July 30, 2018

We Need Renewable Ideas, Not Stale Ones About “Renewables”


They may say I look like Don Quixote, but they’re the ones charging a mirage.

Industrial renewables are unsustainable because of their dependency on a foundation of cheap plentiful fossil fuels: Especially, they and the industrial economy they’re supposed to rescue would continue to be completely dependent upon fossil fuels for transportation. Industrial renewables also are bound up in ecological destruction: The destruction of arid ecosystems for CSP monocultures, the murder of rivers for hydroelectric, the straight extractionist rape from the metals mining it requires. And of course the wholesale massacre of birds by industrial windmills. It takes a special kind of depravity to call this “environmentalism”, and only today’s corporate environmentalists could reach such a level of depravity.
The main evil of the propaganda of a large-scale industrial renewables buildout is that it’s supposed to replace fossil fuels in powering what would otherwise be the same corporate globalization regime. This is no improvement. Centralization itself, gigantism itself, is at the core of the crisis. No one who would want a high-consumption grid based on CSP and industrial wind mega-farms would care about replacing fossil fuels anyway; they’d only want to supplement them. If the paramount imperative is to feed the monstrous consumption maw (and for the advocates of the industrial civilization this is the only imperative), then the climate crisis and all other environmental crises can’t have any importance at all, other than as propaganda gambits on behalf of further escalated destruction. On the contrary, if averting the worst of the crises was any kind of goal, then the goal of maximizing energy production automatically would be downgraded severely.
What’s most promising about renewables is their decentralized, non-grid potential to contribute to a decent life for human beings, such as the great potential of passive solar heating. Just as with agroecology, here we can provide warmth and comfort and sufficient electricity for family and community use, as opposed to the productionist mindset which only wants massive corporate-controlled electricity generation for its own sake. It’s the same as how growing food for human beings is vastly more productive and healthy in every way than producing agricultural commodities from which food is then supposed to trickle down as an afterthought. It’s true that acre for acre agroecology is far more productive in every way – calories, nutrition, biodiversity, every other ecological function – than industrial monoculture, whereas decentralized renewables would produce less gross energy quantity than any kind of industrial generation. But the better quality of life provided by a decentralized ecological society would more than make up for that.
Anyway, industrial-scale renewables never could be self-sustaining rather than dependent upon a fossil fuel foundation. Therefore the whole quantity-vs.-quality debate is moot since the quantity couldn’t be sustained anyway.
All this must be placed in the context of humanity’s great need to abolish the onslaught of industrial poisons. This is a more immediate and dire threat even than climate change, as pressing as that’s becoming. (But these two crises are completely intertwined and cannot be separated. What drives one drives the other, and the only solution for one is the only solution for the other.) Many of those who tout industrial renewables want to use this to prop up poison-based agriculture. Obviously it won’t be possible really to do that once the necessary cheap, plentiful fossil fuels aren’t available. But the idea itself is pernicious since it’s part of the “delayer” form of denialism, the de facto denialism of the climate crocodiles shedding their usual crocodile tears.
That too is a reason to reject any version of the call for productionist Business As Usual, including the version which would have it all powered by industrial renewables. Such a program, if it were possible and actually carried out, would continue destroying the Earth and would continue to drive the climate crisis since it would continue destroying the forests, grasslands, and soil.
No aspect of the modern technocratic-corporate system is redeemable. Productionism, capitalism in itself is the most evil of all ideologies and systematically maximizes all other evils because it can’t use or tolerate anything that’s good in people or the Earth, only the bad, destructive, and wasteful.
We must reject concepts of absolute production and consumption, but rather think and speak only in terms of what’s sufficient and desirable. This includes the social/community element. All the worthless high-maintenance material junk which has been available to the Western rich and middle classes and their apes around the world have not made them psychologically secure, content, happy. On the contrary, it’s evident how unhappy, insecure, insane and deranged the “modern” human type has become.
Conversely, and as a corollary, people still close to an indigenous or national way of life, or who faithfully seek such a life, don’t need more “stuff”. We can benefit from modern agroecological science (which is knowledge, not imported junk like commodified seeds and poisons) and some of the medical knowledge (there too, it’s basic knowledge and low-tech practice which helps most, not modern high-maintenance technology; the fact is that most of the modern medical gains were achieved by things like better sanitation, while hi-tech modern medical science has had a much smaller and diminishing-returns role, and in any event is increasingly impossible financially for most people even in the West). Agroecology is not a revelation to people still close to the Earth, but builds upon and modifies traditional knowledge.
For the physical reasons of Peak Oil, the climate crisis and the many other environmental crises, driven by the socioeconomic and spiritual evils of productionism and corporate capitalism, all our ideas about energy and technology must mean finding the level which is best for the most constructive and fulfilled human experience and interaction within the ecology, our only home. The workable political and economic level for the ecology is also the best level for human happiness and contentment, on an individual and community level. All the evidence says this level is low in terms of the physical technological sophistication and grossness, high in terms of knowledge. The best example is the extreme contrast of the technologically highly ramified, but intellectually and scientifically very stupid and retrograde poison agriculture regime, vs. the “low-tech” but intellectually highly advanced agroecological paradigm. The same is true for money and finance. The same is true for everything else. And the same is true for energy, where the low-hanging fruit of fully developing passive solar knowledge to provide adequate heating for home and community use, joined with the necessary social transformations, is far more promising than generating extreme amounts of electricity amid an ongoing consumer atomism while the civilization attempts to murder the Earth and commits suicide in the process.

1 Comment »

  1. Point of use energy generation is most efficient because there is no line loss. For example, Montana exports energy, One set of windmills produce half the energy the state consumes, while they have several sets, plus hydropower and a worthless coal burning generator. But more than half the energy that Montana exports is lost in transit.The disruption caused by those huge, high voltage lines is rather pointless when you consider the pervasive availability of sun, wind, and tide.

    It makes sense to capture electrical energy as close as possible to point of use, especially since battery technology is leaping forward. A future where most homes are equipped with a lithium ion battery pack is easy to see. Combine that with solar, vertical wind, and small hydro or tidal generators as appropriate to the site, and we begin to approach energy self sufficiency.

    I’m not suggesting we scrap the grid. Sharing energy with neighbors who need it is basic kindness. Since energy is basically a free gift from the sun, we should share what we capture, especially since the wires are already in place. But let’s cut the meters out. No room for greed in my future.

    Of course, I’m being a starry eyed idealist. It will take all the fossil fuels available to produce the equipment to replace our present non-renewable sources. That’s not counting the energy for electric cars and increased population. Massive conservation, agroecology, and zero population growth are also essential for human survival, which has a slim chance, even if we all do everything we can at this late hour.

    Comment by VernonHuffman — July 30, 2018 @ 11:22 pm

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