Opinion by Helge Nome
Last Sunday I went for a drive south on Highway 22 that runs along the Rocky Mountain foothills to the west of the Energy Capital of Canada: Calgary. The highway has been branded as the “Cowboy Trail” by promotional organizations along its winding path and the “Western Theme” is promoted in the towns along the road.
It was a beautiful late fall Sunday drive with earth and sky showing themselves off in their best apparel.
What struck me as I got closer to Calgary was the sheer opulence of the properties along the road. They were trying to outdo each other with large fancy houses, miles of white painted railing fences to contain the owners’ many horses and impressive entrance gates announcing ownership. I thought to myself: This road should be renamed “Weekend Cowboy Trail” because the owners of these properties were likely spending all of their weekday time in high paying oil and gas field jobs in order to pay for their pastoral hobbies.
And reflecting further on the nature of our society and its ability to produce an incredible array and quantity of goods and services for a lot of people, one thing became crystal clear: The only reason why this kind of society can possibly function as it does, is because of cheap and abundant energy.
It seems that we all want the good life, the kind of life the aristocrats of yesteryear enjoyed, based on the menial repetitive labor of the rest of the population. And it is theoretically possible because of cheap and abundant energy. But now we are finding out that our energy use has a hidden cost: The air, earth and water that make up our world are changing in an unpredictable way.
The knee jerk reaction to this has been to “go green” in order to “save the planet”. Windmills, solar power and all that. By covering the landscape with solar panels and wind generators we will somehow be able to continue to indulge in our energy intensive habits while keeping Mother Earth happy. As long as we don’t do the math, it all sounds very good. And it was OK in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries when the great windjammers plowed the waves. But in our day, with billions of people all wanting a better life? We would drastically alter our air, earth and water if we exclusively tried to go that route.
Ultimately, if we continue in the direction we have chosen there is only one viable solution: The power locked up inside the atom. The power that the ancient Egyptians worshipped: The power of Aten, the sun disk.
The nuclear Genie came out of his bottle some 70 years ago and destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We in Alberta are now about to decide whether we want to be his host. Have him serve the common good, rather than turning him into an agent for evil. Are we up to that challenge? Can we have our cake and eat it too?