“Renewable” energy will not save you

By » Wed, November 23 2011
5540065930 7e7d59c95b 450x451 Renewable energy will not save you

This is not the dichotomy you're looking for. (img by kevin dooley)

I’ve overheard arguments with Prius owners and heard rumors of the alleged hideous barren crater at the Prius battery plant. I haven’t even bothered to find out of they’re true, because public school taught me an important (and cliche) truth: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Fancy tech requires fancy (and rare) materials. Electric vehicles gotta get electricity somewhere, and just because there are no emissions coming out of the tailpipe of my car doesn’t mean that there aren’t emissions coming out of a power plant up the line.

Try this on for a minute:

… renewable energy, all of it, depends on non-renewable things. “You need raw materials, real estate, and other things that will run out one day,” writes Dawn Stover, a contributing editor at the Bulletin. “You need stuff that has to be mined, drilled, transported, and bulldozed — not simply harvested or farmed.”…

Some examples: solar power requires photovoltaic panels (silicon, cadmium) and a whole lot of water; geothermal power uses groundwater faster than rain can replenish it; wind turbines need a whole lot of concrete and steel and rare Earth metals; hydropower kills entire ecosystems. You get the idea. All of these things require land and materials for transmission systems as well, consuming yet more resources and subdividing natural systems.

And the scale of the overhaul required to switch is impossibly huge. Seriously, read the whole article.

So I’ve pissed in your Kashi. And I (and the study quoted) could very well be wrong. But you know me and my thought experiments. You don’t need to read Stirling’s Change novels or Bacigalupi’s incredibly dark biopunk future The Windup Girl to imagine the end of the world as we know it. You can read the news.

Renewables and clean energy can help, but maybe not enough. Maybe we can slow consumption down enough that we’ll have time to finally figure out cold fusion. Or maybe there will be mass chaos as we run out of oil and people riot and starve.

How do you die less in a world without oil? By knowing how to grow, find, and process food. By knowing how to make tools. By knowing how to work with other people. And by playing games to help you learn, whether in your head or on computers or in the world.

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