At the beginning of his excellent 1970s series Connections, James Burke poses the question: What happens if everything we accept as part of modern civilisation suddenly goes belly-up?
Taking as his starting point the November 1965 blackout in the north-eastern US, Burke walks us through the implications of what happens to our highly technological existence if that technology suddenly ceases to work.
The answer, in the first instance, is that we try to carry on as normal. We sit patiently (more or less) in our carriage in the subway or our car in traffic, by now snarled up because all the street lights and traffic lights are out, and we wait confidently for the lights to come back on.
Because they always do. Don’t they? And what happens when they don’t? Well, there’s always The Good Life. We can always return to self-sufficiency and the simple life.
“When does the city peasant decide that his garden … can no longer produce enough vegetables … and animal protein and fat (should he know where to buy and animal and how to rear it) to support him and his family? At this stage, does he join (or worse, follow) the millions who have left the city because their supplies have run out?” [Connections, the book that accompanied the series, Macmillan 1978].
The answer, of course, is that he doesn’t have much choice but this is where his problems really start.
Burke poses a series of questions:
Supposing he has transport, is there any fuel available?
Does he have the necessary equipment to survive on the journey? Does he even know what that equipment is?
Does he know where he should be heading for? And can he continue to get enough fuel to get him there?
And so on, and so on.
And when he gets to this land of plenty does he know how to make it productive? Where will he find shelter?
“If shelter is to be a farmstead – has it been abandoned? If it has not, will the occupier be prepared to make room for newcomers, or leave? If he cannot be so persuaded, will our refugee use force and, if necessary, kill?
Supposing that all these difficulties have been successfully overcome—how does he run a farm which will have been heavily dependent on fuel or electricity?” [Ibid]
And this is what the previous 400 words have been leading up to because if Burke was talking about western civilisation as it was in 1978, how much more is it applicable to the civilisation of 2012? In essence, everything which makes our lives liveable at anything above the barest subsistence level relies for its existence, its transport, or its ability to function on energy and most directly on electrical power and anything that serves to disrupt that power not only threatens our creature comforts — our central heating, our entertainment, the safety of our journey to and from work, our communications systems — but in the final analysis our very lives.
Without electrical power, hospital intensive care wards cease to function as do many essential items of equipment elsewhere in the building. While it still may be possible to deliver petrol, diesel or other fuels to the tanks the pumps that move that fuel to the car’s fuel tank or the central heating system or the various parts of a factory or processing plant are just so much scrap metal. Without electricity the rail network ceases to function since even those parts where the motive power is still diesel, the whole signalling and point-switching apparatus as well as all the other safety systems are electrically operated. Air transport is crippled since ‘seat-of-the-pants’ flying went out with Freddie Laker (or even earlier!) and the modern airliner is totally dependent for its safety in the vicinity of any airport on its contacts with ground controllers and ground-based radar whose communication systems rely totally on a reliable power supply.
All this is common knowledge and yet for reasons which have so far not been satisfactorily explained politicians in much of the western world are content to put the lives of millions of people at risk chasing a dream which for many (many of them included) will within a few years turn into a nightmare.
For some, the nightmare is already here. As I have pointed out already on this blog the decision to fund so-called “renewable” energy by hidden subsidies paid for by the consumer is already driving thousands of households in the UK into fuel poverty. The DECC’s own web site admits that the number of households in fuel poverty in the UK rose from 4.5 million in 2008 to 5.5 million in 2009.
While the causes of Excess Winter Mortality are complex, as the Office for National Statistics makes clear, there is little doubt that the additional pressure on the elderly and the poor created by the unenviable decision as to how to allocate scarce resources (“heat or eat”) is one that no civilised country should force any of its citizens into making.
The excuse is the need to “decarbonise” the economy but if this were a genuine reason then the closure of old coal-fired power stations would go hand-in-hand with the construction of new, reliable, sources of non-carbon energy which — in effect — means a new generation of nuclear power stations.
This is not what is happening. Instead governments — panic-stricken by the lies and distortions of the climate alarmists and their allies in the environmental movement and quite unable to think through the logic of their position — have opted for the least reliable form of power generation imaginable and one which (ironically) will do nothing to reduce emissions of CO2, always assuming that such a reduction is a desirable objective which is uncertain.
There is one way in which those emissions can be reduced and that is if government chooses not to build the 80% of back-up generation which will have to come from coal- or gas-fired stations to keep the lights on and the wheels turning during the 70% of the time that wind generation is idle due to lack of wind or excessive wind.
And at the moment it looks very much as if that is what is going to happen in which case the scenario I have described above is only a few years away. And with any luck we might recall, as we sit around our candle with our wind-up radio broadcasting not very much, just exactly who was responsible for that particular piece of political idiocy.
It seems at times as if there is an insurmountable wall between the climate science alarmists and the sceptics and it very quickly becomes evident that a majority — on the alarmist side at least — are intent on maintaining that barrier. Occasionally however, a scientist is prepared to put their neck (and sometimes even their job, one fears) on the line in the interests of a better understanding.
Judith Curry with her blog Climate, etc is one such and the most recent of these recruits to the blogosphere is Dr Tamsin Edwards, a research associate in the School of Geographical Sciences at Bristol. Since one of her areas of expertise is uncertainty and reduction thereof her input is more than welcome. Her blog is called ‘All Models Are Wrong’ which, as you can imagine, has already called down the wrath of the Peevish upon her. Go pay her a visit. The link is to your right.