Consequences of the Google Grid

Written by Stan

Topics: Coal

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I like Google. No, wait… I love Google.

The folks in Mountain View have changed my life for the better, several times. Google Search did it the first time, then Google Image Search, then Google News, Google Maps… Really, almost every project they come up with has improved the quality of my life, not just give me something fancy to play with.

I have a number of friends that work at Google. All great people, really smart and with their heart in the right place. They know the power that Google wields and endeavor to wield it in a way that’s good for the planet and her people. Yeah, China’s tricky but they’re working to figure it out. Not only do I love Google, I trust Google.

But even after all that, yesterday’s announcement that Google will make renewable energy cheaper than coal makes me really sad.

If I had to put it into words, it would be that Google’s new position of savior with regard to the unequivocal catastrophe of climate change feels a lot like the death of something very dear to me: government of, by, and for the people. For centuries, we’ve selected from those among us the people who we feel could serve the needs of the country at large and, for centuries, they’ve tried to do so. When they succeed, we give them another chance; when they fail, we replace them. This is the dream of the United States of America and almost every nation that’s written their constitution in the last 200 years.

There have been obstacles along the way, no doubt, but I believe that the general trend of humanity has tilted toward enlightenment. Two hundred years ago, slavery was legal. One hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote. Fifty years ago, drinking fountains were divided by race. We’re getting better, albeit slowly. But now the torch has been passed.

Progress, be it the steady march toward enlightenment or the fevered race to avert global disaster, is no longer in the hands of the people who we choose. It’s clearly in the hands of the employees of privately and publicly held corporations. George Lakoff likes to talk about the “Conservation of Government Law”, which essentially states that government, like energy or matter, can neither be lost nor gained. Every failure of government to lead provides an opening for other organizations. Corporate America has risen to the challenge and in many cases precipitated the emasculation of my most cherished human invention: government (though the Internet does run a close second).

The last seven years under the Bush administration have been disheartening, certainly, but I’ve managed to keep hope in the general idea of government. Now, I feel that too may have been lost. Google, if they can save us from ourselves, may prove a more powerful form of social authority than anything we’ve dreamt up before. Looking at the current candidates for President, their fake smiles and calculated statements, I’d rather pick any of my friends from Google to run the country in a heartbeat.

And that makes me sad.

2 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Dan says:

    If Google is right that a renewable technology that is cheaper than coal is ‘years, not decades’ away, the interesting thing is that it takes a huge slug of quasi-charitable capital to research it. No fully commercial investor seems to believe the case sufficiently to put their money where there mouth is.

  2. Matt Leonard says:

    Well, it’s not as if the fossil fuel industry survives off of a “huge slug of quasi-charitable capital”. The recent GAO report conservatively shows nearly $16.8 billion in federal subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels. Renewable energy gets a fraction of that amount, and is fighting an entrenched infrastructure that overwhelmingly supports fossil fuels.

    And then if you view the Iraq War as at least significantly about keeping oil supplies under control and cheap- the charitable contributions to oil increase by orders of magnitude.

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