode the earth’s carrying capacity.”
Alberta Rockies near Longview – bruce witzel photo
“People are more important than goods; hence, technology, and economic activity are means, not ends, and their quantity is not a measure of welfare…
The energy problem should be not how to expand supplies to meet the postulated extrapolated needs of a dynamic economy, by rather how to accomplish social goals elegantly with a minimum of energy and effort, meanwhile taking care to preserve social fabric that not only tolerates but encourages diverse values and lifestyles.”
From the introduction of Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace,
by Amory Lovins –1977
This Weather-worn World
The earth is at a turning point. Past U.S president Jimmy Carter said it early in his administration way back in 1976:
“We must face the prospect of changing our basic way of living. This change will be made on our own initiative in a planned and rational way, or forced on us with chaos and suffering by the inexorable laws of nature.”
PE (Professional Engineer) Magazine Dec. 1976, pg. 9
photo compliments of DeSmog Blog
Now four decades have past and the world is witnessing this change – some good and some bad.
On the day before Site C’s continued construction was announced, I read a blogpost from lens and pens by sally entitled (in part) Nature Photography in the Age of Uncertainty, (by Sally W. Donatella click the purple for the link).
Along with 2 beautiful photos, she begins by saying:
“One cannot think of climate change without its partner the weather. And the weathering of our hearts is just as affected by the myriad of weather-related altercations that are becoming more and more prevalent, regardless of one’s location.”
She describes a walk with her grandson at sunset by the East River in Lower Manhattan – how nature can provide us tranquility and inspiration.
“We paused, we watched, we embraced our good fortune,” she concludes.
A view of the lake on Northern Vancouver Island – bruce witzel photo, Jan. 10, 2018
This brings me full circle.
What kind of growth and power will you and I witness for, in this weather-worn world?
Cheers ~ Bruce
There is only one thing that matters ultimately and it is the personal and social value of supreme importance – which is that we grow in love…
Everything else is consequential.