Friday, October 1, 2010

Informed Dissent: Sunny and Not-So-Sunny Renewable Energy Futures

(excerpt from a longer piece on JustMeans)


Long ago and far away, I hosted a TV show, bursting with fun though brief of tenure, called "From All Sides." I wanted to develop the polarity necessary for informed choice, instead of to further dualistic fatuousness that at most amused and at worst alienated and confused viewers. .

This idea--letting real parties in interest that really oppose each other take their best shots--is still an excellent one. The concept of the jury--which evidence supports as a 'best-practice' method for determining truth and falsehood--rests on this tenet of understanding through oppositional presentation.

And this represents a huge failing of the internet, at least if one, on the basis of simple searches, is attempting to retrieve the head-butting essential to the parsing of controversy. Therefore, the initial point of this story is, first, to illustrate a few default portals for the information, about energy issues in this instance, which forms the basis for knowledgeable and wise decisions.

Second, I match each of these expert locations with citations to clearninghouses and such that the 'authoritative' source fails to mention, even though the second source is at least equally driven by facts and reason. Moreover, these missing thinktanks provide analysis and argument that would likely lead a quester to different conclusions about various key conflicts and choices.

24-eac Here are just a few such juxtapositions.

*, The Energy Information Administration versus the Institute for Environmental and Energy Research,;
*, The Energy Information Network versus the Nuclear Information and Resource Service,
*, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory versus the Energy Action Coalition,
*, The National Energy Education Development Project versus Appalachia Rising,
*, The Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science versus The History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine,

At the most basic level, this kind of polarization forms the basis of knowledge; if nothing else, realizing the best choice will remain elusive if one fails to see clearly who the stakeholders are and what is at stake.

Another aspect of a useful overview, whether one is seeking a richer cognizance of relations with South Asia or a more evidentiary appreciation or energy policy possibilities, contains background, philosophical, and historical aspects of the particular problem. And once again, the web is pitiful regarding such things, unless one digs more deeply on one's own. Certainly, so far as I was able to discern, one would have to wade through an ocean of mud before one could find such a source-spring for considering 'energy + information.'

Thus, once more, I provide here a handful of suggestions, which lead to gateways to such documentation and assessment.

These are all authoritative source materials, dealing with the past, about which sources from all perspectives in conflicts are much more likely to "make the cut" and show up than is the case in such confrontations as renewable energy and nuclear electricity today.

*the Internet History of Science Sourcebook is here, a close competitor with the Italians, above, for breadth and depth and accessibility.

* a basic orientation to the history of engineering and technology occurs here.

* this University of Houston godsend gives several thousand thumbnails about the technological aspects of science, including inventors, devices, and mathematical developments.

* an English location, at Oxford's Museum of the History of Science, directs readers to interesting learning opportunities and gives extensive coverage of web resources.

*this University of Pittsburgh site gives searchers the chance to find material that covers difficult technical problems, as well as general background orientation.

If a reader wants to dig into any problem dealing with science and technology problems today, especially in regard to energy, he or she now has a better capacity than before to see the stakeholders, background, and basis for conflict in any specific situation. I would contend that these are critical elements in a citizen's gaining the capacity, not just to react, but to play the role that Jefferson envisioned when he said, "I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."


In a sense, I could stop here. Truly, with what is available above, a motivated citizen can capacitate participation in the political process of deciding science and technology policy (which, in the view of many thinkers, means all policy).

24-dust But, as one would expect, knowing me, I've got a bone to pick.

The level of ignorance about, and lack of participation in, these matters "don't make no sense," as my brother liked to say about lame excuses. And, since 'inquiring minds want to know,' I ask myself, 'Why, with 223,000,000 avenues to understanding, is so much of the "information" about "energy" so hopelessly partial or simply false?'

Simply, the government's and established business dovetail in their expressions of reality because they constitute the same social forces. The people who work in one sphere go back and forth between highly paid corporate positions and stable and secure government jobs.

While he watched in horror, Marion King Hubbert witnessed such crisscrossing opportunism repeatedly. He documents this pattern richly in his interviews at the American Institute for Physics at Johns Hopkins University. C. Wright Mills started almost an entire branch of sociology that monitors such phenomena.

A second, related element of this situation is the ruling position of capital in ours, a highly capitalist society. Thus, almost all expressions of the State's performance become an extension of corporate policy. Whether the confluence appears as a sop to retail food sellers in the form of Food Stamps or as a disinformation program to energy producers in the form of citizen-education materials is in some sense immaterial. The purpose is the same. The result is social weakness and a compounding of already extant difficulty.

If folks don't use something like a set of tools such as shows up in these pages, then they had better find some other materials with which to teach themselves and fend off intrusive and destructive policy. Either that, or they should avoid any complaint when the exact opposite of majority inclination is the 'party line' from Washington.


Another problem with simply leaving things be after providing some guidance concerns the rationale for historical, 'big-picture' investigation of everything that matters at the moment. Even accepting that caveat emptor should rule the roost in times like these, so that folks should already know the government data is hopelessly unbalanced and horrifically biased, these information supplies cannot even guide us in the ways that don't require balance.

24-scientific We cannot chart a path forward if we don't understand how we've arrived to this juncture. All 'standard' outlets of information about energy, and I do mean almost every single one, are hopelessly ahistorical. Even if, as the EIA is wont to do, an occasional tidbit about a 'Dr. Bequerel' puts in an appearance, the data is hopelessly out of context so that no possible connection exists between the reference to the past and possible inquiries about present concerns, such as radiation and health or disposal of radioactive waste.

A variety of other rationale might be advanced concerning the inadequacy of standard treatments of the learning process regarding science, society, and technology. The importance of mixing in citizen voices with experts, the necessity for follow-up and documentation about health impacts, health disparities, and socio-economic opportunity costs are just a few such factors that come to mind, all of which standard sources of information more or less uniformly ignore.

Again, however, the lack of a contextualized historical grounding alone condemns such portals to data. We cannot gain anything more than the capacity to nod our heads, 'yessir,' from such compilations of the already-decided standard operating procedure.

On the other hand, the strength of these materials, which is in explaining basic terminology and showing what the corporate/government agenda is, becomes decidedly useful if we find ways to balance their lopsidedness. And the presentation here today is a step in that direction.