By now, most of you have (I hope) read my last post (#93). In that post, I discussed "my take" on the climate change debate. I won't rehash that discussion here, but I do want to draw your attention to a related and thought-provoking Op Ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal by Caleb S. Rossiter (the Director of the American Exceptionalism Medial Project, adjunct professor at American University, and an associate fellow at the Institue for Policy Studies.)
I do not know Dr. Rossiter, but I suspect there are many topics on which Dr. Rossiter and I would strongly disagree. However, my heart and mind resonate with his impassioned article concerning the disregard by the global warming advocacy community for the plight of the inhabitants of Africa.
I know many of you share my view that the highest use of technology is in the service of mankind – meeting real needs and solving (to the extent technology can do so) problems that currently doom so many on this planet to lives of hardship, suffering, and sorrow. As I've discussed here before, it is well established that the absence of war and civil unrest, and access to abundant / affordable electricity are the two greatest enablers of a desirable quality of life on this planet.
Dr. Rossiter argues in his WSJ piece that fossil fuels offer the only realistic hope for supplying the African continent with abundant / affordable electricity in the immediate future. (While I believe the optimal solution would involve a mixed generation system with "micro solar power" serving individuals, families, and remote settlements; "as clean as possible" fossil-fired generation of diverse sizes; and a smattering of nuclear generation plants where civil order and infrastructure enable it; theoretical debates about optimal approaches do not detract from the compelling nature of Rossiter's argument. Besides, small nuclear plants don't exist today, but micro solar and a range of fossil generation options do. Rossiter's article contrasts the UNCERTAINTIES regarding climate change and options for mitigating it, to the CERTAINTY that restricted access to fossil fuels will doom many hundreds of millions of human beings to a short life filled with struggle and suffering. Africa and Africans need electricity NOW.
The picture I have in my mind is that of a physician who refuses lifesaving radiation treatments to his cancer patients because the physician is concerned about the possible impact of background radiation on the public at large. Dare I say it... "misplaced priorities"?
Personally, I believe it is immoral to deny (or work in opposition to) a technology that will save lives TODAY, based on an (uncertain) fear that other lives may be impacted in the FUTURE. It's (as always) about risk and risk management.
Rossiter's article is a sobering reminder that intellectual humility (freely admitting we don't know what we don't know) and empathy for our fellow man are not optional for those of us in the scientific and technical enterprise. Please read the article... an important commentary on technology and culture in today's world...