chapter  1
24 Pages

No alternative to renewable energy: The long suppressed physical imperative

How is it possible that we have reached such a dramatically decisive point, one at which our very existence is endangered if we fail to make the urgent transition to renewable energy? Why has renewable energy been opposed for so long and valued so little? Despite Albert Einstein claiming to be “more interested in the future than the past, for it is in the future that I intend to live”, these questions still need to be asked. Yet to put us on the right track for dealing with the future, we should also note philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s dictum that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. Looking back helps us to clearly grasp the mental and structural obstacles to future developments. Whether we are aware of them or not, every past leaves its traces, be they philosophical, physical or psychological. What is remarkable is not the recognition of the fundamental value of renewable energy, which has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, but how long this process of recognition has taken. It is also noteworthy that so few tried and tested renewable energy technologies and initiatives are currently in place. According to the laws of physics, it was always inevitable that the exploitation

of fossil energy could only ever be a transitional stage. Wilhelm Ostwald, winner of the 1909 Nobel Prize for chemistry, points out starkly and irrefutably in his 1912 book, The Energetic Imperative, that “the unexpected legacy of fossil fuels” leads us into “losing sight temporarily of the principles of a durable economy and into living from one day to the next”. As it was unavoidable that these fuels would someday be exhausted, we are forced to recognise that a “durable economy needs to be based exclusively on the regular influx of energy from the sun’s radiation”. Thus, his imperative – “don’t waste energy, utilize it”. By “waste”, Ostwald was referring to the combustion of fossil fuels. This is a destructive process because the resources used in generating energy are irretrievably lost. This is followed by his admonition to use energy which is always available – what we today call renewable energy – and what in Denmark is fittingly referred to as “enduring energy”. Ostwald assigns to his energetic imperative a greater social value than philosopher Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative which states that one should “act as if the maxim of thy action were to become, by thy will, a universal law of nature”.3