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What Is to be Done?

Jesse Freeston

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:04  

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Decouple podcast, where we explore the science and technologies that can Decouple human wellbeing from its ecological impacts, and the politics that can make decoupling possible. Today, I'm joined by Jesse Freeston, who is a journalist and filmmaker based out of Montreal, Canada. So hang on for the ride, folks, hope you enjoy this. And if you do, make sure to subscribe and rate us and review us on your podcast platform of choice. This might be the inaugural episode or the experiment. Decouple, which is a show that aims to explore what is to be done, I guess, essentially, in the face of the challenges that lie before us, mostly in relation to the climate crisis. But I think really in relation to most of the problems facing humanity, and it's around the idea of, you know, how we harness technology because fundamentally, as human beings, you know, our use of technology, even our evolution is directly related to our use of technology, that being fire, which, from my shady understanding of anthropology was first tamed by Homo erectus, you know, 2 million years ago, humans come along, or evolve out of, you know, the hominids 200,000 years ago, like, I'm shitty at math, but there's not a lot of generations and are only able to evolve as such with fire like with this, like essential technology, which can spare us a lot of molar teeth, and you know, many meters of gut so that we can build this massive brain, which in turn masters, you know, further and further levels of technology. And that leads us along through the cognitive revolution and agricultural revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and, and this mastery of fire and combustion is actually threatening to be our downfall as we disrupt the carbon balance and create greenhouse gas effect which you know, threatens this very stable Holocene period in which we can, you know, Master agriculture and these these plants that have enabled our population to swell and the cultures and whatever we have to adapt and humanity to become complex in ways that are unimaginable, but leave us kind of teetering on the precipice of collapse, when we destabilize something that we just take so much for granted, right? And then everyone, everyone's aware of the climate crisis. And so thinking about solutions to that, I think, is, by necessity, we're talking about technologies and whether or not we are wizards or prophets. Charles Mann, author of 1491 1493, amazing, I didn't know what to call him what his discipline is, but an incredible writer who, who wrote a book as well about environmentalism and sort of the two archetypes of a wizard and a prophet, you know, in a wizard being more of a like, big, big technology, kind of techno fix person, faith in elites and institutions and a profit being more like, returned back to the land, disavow technology, humanity has sinned, we need to get back like in sync, you know, I'm running on here, but these are sort of to two major sort of philosophical threads and potential directions in which, you know, the environmental movement, or really any political movement can go because at this point, like, you know, I think any political movement, by necessity needs to wrestle with questions of the environment as as a focus really, that's what the podcast about basically, Jesse is, what has to be done. And this, you know, it's called Decouple because of an embracing of the concept of using technology to Decouple human material wellbeing, from environmental impacts as much as possible. Because, you know, as much as there's a tendency to romanticize, you know, a past that we emerged from, it's very easy to do that from a position where, you know, we don't lose 50% of our children to infectious diseases, or, you know, where we can go to the hospital to get antibiotics and we cut her hand and get an infection or where we don't have to think about being dealing with diarrheal disease all the time, or you know, any of the other benefits of maternity and quote, unquote, civilization. So the couple that's, that's the idea here, and, you know, I guess, like featuring people who are involved in those technologies featuring discussions of the pros and cons of technologies, and also talking about the political and economic systems and environments that can actually facilitate the rollout of selective technologies that accomplish that and, and the elimination of technologies that that don't or that failed to Decouple human wellbeing from, you know, our ecosystem supports.


Jesse Freeston  4:56  

So you are, you're firmly in the wizard camp. That's what we're Same. So both the wizards in the profit, say, acknowledge that we're on the wrong path that we're headed towards. You call it the x setting the carbon balance and potentially putting our entire species in threat and along with a lot of other of nature's glorious creations. And you're saying, I'm going, let's let you This podcast is about testing out the wizard path and saying what what is possible in the wizard approach, the profit approach being like, we need to completely change our habits and our structures and the wizard approach to being like, well, let's see what this technology that's brought us into this situation could also offer in terms of getting us out?


Chris Keefer  5:39  

Yeah, that's a that's a pretty fair way of looking at it. That's, that's basically us speaking and maybe 40 words. In summary, it took me about 10 minutes to No, no, I didn't say everything you said. No, no, that's, that's, that's pretty accurate. And, you know, in terms of the wizard and profit dichotomy, like I came from a place of basically being like a NEO Luddite like, I've, I've really lived both ideologies, you know, one in my youth and one one currently. And so I have a lot of appreciation for the kind of philosophical underpinnings and the just the psychology and the tribe, right? Because so much of these things, you know, we convinced ourselves that we have sort of voluntarily chosen an ideology or way of thinking, but we stand on the shoulders of giants. And when you actually start unpacking, like, what is environmentalism? You know, you realize that, yeah, you've really just you regurgitating a lot of themes and lines that other people have come up with, which is obvious, right? in any field of human endeavor and knowledge. We are not the original thinkers, if we really throw ourselves into something and master a topic, we may add several pieces of dust on to the tower that's that's, you know, already been erected. But yes, and so these things are very tribal. And I guess, yeah, I've switched allegiances. And I found myself in the company of like, some pretty extraordinary people and, you know, exciting people on people that are, I think, like, realistic about the world, but also kind of optimistic in terms of embracing, you know, that humanity has agency and has the potential to do good things. Whereas, you know, the profit and the profit side of things, it's like, we have sinned. We are, we are maybe even beyond redemption, and we must atone for our sins and suffer. And yeah, return to labs that are obscene. What is that like? Short, brutal and


Jesse Freeston  7:34  

brutish shorts? Yeah, nasty, nasty, brutish, and short. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I'm wondering, what was the moment that dislodged you, you That was the word you use? And you were in the you're in the profit camp, I'm wondering if you could describe what's brought you into the wizard camp? And if maybe in the process, we could define a little better using other terms, like what the profit canvas and what the wizard camp was? I don't know. Yeah. What was the describe what your profit camp look like? And now what your wizard camp looks like, and what got you from A to B?


Chris Keefer  8:07  

Yeah, I mean, I grew up, I grew up in near gwelf, Ontario, which is a, you know, kind of hippie hotbed, right, you know, has sort of leftist, left politics also very kind of strong environmental movement. The Green Party is definitely strong there. The university campus is, you know, pretty overrun with hippies, and people talk about it being like a little island of the west coast in the middle of Ontario, in a sense, as that kind of BC vibe. And yeah, I mean, I guess I was raised within that tribe, and it felt felt pretty, pretty good. Like, I grew up spending most of my time, you know, on the farm and woods and river behind my, my house and, you know, very much identified with, like conservation and in like being anti development, and if someone tried to build a suburb on my, like, my roaming grounds my like, you know, the place where I would snare rabbits and, you know, pick wild plants and learn about nature, like that was that, you know, it's still a feeling I have where, like, I would, I would like die for that place. Like, it's really strange to talk about, but I don't want people that grew up in cities kind of have that same loyalty and feeling of place like I know, they do, but it's just it's very, very specific. Anyway, so I think that that had me firmly grounded in in, in the profit camp, and it kind of a bit of a mount like Malthusian sort of anti human thing where you know, like, it's just like humans are destroying everything and and, you know, then becoming more involved in in politics, leftist politics, human rights, work, refugee work, and you know, Malthusian ism cuts pretty harshly and deeply in racist ways and towards the press people on my commitment to, to fighting on the side of the oppressed, I think maybe rubbed up against some of the darker elements of environmentalism. And then yeah, I mean, just more recently, feeling


Jesse Freeston  10:00  

Just to clarify Malthusian meaning that like, what the solution to the problem is controlling population growth? Yeah, I mean, essentially, yeah, reducing the human population.


Chris Keefer  10:08  

Yeah, Thomas Malthus, I wish I had the quote, I like fresh off my head. But one of his famous quotes is like, rather than improving the hygiene of the people, we should like narrow the streets and like deepen the gutters full of sewage, and like, encourage them to cough on one another, like, I'm paraphrasing here, right? But yeah, he was a big fan boy of, you know, letting infectious disease run wild through the unwashed un. And, you know, because because of this lack of faith in human humanity's ability to be ingenious, and to adapt and develop technology to solve problems, right. And, you know, as a young man as well, I was like, these technical fixes are bullshit, like, and so in terms of a turning point, I mean, I think it was just having spent like, 20 plus years kind of seeped in that ideology and way of thinking I was just not seeing it going anywhere. And frankly, you know, it's very depressing. This this kind of pseudo kickball and Catholic religious idea of like, we have sinned, we must atone for our sins, we must, you know, penitence, Yaga tea and you know, whip our backs and ask for forgiveness. And you're asking a lot of people to, you know, who have not been able to experience any of the benefits of, of maternity like, like electricity, just realizing the things I've taken for granted, right, I think a big part of it was probably becoming a physician going through medical school, seeing a large, beautiful public institution, like a hospital, like one of the last bastions of social solidarity, standing and the complexity of the systems involved in the ways in which we had to work together and the heroics of like just a hospital administrator, like keeping it all going, like coming from kind of an A narco socialist left background, and just having no appreciation for, you know, the complexity of the institutions that that protect us and keep us healthy. That probably shifted things, because the key feature of the profits is that they have a real distrust of anything, they're very smallest beautiful, they have a big distrust of large institutions, big, big, anything centralized is, you know, because it, it is seemingly undemocratic. It's therefore kind of corruptible and not in the control of the community. Whereas wizards are not as


Jesse Freeston  12:14  

legit, which are all legit critiques. And yeah, he's done a really poor job of addressing those complaints in large institutions.


Chris Keefer  12:20  

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think health care operates obviously, very differently in different jurisdictions. In Canada, hospitals are not publicly owned, they're not for profit entities with the board of directors, most of them are descendant of, you know, a religious institution, which has either become secular, we have a lot of like Catholic hospitals, which is totally wack. But I think they're run in such a way, most people have a lot of faith in their hospitals, and like, there's a community sense of ownership, there's often, you know, tragically, because they're underfunded, there's, you know, community foundations that support them. But I think most people would, would say that they, in terms of the trust worthy of the trustworthiness of a large institution that hospitals are, you know, up there, but there's not a sense that, like, you know, there are institutions that are not representing the public good, or those kinds of things. So just, I think it just showed me that like a large, centralized, efficient organization or institution can be really good luck in vain. Yeah. And, and it really get hospital for me, it was like a temple of, you know, the, like, a temple to a god that was almost disappearing into like that God being social solidarity, right, and like the fruits of socialism and social democracy and the kind of compromises that capital made with labor in order to avoid communist revolution, essentially, right, but being eroded and eroded by neoliberalism. And what we've got left is, you know, public education, and healthcare, and those are the things that government has a hard time even nested, you know, Liberal government has a hard time kind of axing, because people will still defend that. That's a long winded answer. But yeah, so that that I think, led to an opening towards that wizard mindset. And, you know, having a son recently and really thinking about his future, it really forces you to think out 2030 years ahead, right. And comparing that to what the climate models seem to be showing us not feeling very satisfied with the solutions on on offer from my tribe, for the profits and starting to, to read and, you know, being quite convinced by science, and, you know, the science of climate change and being frustrated with people who are kind of deniers of that science but then also looking at the scientific consensus around technologies that are not embraced by my former tribe. Things like genetic engineering, ocular energy, etc. Right? So those those are interesting lines to cross and like I've never I think I've just never been more attached to a to an identity then to a I'm convinced double. I think I like cognitive dissonance, right. I'd like to be like, Oh shit, that hurts.


Jesse Freeston  15:00  

Yeah, both things. And, and to engage with new things. Yeah, I love not to try not to, to, to not have that instinct of being terrified of something because it's new. Yeah. along the sides, right. Yeah. Latin America played a role, I think in your Yeah. Construction and your, your concepts of what can be done and what is to be done? No.


Chris Keefer  15:31  

Yeah, I think, um, you know, the pink tide in the early 2000s were a moment I think of a lot of hope for leftists throwing off the shackles of, you know, the the free trade area of the Americas, for instance, or the Washington Consensus, or, basically, you have these movements of people who are basically arguing for like, poverty, but with dignity, like, you know, air seed in Haiti, for instance, you know, who were, since the fall of the Soviet Union, totally at the mercy of us Empire and seeing that breathing room start to develop, with the rise really, of Venezuela and its support of Cuba and then left left governments are rising it climate change was kind of on my horizon at that point, but it definitely wasn't the dominant thing I was thinking about Cuba's survival in the midst of, you know, the economic collapse after the Soviet Union and their GDP, GDP shrinking by something like 70%, I think is often held up as a model of like, how humanity can survive the sort of coming squeeze that's coming from, you know, our abuse of our ecological so people could like use interesting terms, which feel very alien a bit like ecological services or support systems. Like it's a kind of bizarre way of looking at things. But I think a useful way.


Jesse Freeston  16:56  

was also this the collapse of the important oil. Totally.


Chris Keefer  17:01  

It was an energy crisis. Yeah, absolutely. Right, going and like going back to using like, oxen to plow fields, and like, I think, coming from the tribe, I didn't come as a as a fit. You know, I thought that was like, That's awesome, right? Like, they're going to organic agriculture. And they're plowing their fields with oxen, I'm sure. You talked to like the Cuban farmer that was riding a tractor year ago, and is now driving a team of oxen, like, they would be like, this is definitely not awesome. Yeah, I mean, you know, they serve it's amazing story of resiliency and survival, and probably like organic produce grown in the city was a lot better and tasted fresher than, you know, the canned food they ate from the Soviet Union for 20 or 30. years, a lot of stories about that we're going a bit off topic. But yeah, Latin America was vague, but I think less kind of relevant to where I'm at now, except, except in the frame that work. That's, you know, Cuba is a place where they embraced biotechnology hugely, right? Like, if you'd like Castro had the vision and the insight to at a time of utter economic collapse and devastation to take advantage of the human capital, the scientists that, you know, had been trained in Cuba, through their pretty stunning education system, and important the necessary technology to start a biotech industry to create sort of a medical sovereignty in terms of the pharmaceutical industry, and really mastered a lot of that technology. And indeed, you know, create some amazing vaccines and drugs and reach self sufficiency with a lot of pharmaceuticals that they're kind of unable to access easily. And so that whole like, you know, biotech is something that I think, you know, a lot of traditional greens are scared of, especially in relation to genetically modified foods, but Curiously, you know, not as up in arms about when it's things like insulin drive from biotechnology, right? Which maybe we get into later but it is it is interesting when you talk about technologies, freaking people out when it has to do with like, immediate treatment of a health issue where like radiation, awesome, you know, biotechnology, like insulin, it's not from ground up, fucking pork, pancreas is full of potential contaminants and allergens and things like that, like yeah, insulin, like who would give that a second thought, you know, that we were the genetically modified bacteria and a huge that, like, it's just unambiguously great. I think, be hard to find even the most, you know, horrible Luddite Who would think that's a bad thing. I'm sure there's enough physicians who say yeah, like the diabetic should just die off and then also, you know, kind of eugenic Malthusian ism where it's like that there is a tenant like that, that that lives in the left and lives in the green like all


Jesse Freeston  19:39  

like all human death is good. Like is that that's the position was to


Chris Keefer  19:43  

I mean, people are like, you know, humans are out of balance with nature and that's what they say right? And they're like, you know, diseases used to keep us in check and keep the carrying capacity where it was and allow this link beautiful harmony with nature to to occur and keep the planet stable. And there's a great quote, I think it's Hans Rosling. But he's like, he's like humans have never lived in harmony with nature. Right? We've died in harmony with nature, right? Like kids died and you know, in their first years of life, and that was harmony with nature, right? Like that's that was that was what a study population was about. But yeah, some people do. Some people do, like generally like, you know, upper middle class comfortable, generally white people will will, you know, tend to kind of be they're the ones who will be like, Yeah, I know, we that's that natural harmony, you know, we should just let these things run rampant. Usually, they're not gonna voice those concerns openly. But I do. I do feel like I mean, if you have you ever heard those sentiments before?


Jesse Freeston  20:37  

Yeah. And I also in terms of them, the reading of like, when I find interesting kind of the debate over kind of when humans went wrong, you know, so I, I really appreciated the book Ishmael for a long time. And I still think it's a really great book. And it draws this moment of agriculture is when humans went wrong, where that was the moment in which humans said he is really interesting kind of rereading of Genesis and an exodus and major parts of the Bible and stuff. And it was along the lines of agriculture is the moment where humans decided that they will take a territory, which no species had done before. And say, I will decide what lives and dies on this territory in order to serve my needs. And it was a really compelling concept that, since every, everything from that has been wrong choices, made in service of this horrible decision that we made that, and it spoke to me for a while. And then I, you know, I read Sapiens by Harare, and he talks about how actually it was pre, like maybe the worst human incursion into nature. And deciding who lives and dies happened before agriculture, with like, the elimination of all the large mammals of the Americas, for example, right? Like the heat like human as just a hunter in the Americas maybe did more harm than Oh, yeah, I mean,


Chris Keefer  22:02  

yeah, that we didn't impact environments until we became agriculturalists. And, you know, I don't know if that comes out a lot of, you know, the experience of arriving in the Americas and finding this like, quote, unquote, like, basically a land with other people, for people that land in the sense that like, the diseases, devastating diseases, like smallpox, and influenza had empty those those lands. And, you know, Charles man talks about that really eloquently. But you know, they were burning forests and using fire management to create conditions that were better for grazing, you know, ungulates to increase the meat supply, you know, even non settled peoples are constantly involved. I mean, the impacts are obviously, you know, get exponentially greater as the technologies develop. There's no doubt in that. But, you know,


Jesse Freeston  22:46  

why did I go wrong? That's why I still think there's like, there's clearly he makes a distinction between the givers and the takers is, I can't definitely the takers are the The, the, those of us who descend from agricultural societies have that mindset? Because the takers, and I like, I don't know if it's caregivers or givers, whatever, how he describes, which basically turns out to in today's language, like indigenous versus settler, kind of mindsets. And I would say that the experiences I've had working in with indigenous folks who, whose cultures have managed to survive, in some form colonization, that there is a built in humility, in it that I feel like, in with regards to nature, and not seeing yourself as a god figure who has the right to do whatever you want on the land. Yeah, that the idea of offering the idea of just these, these built in rituals of prayer, and that, that create a situation where you're just a more loving person to be around, both in terms of how you treat other humans and how you treat other animals and, and things of this. And so I think there's, there's something there. And I just want to make sure that in this discussion, we're not saying that there's nothing there.


Chris Keefer  24:08  

No one I definitely I definitely, I definitely struggle with that. Because I think, you know, when this sort of, I think, because of my medical training, it's, you know, instead of training in statistics and epidemiology, there's this kind of, like, harsh empiricism, which seems to, you know, leave out this idea of anything kind of being sacred, you know, like science kind of brushes away, like a lot of magic, potentially, although, I mean, science also illuminates incredible magic, like, in terms of astrophysics, and, you know, the story of the creation story of Sciences is fucking marvelous, right? Like, there's ways to appreciate science that can be I think, very, like, sacred in a way. And, you know, in terms of again, like how we move forward and, and the choices that we make, politically, economically, you know, Which technologies we harness? Like? That's, that's, I think another real component of what I'm trying to explore in the in the podcast is, you know, the need for planning and values to guide, the choices that we make. And right now, the the only sort of force that we have to guide those things is the free market. Right? If you're a free market fundamentalist, which is, you know, the political direction that that has been moved towards, not to say that, you know, that's the only thing like there's still, there's still regulation of the market. And, you know, we're seeing that right now in terms of mobilization of central governments to, to, to, to act within the market or to use the economist


Jesse Freeston  25:39  

to entirely save the market.


itself.


Chris Keefer  25:44  

Yeah. But yeah, basically, the need for the need for values to guide us forward. Right. Like, it's, it's totally obvious, but it's anathema to the current political and economic economic system and ideologies that we live within which you know, are allergic to any kind of planning. And that's where I drawn thinkers like Leigh Philips, author of the People's Republic of Walmart, you know, and someone who's really thinking from a left perspective, like how do we, how do we, you know, use economic planning to, to, to save, save ourselves? Because we're not saving the planet. We're saving ourselves like the tragedy of what's happening is a human tragedy.


Jesse Freeston  26:26  

That reminds me of George Carlin's bit criticizing environmentalists saying I was sick, he is a people talking about saving the planet. Yeah, and, but he also is kind of, I mean, he's a comedian. So you never know, if he's actually talking about what he really feels or he's just going for whatever is going to get the biggest comedic effect or if he's representing the darkest voice inside us. But yeah, he, yes, he says the plants gonna be fine. You know, it could be that actually our entire reason for being some plastic in the now it's just gonna shake us off. Yeah, now that we've achieved the goal, but yeah, anyways,


Chris Keefer  27:00  

I mean, we've talked before about cyanobacteria right, and the, the impacts that life has had, and I mean, this gets into sort of the James lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, where, you know, we are the planet is a kind of living organism and biology and geology are, you know, just thinking about it, right, like limestone, like made up of all these marine organisms, their shells, right, or like coal seams, which are it's a rock, but it's, you know, carbon, coniferous carbon rock, right, like, and I was just reading today about energy and coal. And basically, you know, there was this 16 million year long period where spore forming like mega firms basically grew and fell into kind of an anaerobic, anoxic environment and settled there and didn't decompose and sequestered all this carbon. And in terms of interrupting the carbon cycle in the opposite direction, you know, ended the era by by drawing down so much co2 that the greenhouse gases diminished and the planet got cold, but also drove up the oxygen contents in the air, like we're at 21% right now. And apparently it went as high as 35%. And that high, high amount of oxygen enabled these giant insects like dragonflies was like 75 centimeter wingspans. And all these like, creatures. It's just like, that's what I'm talking like, science is sacred. It's just it's beautiful and amazing the things we can discover and learn and then kind of origin stories that we have. And when you start to understand all the complexity, and the magic of the moment that you're in,


Jesse Freeston  28:34  

do you also feel like those like the story science gives us while they're oftentimes are really beautiful and elegant and have really strong basis in evidence, a lot of times, we apply that same imagination that same human imagination that gave us all the other stories that maybe weren't arrived at through the scientific method, but that serve us in some way. Yeah, that science also ends up doing the same thing. Like, there's no fossils for these giant dragon flies. Like, there's no I mean, it may be they existed, but like, it's still a story. This guy still is mad. His human imagination is still jumping in here to make this fossil evidence put some put some meat on the bones, you know?


Chris Keefer  29:12  

Yeah, there's I think there is definitely fossil evidence for the 75 celebrate. Oh, yeah. Okay. Yeah.


Jesse Freeston  29:19  

I mean, I think there's just like, I just get frustrated. Whenever I see these, like dinosaur documentaries. Yeah. Where they kind of like use the narration voice as if it was, they were telling something to happen in the 1970s. Like, they were talking about, you know, the rise of psychedelic rock or something, but now they're talking about something that happened potentially 215 million years ago. To certainty. Yeah, just like, Oh, there goes the chair Dokdo. They're like, kind of a friendly species, you know, they'd like to do their own thing. And the reason they say that is because they found, you know, three of them buried together. And so it's like, oh, they must have been friends. And then we tell this whole story. Yeah, maybe they were actually really solitary. And they would just bury each other like, you know, We have no idea what was an anthem for sight anthropomorphizing is that what, I guess? Yeah. But they're just, you know, just filling in the blanks and having to tell stories. And yeah, I think I, I appreciate that science can send us on a path to tell a story. Well, there's


Chris Keefer  30:16  

nothing more dangerous than like dressing yourself up in, in the scientific method, well, not actually applying it, or applying it really perfectly, you know, and that's, that's the, the modus operandi of, you know, the anti Vax movement, or really, like most pseudo scientific movements, you know, they use that they use the language of science, and they selectively quote, you know, one study, you know, which stands out from the consensus of the other 499 studies and, you know, skirt over poor methodology, and then make these quote unquote, scientific claims. And it's, like, incredibly confusing for the lay public that are, you know, that don't have a high level of scientific understanding and an ability to read the literature critically. And again, we are so tribal and we're so bound by our confirmation biases, that it's it's very easy, just especially Oh, and the way things were we consume information on social media now, or it's, you kind of click Share before you read anything, just because you're like, Oh, I like that headline. Yeah, that that fits with my ideology, right. This is gonna strengthen my position within the tribe.


Jesse Freeston  31:21  

Yeah. So four things I appreciate about our talking to you is that is that for example, you you demand that your politics have a clear plan. And then that it doesn't, it doesn't, doesn't shy away from any reality, you demand that your politics treat us all like adults capable of understanding the breadth of the situation we're in the problems we're facing and evaluating the solutions. Like for real and that's an I


Chris Keefer  31:51  

type high praise my friend.


Jesse Freeston  31:53  

But it's true it's a shame that it's high praise because greed You know, when I because I get, it's so demoralizing to identify with a movement to identify with like the move to renewable energies to go hunt 100% renewable energy right. And to to have done maybe some activism even on that friend. In my case, I've made videos for the leap manifesto and things like this, I don't feel like I was manipulated or anything like this. I think I'm still proud of that work I did, I think it's still part of the same movement it can make, you can change course, and it can it can take in new facts and taking new realities. But like the idea that that all these renewable energy numbers were being propped up by this biomass burning scam, I want to call it that this wasn't like a much more mass. And then when you find out these things, it's so immoral. Oh, my God, you mean like I thought all these numbers, you know, in Germany and all these places was all wind and solar. And I thought they were, you know, making this all happen with with wind and solar, because that's what all the images and all the now it's like a brand never seen. Yeah, you'll never see, you know, Sierra Club with like, a nice logo of people throwing entire forests into incinerators? Like I mean, it's, yeah, even if that was part of what's going on.


Chris Keefer  33:09  

I mean, this is the thing that sort of ties together people who I would consider to be my adversaries in the like, anti Vax, anti GMO, anti nuclear crowd, who again, and climate denier crowd as well, who have a very similar way of approaching the evidence, again, which involves a lot of anecdote, a lot of like, emotional appeals to stories which are compelling. Yeah, very selective, quoting of the science, right, like picking outlier studies are outlier scientists who have prestige, right, because they, oh, this guy's got a PhD in this. And he backs up my minority opinion, right, ignoring the scientific consensus, etc. Right. And that is the same kind of modus operandi of all of these opponents of these technologies, not to say there's not thoughtful and interesting things to say about them. But in terms of particularly mainstream environmentalism, it really suffers from that, you know, in regards to renewable energy, for instance, like the the person that most people refer back to when they say yes, like a 100% renewable energy transition is possible. And we've it's proven we know it, it's based upon mostly upon the work of one one guy, Mark z. Jacobson, who uses a model that has his own model. With just this interview, I'm


Jesse Freeston  34:27  

very curious to know what his middle name is. z, I'm


Chris Keefer  34:31  

not sure, right, like Zenith, they feel like Zenith or I hope it is, I hope, hope it's something cool Zelda. I would love to Yes, I would love that. But you got to be careful. You got to be careful talking about this guy because he has. He's very litigious. So he basically published this paper saying, yes, there's a pathway towards the United States going 100% renewable wind, water and solar. Right. And, you know, the big problem with wind and solar is that they're intermittent, right? So, in Canada, at least solar is only operating around like generously maybe 15% of the time, at a time, it's nighttime or there's cloud cover, there's snow on the panels, or there's dust on the panels, whatever, when maybe 30% of the time. And so, you know, at times under perfect conditions, if you build up enough of these things, yes, you could power the grid 100% for a very limited time interval, right, they die off and then you need something to reach peak power production and meet meet peak demand. And so it's it's inefficient, because you need a whole cogeneration system there. And generally speaking, the investment fossil even though there's some sort of modest developments in terms of batteries, and things like that, in any case, Jacobson's model doesn't really rely on the use of batteries, hydro is able to pair with renewables, right, because the sun goes down, and then you can release more water to the hydro dam. That's kind of his premise for how you make it work. The problem is, we've done most of the high yield hydrology, right? But he says, we'll get around that we'll just put way more turbines in each individual dam. So we'll take a dam that isn't like a two gigawatt dam, right, that produces power for around 2 million houses, we'll just throw enough turbines into that, like literally, according to his numbers turns into like an 80 gigawatt dam. But when you actually think that through, okay, so when the wind and the sun died down, and you gotta hit that demand, and really unpredictably like, well, the cloud came over this area, or wind just stopped blowing, okay, you got to lift a ton of water, go through those turbines. And someone like looked at his calculations, and you know, and applied it to the Grand Coulee Dam, which is quite a large dam. And he was like the floodwater, that would be released would be five times more than the historic record, like the largest flood that's ever been recorded on that river. Right? And you'd be doing that regularly. And he's like, the downstream communities might have something to say about that, you know, as you washed away entire cities flooded farmlands. Like it's just it's it's a ridiculous oversight that he made in his calculations. And as I was saying, this guy's a litigious guy. He he sued the scientists who wrote a paper criticizing his plan $10 million, as well as to the journal that published their criticism, the National Academy of Sciences, and, you know, basically is a slap. Slap suit. Yeah. And just to avoid public participation. Yeah. His study is the house of cards upon which, you know, Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein, you know, most of the the proponents of a 100% renewable systems really, yeah, it's totally possible. We know it is. There's a scientist who says it is they're referencing Mark z Jacobson. And that's the pilot, like the house of cards that it stands on. I mean, there's so many other problems with you actually looked at, you know, his roadmap, there's there's at that's just the one that I think is my favorite, because it's just so preposterous. And he actually just, he actually just has been forced to pay the court expenses of the people that he sued, because as a frivolous kind of slap lawsuit. So there's kind of a poetic justice there. But yeah,


Jesse Freeston  37:54  

I think that the work the work that was done, that has been done, and is continuing to be done by people like Naomi Klein, like Bernie Sanders, and the many, many people that work around them, either specifically in their movements, or for us to focus on kind of the dual of crisis of inequality amongst humans and humans relationship with the earth and say, like, these are two, these are like, the two grand struggles are like the two that you can, we can imagine and that we need to find a path forward that embraces both these challenges and takes them on with no seriousness. And I feel like you're still in that tradition. And then the work they did is not in vain, even if it's all based on this guy's massive Whirlpool causing city flooding, hydro hydro electric plan, that that the work they did to to get a lot of us on to the mindset of like, Okay, this is, this is the struggle that will give our lives meaning is to return resolve these dual crises. Yeah.


Chris Keefer  38:56  

I mean, what's interesting is they there's a bunch of tensions there. One is, you know, they want there to be a just transition, which is nice language and equity and, you know, tied to health care. And I know that it's a very bold and, like, kind of all encompassing plan things like the green New Deal. I mean, they imagine generating this enormous workforce, essentially right, to just be installing and, and disposing of and then reinstalling solar panels, right. And when you actually get into the numbers needed for this 100% renewables plan, you're having to change out I think it's a look up the facts and make sure I got this right, but 2.6 million solar panels every day forever, to maintain the system, you know, and this is inferring, like a 30 year lifespan, which is very generous for these panels, etc. Right? And so, the idea of, you know, like, agriculture used to require, you know, 90% of the population to be toiling in the fields and now it requires like two or 3% and there's a lot of people that say, that's a bad thing, but like if you actually force them to go out and pick the veggies and do the work, they'll say No, fuck no, I I'd really like to actually go back and do my other other jobs. And so that's an interesting thing in terms of like, okay, full employment and adjust transition, it's like you're actually it's a pretty shitty job, just like endlessly running a tool, putting a solar panel on a frame and taking off the old broken one and, and whatnot. Right. The other tension that's interesting is, you know, this idea of human equality and climate justice, is that, you know, a lot of the kind of Malthusian undertones are an even overtones of that we can't let you know the majority world, the so called third world to follow our course of development or have what we have, like if they live like first world, people will need 10 planets were taught, right. And so there's this, this, this problem here, which is, you know, denying them their development, denying them their ability to have electricity, like there's 3.3 billion people that use less electricity than, like a refrigerator, like a 1990s refrigerator, three kilowatt hours per day, 1000 kilowatt hours per year, 3.3 billion people, right, like there's, the majority of the world doesn't have access to a washing machine and has to wash their clothes by by hand. All right. And another thing, I think that's interesting coming out of like, you know, a feminist environmentalism is, you know, these labor saving devices and electricity, washing machines, you know, even just like an electric range for cooking, a proper furnace, etc, like, this is what liberates you from having to go out to the woods and collect firewood, haul water, cook over, you know, three stone fire breathing, nasty smoke all day, you do not have time to be educated and educate your children, you know, cycles of poverty, etc. I'm going on a wee bit of a tangent here. But, you know, just in terms of that tension between, you know, yes, we want to improve everybody's a lot. But no, there's not enough to go around that kind of idea, right? Because we're on this path of like, penitence for our missteps against the environment, and we must, you know, D grow the economy, and we must go back to an idealized past. And it's a moving target. Like when you ask Naomi Klein, what what, you know, again, what was that moment that we went wrong that and where should we go back to? Those numbers vary, and some of them are kind of pre antibiotics, pre vaccines, like their dark times. And they're actually quite representative of the reality that a lot of people are living in now, which is a pretty shitty reality, you know, living on less than a couple dollars a day. Burning biomass, right for fuel, like bits of garbage are stripping down remaining for us to burn twigs or cooking on countdown. Like, that's not it's not actually that nice.


Jesse Freeston  42:33  

Yeah. Do you think there's, there's any value that could come out of in the in the global north in the energy using excessive excessively, perhaps, parts of the world, there'll be some benefit to going through a period of energy scarcity, where we would have to kind of question how we use energy and develop conservation strategies, and really ask ourselves what we really need. Do you think, do you think there's some potential benefit that could come from that, assuming that, for example, electricity was always going to the hospitals? And? And we did. Yeah.


Chris Keefer  43:08  

I mean, but like I said, like, there's, there's all these things that we completely take for granted. Right? Like, like a washing machine, right? How long does it take you wash your clothes by hand? It's like, well, people should like, yeah, maybe kids should do that. So they get a sense of appreciation for like, you know, more hard work, and oh, but what who does that labor fall upon? Like in a, in a sexist world? That's gonna fall disproportion on women, right? All of those those things that we take for granted that electricity does for us, right? Yeah. I am all for like energy efficiency and conservation. And I think those are decoupling technologies, right, that allow us to have good lighting inside well, like decoupling or decreasing the impact of the you know, energy used to create that electricity or the materials used to make those light bulbs like decoupling? That's, that's kind of the, the purpose of the podcast. You know, I like public transportation, because that decouples human mobility and our ability to get around and interact with each other from environmental impact of say, driving lots of cars or whatever, right.


Jesse Freeston  44:07  

But this, you want to call this decoupling thing? Yeah, sure. Sure. Cuz because I looked up, you told me we're going to talk about decoupling. So I googled decoupling. And I've heard I've heard you mentioned a few times before, and I think I haven't got a sense of I still I googled it say, Okay, what, what is the world say about the coupling? Yeah, every result that came up was the decoupling that is currently happening between China and the United States in terms of their economies. Right. Right. And so that's the word that's out there right now.


Chris Keefer  44:38  

Yeah. I mean, I encountered the term through, kind of, like stumbling across the Ecomodernist Manifesto. And, you know, they're, they're a group of environmentalists who, I guess are wizards. Right. And, and that's basically one of the under underlying, if you're wondering what the hell


Jesse Freeston  44:56  

he's talking about, you should go to the beginning of the podcast. It was like not actual wizards is like, yeah, Merlin was there and Charles Manson


Chris Keefer  45:05  

theory of environmental tribalism. Yeah. But I mean, so I'll just hit you with a couple decoupling technologies as I see them, right. So, yeah, so So one example is vaccination. So you have a values based investment, you know, based on ethics of public health, in a incredibly complex technology, which has something like a return on investment of 16 to one, like on several metrics, right. But basically, you know, if you want to think about how vaccines Decouple human wellbeing from their environmental impact, think about the difference between preventing, preventing disease like Coronavirus versus treating it, right, and the hospital resources that are required in the ventilators and the PP and all the medical waste that's created and people don't think about it. But hospitals use just an enormous amount of energy. Yeah, enormous amount of energy. So I mean, that's one simple argument, right? And, you know, COVID vaccine is hopefully on the horizon. But there's zillions of other vaccine preventable diseases and we've done an absolutely incredible job on, on even eradicating some diseases like smallpox, for instance. So that's a decoupling technology. Another one, you know, you could just think of public transportation as a decoupling technology, right? You're allowing human mobility, while minimizing the impact certainly compared to cars, and


Jesse Freeston  46:38  

C or D coupling, like the need for humans to get from one place to another from the need to burn fossil fuels to do it. That's like, that's what's being decoupled. Yeah, you're allowing like something, technologies or strategies for to reduce that ratio.


Chris Keefer  46:57  

Yeah. Or you might think of like urbanization is, is a decoupling because it will allow, you know, like, like, you know, versus like suburbanized city, like a more more urbanized city will decrease the amount of commuting that needs to happen. And then you're decoupling. You know, again, human mobility from environmental impacts to some degree. Nuclear energy is another really great example because uranium is just such a dense fuel like you, you know, you can you get a lot of uranium fit in this cup as fuel, it could power like all of your energy needs as an OECD, individual for your lifetime, right. And so, that means that very little mining is needed, you know, the James Bay hydro project flooded 11,500 square kilometers, right and required enormous amounts of concrete and steel. And, you know, you compare that in terms of the land footprint in the material footprint to nucular plant like the one we have in Ontario, the Bruce generating station, you need three Bruce generating stations to to match the power output of the St. Jean basic sort of the James Bay hydro project. But you know, the land footprint is orders of magnitude smaller, the amount of cement and concrete needed is orders of magnitude less. And so you're decoupling energy and like electricity, which is demonstrably like a human good from, from its environmental impact as much as possible. Well, Jesse, we're gonna have to wrap it up there for today. But thank you so much for being with us on the inaugural episode of the Decouple podcast. Thanks again for joining us on the Decouple podcast. We look forward to having you with us on our future episodes. If you enjoyed the podcast, please make sure to subscribe, like and review us on your podcast platform of choice. Until next time, guys



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