Ozzie Zehner’s entrance into the energy and environment debate couldn’t come at a better, more appropriate time and neither could his book Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. Published in 2012, it comes in the midst of increasing interest in the topic of tackling climate change from people of all walks of life.
The problem, put in the most general of terms: many people – particularly those new to the issue – aren’t really sure what to do about tackling the crisis.
In response, we’ve been given a chorus of “We need to get on green, clean, renewable energy and get off fossil fuels.” Like Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions as it applies to “thought control in a democratic society,” Zehner’s book refutes this mantra head-on in Green Illusions, saying the fantasy of “green energy” is another form of “thought control” that pacifies environmentalists from seeking out real and hard-hitting solutions.
“Power shift” is a good slogan, he argues, but not a real solution to the ecological crisis, which at its core is a much deeper problem than what type of energy we produce and consume: it’s how much energy we produce and consume that’s the root of the problem. In other words, it’s a systemic problem and Zehner’s book sets out to explain how and why.
“The seductive tales of wind turbines, solar cells, and biofuels foster the impression that with a few technological upgrades, we might just sustain our current energy trajectories (or close to it) without consequence,” Zehner writes in the book’s opening pages. “Media and political coverage lull us into dreams of a clean energy future juxtaposed against a tumultuous past characterized by evil oil companies and the associated energy woes they propagated. Like most fairy tales, this…parable contains a tiny bit of truth. And a whole lot of fantasy.”
Among the “green illusions” Zehner tackles are wind energy as a saving grace, solar energy as the coming of the messiah and biomass as more akin to what Jeff Gibbs has coined a “biomassacre” than “clean energy.”
“In the sphere of solar, Zehner points out that its manufacturing process includes a potent mix of greenhouse gases that “make C02 seem harmless by comparison,” as he explains in the book. Then there’s the toxic waste issue, as well, with stockpiles building up in China.
In the sphere of wind, often featured in glitzy and glamorous public relations campaigns, Zehner’s scientific findings were no more promising. More than a fossil fuel alternative, Zehner writes, wind is a fossil “derivative” – that is, it’s derived from fossil fuels – through and through.
“[W]hat about the total carbon footprint of the mining, building, transporting, installing, clearing, maintaining, and decommissioning activities supporting them? Fossil fuels…supply the power behind these operations,” he writes. “Wind is renewable. Turbines are not.”
Nukes, “clean coal” and biofuels are more the same game by a different name, as explained in Green Illusions. The list of problems is long and Zehner picks apart the rhetoric from the reality on all of these energy sources unapologetically.
This comes in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s “Climate Action Plan” address in which promotion of “clean tech” was seen as the beacon of hope by mainstream environmentalists in a speech that by-and-large was a promotion of fracking, illusory “clean coal,” nukes, et al.
In this sense as well, Zehner’s joining Firedoglake for this Salon couldn’t be better timed. Houston, we have a major problem on our hands. Firedoglake welcomes in Zehner to help us chat about some real solutions and a Cassandra’s call against fantastical “Green Illusions.”
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]