Those who criticize us on the grounds of irrationality are just as prone to it themselves. For example, to use his blunt terms, there are plenty of buried assumptions and useless crap in Vinod Khosla’s prescriptions. Six of the projects Khosla Ventures is currently funding attempt to turn biological material into fuels and feedstocks of different kinds. But where will the materials come from? The world’s entire stock of biomass has now been pledged to half a dozen different suitors: it will, various enterprises promise, become the primary source of our heating fuel, electricity, road transport fuel, aviation fuel, chemical feedstock and biochar for soil fertility. The plantations required to meet a significant proportion of global demand in any one of these sectors would set up a disastrous conflict with both food security and the protection of ecosystems.
Both greens and venture capitalists need to recognize that miracle solutions to the environmental crisis are likely to be as disappointing as miracle cures, miracle crops and miracle financial instruments. The constraints imposed by the laws of economics, biology and thermodynamics mean that our choices are more limited than we often choose to believe. This is why, for example, we can no longer fudge the question of nuclear power. Abandoning it when we have no clear idea of what we will put in its place, and when lowcarbon sources of energy are scarce enough already, amounts to a guarantee that we will increase our use of fossil fuel, as Germany is now discovering.
The way the greens have explained the environmental crisis and the solutions they’ve favoured may be part of the problem, but it is a minor part. Compared to the people we confront—the fossil fuel and other primary industries, their lobby groups and counter-movements, a political class reliant on industrial funding, a business class just as prone to magical thinking as we are, a population which tends to put immediate self-interest above long-term concerns—we are a small force and a weak one.
We have a duty to base our campaigns on the best available information, and explain them to the public as clearly and persuasively as possible. But even if our analysis and prescriptions were flawless, we’d still be struggling.