Energy conservation and class contempt: what happened to the political Left?

I awoke this morning to a CBC interview with a Ryerson prof who claims to have had an epiphany on the issue of air conditioning. Whereas he had previously believed air conditioning is bad (yes, you read that right), he now acknowledges that it does have some practical benefits. Listening in mild astonishment, I wondered if the next interview would be with someone who used to oppose food and now supports it.

The Flying Bobs used to be a fixture of travelling carnivals. I once set one up, on a humid 30° day. To avoid getting heat stroke, I spent an hour in a public washroom on the carnival grounds soaking my head in cold water; I just about got fired for being absent. I could have used an air conditioned room, just as, I bet, the thousands of people who are outside today could use a break in a cool room.

The Flying Bobs used to be a fixture of travelling carnivals. I once set one up, on a humid 30° day. To avoid getting heat stroke, I spent an hour in a public washroom on the carnival grounds soaking my head in cold water; I just about got fired for being absent. I could have used a cool air conditioned room, just as, I bet, the thousands of people who are outside today could use a break in a cool room. I wonder how they would feel knowing that the NDP thinks so strongly that they should use LESS air conditioning that the NDP supports making it too expensive for them to afford.

I think that anybody who actually opposes air conditioning must be someone who spends most of his time in an air conditioned environment—perhaps in an office, sitting on a padded chair. It is true that some AC is turned so low that it is cold inside. If you are in a cold room all day, you would naturally have a different view of air conditioning than, say, a homeless guy who walks the blazing hot sidewalks of a city street during a heat wave, or a construction worker decked out in heavy protective clothing who works fixing roads out in the sun, or an arborist who is hoisted in a cherrypicker fifty feet up into humid hot air risking his life using power saws to clear dangerous tree branches, or a baker who labours all day near an oven that cranks out around 30 kilowatts of heat.

When I was around sixteen, I helped set up a carnival ride at the Central Canada Exhibition in Ottawa. It was physical work: we had to lift the heavy iron sections of the track and fix them onto the motorized frame. I don’t remember exactly how heavy each iron section was, but it took two or three of us to lift it. Try dead-lifting say 200 pounds (90 kilograms) in a room that is say 25°C (77 Fahrenheit); do ten reps. How does it feel? That’s kind of how I felt setting up the Flying Bobs, except I was in direct sunlight, the iron sections were not easy like a barbell to lift, and I did way more than ten reps. I just about got heat stroke. I actually shivered with heat, if you can imagine that.

I have talked in this blog about the social emancipatory impact of the electric grid. The grid freed millions of people from medieval drudgery; I believe it is the greatest social equalizing force in human history. Humans through history have talked a great game about social equality, but it was only after we brought the electric grid to most homes that we could honestly say that we finally began walking the good talk.

Electricity made all our lives better, by powering machines that do a lot of the brutal hard work that is necessary to do on the surface of our planet, which exerts a basic gravitational acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared, and which holds lots of water, which in turn requires counter-force to lift (water weighs one kilogram per liter) and enormous amounts of energy to heat, freeze, melt, and evaporate.

There used to be a huge electric utility in my province, Ontario Hydro. Hydro used to have a slogan: “Live Better Electrically.” I thought that that was one of the very few corporate slogans that perfectly fit the corporation that touted it. You do live better when you have electricity. I know a lot of the people who used to work for Hydro. These are for the most part not former executives. They are former linesmen, generator plant technicians, nuclear reactor design engineers, scientists, and policy people. To a person, they believed in that slogan. They helped make the product, electricity, that made people’s lives better. They must have had satisfying careers. Not many people can claim with perfect certainty that the product they work full-time to make makes people’s lives better.

“Live Better Electrically,” as I said in another article, went out of fashion in Ontario. It fell victim to a new fashion, the energy conservation fashion, which is a post-industrial pseudo philosophy based on the misanthropism that defined the Silent Spring environmental movement.

The idea of energy conservation, which flies utterly in the face of the sentiment that led to the expansion of the electric grid and that thereby freed millions from brutal drudgery, took hold in the impressionable minds of some notable politicians. Jimmy Carter was the most prominent of those, but politicians in Ontario were not immune either. The first government that took these ideas seriously was the NDP government elected in 1990 (with my support).

Energy conservation is a guy sitting in an air conditioned office in downtown Toronto, lamenting the artificially cool air he’s sitting in, and hearkening back to the good old days when people lived on farms and cooled their homes with cross drafts and didn’t have—or need—electricity. His fellow human beings who exist beyond his air conditioned perimeter and who deal with the ever-increasing summer heat by sweating and avoiding heat stroke by ducking as often as possible into air conditioned rooms, appear to matter not. Those of his fellow human beings who suffer in the heat are the same masses that the NDP and other leftist groups tell the world they want to save.

The problem with that guy and his ideas, is that those good old days never existed. They were the bad old days. My grandmother lived in the bad old days. She lived with my grandfather, my mother, uncles, aunts, and grandchildren on a farm in Quebec, and that farm did not have electricity. She worked full time hand-washing the family laundry; she was stooped and gnarled, with arthritic hands, by the time she reached fifty. There was nothing romantic about those times. Going back to them would be an awful regression, not progress.

So why has the Left bought into energy conservation? Why do NDP parties all across Canada support wind and solar energy, which cost consumers more and necessitate parallel fleets of fossil-fired generators, which drives up the cost further? What benefit do they suppose that poor people will get from having been priced out of using the energy that emancipated them from brutal medieval drudgery? Do they want to drive poor people back to the land? Do they not remember that they—the NDP—used to care about the lot of poor people, that they fought to bring free health care to all people in Canada? My grandmother’s hands went arthritic from the hard labour the NDP want people to re-embrace—is that the purpose of free health care? To treat the symptoms of poverty?

The Left has lost its way.

For more on the Left and its energy policies, see this article.

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8 years ago

Same answer. The political Left was co-opted by oil and gas funded foundations including Rockefeller, Pew, Mellon, Chesapeake, Aspen Institute, etc.

They like soft energy because it ensures continued petroleum dominance.

If electricity demand was growing, investors would be financing new power plants with most productive available technology. Instead, flat to slightly shrinking demand results in older, less efficient plants looking pretty good.

James Greenidge
8 years ago

Thanks for this!

James Greenidge
Queens NY