Thursday, May 25, 2017

Twitter fatigue

I am tired of Twitter. The 140 character format undermines all aspirations to balance or even civility. While I am hardly the first one to feel like this, the last week has made me seriously considering deactivating my account, especially after being blocked by someone after merely pointing out that renewable energy sources tend to rely on fossil gas for load balancing. The level of tribalism that Twitter invites is deeply problematic.

Free of said 140 character limit, I would say that part of these tribal conflicts over energy and climate policy (nuclear vs renewabilists in particular) has to do with fundamentally different ways of relating to the modern project and the future of humanity. For instance, the reason I so firmly belong to the “nuclear tribe” is because I imagine a future in which people everywhere can live modern lives and in which planetary-scale rewilding can be made possible. It is also because I am a pragmatist and a liberal democrat. I do not believe in making environmental sustainability conditional upon some inner moral transformation of all living humans. In fact, I explicitly wish that the future will be just as contradictory as the present and full of conflicting wishes and desires. Those who belong to the renewable tribe (with a few exceptions of course) on the other hand cannot accept that humanity will be allowed to continue with its Enlightenment “hubris” or that the “capitalists” will be able to walk away without being held responsible for their exploitation of other people. By envisioning a renewable low-energy localized future, renewabilists imagine that people everywhere will have to scale down their appetites, learn to “live within their means” and be forced to change their behaviour.

I am against such a future, in no small part because it forecloses our long-term cosmic possibilities as a technologically mature species, but also because I find the renewabilist “degrowth” vision to be completely politically unrealistic. If anything, the recent populist surge shows that the backlash against “well-meaning” elites is very real. Yet, ironically, the same localism and populism also prevent an acceleration towards a more fully integrated global civilization powered by advanced nuclear technologies. Because without a genuine commitment to global equality, it is not obvious why we need to develop such technologies instead of relying on existing renewable alternatives. 

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