Saturday, December 29, 2012

On criticism for my "Polish Coal-aholics" post

I suppose this is a milestone to be remarked upon passing.  It seems I picked up an angry critic who seems especially annoyed at my take on climate deniers.  According to him, my outrage was last Sunday's post entitled "Polish Coal-aholics" which contained an extended clip from a Der Spiegel post entitled Poland Wages War on Efforts to Save the Climate.

I happened to like that Der Spiegel post because it was soooo German.  Energy policy is a highly complex subject but one thing is abundantly clear—burning coal to generate electricity is a very bad idea.  Why?  Because the whole point of changing the energy mix is to lessen the output of greenhouse gasses.  Coal is mostly carbon.  You burn (oxidize) carbon and you get carbon dioxide.  (Well, you can also get carbon monoxide but it will become CO2 in about 20 minutes.)  So coal burning is a problem—NOT a solution for climate change.  Chemistry 101 is quite clear about this.  And yet the Poles are opting for a coal-only future and an inquiring writer for Der Spiegel wanted to know why.

Yes.  Me too!  I want to know how any sentient being responds to climate change by suggesting much more of the same technology that caused the problem in the first place.  I found it funny that a German publication would couch the possible answer in the form of an addiction they called coal-aholism.  Now I am not a huge fan of "carbon addiction" as an explanation for much, but this was amusing because I have heard how some Germans I know criticize Polish drinking habits.  It was as if the author was throwing up his hands at the crazy Polish insistence on building more coal-fired electrical generation as an irrational and very unhealthy act akin to drinking Wodka at 9:00 am.

Anyway, my critic accuses me of "serious" sins.  In no particular order they are:

1) I used an article that slanders people for a technological choice.

Absolutely.  I am guilty as charged.  I reposted that article precisely because it was sort of a mild Polish joke.  However, my guess is that my critic was not so offended by the criticism of the Polish people as he was offended by the dismissive attitude people like us have for people who think like him.

2) I rely heavily on Der Spiegel for my information.

Again.  Guilty as charged.  I go to their website every day.  I understand they are a neoliberal publication in the heart of Social Democratic (SPD) turf (Hamburg) but I think their world-view is close enough to my own to make the necessary adjustments.  My people came from southern Sweden.  From the 13th century on, we have been in the economic orbit of Hanseatic League thinking.  Hamburg was the first among equals in the league.  So I go to Hansa-based site to get my daily dose of Hansa thinking.  Since these people are still among the most prosperous on the planet, I find it instructive.  However, just because I happen to like Der Spiegel does not mean I use them exclusively.  And just because my critic finds them untrustworthy does not make them wrong.

3) I am probably not as technologically literate as I advertise myself to be.

Hey, I could get into a chest-beating contest over who has more patents, or mastered more tools, or built more complex things at a young age, but whatever would be the point.  I am certainly technologically literate enough to comment on technology issues.  But let's assume that my critic is a senior combustion engineer for ABB (or similar) and really IS more technologically literate than I,  I am still dealing with a critic who actually believes that burning coal to boil water is still an acceptable way to power a society.  It is not.  The age of steam is over and we hang on to it's remnants at our peril.  It matters not at all that it is cheaper, easier, and more reliable to power a country with coal, climate change makes burning coal NOT AN OPTION!  Because it absolutely essential we figure out how to live without most kinds of fire if we are going to survive, reminding us again how wonderful fire is, is not exactly helpful.  It really doesn't matter how technologically literate one is, if you aren't interested in deploying your talents designing and building the post-fire society, you are a long, LONG way from the leading edge.  History will not look kindly on technologists who defended an obsolete technology that was clearly destroying the atmosphere.

4) The German effort to power their society with renewables has been given up as a failure and now that they are about to phase out their nukes, they will be building new coal-fired plants too.

Yes, I understand the Germans are having some second thoughts about their commitment to renewable energy.  Most of these doubts stem from the fact that renewables are expensive at a time when the zeitgeist preaches austerity.  But the science of climate change is not in doubt in German society.  As a young German explained to me last summer, "We have climate change deniers, too.  We just don't treat them seriously nor let them close to important jobs."

There were probably other sins but I didn't read his piece especially carefully.  I make it a habit not to waste time on climate deniers and I removed some nasty little comments here by some of his acolytes.  But it was my first brush with denialism and it sort of rattled me because I carefully place myself in the middle of the global mainstream of climate change opinion.

And no, I am not going to link to the site that took time to criticize a reasoned and reasonable post.  I really have no interest in debating climate change deniers.  Just knowing there are people out there who can deny so much factual evidence is quite depressing.  And there really is no point in arguing with them—if they can ignore the evidence of just 2012, what could I possibly say to them that would change their extremist positions.

1 comment: