..and maybe the Sun won’t rise?

This Christmas I am reflecting back upon what I have learnt this year. I always thought that the extraordinary complexity of Climate Science was one of the reasons why people didn’t understand the ensuing debate. I just assumed that the idea of falling oil production was just too out-of-the-mainstream an idea for people to grapple with. Then sometimes you have conversation that make you think if something else is at work.

When we did the Green Day at the Eden Shopping Centre in 2010 we were promoting the new Feed-in Tariff. The idea was to get everyone to sign up for discounted deal of the installation on photovoltaic panels. Then they could benefit from the resulting investment in their home that would give them a higher return than if they left the money in the bank. One gentleman stood staring at the Feed-in tariff information so I asked him if he was interested. “No” he said. The reason he gave was extraordinary. He claimed there “was not a solar panel in the world that lasted 25 years”. He was SURE of it. Now the Feed-in Tariff pays out over a period of 25 years. Since he was so SURE that they didn’t last that long it effected his investment decision.

I was a little taken aback by his statement. I honestly wondered whether I (and all those Government scientists) had ALL got it wrong. Maybe this one man had it right? Of course, this was an absurd idea. Why would we all invest in a technology that couldn’t last as long as the manufacturer’s warranty? Why would solar panel manufacturers warranty them for 25 years unless they were sure they lasted at least this long? The Government seemed pretty convinced so there had to be some good reason for the 25 year decision.

It was some months later that I stumbled upon the answer. It comes from a technical survey of photovoltaic panels installed in the early 1980’s in Japan. They were taken down a couple of years ago by the manufacturer on the assumption that they would need replacing after 25 years. In fact, after testing over 90% were put BACK on the roof. Although some of the performance had declined a little (as expected) they still worked fine. Given the advance in manufacturing techniques over the last 30 years it was now seriously speculated that Photovoltaics could last 30, 40 or even 50 years! I was astonished. Imagine buying a car, fridge or washing machine when you are 30 years-of-age and expecting them not to need replacement until you have celebrated your 80th birthday!? That’s a lifelong investment.

So, regardless of this evidence, some people have already convinced themselves that SOMETHING else is true. It would seem that the SOMETHING is more-or-less ANYTHING. The evidence doesn’t matter. This way of thinking can infect all manner of very nice people. We had a nice gentleman visit us at the Pann Mill show during the summer who claimed (on some high authority) that solar panels never generated the energy in their lifetime that they required in their manufacture. For this to be true the Government, all their scientific advisers, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Uncle Tom Cobbley-and-all would ALL have to be wrong. Again, the idea is absurd. My Photovoltaics generate 2500kWh per year. Over 50 years that will probably be around 115,000kWh or more. The idea that my sixteen panels have consumed that amount of energy in production defies all common sense. That sort of energy could run the solar panel factory for months of production if not years!

And so it goes on. I recall a discussion on one online forum where someone was relishing the challenge of “debunking” energy-saving lightbulbs. The writer actually appeared to be looking forward to the idea. It was a thrill for him. He had no evidence, but obviously would go and find it! I met another guy in November who was beside himself with anger that the Government might consider subsidising Ground Source Heat Pumps. He thought it was a big rip off. Others tilt against windmills. They all think they are Don Quixote! Or Copernicus. How romantic.

It seems that iconoclastic beliefs are seductive long after proof-to-the-contrary has become overwhelming. It effects all parts of our lives and is the reason why conspiracy theories so endure in popular culture. Heard the one about fluoride in your water? The mercury in the amalgam in your teeth fillings? Heard about how the flu vaccine will weaken your immune system? You can’t make this stuff up. But there is always somebody there to believe it. No matter how irrational. We cling to the absurd like a comfort blanket and it keeps us warm. God knows why.

In 2011 can hope that there is an outbreak of commonsense replacing the romantic contrarianism?

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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