The Myth of Renewable Energy
The way we think about saving our planet is entirely wrong.
This culture will not act to stop or significantly slow global warming. This culture will sacrifice—read kill—the planet rather than question the socioeconomic system that is killing our only home.
How do we know that? Well, here are a few good reasons.
Let’s start with Donald Trump. No, even though the president-elect of the United States thinks climate change is a hoax, he and his hot air—and what we can presume will be his policies—are not by themselves sufficient to kill the planet.
More significant is that his position on global warming is representative of his contempt for the natural world. And even more significant than this is that his contempt for the natural world is representative of the attitudes of much of this culture. He received almost 62 million votes, meaning Trump is far from alone in what he feels about the real world.
It’s not just Trump and the 62 million Americans who voted for him who value the economic system more than they value the real world. The same is true for Democrats, Republicans, political leaders around the world, mainstream journalists and nearly all climate change activists. They all make very clear their priorities each and every day.
Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself: What do all of their so-called solutions to global warming have in common?
The answer is all of their solutions prioritize this way of life—industrialism, industrial civilization, capitalism, colonialism—over the needs of the natural world. All of their solutions accept this way of life as a given—as what must be preserved at all costs—and presume that the natural world must conform to the demands and harmful effects of this culture. So in real terms, whatever effort that’s going into stopping the harm from global warming is in all truth attempting to stop the harm to the economy, not the planet.
They’re quite explicit about this. Read their own words. They call this “The Race to Save Civilization.” Or “Providing a Plan to Save Civilization.” Or “Mobilizing to Save Civilization.”
One Hell of a PR Coup
This brings us to another way we know we would rather kill the planet than end this way of life. Too much “environmentalism”—and especially climate activism—has by now been turned into a de facto lobbying arm for an industrial sector. It’s a pretty neat trick on the part of capitalism and capitalists: to turn very real concern over global warming into a mass movement, then use this mass movement to advance the aims of specific sectors of the industrial capitalist economy.
If you ask many of the protesters within this mass movement why they’re protesting, they may tell you they’re trying to save the planet. But if you ask them what are their demands, they may respond that they want additional subsidies for the industrial solar, wind, hydro, and biomass sectors.
That’s a hell of a PR/marketing coup. And I’m not blaming individual protestors. They’re not the problem. The problem is that this is what capitalism does. And the real problem is that solar and hydro help industry, not the real world. Do desert tortoises need solar-electricity-generation facilities built on what used to be their homes? Do coho salmon need dams built on the rivers that used to be their homes? How about Mekong catfish?
To be clear, wild nature—from desert bighorn sheep to Michigan monkey flowers to Johnson’s seagrass—doesn’t benefit in the slightest from so-called alternative energies. Sure, in some cases these “alternative energies” emit less carbon than their oil and gas counterparts, but they still emit more carbon than if no facility were built, and they destroy more habitat than if none were built.
This is part of what I mean when I say that the solutions are meant to protect—in this case, power—the economy rather than to protect wild nature.
No Free Lunch
Valuing this way of life over life on the planet causes its advocates to tell lies, to themselves and to others. The first lie is that this way of life isn’t inherently destructive. At this stage in the unraveling of life on this planet I shouldn’t have to support this statement. We need merely look around.
The last thing the world needs is more industrial energy generation, energy that will be used to do what the industrial economy does—convert the living to the dead: living forests to two-by-fours, living mountains into component minerals.
There is no free lunch. Actions have consequences, and when you steal from others, the others no longer have what you stole from them. This is as true when this theft is from nonhumans as it is when it’s from humans.
But, as Upton Sinclair said, “It’s hard to make a man understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it.” It’s even harder to make people understand something when their whole way of life depends on them not understanding it.
So we lie to ourselves. Concerning global warming, the Trump types lie by simply denying it’s taking place. From ecocide to genocide to individual assaults, this is nearly always the first line of defense for perpetrators of all atrocities: What you see happening isn’t happening.
Climate activists perpetrate a similar lie, in that they seem to pretend the destruction caused by the solar, wind, hydro, and biomass industries doesn’t exist. Or that somehow the harm caused by them is a sacrifice that must be made to serve the greater good. But the sacrifice is, as always, made by the planet, and the greater good is that the industrial economy gets more energy. That’s not a good deal for the (for now) living planet.
Here’s an example. An article in the LA Times headlined “Sacrificing the Desert to Save the Earth,” described how state and federal governments, a big corporation, and big “environmental” organizations/corporations are murdering great swaths of the Mojave Desert to put in industrial solar energy generation facilities. The desert is being sacrificed not, as the article states, to save the earth, but to generate electricity—primarily for industry. The earth doesn’t need this electricity: industry does. But then again, from this narcissistic perspective, industry is the earth. There is and can be nothing except for industry.
The Renewable Myth
Even leaving aside the fact that the electricity generated by “renewables” is used to power the industrial economy, in other words to further the murder of the planet, the wind/solar/hydro/biomass solutions are in themselves harmful.
For example, wind/solar require the mining of rare earths. All mining is environmentally devastating, but rare earths mining is especially so. Rare earths mining and refining has devastated, for example, the area around Baotou, China. As The Guardian wrote, “From the air it looks like a huge lake, fed by many tributaries, but on the ground it turns out to be a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world, collectively known as rare earths.” The soil in the region has also been toxified.
Likewise, no matter how “green” and “renewable” so many climate activists, politicians, and “environmentalists” claim dams are, it should be obvious that dams kill rivers. They kill riparian zones they inundate. They deprive rivers above dams of nutrients from anadromous fish. They deprive floodplains below of nutrients that flow with rivers. They deprive beaches of sediment. They destroy habitat of fish and others who live in flowing rivers, not in slow-moving, warmer reservoirs.
And then there’s biomass—another darling of the “renewable” and “green” climate activists. Biomass is just a groovy way of saying “burning things.” What it means in practice is that forests in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Norway, Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine and many other countries are being felled to feed Europe’s demand for “biofuels.”
There are dozens of huge pulp mills just in the southeastern United States. Guess what percentage of the “biofuels” from these are exported to Europe. If you guessed 99% or less, up your guess and try again: yes, it would be 100%. Most of these trees from the US are burned as pellets in the UK. And it’s not just the UK that deforests other countries to serve industry.
One pro-industry researcher blandly states, “As North West European wood resources are not sufficient for this sudden demand, the region relies on imports from abroad.” And of course these countries deforest their own territory as well: Almost half of Germany’s timber production is simply cutting down trees, pulping them, drying them into pellets, and burning them.
And this is how they propose “saving the world” or, more accurately, continuing to power the industrial economy, as the living planet who is our only home enters death spasms.
Even when it simply comes to carbon emissions, many of the so-called successes of the climate activists are not the result of actual reductions in carbon emissions, but rather from accounting shenanigans. For example, here’s a headline: “Costa Rica boasts 99% renewable energy in 2015.” Well, sorry, no. First, they mean “electricity,” not energy. In most countries electricity accounts for about 20% of energy use. So reduce their percentage from 99 to just under 20.
Next, the article states that “Three-quarters of Costa Rica’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants, taking advantage of the country’s abundant river system and heavy tropical rainfalls.” So, the electricity comes from dams, which, as we’ve said, kill rivers. And dams aren’t even “carbon-neutral,” as governments, capitalists and climate activists so often like to claim. This claim has been known to be false for decades. Dams can be called “methane bombs” and “methane factories” because they emit so much of the potent greenhouse-gas methane.
They are the largest single anthropogenic source, accounting for 23% of all methane emitted because of humans. Dams can release up to three and a half times as much atmospheric carbon per unit of energy as is released by burning oil, primarily because, as an article in the New Scientist pointed out, “large amounts of carbon tied up in trees and other plants are released when the reservoir is initially flooded and the plants rot. Then after this first pulse of decay, plant matter settling on the reservoir’s bottom decomposes without oxygen, resulting in a build-up of dissolved methane. This is released into the atmosphere when water passes through the dam’s turbines.”
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So when people tell you that dams are “carbon neutral” they’re really just saying, “We don’t count the carbon from dams.” But it’s all just accounting, and doesn’t reflect the real world, which trumps accounting any time.
From the perspective of the health of the planet, the best thing we can say about dams is that eventually they fail, and to the degree that the river is still alive at that point it will do its best to recover.
Biomass is, if possible, even more of a carbon accounting scam. It is counted as “carbon neutral” and “green” and “renewable, even though burning wood pellets produces 15% to 20% more carbon dioxide than burning coal. This figure doesn’t include the fuel needed to grind, heat, dry and transport the wood, which adds another 20% to the emissions.
So you might be asking: How can climate activists (and nations, and plain old capitalists) call this “green” and “carbon neutral”? One argument is that because trees originally sequestered carbon in their bodies as they grew, and will eventually release this carbon when they die, we may as well cut them down and burn them. But this as untrue as it is absurd. As forests continue to grow, they continue to sequester more and more carbon. An old growth forest both contains and annually sequesters more carbon than does a forest attempting to grow after it’s been cut down. And individual trees also sequester more carbon with age, and sequester more carbon per year with age.
Another way to put this argument for the “carbon neutrality” of biomass is that the carbon was already stored when the trees grew, so all we’re doing is re-releasing the previously stored carbon. It’s like spending money we already put in savings. This, too, is crap, for at least a couple of reasons. The first is that we didn’t store that carbon. The trees did.
This is analogous to you putting money into your savings account, and me taking it out and spending it, and then calling us even. You might call that theft, but capitalists might call that “dollar neutral”: a dollar was put in, and a dollar was taken out—what’s your problem? Another reason this is untrue is that you can make the same argument about coal and oil. The carbon got sequestered by algae in the time of dinosaurs, and we’re just taking it back out.
Another related argument for the carbon neutrality of deforestation is that although you may be cutting down trees and releasing carbon, since trees grow back, the carbon will be re-sequestered in the future, thereby rendering the process carbon neutral. As Climate Central reporter John Upton put it:
“When power plants in major European countries burn wood, the only carbon dioxide pollution they report is from the burning of fossil fuels needed to manufacture and transport the woody fuel. European law assumes climate pollution released directly by burning fuel made from trees doesn’t matter, because it will be re-absorbed by trees that grow to replace them. The assumption is convenient, but wrong. Climate science has been rejecting it for more than 20 years … The accounting trick allows the energy industry to pump tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year and pretend it doesn’t exist.”
So basically the argument is that biomass is carbon neutral because the trees may grow back and the carbon may be recaptured over the next 100 years. This is accounting fraudulent enough to make those who ran Enron envious. Can you imagine what would happen to even a corporation that tried to claim its books were balanced because it was spending money now, and hoping to accumulate that same amount of money over the next 100 years? Any accounting firm that tried that would be shut down in a heartbeat.
It’s actually worse than this. Because the (de)foresters didn’t sequester the carbon, but rather the forest did, the more accurate analogy would be an Enron-style company stealing from people, then saying this is not theft because in time their victims will earn more money to put back into the bank (which will then be stolen—I mean harvested—by the company).
But none of this matters: “environmentalists,” nations, and capitalists continue to count biomass as carbon neutral, and count it, and its numbers, as part of their global warming “success stories,” often without saying a word about the deforestation.
And for the record, 70% of Germany’s “renewable energy” comes from biomass. As energy analyst Robert Wilson states, “Biomass is . . . the biggest source of renewable energy, on a final energy consumption basis, in all but two EU countries. The exceptions are Cyprus and Ireland. Denmark may get 30% of its electricity from wind farms, but it still gets more than twice as much of its final energy consumption from biomass than from wind farms.”
We can show similar carbon accounting smoke and mirrors for wind and solar.
Meanwhile, carbon emissions continue to rise.
I got a note just the other day, where someone said he understands that this culture is killing the planet, then told me his attitude about protecting the earth is, “Why bother? I’ll just hang out with my friends in the time we have left.”
This is the attitude that ties all of the reasons for our incapacity to love the planet that is our only home. If your beloved is threatened you act to defend your beloved. That’s what love is. You don’t just hang out with friends, and you certainly don’t act—as too many climate activists and “environmentalists” are doing—to defend the one who is killing your beloved.
It is long past time we transferred our loyalty away from the economy that is ravaging the earth, and back to the living planet. It is long past time we made our loyalty to this planet absolute, and then started to fight like hell to protect it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: valio84sl