Call for Submissions

If you write/create energy-related fiction, review energy narratives or want a place to host your factual articles about the energy industry and its effect on the environment, then I want you to contribute to Electric Dialogue. I am currently accepting submissions to my website electric-dialogue.com and to this blog.

Here are the rules for submission:

Electric Dialogue only reviews submissions to make sure that they comply with the submission rules. Electric Dialogue does not review or edit submissions, so what you submit is what will appear on the website and blog, and the website and blog only. You are free to submit the same work elsewhere and can remove your work from Electric Dialogue at any time.

Creative Work

1. Any author or artist can submit work as long as posting that work on Electric Dialogue does not violate any previous copyright agreements that author or artist has with an outside party.

2. Examples of submittable work include short stories, short dramatic works, poetry, photography, drawings, comics, graphics, paintings, recordings of music, short films, music videos and any other short works of fiction that are energy narratives.

3. The work the author or artist submits must be an energy narrative. The author or artist should submit a short essay with their work explaining how it meets at least one of the characteristics of an energy narrative.

4. The author or artist must be willing to have their work discussed by other users of Electric Dialogue.

Factual Information

1. The author or artist must have studied, completed research, or worked in a field that gives them an insight into the energy field. The author or artist can only submit work as long as posting that work on Electric Dialogue does not violate any previous copyright agreements that author or artist has with an outside party.

2. Examples of submittable work include essays, photo essays, infographics, scientific reports, news reports, graphs, podcasts, short documentaries and any other short works of non-fiction that add to the energy discussion.

3. The author or artist must be willing to have their work discussed by other users of Electric Dialogue.

Energy Narrative Reviews

1. Any author or artist can submit work as long as posting that work on Electric Dialogue does not violate any previous copyright agreements that author or artist has with an outside party.

2. Examples of submittable work include short critical essays, podcasts, vlogs, infographics, and any other short critical works that review popular energy narratives.

3. The work the author or artist submits must be about an energy narrative.

4. The author or artist must be willing to have their work discussed by other users of Electric Dialogue.

Solar: Self Interest in Alternative Energy?

 

If an alien arrived on earth and saw all this sunlight, he’d be amazed to hear that we think we’ve got an energy problem. (30)

Solar by Ian McEwan takes an interesting approach to the energy debate: self-interest. His main character, Michael Beard, is a Nobel Prize winning physicist who could not care less about climate change, and would rather spend his time and money on cheating on his wife, eating and drinking:

Beard was not wholly skeptical about climate change. It was one in a list of issues, of looming sorrows, that made up the background to the news, and he read about it, vaguely deplored it, and expected governments to meet and take action. And of course he knew that a molecule of carbon dioxide absorbed energy in the infrared range, and that humankind was putting these molecules into the atmosphere in significant quantities. But he himself had other things to think about. And he was unimpressed by some of the wild commentary that suggested the world was in peril, that humankind was drifting toward calamity, when coastal cities would disappear under the waves, crops fail, and hundreds of millions of refugees surge from one country, one continent, to another, driven by drought, floods, famine, tempests, unceasing wars for diminishing resources. (17-18)

Beard is the head of the research center in Britain, although he has not published any new reports since his award winning “Beard-Einstein Conflation” on photoelectricty. When Beard’s latest wife, Patrice, caught him cheating on her she saw fit to have affairs of her own, first with gardener, Tarpin and then with Beard’s newest colleague, Tom Aldous. When Beard finds Aldous in his house in compromising attire, his already touchy opinion of Aldous goes from bad to worse. Beard confronts Aldous and then in a scene that should have been in a Final Destination movie Aldous accidentally kills himself. Beard is able to frame Tarpin for the murder as revenge for Tarpin’s affair with Patrice. Beard is also able to steal Aldous’s research on artificial photosynthesis and claim it as his own. Aldous’s theory uses Beard’s conflation theory so it is the perfect crime, or so he thinks.

Beard quickly becomes a “climate change convert” and one of the biggest names in solar energy. Beard travels around the UK to give conferences to businessmen in the energy industry to try to convince them to back alternative energy research. He tries to sway them with the idea that alternative energy research will one day make them a fortune, a thought that I had not considered until I read this book. The primary argument against taking steps to combat global warming is not that that it doesn’t exist, but rather that the economy is in too poor of shape to focus on it at this time:

“The planet,” he said, surprising himself, “is sick.”…

“Curing the patient is a matter of urgency and is going to be expensive— perhaps as much as two percent of global GDP, and far more if we delay the treatment. I am convinced, and I have come here to tell you, that anyone who wishes to help with the therapy, to be a part of the process and invest in it, is going to make very large sums of money, staggering sums. What’s at issue is the creation of another industrial revolution. Here is your opportunity. Coal and then oil have made our civilization, they have been superb resources, lifting hundreds of millions of us out of the mental prison of rural subsistence. Liberation from the daily grind coupled with our innate curiosity has produced in a mere two hundred years an exponential growth of our knowledge base. The process began in Europe and the United States, has spread in our lifetime to parts of Asia, and now to India and China and South America, with Africa yet to come. All our other problems and conflicts conceal this obvious fact— we barely understand how successful we have been. So of course we should salute our own inventiveness. We are very clever monkeys. But the engine of our industrial revolution has been cheap, accessible energy. We would have got nowhere without it. Look how fantastic it is. A kilogram of gasoline contains roughly thirteen thousand watt-hours of energy. Hard to beat. But we want to replace it. So what’s next? The best electrical batteries we have store about three hundred watt-hours of energy per kilogram. And that’s the scale of our problem, thirteen thousand against three hundred. No contest! But unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of choice. We have to replace that gasoline quickly for three compelling reasons. First, and simplest, the oil must run out. No one knows exactly when, but there’s a consensus that we’ll be at peak production at some point in the next five to fifteen years. After that, production will decline, while the demand for energy will go on rising as the world’s population expands and people strive for a better standard of living. Second, many oil-producing areas are politically unstable, and we can no longer risk our levels of dependence. Third, and most crucially, burning fossil fuels, putting carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, is steadily warming the planet, the consequences of which we are only beginning to understand. But the basic science is in. We either slow down, and then stop, or face an economic and human catastrophe on a grand scale within our grandchildren’s lifetime.

And this brings us to the central question, the burning question. How do we slow down and stop while sustaining our civilization and continuing to bring millions out of poverty? Not by being virtuous, not by going to the bottle bank and turning down the thermostat and buying a smaller car. That merely delays the catastrophe by a year or two. Any delay is useful, but it’s not the solution. This matter has to move beyond virtue. Virtue is too passive, too narrow. Virtue can motivate individuals, but for groups, societies, a whole civilization, it’s a weak force. Nations are never virtuous, though they might sometimes think they are. For humanity en masse, greed trumps virtue. So we have to welcome into our solutions the ordinary compulsions of self-interest, and also celebrate novelty, the thrill of invention, the pleasures of ingenuity and cooperation, the satisfaction of profit. Oil and coal are energy carriers, and so, in abstract form, is money. And the answer to that burning question is of course exactly where that money, your money, has to flow— to affordable clean energy…You, the market, either rise to this and get rich along the way, or you sink with all the rest. We are on this rock together, you have nowhere else to go …” (170-173).

Of course Beard is not able to convince most of the businessmen. However, I still the think argument might have some merit. As always, readers with thoughts on this, please comment.

Many years later, Beard has developed his own solar power plant in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Beard receives a visit from a lawyer on the eve of his opening ceremony. The lawyer claims that Beard stole his research from the late Tom Aldous. The lawyer warns him not to continue with the press event and Beard brushes him off:

“Well, on behalf of Sir Jock Braby and the National Center for Renewable Energy, I want to put it to you one last time. If you agree to call off tomorrow’s media event and agree to revisit the patents situation, you’ll find us sympathetic collaborators who will certainly find a role for you in the development of a technology which rightly belongs to the Center. If not, then our first move will be to go to court to freeze all exploitation until this matter is resolved” (316).

Unfortunately, this is where self-interest fails. The National Center for Renewable Energy, where Beard used to work, wants to patent for Aldous’s research so that they can have the money and the recognition. What Beard did was illegal of course, but right when progress in alternative energy is finally being made, it is snatched away. To make things worse, Tarpin, who has finally been released from jail, smashes to solar panels in Beard’s plant:

“Someone’s taken a sledgehammer to the panels. They’ve gone down the rows and taken them all out. Shattered. We’ve lost all the catalysts. Electronics. Everything.”

There was no taking this in properly. Beard pushed his plate away. Builder’s work. What would Barnard have needed to pay Tarpin? Two hundred dollars? Less?

“What else?”

“We won’t be meeting again. I don’t think I could bear the sight of you, Michael. But you might as well know, I’m talking to a lawyer in Oregon. I’ll be taking action to protect myself against what are rightfully your debts. We, you, already owe three and a half million. Tomorrow’s going to cost another half million. You can go down there yourself and explain to all the good people. Also, Braby is going to take you for everything you have and ever will have. And in the U.K. that dead boy’s father has persuaded the authorities to move against you on criminal charges, basically theft and fraud. I hate you, Michael. You lied to me and you’re a thief. But I don’t want to see you in prison. So stay out of England. Go somewhere that doesn’t have an extradition treaty.”

“Anything else?”

“Only this. You deserve almost everything that’s coming to you. So go fuck yourself.” The line went dead. (322-323)

The point of this novel in terms of the energy narrative is that there is corruption whenever energy is involved. People are ultimately more concerned with themselves than they are with the environment, so even something as characteristically pure as sunlight can really be just as dark and dank as oil. However, I am going to make a great emotional and sentimental plea and say that it doesn’t have to be that way if we can find that our self-interest aligns with preserving the environment that gives us life.

 

Energy narratives found in this movie: life=energy, environmental degradation and destruction, corporate ruthlessness, nomadic existence.

Ship Breaker: Is Environmentalism a Rich Man’s Problem?

In Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi pens the future of a fossil fuel dependent world. Carbon-based fuel has all but run out and humans live on the scraps of old technology. The novel focuses on teenage Nailer, a “ship breaker” on Bright Sands Beach, located somewhere in the former Gulf of Mexico. Ship breakers work for a company called Lawson and Carlson, to scavenge ships that have gotten lost in the gulf. They strip it of metal, technology and most importantly, oil. Ship breakers have work tattoos on their faces that designate what crew they are a part of. Nailer is part of “light crew” and so he strips copper, aluminum and other valuable metals out of the hard to reach places on the ships. The ship breaker crews are highly competitive. For most Bright Sands natives, shipbreaking and begging are the only alternatives to starving, but mostly, everybody just wants to pull a “lucky strike.” Lucky Strike was a ship breaker who stumbled onto a secret pocket of oil. He was able to sell it bucket by bucket until he was rich enough to retire.

One day, while Nailer is on the job he falls into an oil pocket in an old tanker and nearly drowns:

Why can’t I swim? He was a good swimmer. Had never worried about drowning in the ocean, even in heavy surf. But now he kept sinking. His hand tangled in something solid— the copper wire. He grabbed for it, hoping it was still connected to the ducts above. It slithered through his fingers, slick and slimy. Oil! Nailer fought off panic. It was impossible to swim in oil. It just swallowed you like quicksand (24).

This passage is a metaphor for the world’s dependency on oil. Oil seems safe and familiar but one day our dependency on it is going to swallow us like quicksand. Nailer realizes the irony of his situation, he has found a secret oil pocket like Lucky Strike but instead of saving his life, it is going to kill him: “It was a joke, really. Lucky Strike had found an oil pocket on a ship and bought his way free. Nailer had found one and it was going to kill him. I’m going to drown in goddamn money. Nailer almost laughed at the thought” (25-26).

Nailer calls for help from inside the tanker but the only one who hears him is his rival, Sloth. Sloth ultimately decides that the oil is worth more to her than Nailer’s life and she leaves him for dead:

But he knew the calculations she was making, her clever mind working the angles, sensing the great pool of wealth, the secret stash that she might pillage later, if Fates and the Rust Saint worked in her favor. He wanted to scream at her, to grab her and drag her down. Teach her what it felt like to die sucking oil (28).

Nailer manages to escape and Sloth is then kicked out of the crew. Energy depends the price of life and since it cannot have Nailer’s, Sloth must pay for it with hers.

Nailer discovers and rescues a wealthy heiress from a shipwreck. He later learns that Nita is the daughter of one of the major energy tycoons. Nita, who Nailer calls Lucky Girl, is fleeing from her father’s corrupt business partner, Pyce, so that he cannot use him for ransom. Pyce wants to develop more carbon-based fuel from tar sands (oil sands). The process of extracting the fuel from oil sands (called bitumen) generates roughly 15 percent more greenhouse gases per barrel of crude oil than conventional oil extraction. Since the government in this novel has production caps on greenhouse gas emissions because of the now warmer climate, it is illegal for Pyce to complete this project. We are having this same debate in the United States right now about the proposed Keystone Pipeline, which would ship crude oil from oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s tar sands development and refining. A way to make burnable fuel, a crude oil replacement. The valuation has gone up, because of carbon production limits. Pyce has been refining tar sands in our northern holdings and secretly using Patel clippers to ship it over the pole to China.”

“Sounds like a Lucky Strike to me,” Nailer said. “Like falling into a pool of oil and already having a buyer set up. Shouldn’t your dad just take a cut and let this Pyce run with it?”

Nita stared at him in shock. She opened her mouth. Closed it, then opened it again. Closed it, clearly flummoxed.

“It’s black market fuel,” Tool rumbled. “Banned by convention, if not in fact. The only thing that would be more profitable is shipping half-men, but that of course is legal. And this isn’t at all. Is it, Lucky Girl?”

Nita nodded unwillingly.

“Pyce is avoiding carbon taxation because of territory disputes in the Arctic, and then when it goes to China, it’s easy to sell it untraceably. It’s risky, and it’s illegal, and my father found out about it. He was going to force Pyce out of the family, but Pyce moved against him first.”

“Billions in Chinese red cash,” Nailer said. “It’s worth that much?”

She nodded.

“Your father’s crazy, then. He should’ve done the business.”

Nita looked at him with disgust.

“Don’t we already have enough drowned cities? Enough people dying from drought? My family is a clean company. Just because a market exists doesn’t mean we have to serve it.”

Nailer laughed.

“You trying to tell me you blood buyers got some kind of clean conscience? Like making some petrol is different than buying our blood and rust out on the wrecks for your recycling?”

“It is!”

“It’s all money in the end. And you’re worth a lot more of it than I thought.”

He looked at her speculatively.

“Good thing you didn’t tell me this before I burned the boat with my dad.”

He shook his head. “I might have let him sell you after all. Your uncle Pyce would have paid a fortune.”

Nita smiled uncertainly.

“You’re serious?”

Nailer wasn’t sure how he was feeling.

“It’s a lot of damn money,” he said. “The only reason you think you’ve got morals is because you don’t need money the way regular people do.”

He forced down a feeling of despair over a choice that was made and couldn’t be gone back on. You want to be like Sloth? he asked himself. Do anything just to make a little more cash? Sloth had been both a traitor and a fool, but Nailer couldn’t help thinking the Fates had handed him the biggest Lucky Strike in the world and he’d thrown it away (194).

Nailer is in a unique situation to think about the environment. He is poor, worked-to-death and starving. A little extra money for him might be the difference between life and death. He thinks that it is easy for Nita to take the high ground about the environment because she has money, which is fair point about many environmentalists, including myself during the course of this project. However, Nailer seems to understand where Nita is coming from and tends to agree that the world would be better without more “city-killer hurricanes.”

Energy narrative characteristics found in this novel: life=energy, environmental degradation, nature fights back, religious element, corporate ruthlessness, exaggerated inequalities, impedes labor unions/civil rights campaigners, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi’s other novel, The Wind-up Girl, is set in post climate-change, 23rd century Thailand. Much of Thailand, including Bangkok, relies on levees and dams to remain above sea level. It appears that countries increased their research into biotechnology to engineer crops and animals and even humans that would survive in the new climate. Therefore, biotech corporations now control most of the food and energy production, since it appears that the oil supply has long-since run out and new technologies like GMO algae-enhanced, kink-spring engines are used for power. These corporations are referred to as “calorie companies,” and this starving world’s thinking has shifted to measure even basic human movements in calories and joules. This novel’s energy theme is much more subtle than Ship Breaker’s but definitely worth a read.

Tell me what you think!

Is environmentalism a rich man’s problem? Are there more pressing concerns? What are some of the ways you have come up with to go green on a budget? Should Congress support the Keystone XL pipeline?

Force of Nature— do we still have time to make it better?

This episode is a different kind of energy narrative than I have discussed thus far, usually I focus on the energy resource rather than the effect of the technology that the resource on the environment, but I couldn’t resist writing about this episode. As I’ve mentioned before in my discussion of the original Star Trek, warp cores use dilithium crystals as fuel. I’ve also written about the political struggles that dilithium has caused between the various warp capable species. However, in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) there appears less of these political struggles and so I found interesting that the TNG writers decided to through a wrench into the perfect “warp drive”. Now it appears that warp drive may be as damaging to the galaxy as gasoline was to earth. It appears that the utopian solution of the future is not a solution after all.

TNG 7×09 ‘Force of Nature’ Trailer by TrekCore

 

The Enterprise travels to a region of space where warp travel is difficult, in pursuit of a missing Federation ship called the Fleming. The Enterprise discovers that the Fleming has been destroyed and finds an unusual object amongst the debris. The object begins generating a verteron field, which is dangerous to the Enterprise. Before the Enterprise can take evasive maneuvers, the field disables their warp engines and takes down their shields. A ship approaches the Enterprise and beams two of their crew aboard Main Engineering. When Lt. Cdr. Geordi La Forge asks the intruders why they have boarded the Enterprise they say, “we are trying to make you listen. You are killing us.”

The intruders are Herkaran scientists, who have been disabling ships in their region for some time. According to their research, warp fields cause a “dangerous reaction” in their region of space and if “something isn’t done” their planet will become “uninhabitable”. La Forge comments that the Herkaran’s research has been reviewed by the Federation Science Council and that they saw no link between warp fields and the degradation of their planet. The Herkarans respond that their research was only preliminary at the time of the Science Council’s evaluation and that if they requested the Science Council’s review again that it would take too long for them to conduct another evaluation and in the meantime their planet would be destroyed, so the Herkarans started disabling ships to get the Federation’s attention. The Herkarans agree to help the Enterprise repair its engines in return for their agreement to review their research, and Picard accepts their offer.

One of the Herkarans, Serova, assists La Forge in fixing the Enterprise engines. La Forge complains to her that she has caused him weeks of extra work. Serova responds by saying: “I’m sorry you’ve been inconvenienced. But that’s all it is—an inconvenience. Our concerns are much more important than the condition of your engines.” Serova later exclaims that there is no point in trying to talk to La Forge, who is one of Starfleet’s warp experts, because he has “already decided not to listen,” and then she storms off.

La Forge talks to Serova’s brother Rabal after Serova leaves. He claims that Warp Drive has been around for three centuries and that it is a proven technology. Rabal says he held the same position four years ago before he began to study his sister’s research. Rabal tries to explain just how dangerous he and Serova believe warp drive is to their system by explaining that they will need to convince the rest of Herkaras to forgo using warp drive, which will leave Herkaras isolated from the rest of the Federation.

Cdr. Data reviews Serova and Rabal’s theories and concludes that they are theoretically possible but that there is no evidence to suggest that the phenomena is occurring now. Data also claims that in order to develop the rift that the Herkarans are afraid of that there needs to be a warp field that is much more powerful than any that could be developed by a starship. The Herkarans argue that the warp field effect is cumulative and that the many starships over the area will create this effect. Data again agrees that this is possible and suggests that the Science Council send a research team to further analyze the Herkarans data. Serova complains that this will only cause more delays.

In act of desperation, Serova transports back to her ship and engineers a warp core breach, this causes Serova’s ship to explode and the rift that she theorized to develop in space. The Enterprise realizes that they now must travel through the rift to rescue the Fleming. As Data and La Forge are working to get the Enterprise safely through the rift, they discuss Serova’s proven theory. La Forge regrets not listening to her more closely, but Data reminds him that if she had been willing to wait and do further research on the effect of warp fields the rift would not have formed and she would not have lost her life. La Forge asks himself why he was so resistant. Data responds that perhaps Serova’s “aggressive methods” that created an adversarial situation. La Forge remarks that he taking Serova’s assertions personally: “Maybe…I was a little threatened, the thought that warp engines might be doing some kind of damage.”

La Forge meets with Rabal in Ten Forward while he is waiting for the preparations to the Enterprise to be done.

Rabal: “I don’t think we can look at space travel the same way anymore. We’re going to have to change.”

La Forge: “I’ve been in Starfleet a long time. We depend on warp drive. I just don’t know how easy it’s going to be to change.”

Rabal: “I won’t be easy at all.”

As usual after some difficulty, the Enterprise is able to rescue the crew of the Fleming and navigate through the rift. In the dénouement of the episode, La Forge claims that the warp field effect will not only effect this area of space but other areas as well given enough warp traffic. The Federation Science Council issues new orders that until they can figure out how to counteract the effect that they should slow the damage as much as possible, therefore areas of space that are likely to be effected by warp fields will be restricted to essential travel only and all federation ships will be limited to a speed of warp 5 except in cases of extreme emergency. The Federation will share this information to other warp capable planets that are not in The Federation.

The episode ends with the following conversation between La Forge and Picard:

Picard: “You know, Geordi, I’ve spent the better part of my life exploring space. I’ve charted new worlds, I’ve met dozens of new species and I believe that these were all valuable ends in themselves and now it seems that…all this while I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.”

La Forge: “It won’t turn out that way Captain. We still have time to make it better.”

This episode is analogous the fossil fuels/global warming debate. A group of scientists realize that warp technology leads to the degradation of the environment. However, the Federation, which has become dependent on warp technology, is slow to accept this idea until there is a major environmental event. Fortunately, the Federation calls for change in the warp-use of all of its ships except in emergency situations. This immediate and expansive action is not something that has happened yet in regards to global warming. Whether or not there are more pressing matters is technically up for debate, but ultimately I think that before it’s too late we need make sure that La Forge’s words are still true: “do we still have time to make it better?”

Writer activism through the study of energy narratives

I was inspired to create this blog by reading Rob Nixon’s definition of a “writer activist” in his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Writer activists are “combative writers who have deployed their imaginative agility and worldly ardor to help amplify the media-marginalized causes of the environmentally dispossessed” (Nixon 5). Nixon divides the writers he refers to as writer activists into three categories: “some have testified in relative isolation, some have helped instigate movements for environmental justice, and yet others, in aligning themselves with pre-existing movements, have given imaginative definition to the issues at stake while enhancing the public visibility of the cause” (5-6). It is the goal with the creation of this website to be able to place myself in that third category and put my knowledge and passion to good use.

While, Nixon focuses on writer activism in both fiction and non-fiction, characterizing the latter as being underrated, I believe fiction to be a powerful rhetorical tool especially when discussing topics that are highly politicized. The United States is split by party lines; as a result, there is quite a lot of political debate and every issue under the sun. I know that many of my conservative friends would often become defensive about topics such as climate change, sustainability and fossil fuels, even though I’m certain that you will never catch a conservative saying “burn, baby, burn” when discussing the environment. Fundamentally, we all have the same idea about the planet: a healthy planet leads to a healthier society, so why aren’t we working together to achieve this goal? BECAUSE the issue is too highly politicized. Conservatives and liberals alike often feel that journalistic and scientific reports have some sort of political or social bias. However, fictional accounts about the very same issues are not met with the same sort of scrutiny and often allow a person to experience a viewpoint different from their own in a non-threatening way.

While the goal of this blog is to reach out to the everyday person, I am not making the argument that sustainability and environmental responsibility are personal, private issues. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bother with reducing the amount of energy you use or stop recycling but ultimately we need to reform on a global scale to curb climate change and to stop energy industry abuses. However, as I mentioned before, our world leaders tend to only focus on these reforms when all other major political concerns have been satiated for the time being.

Therefore, we the people of the Internet, need to have the energy discussion so that politicians can take a page from our e-book and get cracking.