Whole-body scans, oil-sucking tubes, and the limits of technology | Conservation Law Foundation

Whole-body scans, oil-sucking tubes, and the limits of technology

John Kassel

I had my first whole-body x-ray at the Denver International Airport last night. The amiable attendant jerked his head up and over his right shoulder as he explained that the scan was read by someone far above in the cavernous hall. He then listened for a moment to his earpiece and asked if I was sure I had nothing in my right front pocket. I reached in and pulled out my boarding pass, to which my checked-bag ticket had been affixed with a very small staple. The guy upstairs had seen it, and in an instant we had our hands on the tiny, inoffensive item, and I was on my way.

At about the same time, 5,000 feet of water above their target, BP engineers had finally managed to insert a tube into the gusher spewing untold thousands of barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico and wreaking havoc on a scale we cannot yet comprehend. At best the tube is only a partial, and temporary, fix.

Which is true of many technological solutions to our energy — not to mention our national security — challenges. They are essential, especially in the near term, but they are not sufficient. Greatly expanded renewable energy generation is critical. In the near term, so is substituting more efficient and cleaner fossil-fuel generation, like combined-cycle natural gas plants, for coal generation, while we build a new energy system. That system will rely on carefully selected and implemented technologies that are far more sustainable than the ones we use now.

But the technologies will not save us and the planet — only we can do that. We must summon the will to change the way we build, move around, and live on this planet, including how we support ourselves, feed our families, create wealth and maintain a high quality of life, for everyone on the globe. It is a fundamental mind-shift that will restore a semblance of balance to our ecosystems, ensure long-term prosperity, and promote peace. I believe it is happening. To all who are part of this effort: keep it up.

In the meantime, we can’t bring 4 oz. of liquids onto an airplane, but thousands of gallons of oil foul the Gulf every hour. We should tolerate neither and work hard to change both.

Our global over-reliance on fossil fuels is the crisis of our time. The solution to that crisis is not just plugging the hole in the Gulf.  It is changing our global economy.

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