Alternatives to Alternative Energy
Pursuing new alternative-energy technologies is fine and good, but society will not resolve its energy troubles unless it changes the underlying problem of energy and resource overuse, argues University of California–Berkeley visiting scholar Ozzie Zehner.
He suspects that heavy investment into solar energy, wind energy, and other renewable systems may actually set us back, since it leaves us with less capital and lower motivation to pursue other energy strategies that work better.
Zehner examines all the best-known alternative-energy sources—solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen, hydro power, geothermal, and clean coal—and explains why each one is demonstrably incapable of displacing fossil fuels. He notes further that many of them emit greenhouse gases of their own, drain exorbitant amounts of natural resources, and drive up society’s overall demand for more energy.
If our goal is to cut back on fossil-fuel use, then we cannot rely on renewable energy to achieve it, he concludes. His advice: Get rid of public subsidies for renewable energy, and focus on reducing energy use. Installing more energy-efficient lighting and construction, for example, or building “walkable” communities in which people live close enough to retail and services that they do not need to drive to them, would all benefit human society and the Earth more than new arrays of photovoltaic solar panels or wind farms. So would controlling population growth and mass consumerism, he adds, two major drivers of increased energy demand.
Green Illusions is a somewhat iconoclastic look at the global energy crisis. Renewable-energy advocates and critics both will find much to debate and discuss.
[Editor’s note: Ozzie Zehner’s article “Nuclear Power’s Unsettled Future” was published in the March-April 2012 issue of THE FUTURIST.]
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