Hard And Soft Energy Paths Essay, Research Paper
The differences between the hard and the soft energy paths ARE the future and have been the focus of the evolution in the United States and the World in relation to environmental policy. I have combined these two mid-term questions to express how the answers and the answers vacillate and juxtapose each other.
A hard energy path is one with a complex route, expensive means for producing more power, and dangerous capabilities. Some examples of these NON-RENEWABLE sources are fossil fuels, oil and its petroleum products and the natural gas that accompanies some oil wells as well as the recently found pockets of just natural gas, and nuclear energy. These sources not only harden increasingly over time, but they also become scarce. With hard energy paths, it is often a matter of choosing power and convenience over the well being of future generations.
In addition, choices in favor of hard paths are usually more difficult to reverse, if for no other reasons than economic ones. Lovins is a passionate critic of such sources, condemning them for the price they exact from the environment and from posterity.
Lovins instead supports soft energy sources. These include the windmill and more and more as societies move into the future — solar energy. These sources are usually cheaper in the long run and much simpler. Most importantly, they have few destructive elements and are renewable. Methane and manure are also examples of the soft energy path. Lovins has devoted his work to studying the two paths and their social and environmental consequences, good and bad.
Some scientist say that the ‘Soft’ and the ‘Hard’ energy paths are mutually exclusive, and that if ‘we’ choose the soft path of a decentralist political system will follow almost automatically. If we are not careful, we might end up with a mixture of ’soft’ and ‘hard’ energy systems, both of them controlled by the ‘hard’ political system we all know and love.
Soft Energy Paths , is a valuable contribution to the environmentalists’ cause. One argument is in favor of a soft energy future–one in which renewable energy sources and diverse and accessible technologies, appropriately matched to their end-uses, form the basis for a pluralistic, non-repressive and participatory social and political framework. The alternative, is a hard energy future–in which expanding energy consumption from coal, oil and nuclear power, utilizing complex and capital-intensive technologies, form the basis for an increasingly centralized, environmentally destructive, and non-democratic social and political formation.
It is becoming increasingly accepted that the reasons for the development, choice, and promotion of particular forms of technology are as much political and social as they are technological and economic . Particular technologies tend to lead to particular types of social and political change, such as fostering equality or inequality. Therefore, technologies are selected in large part because they serve the social, political, and economic goals of those who promote them. Powerful groups in society have the greatest control over technological innovation, the goals which have guided their choice of technologies include fragmentation and powerlessness of the labor force, maximization of profits and bureaucratic growth, and ideological justification for inequalities in wealth and in decision-making power.
For example, nuclear power is an appropriate way to produce energy if it is also important to maintain centralized control over investment and production, keep decisions in the hands of experts and their employers, and maintain a habit of passive consumerism in the populace. On the other hand, research and implementation of technologies for local collection and use of solar energy has been neglected for years mainly because these technologies cannot easily be placed under monopoly control, and hence are unattractive to energy utilities.
Once a preference for one type of technology becomes institutionalized, it becomes even harder for alternatives to compete. Nuclear electricity has not only benefited from immense research and other subsidies, but also has the advantage of a large, already existing electrical grid system and a built-in consumer dependence on electricity through appliance design and resistance heating. All these factors tend to make centralized energy relatively cheap. In terms of political and economic power, this economic advantage is reflected in the enormous industrial and bureaucratic organizations associated with electrical goods and services, which have a vested interest in opposing decentralized solar technologies.
A soft energy path, which included widespread adoption of locally controlled technologies, would pose real dangers to existing political and economic structures. People might be encouraged to take control over their lives in many ways: working conditions, education, health, and perhaps eventually choice of goods produced and control of production itself.
From the point of view of existing political and economic structures, there seems then to be a difficult choice: either a hard energy path beset by technological and economic difficulties and rising public discontent and opposition; or a soft energy path creating the conditions for a major challenge to the current political and economic structures.
For example, local production of solar heaters is easier than local production of nuclear reactors; but adoption of solar heaters does not necessarily lead to local production. The cost for conversion from hard to soft energy sources for homes, businesses, factories, farms, public and private transportation appears to be political suicide.
A possible alternative to hard and soft energy paths, would be a gradual transition to a combined system of hard and soft technologies, the transition to soft technologies occurring as soon as they can be introduced in a form that maintains the essentials of present social, political, and economic structures .
Already we can see plans for expansion of nuclear power generation and serious research into massive orbiting solar collectors, and a rapid increase in energy conservation measures (recycling, insulation) and the beginning of a boom in application of solar energy. Evolving from present trends, it seems quite conceivable that a transportation system may develop which is based partly on bicycles and alcohol-powered buses, and partially on cars powered by petrol synthesized from major improvements to solar powered private and public transportation.
To conclude that soft technologies will be introduced only when they are politically ’safe’ may seem like an extremely pessimistic evaluation, yet I fear a realistic one.
BIBLIOGRAPHY and RESEARCH SOURCES
Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Schooling in capitalist America (New York: Basic Books, 1976), Part III; G. William Domhoff, The agony of the American Left (London: Andre Deutsch, 1970), ch. 1; Alan Wolfe, The seamy side of democracy: repression in America (New York: David McKay, 1973), ch. 8.
5. Ivan lllich, Energy and equity (London: Calder and Boyars, 1974).
6. For example, Lovins says that “centralized energy systems have been built by institutions in no position to ask whether those systems are the best way to perform particular end use functions – an omission reinforced by our consistent under pricing of all forms of energy . . . and by utility regulation which automatically increased profits in proportion to capital invested.” (Pp. 140-1). But he does not explain why institutions were structured this way or why regulations were drawn up this way. On the creation of regulatory commissions by the businesses they are supposed to regulate, see Domhoff op. cit. (note 4) and Gabriel Kolko, The triumph of conservatism: a reinterpretation of American history 1900-1916 (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1963).
7. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly capital: an essay on the American economic and social order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967).
8. Herbert Marcuse, One dimensional man (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964)
9. Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for radicals: a practical primer for realistic radicals (New York: Random House, 1971).
10. Andr Gorz, Strategy for labor: a radical proposal (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967)
11. John M. Swomley, Jr., Liberation ethics (New York: Macmillan 1972); George Lakey, Strategy for a living revolution (New York: Grossman, 1973).