Saturday, March 5, 2011

Post # 29: What is "Sustainable Energy" ?

One of the most significant insights of my life I gained from studying a second language in high school.  The process of learning a second langauge made me aware that one's native tongue frames one's entire thought process and to some extent, one's world view.  The constraints of one's native tongue also constrain one's thoughts.  Words have meaning.  Words can communicate, inform, inspire, enlighten.  Words can hurt, distort, harm.  Words can bring us closer together, or words can separate us.

We hear the word "sustainable" and "sustainability" a lot these days.  Got me to thinking...What, really, is the definition of "sustainable energy"?

One definition I've encountered frequently is quoted in the Wikipedia article on sustainable energy @ .  It reads,
"Sustainable energy is the provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
This definition, which is as useful as any I've encountered, is fascinating if one pauses to really think about it.  It's all about balance.  The key words are   "provision", "energy", "needs", "present", "without compromising", and "future".

  • energy... In all its forms.
  • needs of the present...  Not wants. 
  • without compromising...  That is, without constraining.
  • future generations...  As in forever?
  • their needs ... What will they be?

This definition is deceptively complex.  It witnesses to a plethora of inter-relationships and trade-offs that determine our quality of life and that of the small blue planet we inhabit.  It raises a number of tough questions such as:

  • What am I to assume in my decision making regarding the forward march of science and technology though time?
  • How do we distinguish between "needs" and "wants", and who makes the decision?
  • What is the role of government verses the individual in this grand play?
  • How are present perceived "inequities" in access to energy between nations and peoples addressed?
  • And for the social Darwinists out there, what about "survival of the fittest" ?  

In an event, there's much to ponder in this simple word, "sustainable".  There is an interesting discussion of the various definitions of "sustainability" on the website of the Citizens Network For Sustainable Development at:  I recommend you take a few minutes to read and reflect on the many definitions of sustainability archived there.

Just thinking...

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