Momentum. In physics, it is the term applied to the mass and velocity of an object.
It is the force which keeps things going unless an external force is applied.
But we also encounter momentum in our institutions, our economy, our government.
Once upon a path, momentum makes it difficult to change direction without an external force. Our economy, for example, is built on certain assumptions such as “the market is always right” and “continual expansion is necessary.”
These tenets provide economic momentum.
In talking about these ideas with students, I often use an analogy of a large boulder rolling down a hill towards a village. There are people who will stand in front of the boulder and yell “STOP!” They get run over and the village destroyed. There are others who stand on the hill, wringing their hands, and say “Well, there is nothing I can do about it” and walk away. And there are even some who deny the existence of the boulder.
Me? I would run alongside the boulder nudging it every chance I get in the hopes of putting it on a path to miss the village.
When it comes to the economy and the environment, the boulder is climate change. It is rolling towards us, destined to wreak havoc on our civilization. It is all well and good to scream “stop!” but economic momentum just keeps it rolling. After all, our economy for the past 200 years has been built on the continual consumption of fossil fuels and not going to change overnight.
Which brings me to a recent letter about the natural gas extraction plant proposed by West Coast Olefins.
What is the plant supposed to do?
Purify the natural gas in the pipeline by removing molecules which aren’t methane.
Why would you want to do that?
Because pure methane generates more energy per unit of carbon dioxide than natural gas. Not all hydrocarbons are equal. Ethane, ethylene, and other molecules generate more carbon dioxide for the same amount of energy.
Given this will lower the greenhouse emissions from present sources, why would anyone who cares about the future be opposed?
Is it the best solution?
Possibly not. But it is a nudge in the right direction.