Column: Patience and persistence required with green technology

Solar panels and wind farms aren’t yet where we need them to be, but does that mean we give up?

“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

One of the great intellects of our time, Homer Simpson, offered these words of wisdom to his kids 26 years ago. I thought of Homer’s life advice 26 hours ago when I saw a shared post on Facebook making the case that green technology has been more trouble than it’s worth.

The gist of a column from the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples, is that solar and wind energy is horribly expensive, inefficient and unreliable, chews up vast swaths of land and causes more pollution than it prevents.

All of that may currently be true, and Staples goes on to suggest that governments facing tough financial choices may end green-tech subsidies.

He’s probably right about that too, because government decisions are often based on short-term thinking.

But consider this.

Ford started mass-producing the Model T car in 1908 and brought 15,000,000 of them off the assembly line between 1913 and 1927, and over a century later the Model T is remembered fondly for ushering in the age of the affordable automobile.

But if we’d been alive 112 years ago, what would we have heard?

“My car broke down and no one around here knows how to fix it!”

“Where am I supposed to get gasoline?”

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“Get a load of that metal monstrosity! I’ve got my horse and at least I know ol’ Bessie’s not gonna get stuck in a pothole.”

Priced at $850, the Model T wasn’t even that affordable, really, working out to approximately $18,000 in today’s dollars.

But that’s what happens with generation-one technology. Over time it’s refined and it generally drops in cost.

Today’s phones and tablets make the G1 iPod look like antiquated junk, but the G1 iPhone was a necessary first step.

The Model T was the first car, and from it came forth Corvettes and Mustangs, Lamborghinis and Jaguars. And now, Teslas, which wouldn’t be a thing if someone had decided way back when that combustion automobiles weren’t worth the trouble.

So yes, green technology might be all the things David Staples suggests it is, but does that mean we follow Homer’s advice and stop trying?

The simplest reason to continue developing these things has little to do with climate change, although a mountain of scientific research suggests that can’t be ignored.

When it comes to powering our world, oil is a finite resource that will run out. In a 2018 statistical review, BP estimated 1.7297 trillion barrels of crude oil remain on our planet, which sounds like a lot. And it is, but we use a lot of oil and the rosiest estimates have the global supply running out in about 50 years.

Coal is also a finite resource. It’s expected to last a lot longer than oil at 300 years or so, but one day it too will be gone.

That’s not speculation and fear-mongering. That’s fact, and alternatives have to be developed. Even if they are expensive, inefficient and unreliable now, the hope is they’ll be affordable, efficient and reliable when we really need them.

Does it have to be wind and solar? If the day ever comes where there’s no more wind on the planet, we’ve screwed things up beyond repair. As for the sun, most estimates have that glowing ball in the sky lasting about 7.5 billion years, which gives us a bit of wiggle room.

It might be easy to punt these tough decisions down the road and let the kids and grandkids clean up our mess, but ask yourself this. When history books are written about these days, what do want them to say? Did we fail miserably and give up, or did we keep trying?


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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