Energy 109: The Renewable See-Saw and How To Go Forward

Energy 109: The Renewable See-Saw and How To Go Forward

Sun. Wind. Water. It’s all so old-fashioned and natural. But, as ever, in our 21st century, Anthropocene age, things don’t happen unless they are economic and convenient. The good news is that renewables are now entirely economic. In fact, this past April, renewables surpassed coal in supplying America’s electricity. How so? First, more wind and solar farms went on line. Second, some coal plants were idled for routine inspections. We needed more power and there they were, those renewables. What used to be fantasy has become a reality. And as the renewable sector grows, there will be more real jobs that put real money into our communities that gain robustness from that interaction. Because renewables happen close to home. Local power, local food, local connections.

But don’t get overly excited. First off, however retro and groovy renewables might be, have you already forgotten our creaky, aging infrastructure known as the grid? Renewables dumping all that power into it wrecks havoc because the grid isn’t adaptable (a.k.a. flexible) enough to take in and store all that fancy power. And then there’s the health and environmental costs of mining quartz (the foundation of the silica that is used in solar panels) and the energy used to make the solar panels, and the fuel of shipping those panels hither and yon. (As with everything, it’s complicated.⁠1 And⁠2 then consider the birds that go clunk into the wind mills. And the hydro-dams’ ruination of fish migration. And some of those biomass companies that promote wood pellets as “sustainable” aren’t using slash/waste wood but are cutting down lots and lots of old trees that had stored carbon but now, as they are processed and burned, create more carbon.  

Then compare any of that to the effects and costs of one mountain taken out for coal or tar sands, one oil spill, one nuclear meltdown.

It’s remarkable: this week, I read no less than four articles about things renewable/energy in The New York Times. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/travel/traveling-climate-change.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/26/climate/natural-gas-renewables-fight.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/30/business/energy-environment/oil-companies-profit.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fclifford-krauss&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

And finally this one which was an old newspaper from June:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/opinion/climate-change-hope-solutions.html

All this to say, one, climate change is being talked about. Two, it’s still about profit, not survival. Three, oil companies aren’t profiting from the old ways but that doesn’t stop them from continuing their prioritizing of where they’ve put their (actually, our) money in the past, that old, fossil fuel dependent infrastructure. Four, maybe we can survive because we have the knowledge. But.

In 2009, G20 members signed on to phase out fossil fuels but every year they still spend $452 billion dollars to subsidize those companies,⁠3 and the USA is the top offender. No wonder Greta Thunberg is so sad and angry. Billions go to aid fossil fuel companies without consideration of the enormous cost to our earth. As E.M. Schumacher wrote in his book Small is Beautiful, we use nature as income, not capital. We are using her up. And then what? Now what?

Transitions. From winter to spring, directly to summer. Polywogs to toads and then the newts. Buds into flowers. Eggs into chicks. Bambis and thumpers bound about, pitching forward into life. These transformations happen. If you don’t pay attention, you miss the most heartbreaking beauty of life.

And death. That’s there, too. Sickness, and the pain of disease and dis-ease. Rising waters or drought. Extreme heat. The human population growing out of control and anti-abortion protests against a woman’s right to control her body.

Here we are. Scientists recently affirmed that we are in the above mentioned Anthropocene age. Human created. Depending on your perspective it is terribly ugly or spectacularly fabulous. No matter your perspective, it might soon be over. I’m not quite sure what to do with that information.

The below article by Dahr Jamail suggests a way forward. Fair warning: if you read it, prepare your heart. Be ready to breathe deeply and sit still with the information. Be ready to look into your soul, and ask, “What am I going to do?” Because if you look at this world and all that we have lost, all that we have gained, all that is at risk, you will know in your heart that we are complicit. Just by our existence. My question is how cope with that? Denial doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t for me. I, who have so much, not least the time to worry about things like our pending climate crisis. And it’s so much easier to be complacent, to choose the convenient. Life is so busy. There’s so much terrible stuff going on. Good luck getting through a day. It’s  overwhelming, isn’t it?

On every level—moral, ethical, sympathetic and parasympathetic—we must choose. To do nothing or to act. Either way, we make a choice.

We are in the midst of a transition, a massive, mind-boggling change. We have the ability and the tools and the knowledge to transform this horror into something that aligns with our potential. Think what we as a country have done: World War II. A trip to the moon. . . .

It matters how we act as individuals. Imagine if we come together, again, as a nation. There is no doubt, we can do it again. Every day. Every action.  And you can start by making daily phone calls to your representatives on a local, state and national level.

Do I get repetitive? I’m a bit at a loss. I don’t have enough knowledge on things energy. I only know what I am doing, we are doing here at Darwin’s View. Of that I will write more as we go forward.

https://truthout.org/articles/arctic-is-thawing-so-fast-scientists-are-losing-their-measuring-tools/

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1 https://understandsolar.com/solar-uses-more-energy-to-manufacture-than-it-produces/

2 https://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/solar-energy-isnt-always-as-green-as-you-think

3 http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/