What’s wrong with renewable energy?

burning wind turbine

Ten things environmentalists need to know about renewable energy:

 

1.    Solar panels and wind turbines aren’t made out of nothing. They are made out of metals, plastics, chemicals. These products have been mined out of the ground, transported, processed, manufactured. Each stage leaves behind a trail of devastation: habitat destruction, water contamination, colonization, toxic waste, slave labour, greenhouse gas emissions, wars, and corporate profits. Renewables can never replace fossil fuel infrastructure, as they are entirely dependent on it for their existence.

 

2.    The majority of electricity that is generated by renewables is used in manufacturing, mining, and other industries that are destroying the planet. Even if the generation of electricity were harmless, the consumption certainly isn’t. Every electrical device, in the process of production, leaves behind the same trail of devastation. Living communities—forests, rivers, oceans—become dead commodities.

 

3.    The aim of converting from conventional power generation to renewables is to maintain the very system that is killing the living world, killing us all, at a rate of 200 species per day. Taking carbon emissions out of the equation doesn’t make it sustainable. This system needs to not be sustained, but stopped.

 

4.    Humans, and all living beings, get our energy from plants and animals. There is no living creature that needs electricity for survival. Only the industrial system needs electricity to survive, and food and habitat for everyone are being sacrificed to feed it. Farmland and forests are being taken over, not just by the infrastructure itself, but by the mines, processing and waste dumping that it entails. Ensuring energy security for industry requires undermining energy security for living beings (that’s us).

 

5.    Wind turbines and solar panels generate little, if any, net energy (energy returned on energy invested). The amount of energy used in the mining, manufacturing, research and development, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal of these technologies is almost as much—or in some cases more than—they ever produce. Renewables have been described as a laundering scheme: dirty energy goes in, clean energy comes out. (Although this is really beside the point, as no matter how much energy they generate, it doesn’t justify the destruction of the living world.)

 

6.    Renewable energy subsidies take taxpayer money and give it directly to corporations. Investing in renewables is highly profitable. General Electric, BP, Samsung, and Mitsubishi all profit from renewables, and invest these profits in their other business activities. When environmentalists accept the word of corporations on what is good for the environment, something has gone seriously wrong.

 

7.    More renewables doesn’t mean less conventional power, or less carbon emissions. The amount of energy being generated by renewables has been increasing, but so has the amount of energy generated by fossil fuels.   No coal or gas plants have been taken off line as a result of renewables.

 

8.    Only 20% of energy used globally is in the form of electricity. The rest is oil and gas. Even if all the world’s electricity could be produced without carbon emissions (which it can’t), it would only reduce total emissions by 20%. And even that would have little impact, as the amount of energy being used is increasing exponentially.

 

9.    Solar panels and wind turbines last around 20-30 years, then need to be replaced. The production process, of extracting, polluting, and exploiting, is not something that happens once, but is continuous and expanding.

 

10.    The emissions reductions that renewables intend to achieve could be easily accomplished by improving the efficiency of existing coal plants, at a much lower cost. This shows that the whole renewables industry is nothing but an exercise in profiteering with no benefits for anyone other than the investors.

 

Edit 27 June: Further Reading

http://theenergycollective.com/gail-tverberg/330446/ten-reasons-intermittent-renewables-wind-and-solar-pv-are-problem

http://thebulletin.org/myth-renewable-energy

http://docs.wind-watch.org/ProblemWithWind.pdf

Zehner, Ozzie, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism http://www.greenillusions.org/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html#ixzz32e4D227e

Philippines Infotour

Read stories from my speaking tour of the Philippines here.

The Infotour took place in February 2014. Speakers from Mobile Anarchist School and Deep Green Resistance travelled to Manila, Davao, Tacloban and Marinduque to share skills and ideas with a range of audiences.

The aims of the tour were to build international solidarity, learn from each other, disseminate radical ideas more widely, and strengthen our activist movements.

We presented to activist collectives, high school students, farmers, college students, and neighbours of the infoshops.

We spoke on permaculture, autonomous response to disaster, ecological crises, connecting with the natural world, civilization and resistance.

We travelled to Manila, Davao, Leyte and Marinduque.

In San Miguel, Leyte (a village close to Tacloban) we ran activities for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. This was the third mission that MAS has done in this village.

 

maps.htm_txt_PhilMap

In general, people in the Philippines are well aware of environmental issues. For them, environmentalism is not a choice, but a matter of life and death. They are totally dependent on the land and sea for their food and livelihood, so any harm caused—by mining, plantations, industry, development, commercial fishing and tourism—impacts them directly.

When I spoke about the industrial system in its entirety as the cause of the current environmental crisis, rather than individual industries and lifestyle choices, people understood this already. No-one ever argued in favour of technofixes, development and sustainability.

This document has more details about the environmental issues in the Philippines, and resistance movements defending land and indigenous rights.

Speaking at Adelaide Transitions Film Festival

I had the opportunity to speak at Transitions Film Festival, and did a poetry piece on connecting with the natural world, and defending the wild.

The footage isn’t that great, and the first few lines were missed.  The first line is “imagine you are a bird.”

click here to view

A Sustainable Population

A sustainable population ensures that the population of all other species who share the land where they live is also sustained.  A population that causes the extinction of another species is not sustainable.  Earth’s current human population causes the extinction of 200 species per day.

A sustainable population can endure indefinitely.  This is the definition of sustainability.  The number of people that can truthfully be called “a sustainable population” is not something that can be decided by popular vote, by argument, by economics, or by force.  It is decided by the carrying capacity of the land on which it lives.

Ninety per cent of large fish in the ocean are gone.  Ninety nine per cent of old growth forests, gone.  That’s ninety nine per cent of the habitat that can sustain a human population.  This means that as of now, a sustainable population of humans on this planet is one per cent of the population that a pre-industrial planet has sustained.

The civilization that most humans currently live in is not a sustainable habitat, as it requires stealing from the surrounding land to maintain itself.  And as the civilized area grows to take over everything, and the land left available to steal from therefore shrinks to nothing, the whole project inevitably dies.

And the maximum possible population for any piece of land is not desirable for that population, as there is no chance for that population to survive in the face of disaster, environmental change, flood, or drought.  An optimal population allows for some redundancies in providing for its needs.  A population below carrying capacity will also be more peaceful, as it has everything it needs, and some to spare for others travelling or migrating.  An optimal population doesn’t need to be constantly on guard to defend its landbase.  Although this is conditional on the populations of surrounding areas also being optimal for their own landbases, rather than expanding and colonising.

A population’s ability to sustain itself isn’t a function of the number of people, but the relationship between the people and the land they live on.  If the people exploit the land, taking more from it than they give in return, then regardless of the number of people, they will soon reach a point where the land no longer sustains them, and they either move on or starve to death.  And in the present world, moving on means forcefully invading the land of others.  Causing them to starve to death.

A population that has reciprocal relationships with the land, plants and animals that provide for their needs, and takes responsibility for the wellbeing of these others, may not even need to consider the question of population, or population may be regulated by an intuitive understanding of these relationships.

In the current context of global population overshoot, any strategy that addresses population as an isolated issue is bound to fail.  Putting the cart before the horse.

It isn’t possible for a government that exists within the paradigm of economic growth to effectively address the issue of population.

Economic growth leads population growth.  More people buy more stuff.  Even if economic growth is possible without population growth, the economy still undermines its own foundations (quite literally in the case of mining taking over agricultural land) and will lead to whole populations of humans collapsing, regardless of the number of people.

So to see population as an issue that needs addressing is to miss the point.

Sustainability is not an abstract concept, or an optional extra for rich people to feel good about.  Sustainability is by definition the capacity to continue to exist.  If something is not sustainable, it will soon cease to exist.  Any policy or argument that claims sustainability as a virtue without understanding this core meaning will benefit no-one, and only lead to a more chaotic collapse.

Often at policy discussions, someone will mention population and use the phrase “the elephant in the room” as if they’ve said something terribly clever and important, and done their bit to address the issue.  I’ve never heard a proposal for any real action to either reduce global population or stop it from growing.  Here’s some policy options: mass murder, forced sterilisation, a deadly virus, one-child policy, withhold food so that people starve.  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be on the receiving end of any of these, although there may be willingness to accept a one-child policy.

Stopping population growth is not in the interest of any government, especially not one elected on four-year term.  Governments want as many people as possible – to grow their economy, fight their wars, work their industries, buy products, pay taxes.

Attempts to influence governments to instate policies on population are unlikely to be effective.  Governments need to act in the interests of their corporate investors (or employers, or shareholders, depending on how you look at it).  To influence a government requires influencing the corporations that control it.

A corporation has profit-making as its core business.  No matter how convincing an argument may be, a corporation won’t act on it if its not profitable.  And reducing population, the market for their products, can never be profitable.

Corporations can’t be challenged by legal means, as they have power over the legal system.  So anyone wanting to challenge a corporation can only do so illegally.

By thinking strategically, and having the goal of preventing a corporation from doing business, its not all that hard to bring it down.

A corporation is a vulnerable thing.  It can’t work without electricity, internet, phone connections, transport systems, workers, and money.  If the supply of any one of these things is cut off, business stops.

By refusing to acknowledge the underlying causes of population growth, the debate on population is feeding and breeding the metaphorical elephants it so loves to talk about.

What I see is an overpopulation of elephants in the room.

Letter to Resurgence/Ecologist

I wrote this letter to the editor of Resurgence/Ecologist magazine.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t get published, since it picks holes in the editor’s arguments.

isimg_276I agree with Satish Kumar (in the editorial for the Jan/Feb issue) that caring for our environment is a moral imperative.  However, there are many flaws in the arguments that follow.

He claims that “Our task now is to show that ecology and economy are not in contradiction to each other.”  The industrial economy is powered by the extraction, destruction and consumption of the natural world.  It is fundamentally opposed to ecology.  The economy treats the planet as a resource to be used, which will soon end with the destruction of every living thing.

He then states “environment and employment can – and do – complement each other.”  Yet there is no form of employment that benefits the environment.  There is no money to be made in protecting and regenerating the land.  The majority of those working in the environmental field are employed by those who profit from destroying it, so are – despite their best intentions – merely placing a “green” façade over the harm being caused.

He claims we can harvest our energy from the sun, wind and rain, which is true if we harvest this energy directly, but if we place solar panels, wind turbines or dams in the way, we are responsible for the mining, pollution, waste and demise of living rivers that these technologies cause.  This will never be sustainable.  And anything that can’t be sustained will surely come to a halt.

Kumar claims that “the western world is not in an economic crisis. The banks have vast reserves of finance.”  However, in 2011, the Bank of England told the chief executives of Britain’s largest banks that there was a serious chance that the whole financial system would collapse before Christmas.

“The land is still producing food” is next, while farmland becomes desert, honeybees are on the verge of extinction, aquifers are collapsing, soil is eroded and depleted, urban sprawl takes over the land, and corporations and machinery control the entire global food system, which could collapse at any moment.  The UN predicts a global famine this year.

And then “We have been endangering the lives of millions of creatures”.  Every day, 200 species become extinct.  80 per cent of the world’s rivers no longer support life.  98 per cent of old growth forests have been destroyed.  This is not endangering lives, it is ecocide.

If the industrial economy is allowed to continue, there is likely to be no life on the planet 40 years from now.  No animals, no plants, no microbes.

Now is not a time for denial, or hope.  It is a time for action.  If we do not act now to stop the whole industrial system in its tracks, there will be no environment left to care for.

And, to echo Kumar’s closing words, it is as simple as that.

Link to the editorial,   The Great Challenge.

Reconciliation. A letter to empire.

I’m not sure how I feel about writing this in the first person.  I’m taking the voice of those who have experienced things I’ll never know, and twisting it for my own ends.  I could write it from the other side, but that voice is in every news story and history book.

This is not my story.  It was told to me by a voice that demands to be heard.

So you want reconciliation?  You really think we can make this relationship work? After all you’ve done?

You came here, onto my land, into my home, you were never invited.  Do you know how important it is here to be invited before going onto someone else’s land?  No, of course you don’t.  You never asked.

You stole everything I have.  My food, my homeland, my family.  My traditions, which have been honoured since the beginning of time.  Even my name.  You destroyed it all.

You raped me, beat me, massacred my people.  You took me as a slave.  You took my children away.  You severed me from the spirits of my ancestors.

You took away my singing, my dancing, my dreaming.  My everything.

You wanted me dead.  Not just dead, extinct.  You wanted all my wisdom, all my history, to be forgotten, forever.

You destroyed my home.  You said it was no good, you’d make me a new one.  Then you made me pay for it.  This is no home, it’s an empty shell.  There is no life, no feeling in it.

And you are always here.

And now you want reconciliation.  You want me to say everything is fine, of course you can stay.  You want me to forgive.  You won’t even acknowledge what you’ve done.  You say you’re sorry, but I know you don’t mean it.  If you were sorry, you’d give back everything you’ve stolen.  If you were sorry, you’d leave.

You abuse me still.  To you it’s normal, it’s the way you are, the way life is.  You don’t hear my cries.  You don’t care at all.

I never chose this relationship.  I never wanted you in my life.  I fought you all the way.  But you were always stronger, more violent.  You had all the weapons.  You took mine away.

I will not reconcile with you.  I will make you leave.  Enough of my people have been killed.  Now it’s your turn.  Leave this land or you will die in it.

Leave this land or you will die in it.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Who am I, as someone who was born into, and continues to live in the colonist culture, to speak for those abused by this culture?

Yet, who am I, as someone who has heard the stories and views of many indigenous people, to keep these to myself?  They need to be spoken far and wide.

And who am I to silence the voice that told me this story?  This is a voice that demands to be heard.

Degeneration, sustainability and regeneration

 degenerative regenerative

Sustainability is the mid-way point on a scale between degenerative and regenerative.  It’s not an end point of anything.  As an aspiration, its not saying much to achieve sustainability.  For an activity to be sustainable, just means that you can keep doing it over and over again indefinitely.  Its not saying you’re doing it well, just that it can continue to happen.  We can do better than that.  And to aspire to be “more sustainable” is an even lower ambition.  It only requires shifting in the direction of the centre point, without ever intending to reach it.

With sustainability as our greatest ambition, the possibility of doing something well, of healing, repairing, making things better, this isn’t even considered.  More sustainable is just less harmful, it isn’t beneficial to anyone.  To aim for sustainability is to believe that all human activity is harmful, and to aim for the neutral point between harmful and helpful is the best we can do.

Aiming for sustainability rather than regeneration, this is like aiming to improve your state of health from terminal illness to a hardly-better state of being able to continue to live (to sustain life), while still being extremely ill.  As a civilization, we have been so ill for so long that we can’t even imagine being in a state of health, and no longer desire it.  Our illness is our identity.

So lets try for regeneration.  For healing from the sickness.

Regeneration or sustainability can’t be achieved while there is any degenerative activity going on.

So for either of these to be possible, all harmful activity must be stopped first.

To look away from the harm, this is like trying to build more storeys on a building while the ground level is being demolished.  You can’t build something sustainable on a degenerating foundation.  The foundation needs to be repaired first.degeneration graphIf all degenerative activity stops now, this is the range of possible scenarios.  If it doesn’t stop, follow the descending curve to zero.

The graph isn’t an exact measurement of degeneration.  Given that 98 per cent of old growth forests have been destroyed, 94 per cent of large fish in the ocean are gone, and 80 per cent of rivers worldwide no longer support any life, and the rate of destruction increasing exponentially, I’d say it’s a reasonable representation of recent history.

Once degeneration stops, regeneration may happen quickly, or slowly.  The point of no return for the complete collapse of the biosphere may have already passed.

Degenerative is anything that destroys life at a greater speed that it replenishes it.  This includes mining, manufacturing, commercial fishing, land clearing, agriculture, war, cities, dams, and anything that doesn’t enhance life.

Regeneration is the return to life, the recovery that happens when harm stops.  This part’s easy, life regenerates by itself.

No one person, or one community, can be sustainable while the rest of the world burns.  We all live on the same planet.  Act local, sure, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

- – – – – – -

Footnote rant about sustainability:

Products that claim to be sustainable are nothing of the sort anyway.  They are responsible for just as much pollution and resource use as any alternative, they just hide it better.  Think solar and wind energy, cloth shopping bags, bamboo fibre, recycling, light bulbs, shower heads, and imported organic foods.  Sustainable is just a marketing ploy to appeal to a certain target market.  It’s about the image of being “green”, which has no connection to reality.  Even if these products were less harmful, something has still been destroyed in the making.  You can’t make something out of nothing.  The only way a product could ever be sustainable is if plants or animals are harvested from the wild at a lesser rate than they reproduce, and any processing is done with hand-made tools, and the product is transported by walking only.  Good luck making a sustainable solar panel.

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