The Scale of the Energy Challenge Is Shocking

Question: What is the scale of the energy challenge? 

Nate Lewis: What distinguishes energy from most other technologies is the sheer, imposing scale of energy demand. Right now we use energy at an average rate of 14 trillion watts. That rate is going to double almost all projections, say, within our lifetimes to something like 25 trillion watts. Even if we save as much energy as all the energy we use now combined, you still have to make as much clean energy as all the oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power on our planet combined within our lifetimes, if we are really going to think about cutting carbon emissions as carbon dioxide by 80% or 90% from their 1990 levels. 

Question: How is it possible to save as much energy as you're talking about? 

Nate Lewis: Energy efficiency is something that we, as individuals, can absolutely do now. It’s not like trying to vote or influence public utilities commissioners to buy wind energy for your municipality. We can, as individuals, make choices about what mileage cars we buy, about substituting a light car for a heavy car, about weatherization, about insulation, about retrofits in buildings, and in our homes where all studies show that one could save 70 percent of the energy now consumed in an average home by using best practices on insulation, on dual paned windows, on good attic insulation, on heating, ventilating air conditioning systems, and things like that. So, we should be doing those things because if we don’t save energy, like our lives depended on it, we make a difficult problem nearly impossible. 

Question: Is it a matter of behavioral shifts, or technological shifts? 

Nate Lewis: We can probably save most of this energy with just technological shifts. Now, this is something that many people don’t necessarily get their grips around mentally that saving energy doesn’t mean taking the bus all the time and giving up my car. It doesn’t necessarily mean downsizing my home or getting rid of my swimming pool heater. It does mean being smart about how we use our precious energy sources. It means insulating our homes better so we use less energy. It means more passive solar heating and lighting so we don’t have to turn on that furnace or turn on as many light bulbs. It means getting light emitting diode (LED lights) instead of incandescent lights. Almost all of these things, after the initial capital investment, actually save people money as well as saving them energy. It’s just that we have to get in the mentality of thinking a little bit more in the long-term as opposed to the short-term. “I can’t afford that light bulb because it’s $4.00 and the incandescent one is 50 cents,” even though over the life of the bulb, it’s smarter to buy the more expensive compact fluorescent or LED bulb than it is to buy the cheaper one upfront. 

Question: What about coal use? 

Nate Lewis: So there’s no question that coal is where the rubber meets the road in energy policy. First, coal is the cheapest source of electrical power in most regions of the world. Especially in places like China where they put on last year a mind-boggling 2 Gigawatts of coal-fired electric power a week, every week for an entire year. On the other hand, there are things we can do about that. 

One, in the short-term, we could decide to pay a little bit more for our electrical power and then instead take that money and use renewable energy. We could actually first save energy so we don’t have to build any new coal-fired power plants to meet demand. We could build more nuclear power plants; we have many options. We just have to get into the mentality that we value our atmosphere. There’s a price to be paid for emitting carbon dioxide to it. And when we figure that price in the math, then maybe it’s not always the case that coal is the cheapest long-run way to make power, maybe we value our planet a little bit in the arithmetic too. And if we do that, then you come up with a different calculus.

Recorded on February 3, 2010

If we are going to cut carbon emissions by 90 percent from their levels in the 1990s, we're going to have to make a lot more clean energy than you think.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.