In this piece, Aimee examines the renewable energy, and why they won’t save us from ecological crises (as they are often believed to do).
by Aimee Wild
Someone I know and love commented that she’d rather see investment in feeding hungry children and the Green New Deal than see £16.5 billion pounds spent on funding the military.
I quipped back that they were equally destructive and she asked to see my evidence so I confidently said I would provide a couple of brief articles.
I could not find one brief, accessible article. Nothing. So, I am writing one.
However, it is difficult to describe the hidden harm within the proposals for the Green New Deal when the language used is so convincing. Solar and Wind energy are described as renewable. Anything that isn’t fossil fuel is called ‘clean’ energy. I hope you will read this with an open mind and consider how thorough the marketing of green capitalism has been.
The Patterns Of Patriarchy
Men (as a class) see accessing women’s bodies as a right, something they are entitled to. Capitalism’s organisations and companies see profit as a right. Their access to resources to make their business profitable comes before the health of people or planet. There are hundreds if not thousands of small examples of this: palm oil and orangutans, plastics beer can holders and sea creatures, plutonium and sealife, HS2 and nesting bats.
The enjoyment or entertainment of humans comes before any thought of distress or harm to non-human life. Look at how animals are treated for TV entertainment, the baby zebra who died due to humans setting off fireworks, or the roadkill because deer, badgers, foxes have nowhere left to go due to human development. The pattern of patriarchy can be seen in the forcible use and extraction of earth’s resources. It can be seen in rape myths and the positive media publicity for men who cause harm to women. The same pattern can be seen in the justification of and the myths around ‘green’ energies.
Solar energy is the conversion of the sun’s energy into electricity.
To change the sun’s energy into electricity, human beings have created different types of technology: photovoltaics, molten salt power plants and emerging technologies such as artificial photosynthesis. To create electricity from the sun this technology needs multiple components, battery, charge controls, glass, plastic, metals etc. To create the parts in the solar panels you need sand, melted at very high temperatures to create silicon.
Small blocks created from rocks are melted at very high temperatures along with a little Boron (a chemical element) and other rare metals that are needed for the process. Wafers are created by slicing ingots and metal conductors added. Metal is not renewable and must first be mined and processed. Mining for metal causes harm to the environment close to the mine and problems to the wider geographical area, to the earth, water sources and human health.
Each component of a solar panel is produced using energy (electricity). The amount of energy needed to maintain production is huge and comes at great cost. Solar power impacts on land and water use. Solar fields reduce wildlife habitat and the use of highly hazardous materials in the manufacturing process causes land and water pollution. Solar panels have a life of around 18-25 years and due to the risk of potentially harmful chemicals leeching into land and into the water table, they cannot be recycled. The Industry has yet to figure out how to dispose of them safely.
In short, huge amounts of energy is used to make solar power. Energy that comes from burning fossil fuels. The process of mining and creating all the components is damaging to the natural world. Solar technology cannot be reused or disposed of safely. Even if safe disposal were possible, ALL mining is destructive and unsustainable.
Wind Energy is the process of using a device that converts the wind’s kinetic energy into electrical energy
There are environmental impacts from using wind turbines to create electricity. These include: reducing and damaging wild areas, degrading habitat for wildlife, fish, and plants, and harming/killing wildlife, like birds and bats, due to the spinning turbine blades.
Wind turbines need a generator, which obviously needs to be created out of multiple components. As with solar power, there is an environmental cost linked to the production of the materials needed to construct a wind turbine, to transport all the components and assemble, operate and maintain them. Little thought has been given to the end of their life, when they need to be dismantled. A wind turbine will last around 20 years. Whilst some of the components can be repurposed, the blades cannot easily be crushed or recycled. About 8,000 of the blades go out of use every year in America. Tons and tons of wind turbine blades in landfill every year is not a sustainable solution to climate breakdown.
It is interesting that the myths of green tech are also based on the myth of recycling as being some kind of saviour, SO, at risk of being patronising, recycling is unsustainable. It is not a solution to our problems. A reduction in consumption is needed. A reduction in travel, population, industrial agriculture, dams, cutting down forests, road, rail and housing developments. We need to put the natural world first before it is too late.
Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus, or core, of an atom.
Atoms are tiny units that make up all matter in the universe, and energy is what holds the nucleus together. There is a huge amount of energy in an atom’s dense nucleus. To access this energy the atom is split, using hundreds of tons of uranium, which is an element found in rocks.
Splitting atoms creates high temperatures so a cooling agent is needed (water or salt usually). The waste water is heavily polluted. Nuclear power is hailed as being clean energy because it does not produce greenhouse gases (directly). However, it does produce other waste materials which are toxic to life. Not just human life but all life; animal, vegetable and mineral. The waste products from a nuclear power plant can stay hazardous for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. A tiny accident or spill can have implications for life hundreds of miles away. Even the smallest of particles, in water and leeched from land into food, can impact on the health of human and animals. Nuclear energy is described as carbon neutral but every phase of harnessing the nucleus of an atom contributes to climate change.
I was horrified watching a documentary on Nuclear Waste Disposal and have always felt this option for energy was short sighted. If there is potential for harm now or in the future then we should cease. It is hugely expensive to build a nuclear power plant. It takes thousands of tons of concrete (which we know is not environmentally friendly or sustainable) and uses millions of tons of water: water, that is channelled away from areas that may need it and, when used is left devoid of health.
Using natural gas and/or coal to create electricity.
Gas is a highly flammable substance that can cause significantly more damage should there be an accident. Gas is very harmful in terms of emitting greenhouse gases. It is not renewable and laying pipelines is expensive and harmful to the natural world. We already know extracting coal is a filthy, destructive process; burning coal generates huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and millions of tons of waste. This is why there is a huge push to move towards wind and solar and why there are arguments to use nuclear energy to produce electricity.
There have been NO arguments advocating for a reduction in energy. It is a myth that we can carry on forever making energy for almost 8 Billion people. The global population is growing. The simple truth is producing energy is harmful. We cannot infinitely access finite resources. We cannot keep destroying the natural world and expect a Disney ending.
Biomass or mass stupidity?
Green capitalists have done an amazing marketing job on biomass. The word conjours up a friendly form of energy that we can use freely at no cost to the environment. In fact biomass is created by using organic matter from wild nature, for example by cutting down healthy trees and chipping them, compressing them into blocks and then selling them on as carbon neutral. Biomass is not renewable, it is processed in plants using electricity (from the grid) at high cost, and there are huge environmental impacts, not least reducing the carbon sink and diminishing natural habitat for our non-human kin.
There is no better documentary out there than Planet Of The Humans to show you what is happening. Although the truths are hard to read, there is no better book that Bright Green Lies to illuminate the situation.
I am almost apologetic when I see realisation dawn on a loved ones face. I know they must begin a process of grief, when realisation starts to dawn; what we have done, continue to do. Grief at the loss of life, human, non-human. These truths may hurt but we need to know them so we can collectively focus on the work we need to do.
The cognitive dissonance must end. The destruction of our planet must end. The idea that we can carry on as we are must end. The vapid consumption of things must end. The alternative is the end of humanity. We must transition NOW to a different way of being on earth: locally produced food, rewild our landscapes, treat each other with kindness. Humans need to cease the development of roads, rail, houses, and halt industrial scale agriculture.
If we do not act decisively and quickly it may be too late.
The rapid onset of climate collapse will force change and it will not be pretty.
Aimee Wild is an educator, activist and DGR Guardian in the UK.
This article was written for all the people who are clinging to GND and refusing to think it through or have a conversation. With specific thanks to JG & LW for asking, thinking and being brave.