An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent
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I hadn’t heard of James Balog, whose work is the subject of ‘Chasing Ice’, until I saw him give a presentation at TED Global in Oxford in 2008. It was in a session after supper, along with Nigeran novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an evening optional extra for anyone who still had any headspace after a day of back-to-back talks. I didn’t know anything about James’ project, the Extreme Ice Survey. What he shared that night was so powerful that I was unable to sleep. Unlike much that one might read about climate change, the debates, the research, the statistics which appeal to our rational mind, Balog’s work was visceral. You could feel it in your stomach. It haunted you, while at the same time stunning you with its breathtaking beauty. That’s a powerful combination, and it is that combination that makes ‘Chasing Ice’ such an extraordinary and vital film.
What do you do when you are the heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune and you have spent years surrounding yourself with new agey thinking and conspiracy theories? You make a film like ‘Thrive‘, the latest conspiracy theory movie that is popping up all over the place. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me “have you seen ‘Thrive’?” Well I have now, and, to be frank, it’s dangerous tosh which deserves little other than our derision. It is also a very useful opportunity to look at a worldview which, according to Georgia Kelly writing at Huffington Post, masks “a reactionary, libertarian political agenda that stands in jarring contrast with the soothing tone of the presentation”.
The second half of the oil age will be very, very different from the first half. It is truly, to coin the term usually used to describe football, “a game of two halves”. The first half was awash with cheap, easy-to-find and easy-to-produce oil and gas. The second half will be the story of expensive-to-produce hydrocarbons, from increasingly inaccessible places, with a rapidly falling energy return on investment and an increasing impact, both environmentally and in terms of carbon emissions. It will be (unless we are able to break our addiction to hydrocarbons sooner rather than later) a wretched and increasingly desperate time of squeezing fuel out of anything we can. It will be the societal scraping of the barrel. If you want to know what that looks like, ‘Gasland’ offers a powerful, chilling, and enraging insight. Here is the trailer:
For years in talks, I have talked about the idea of “energy slaves”, trying to translate the amount of energy used in the average family house into the number of people pedalling on bicycles that would be required to meet their needs. Thus far, no-one has ever actually tried to do it. Until last night, on a fantastic ‘Bang Goes the Theory’ programme on BBC TV, they put this to the test, and found it is way more than that. A brilliant programme, definitely worth watching. I have talked to people who found this one of the best programmes in terms of an awareness of energy that they have ever seen. You can view it for the next 7 days here.
Meribeth Dean from Canada visited Totnes a while ago to research an audiopiece for the programme Dispatches for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The podcast of the programme is now available online here. It also contains an interview with Robert Hirsch. It’s rather good, give it a listen. The programme starts with Hirsch and then moves into the Totnes piece. I particularly like being referred to as ‘thin’ and ‘in his late 30′s’ (I’m 40).