This book presents a sobering evaluation of ‘green’ energy. Contrary to how it is portrayed in the media, renewable energy has its own flaws and cannot solve the climate crisis. In order to do so, we must not only implement technological but also behavioural change to reduce our energy demand in the first place.
We are no stranger to the negative effects of conventional energy sources. The burning of fossil fuels not only emits carbon dioxide, which causes global warming, but also toxic gases like sulphur dioxide, which can cause respiratory problems. Nuclear power, similarly, has a fatal flaw, which is that we currently have no way of disposing of nuclear waste safely and indefinitely. On the other hand, we should not believe that renewable energy is perfect and should immediately replace all other energy sources. The production of solar panels, for instance, pollutes the environment by emitting nitrogen trifluoride, which is 17,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat, and its concentration is rising at 11% a year, a truly alarming rate. As a result, two-thirds of wind turbines installed in Manchester will lead to a net increase in carbon emissions, for example. Hydropower has fewer side-effects but is still not flawless: it can negatively interfere with existing ecosystems as well as ignite regional conflicts, like between Pakistan and India or Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The idea that renewables can provide us with enough energy while not harming the environment is simply optimistic thinking. The phenomenon known as ‘green conscience’ stipulates how we believe we can continue our method of life that is characterised by the excesses of consumerism, while leaving scientists and engineers to find the solution. By contrast, we must change our behaviour: ramping down our energy demands in conjunction with changing to cleaner energy sources. The government should contribute to such behavioural change by implementing tangible rewards or punishments regarding energy and material consumption. A clear example that proves this is a viable way forward is the cost penalty for goods that required considerable energy to produce in California. As a result, the national average per-capita energy consumption doubled during the decade preceding 2012, yet that of California remained stable, though, of course, there were other factors that influenced this result.
Another way by which we could reduce the carbon footprint of our everyday activities is to live in cities. For instance, New York City is the most densely populated place in North America, but it also has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita. This is largely due to the availability of public transport and the high likelihood that one’s destination is within walking distance. Thus, environmentalists could design cities in a way that promotes alternative transport methods, for example by introducing designated bike paths and widening pavements.