Friday, April 22, 2011
The Green Party was one of the big losers in the recent Finnish election. Their number of seats went from 15 to 10. They lost voters both to the left and the right, with people defecting to the Left Coalition, the Social Democrats, and the National Coalition. Being one of the defectors, I'm not surprised at all. It looks like the only thing they can agree on is "no more nukes" plus a general social liberalism shared by both the Left and National Coalitions, which isn't much to build on.
If you Greens want my vote back, you're going to have to do better.
You fucked up big-time in the electoral campaign. Trying to make political hay from Fukushima with your big "no more nukes" posters, after sitting in a governing coalition that approved permits for two more, is as transparently cynical as electioneering gets. Being allowed to vote against it after tabling the proposal, knowing that it would pass, doesn't make it any better. We're not that stupid.
You badly need a positive vision, not a laundry-list of things you're against. This whole energy discussion was a perfect example. Nuclear? No way. Hydro? Nuh-uh, it'll inconvenience the fish. Coal and oil? Of course not! Wind? Only if it won't make the landscape ugly. So what then? Simple, just shut down our paper and pulp industry, it's what's using up all the electricity.
For a party who's supposed to be thinking globally, that is outrageously irresponsible. Shutting down our energy-hungry industries will simply get them to move somewhere else. Finland might be able to meet its Kyoto obligations, but somebody else won't. We won't be helping the planet; we're just greenwashing our hands. Lame.
Thing is, there is a vision out there that would be perfectly suited for the Greens. It's ecological, progressive, and global. It makes use of the cooperation mechanisms European Green parties already have in place. As a bonus, it would even give the European Union a whole new meaning at the very moment its raison d'être until now is in crisis. And it's not even new.
The main problem with wind and solar power is that it only produces energy when it's blowing or shining, respectively. That means that it's not possible to base energy production on it locally. However, weather conditions average out over a large enough area, and over time. If it were possible to transfer power from where it's produced to where it's needed, and store power when it's produced for use when it's needed, the problem would be solved.
A group at Stanford University has been researching this, and recently came up with a scenario that would have fossil fuels and nuclear power phased out totally over 20-40 years. I'm no expert, but from where I'm at it looks totally feasible, technically that is. Politically, however, it's a challenge. That's where the Greens come in.
The scenario is based on a smart grid, which automatically and instantly moves power from where it's produced to where it's needed, and allows plugging in power generation and storage devices anywhere on it. So, for example, if you drive an electric car, you can plug it in to be charged; if there's a spike in power demand, the grid will draw off, say, 10% of the battery (and credit your account for the energy taken). If you install solar panels or a little wind turbine on your roof, any surplus power you generate will go into the grid, and whatever extra you need will be drawn off it.
Now, if wind and solar are the backbone for energy production in this kind of grid, it has to be very big. A country-sized grid won't do it. It has to be continent-sized. Only that's big enough to average out local weather conditions that would otherwise lead to too big fluctuations in power production. The Stanford paper calculates that with such a grid in place, it'd be possible to generate about 90% of power by wind and solar, with the remainder—adjustable capacity—produced by hydropower, tidal power, and other renewables.
The beauty of this solution is that it would start producing benefits immediately, even as construction starts locally. Existing power sources, both centralized and decentralized, could be plugged into it, and as new technologies emerge, they can be integrated into it with no trouble. If we extended it to North Africa, we could build as much solar power capacity in the Sahara as anybody would want—which would have the added benefit of us having to get serious about the political instability there.
Finally, there's not limit to the possibility of extending the grid. If Russia wants on board, welcome. China? Awesome. Turkey, Syria, Iran? Ahlan wasahlan. The bigger it is, the more everyone will benefit. Like the Internet, but for energy.
The challenge is that this requires political underpinnings that currently don't exist. The idea of national energy self-sufficiency would have to be scrapped. Since energy is one of the most strategically important assets a country has, that makes the whole national sovereignty thing look rather outdated. We would be dependent on each other in a much more immediate and concrete fashion than through the creaky currency union and its political trappings that we currently have.
Why aren't the Greens—in Finland and elsewhere—banging away at this vision? You could drop the "no more nukes" sloganeering, since in this scenario nuclear power would become uncompetitive and unnecessary, and would be phased out of its own accord. The only reason to have it would be to dispose of existing nuclear waste and atomic weapons in fourth-generation plants, which I still think is the only responsible way to handle that.
Seriously, Greens. Get your act together. Show us some vision that goes beyond saying "no" to stuff you don't like. You have the internationalist outlook and the genuine care for ecology that it would take to get this ball rolling. Do it.