Energy And History


One also can find close parallels to many features of the nuclear debate in history. Read especially the first chapter of Georgius Agricola’s De Re Metallica , written in 1530, for a superb environmental impact statement on the pros and cons of mining, of high versus low technology, on dominion vis-à-vis stewardship over this ball of Creation on which we live. In one passage, the author quotes from Pliny: “Iron is used not only in hand-to-hand fighting, but also to form winged missiles of war: sometimes for hurling engines, sometimes for lances, sometimes even for arrows. I look upon it as the most deadly fruit of human ingenuity. For to bring Death to men more Quickly we have given wings to iron and taught it to fly.”

Then Agricola replies by writing of the benefits of metals, ploughs, and so forth, and concludes: “In the first place, then, those who speak ill of the metals and refuse to make use of them, do not see that they accuse and condemn as wicked the Creator himself. …”

I have no intent to confuse iron with uranium and plutonium, but only to point out how such arguments have gone on for millenia. Such attitudes of ascribing moral qualities to the chemical elements should have disappeared in the Middle Ages. All those irrational arguments are bad theology. Energy is neither a good nor a bad thing in itself; the good and bad lie in us; having been given free will, we can use it to propel ourselves toward heaven or hell. Blake was right.