The Paradise Within Reach
John Adolphus Etzler published The Paradise within the Reach of all Men in 1833, describing, among other things, detailed plans for harnessing the natural energy of the sun and the wind. It was clear to him that humanity had arrived, the long centuries of strife were done, the age of technology would now bring in a new age of freedom from want and drudgery.
Technological advance certainly happened, but alas not in the visionary way he’d envisaged. Technology didn’t free all men, but rather subjugated them more formally, for reasons which Henry George would come to explain later in the century. And technology wouldn’t embrace the energy that nature provides daily, but was fuelled from the world’s petrified and limited store of energy, the toxic, pounded remains of what had grown from the sunshine of millions of years before.
There is hope that now, finally – though in the meantime having, at the very least, severely affected the biosphere – humanity perhaps could be ready to make a leap that Etzler had felt was imminent.
So, Natural Energy, we say, or as it’s more commonly called Renewable Energy. Why natural? Surely coal and oil, and anything else, are natural. This is so, but those things as stored natural energy, rather than writhing and beating around us wherever we are. Our references to natural energy are about the live energy that is our environment.
When our name revealed itself to us, The Single Tax and Natural Energy Band, it seemed natural that the word was natural, it chimed so with the naturalness of what Henry George was describing. It is, natural energy. It chimed with the natural energy of humanity that would be released by the application of George’s insight.
So, some notes on some natural energy technologies, notes which are, again, nothing remotely comprehensive but our own quick flick through this world. A specific emphasis, though, on the work of Kitegen.
The idea of harvesting natural energy has been in the shadows over the last century, stymied in an era of apparently cheap hydrocarbons and being solely the preserve of enthusiasts. The technologies are fixed in many people’s minds as flimsy and unsubstantial, entertaining toys of eccentrics; it’s almost as if without toxic muck and danger and making a mess of the terrain, the energy produced can’t quite be real.
And if this energy is real, it isn’t reliable and so isn’t useful. It only works when the wind blows, or the sun shines. There’s been a credibility problem which is unwarranted, as these technologies and their possibilities have been kept down by the unseen and unaccounted subsidy upon, and the incalculable true bottom line of, the dirty fuels.
But these natural energy harvesting technologies are very real, and the potential is, and has always been, virtually limitless. They don’t poison the biosphere, and provide energy which is, before long, increasingly close to becoming free. It can be achieved with fairly basic and simple engineering and is potentially available to anyone, anywhere.
Despite the perverse lack of funding, the engineering has continued developing, often in an amateur way. Now it’s starting to make irrefutable sense, and we’d like to push that on as we can. In 2008, the total generating power of newly installed natural energy plants overtook the installation of new conventional plants for the first time.
This is desperately important because the era of a hydrocarbon-fuelled world has been deadly, most principally in terms of the distress caused to the biosphere, but also as the main driver of the disastrous relationships between the nations of the world, which have brought so much tragedy and injustice, made tyrannies of noble projects, and made an unhappy world out of what was a brilliant and delicate jewel in space, which was our blessing. In every way, oil has poisoned the world.
China, which has taken on much of the world’s manufacturing, now has such hellish air pollution in its cities that its scientists are comparing the smog to a nuclear winter, affecting the photosynthesis of plants. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences damned the capital, Beijing, as being almost uninhabitable for human beings. Also here and here. And the same thing is cutting crop yields in half in India. This is a real disaster that’s unfolding, now. If poisoning people isn’t quite enough to worry anyone, it causes real economic damage, as well.
Britain recently got a tangible taste of real air pollution recently, and it was truly nasty. But the real pollution these days in cities is usually tasteless and insidious, nanoparticles that interact with co-pollutants and then pass through every filter and become lodged deep in the body. Air pollution is another one of those things that looks worse every time it’s looked at. The actual death rates caused by from pollution get little mention in the world press, yet, according to World Health Organisation studies that are increasingly noticing the danger, one in eight of all deaths are now linked to it.
Whatever we’re striving for, is it really worth having if the price we pay for it is to utterly poison the environment in which we live? Is not the environment the most valuable and important thing any creature has?
But the technology has been around for decades which could harvest huge amounts of natural energy, and there are endless torrents of it. Human global total power consumption is but a tiny fraction of the natural energy in the biosphere. It’s just a question of taking it, of helping yourselves.
It’s long been the case that if the panoply of renewables could reach a certain critical mass, they would be obviously cheaper, close to free and available everywhere. But no great leap was ever made, despite the obvious guarantee of long-term success. Enthusiasts watched in dazed despair as obviously brilliant devices like Salter’s Duck and others were never floated, instead sank in the face of the apparent commercial reality of cheap coal, cheap oil, nuclear, all of which are massively subsidised if the true picture was accounted. Big industries with big political clout.
Washington-based campaign group Oil Change International, say on their website that they are:
. . . a research, communication, and advocacy organization focused on exposing the true costs of fossil fuels and facilitating the coming transition towards clean energy. The production and consumption of oil, gas, and coal are major sources of global warming, human rights abuses, war, national security concerns, corporate globalization, and increased inequality.
This site is their interactive tool that tracks the flow of oil, gas and coal industry money into the US Congress.
OCI have calculated that, for the year 2011, the industrialised nations subsidised their oil, coal and gas industries and the fuel consumers, to the tune of $58.7 billion. That’s what cheap energy actually costs to wage earners, before it’s taken from the pump, and that excludes any of the war mongering costs related to oil (which we’ll come to). A similar subsidy for natural energy technologies, even for just one year, would have a profound effect.
$58.7 billion? Research conducted within the IMF estimates global subsidies to hydrocarbon companies of $5.3 tn annually.
That’s $5.3 trillion; $5,300,000,000,000, a total greater than the entire world’s health spending. If anything should ever have been subsidised – as so much else has been – it is the technologies to harvest natural energy.
Of course, these subsidies and tax breaks and the like are nothing in calculating the true costs that oil has brought upon us. The full balance sheet would have to include the astronomic costs of military expenditure to maintain desired political positions in the supplier countries, and from this, the massively bitter price paid in the warping of the foreign relations of what we were brought up to think was the Free World, run by the good guys. The West, the Free World, is now morally bankrupt, its political heart blackened by its narcotic craving for the black stuff. Oil was never cheap, that was a mirage, it was just that few ever worked out the appalling true cost of it. Oil has been tragically expensive.
A lot of the money that flowed to the oil-producing nations, the Middle East, a region seemingly kept simmering in fear and uncertainty, was recouped by armament sales, further entrenching Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex which feeds from war and insecurity, further establishing their influence in government, furthering the quiet but steady militarising and securitising of politics and society. It’s really been the most vicious circle ever.
We can’t help repeating this, if only a tiny fraction of the rich world’s military and security budgets, or false security budgets, had been poured into the development of energy harvesting technologies, an abundance of natural energy would have been secured, and there wouldn’t ever have been any security problems; and it would have been very hard indeed to make any up.
The manipulation of power that has created this torn world is a large part of the oil story. Within the consumer nations themselves, oil has played a considerable part in concentrating wealth and power and establishing an absolute primacy of the creed of maximised wealth extraction above all other considerations, accompanied with a diminishing of individual freedom and agency. Our dependence on this apparently cheap energy has entrenched the logic of exploitative capital as the single goal of civilisation.
For reasons that are continually being underlined, there isn’t any doubt left that this era needs to be left behind as quickly as possible.