A Deeper Level of Denial

A Deeper Level of Denial

Kim Peart

February 2013

The denial of science can be seen among creationists, where belief is more valid than truth.

In a similar way, the denial of climate science rests more on belief than facts and a firm belief is not easily swayed.

There are many who accept the science of climate change, but do not delve too deeply, hoping that we will somehow muddle through.

A muddled mind-set leads to a deeper form of denial, where the real cause of climate change is not on the radar, along with the level of action needed to win back a safe Earth.

This is a more dangerous level of denial, because it results in a minimal response to the carbon crisis and is more to the liking of politicians, who cannot afford to appear alarmist beyond necessity.

Before World War II the minimal approach was tried by Neville Chamberlain, when he declared, "I have returned from Germany with peace in our time."

It was a new leader, Winston Churchill, who drew the line in the sand and challenged, "victory, however long and hard the road may be."

With the Arctic ice sheet melting away more each summer, we may have already lost the battle for the Earth and must enter upon a counter-offensive, if we would like to win back a safe Earth and assure our survival.

The primary driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuel, which is steadily increasing as our growing human population on Earth all seek to live the good life.

Now with Nature joining the race to the precipice, with a fast warming Arctic releasing greenhouse gases from the permafrost and ocean floor methane hydrates, there is no stopping the plunge into a hotter world with a far more dangerous climate and we have no idea how hot this planet will get.

At some point we must face up to the fact that we have totally failed to keep a safe Earth and we must all take responsibility for this catastrophe.

If we would turn the tide of dangerous Earth changes, we need to change our energy source and achieve this feat quite swiftly.

We simply need to observe Nature to see the best source of energy in the Solar System, with the Sun, which will continue to burn brightly for the next 5 billion years and has so much fuel in reserve, it will expand to the orbit of the Earth as a red giant star.

Nature has used stellar energy from the Sun to drive the evolution of life and produce all fossil fuel reserves that we have burned like there is no tomorrow.

If we can find a way to harness the energy of the Sun, this will by-pass the current need for fossil fuel to keep the wheels of our civilization turning.

The size of the carbon energy industry on Earth is huge and it will be no small vision that shifts humanity from fossil fuel dependence.

A hint of the future came in 1941 when the science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, published a short story called 'Reason', which featured a solar power station in space, with the energy beamed to Earth.

The science fantasy became potential reality in 1968, when Dr Peter Glaser proposed the building of solar power stations in space, beaming the energy to Earth with microwaves.

When the Princeton physics professor, Gerard K. O'Neill, investigated this proposal in the 1970s as part of a vision to launch human civilization in space, he observed, "If this development comes to pass, we will find ourselves here on Earth with a clean energy source, and we will further improve our environment by saving, each year, over a billion tons of fossil fuels," [1]

That the space option could have been afforded can hardly be doubted, when we consider how the United States, with the support of Australia, dumped 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, which required quite a large tank of fossil fuel to deliver oblivion to Vietnamese citizens.

If only a small part of our industrial ability had been invested in space development in the 1970s, we would now be a much more advanced society and having built solar power stations in space, we could have kept a safe Earth and made the transition from an Earth-trapped carbon economy to a space liberated stellar civilization.

Unfortunately, the carbon energy industry won the power debate and condemned the people of Earth to deadly climate changes, which are now only just beginning and will increase in intensity.

In 1968 the whole world was amazed at the image of the Earth rising above the Moon, which inspired the environment movement with new vigour to keep the Earth safe.

When the 'Limits to Growth' report was published in 1972, environmentalists took this on board and looked to ways to shrink the human enterprise to a size that was sustainable on this planet.

Four decades on and the sad reality is, the environmental mission has totally failed, with a sustainable human presence being lost on Earth in the 1980s.

Now we need the resources of two planets to keep the wheels of our civilization turning, a totally unsustainable situation that is steadily increasing in size through the burning of fossil fuel.

Like any bubble grown too large, this beast we created that drains the life from Nature must one day burst.

How did we allow the fossil fuel industry to win the energy war and continue pumping fossil carbon into the biosphere?

In the 1970s the warnings about global warming had been around for a long time.

In a 1965 report from the United States President's Science Advisory Committee we can read, "The possibility of climate change resulting from changes in the quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide was proposed independently by the American geologist, T. C. Chamberlain (1899) and the Swedish chemist, S. Arrhenius (1903)," [2]

The scientists were warning the world about global warming, that "the average temperature near the Earth's surface could increase between 0.6°C and 4°C". [3]

An organisation emerged to promote O'Neill's vision called the L5 Society, attracting 50,000 members, which I joined in 1976, but the world was not prepared to examine the need to make a major energy transition.

Space budgets had been slashed before the Moon landing and in 1975 the United States had just lost the war in Vietnam, costing $584 billion and 58,000 American lives.

If President John F. Kennedy had been spared the assassin's bullet in 1963 and served a second term, his vision for space development would have carried through to follow the successes of the Moon landings with much more robust development in space, which would have naturally included solar power stations in space and we could have kept a safe Earth.

If the former president's younger brother, Bobby Kennedy, had been spared the assassin's bullet in 1968 and become the next President, he may well have pursued his brother's vision for space, which would have included solar power stations beyond Earth, allowing us to keep a safe Earth.

If environmentalists had joined forces with space advocates in the 1970s to demand action on energy transition, it is very possible that we could have changed the political dynamic, kept a safe Earth and opened the high frontier, by building solar power stations in space.

We may now wonder why the only real way for human civilization to keep a safe Earth did not happen.

The carbon energy industry managed to maintain their grip on power, drawing energy from Earth alone and the whole world knuckled down to the carbon vision to live on coal, oil and gas.

O'Neill connected all the dots and offered the business plan for humanity's future in space and a healthy Earth, but environmentalists were too focused on the Earth to lift their eyes and see that the way to keep a safe Earth with an advanced technological civilization, was to expand beyond Earth with space development.

As a consequence, the battle for the Earth was lost without a shot being fired on the front line and the gates were left open for the arrival of the carbon crisis.

By focusing totally on the Earth, environmentalists adopted the same outlook as the carbon energy industry and by failing to challenge the fossil fuel monopoly on power, ended up becoming a propaganda arm of carbon energy, which wanted nothing better than for the whole World to be totally focused on the Earth.

We must all take responsibility now for our total failure to keep a safe Earth, just as we must all demand action that will win back a safe planet and assure our survival.

Though the hour is darker than we may wish to know, there is a path of action that we can take.

James M. Miller, a chemical engineer, writes, "Splitting carbon dioxide (CO2) into carbon and oxygen can in fact be accomplished, but there is a catch: doing so requires energy." [4]

With unlimited stellar energy, gained via solar power stations in space, we could extract excess carbon from the air and sea and even turn the carbon back into a useful resource for Earth and space industries.

In this future, carbon could become the new gold and when the carbon level in Earth's biosphere is stabilised for a safe climate, there is plenty more carbon to be harvested in the atmosphere of Venus, which could become the first step toward turning our sister planet into a home for life.

Carbon processing could happen at ground level, on high altitude floating platforms, where the beam of energy could be received from space, or even in space.

Once an industrial presence is established beyond Earth and with direct access to our star's energy, there is no limit to our capability.

There are limits to growth on Earth, but in space and among the stars, there are no such limits.

In the process of making the transition to stellar energy, we will be able to create a stellar economy without poverty and this will lead to a more peaceful world.

With heavy industry located in space, the demand for power on Earth will be less and may be met by ground-based solar power generation.

In this future we can look to a slow Earth, where long-haul transport can be by airships and where Nature can begin to heal the damage from the dangerous years.

If we continue to follow the Pied Piper of carbon energy, just because it pays all the wages, then we will find ourselves at the precipice of oblivion.

We have failed to keep a safe Earth, because we have failed to demand the energy transition that would have kept the Earth safe.

By falling into a pseudo-religious focus on the Earth, environmentalists became blind to the real cause of climate change, resulting in a dangerous denial of the cause and also the solution to the carbon crisis.

If we can shatter this deeper level of denial, we may finally mobilise to save the Earth and assure our cosmic survival.

We cannot wait for politicians or academics, who have missed the boat.

We must look to ourselves, if we would win back a safe Earth and forge new partnerships for action, with the intention of securing "victory, however long and hard the road may be."

Notes ~

[1] P.162, 'The High Frontier' by Gerard K. O'Neill, 1977

[2] P.113, 'Restoring the Quality of Our Environment'
Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel
President's Science Advisory Committee
The White House, November, 1965

[3] P.121, 'Restoring the Quality of Our Environment'

[4] 'Why not split harmful carbon dioxide into harmless carbon and oxygen?'
James E. Miller, Scientific American, 9 July 2009

Published ~

Tasmanian Times ~ 11 February 2013

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