Editor’s note: If you search the keywords renewable energy problems you’ll be snowed under with deceptive synonyms like challenges, opportunities or even solutions. Most articles don’t go into the depth of why “renewable” energy is continuing the ongoing environmental atrocities.
In Germany the buzz word is energy shift (Energiewende), which means we allegedly shift from a “bad energy” to a “good one”. But in reality it’s just a shift of our addiction from one “drug” to another, that is similarly contaminating. As Boris highlights in his article, only through a transition to a de-industrialized society will we live in a truly sustainable relationship with Mother Earth.
Why Renewable Energy Will Not Solve the Problem
By Boris Wu/DGR Germany
The word for world is forest. Long before humans existed, in the geological eras we now refer to as the Carboniferous and Permian, vast, dense swamp forests of ancient ferns, calamites, and the now extinct species of Sigillariaceae, Diaphorodendraceae, and Lepidodendraceae dominated the landmass of our planet. The high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere provided ideal growing conditions for plants and led to an overproduction of biomass that accumulated in the swampy soils of the primeval forests.
Over millions of years, parts of these swamps were regularly flooded by rivers and thus covered by sediments of clay and sand. These cyclical sedimentation conditions compressed and drained the swamp soils. Particularly in the Upper Carboniferous period, the organic source material was air sealed and compacted under high pressure and heat and thus finally converted into hard coal.
The other word for world is water. Alongside the primeval forests, nutrient-rich shelf and inland seas shaped the primeval landscape. Water is literally the source of all life, and even those of us who eventually left the seas in the course of evolution and learned to live on land still carry it in our blood. Our blood plasma contains salt and ions in a ratio remarkably similar to that of the oceans.
Our sacred Mother Earth, in her infinite love for all life, gave birth to an almost infinite variety of it. The primeval shelf seas were rich in life, with marine microorganisms such as algae forming by far the largest proportion of marine biomass. In the deeper zones, the dead algae were deposited on the sea floor together with clay particles. The low-oxygen conditions prevented the complete decomposition of the algal biomass and led to the formation of fouling sludge (Sapropel). The formations of thick sediment sequences with a high proportion of organic material, slowly accumulating and concentrating over millions of years, eventually became the energy source that made the industrialization of civilization possible: crude oil.
Ultimately, our planet has only one source of energy, namely the sun. All fossil fuels consist of millions of years of solar energy stored in fossil biomass. In the meantime, our holy Mother Earth, in her infinite love, created a further, almost infinite variety of life. The dinosaurs were followed by birds, mammals and finally the species that today quite immodestly calls itself Homo sapiens sapiens, the wisest of the wise. How wise it is to destroy the planet on which we live, however, must be questioned.
For the longest time of their existence, Stone Age people, who were primitive only in the imagination of the civilized, lived in harmony with ecological principles, until some cultures made a functional mistake: They cultivated annual grasses with nutritious seeds in large-scale monocultures. The surplus of easily storable and tradeable carbohydrates from grain monocultures led to unprecedented population growth, the construction of city-states with standing armies, patriarchal ruling cults, monotheistic religions, slavery and an endless wave of violence, war, colonialism and environmental destruction, in short, the form of culture we call civilization. Climate change is not a recent phenomenon.
The deforestation of primeval forests, the draining of swamps etc. for agriculture, mining, the construction of warships and other war machinery already had measurable effects on the global climate in ancient times, as we know from atmospheric data from gases stored in the no longer perpetual ice of Antarctica and Greenland.
In essence – and the essence is our relationship with the planet and our fellow creatures – there were and are only two human cultures: indigenous and civilized. While indigenous peoples live in harmony with biological principles, endless expansion, colonialism and overexploitation are the hallmarks of any civilization that eventually lead to its collapse. Civilizations have always displaced or destroyed indigenous peoples.
After the dominant Western civilization expanded throughout Europe and, after 1492, continued expanding to the Americas where it committed the greatest genocide on indigenous peoples in human history, in its endless hunger for resources it made a second, functional and fundamental mistake: it began to make use of the fossil fuels coal and oil, thereby increasing its destructive power to the extreme. Industrial civilization is civilization on steroids, and its steroids are fossil fuels.
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. While indigenous peoples had always fought for the preservation of nature and thus their livelihoods, people in the Western world were now also beginning to gather and try to protect wild places and wild creatures from destruction by our civilization. Climate change only came to public attention in the 1990s, as scientists like James Hansen only began to understand in the late 1980s that the burning of millions of years of stored fossil solar energy within a single century, and the release of the carbon dioxide trapped in it, would wreak havoc on our planet’s climate.
Due to the unprecedented overuse of our planet on an industrial scale, we Westerners today have more resources and energy at our disposal than any previous human generation. Western affluence and the arrogance that comes with it have seduced the environmental movement into a very narrow public discourse that focuses solely on global warming and unrealistic technocratic utopias, and in which the most extensive, dramatic and rapid extinction of species of all time, which we are currently witnessing, no longer plays a role.
Global warming is only just beginning to have a serious impact on us. The destruction of the environment, the extinction of all non-human life, in short the fact that civilizations, and especially industrial civilization, are inherently destructive and overexploiting their resources. This by definition can never be sustainable and will inevitably collapse. Although the resulting fact that we should actually radically change our way of life, are a taboo subject in public discourse.
The functional error in the belief system surrounding so-called renewable energy is that the fossil fuels coal and oil are literally storage devices for millions of years of fossil solar energy. These “natural batteries” have a higher energy density than any energy storage system developed by humans. Diesel stores 46 times more energy per kilogram than the most modern lithium-ion battery. Fossil fuels are therefore incredibly practical because they are easy to transport, can be stored indefinitely and can be burned whenever needed.
The entire electricity grid infrastructure is built on these characteristics, although the term “grid” is inaccurate in more ways than one. Firstly, it is more of a network than a grid. Second, it is not a single grid, but hundreds of grids around the world, each supplying power to a specific region. The entire network essentially works like one big circuit that starts and ends at the power plants. Sub-circuits lead to individual households, companies, factories, server farms, hospitals, etc. Electricity still flows between the regions, but it is carefully regulated.
The wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric power plants that we summarize under the vague term “renewable energies” are not energies or energy sources in the true sense of the word, but technologies that can convert sunlight or the kinetic energy of wind and water into electricity. The terms used in public discourse, such as “energy transition”, “renewable energy” or “green energy”, suggest that we want to switch from one form of energy to another. This is where the error in thinking lies, because what we are actually trying to do is to replace fossil energy storage with modern technologies for generating electricity.
One of the many problems with this is that this additionally generated electrical energy fluctuates greatly, depending on the sunlight, the prevailing wind or the current. According to estimates, the modern electricity grid can only cope with up to 35% electricity from wind power and 12% electricity from photovoltaic, i.e. a total of around 47%, or just under half of so-called renewable energy, as these fluctuations can still be balanced out by conventional coal and gas-fired power plants.
High power fluctuations are not compatible with a functioning industrial power grid. Most household appliances can cope well with a voltage fluctuation of 5 to 10 percent, but modern factories, server farms and hospitals with their highly complex equipment and machines require precise, stable currents.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to combine the intermittent, highly fluctuating power flows from thousands of wind turbines and solar power plants into a reliable grid voltage because there is no buffer storage on a grid scale (currently, conventional coal and gas-fired power plants serve as a kind of buffer, as power generation can be ramped up or down quickly depending on demand). The fact remains that the grid was not built for so-called renewable energies, but for fossil fuels.
But quite apart from that, even if ingenious scientists and engineers managed to convert the electricity grid completely to solar, wind and hydroelectric power, there is still the small problem that our civilization is destroying the planet. The hope of saving our civilization through modern technologies, which in reality do not help the planet but are themselves destructive in many ways, is just a Bright Green Lie. We cannot live on a destroyed planet, and it is long past time for a serious and radical discourse that addresses in necessary depth the highly dysfunctional relationship between our culture and our sacred Mother Earth, who brought us all forth in her infinite love, and who is our only home.
Boris Wu is a father of two, a Permaculture farmer, radical environmental activist and cadre for Deep Green Resistance
Photo: Stone Age dwelling at Kierikki Stone Age Centre Oulo Finland, Ninaras/CCBY 4.0