From Stan Cox and Paul Cox: ‘100 Percent Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia’, Sept. 14, 2017, counterpunch.org
The authors open with a rueful narrative on last spring’s Peoples Climate March, noting that there were occasional banners advocating ‘systems change, not climate change’. But they note that the crowd was very electric with signs claiming the current and coming climate emergencies would be relatively simple after getting Herr dRump out of office and ‘converting to 100% Renewable Energy™’.
Their take was that most of the shiny, cheerful placards and slogans were inspired by two 2015 reports issued by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, claiming that the planet could meet 100 percent of future energy demand with solar, wind, and other “green” generation.
“A growing body of research has debunked overblown claims of a green-energy bonanza. Nevertheless, Al Gore, Bill McKibben (who recently expressed hope that Harvey’s attack on the petroleum industry in Texas will send a “wakeup call” for a 100-percent renewable energy surge), and other luminaries in the mainstream climate movement have been invigorated by reports like Jacobson’s and have embraced the 100-percent dream.
And that vision is merging with a broader, even more spurious claim that has become especially popular in the Trump era: the private sector, we are told, has now taken the lead on climate, and market forces will inevitably achieve the 100-percent renewable dream and solve the climate crisis on their own. In this dream, anything’s possible; Jacobson even believes that tens of thousands of wind turbines installed offshore could tame hurricanes like Katrina, Harvey, and Irma.
Cox and Cox speak about NOAA scientist and coauthors whose recent report critiqued Jacobson’s work (to threats of a law suit, apparently), and what they have in common in knowing that shortfalls in ‘renewable energy generation’ will fall to the fossil fuels and nuclear power they wish to eliminate…eventually.
“But the two sides also share other basic assumptions. They both seek to satisfy all future demand for energy solely through industrial production, technological improvements, efficiency, and markets, without any strict regulatory limits on the total quantity of energy consumed in production and consumption. The 100-percenters believe such a scenario is achievable while their critics conclude that it is not, but they agree on the ultimate goal: a permanent high-energy economy.
That part of the dogma, not the “100-percent” part, is the problem. America does need to convert to fully renewable energy as quickly as possible. The “100-percent renewable for 100 percent of demand” goal is the problem. Scenarios that make that promise, along with the studies that dissect them, lead me [us?] to conclude that, at least in affluent countries, it would be better instead to transform society so that it operates on far less end-use energy while assuring sufficiency for all. That would bring a 100%-renewable energy system within closer reach and avoid the outrageous technological feats and gambles required by high-energy dogma. It would also have the advantage of being possible.”
Now their Waking Up from the Dream section is far more complicated than I can grasp or begin to shorthand, but they cite a study by BP Heard and fellow researches that pretty much blow holes in the 24 Big Decarbonization studies they’d examined. After mentioning a 2016 paper in Energy Policy by Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery of Monash University in Australia demonstrating some of the critical factors that will limit total planetary ‘renewable’ energy:
“Moriarty and Honnery show that given all of these factors, expansion of renewable energy will hit a brick wall, a point at which as much energy is required to install and operate electric facilities as they will end up generating in their operating lifetimes. But even before that point is reached, it will have become pointless to expand generation capacity that has lower and lower net output. They conclude that as a result, future renewable output “could be far below present energy use.”
The statement that I do grasp in that section is this: “Studies did not account for the expected four- to five-fold expansion of the power transmission infrastructure that will be required to accommodate renewable energy.”
Underneath Unrepealable Limits:
“…ubiquitous deployment of technologies that either don’t yet exist or are only lightly tested and can’t be scaled up to the huge scales envisioned. They include underground thermal energy storage for virtually every building in the country, a full air transportation system run entirely on hydrogen(!), wind farms covering 6 percent of the entire land surface of the 48 contiguous states, an outrageous and unrealistic increase in ecologically harmful hydroelectric power, and a buildout of electricity generation capacity that hurtles along at 14 times the average rate of capacity expansion in the past half-century.”
“Finally, all production of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and especially hydroelectric energy has an ecological impact on the landscapes where it occurs. So if we are to halt our degradation and destruction of the Earth’s natural ecosystems, it will be necessary to declare large areas off-limits to the energy sector.”
I’d say “especially biomass, myself, as in turning agricultural land into mono-crops (corn, sugar cane, switchgrass, hemp, etc.) for energy ‘demands’: specially solar depending on storage…
But back to Saint McKibben and his ‘Keep it 100%! The Unimaginable is Now Possible; 100% Renewable Energy. We Can’t Settle for Less’, inthesetimes.com, Aug. 22, 2017 (some snippets):
“In any event, we no longer need to go slow: In the last few years, engineers have brought the price of renewables so low that, according to many experts, it would make economic sense to switch over even if fossil fuels weren’t wrecking the Earth. That’s why the appeal of 100% Renewable goes beyond the Left. If you pay a power bill, it’s the common-sense path forward.”
“One person who noticed the falling prices and improving technology early on was Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program. In 2009, his team published a series of plans showing how the United States could generate all its energy from the sun, the wind and the falling water that produces hydropower. Two years later, Jacobson and a crew of co-conspirators—including actor Mark Ruffalo—launched the Solutions Project to move the idea out of academic journals and into the real world. The group has since published detailed plans for most of the planet’s countries. If you want to know how many acres of south-facing roof you can find in Alabama or how much wind blows across Zimbabwe, these are the folks to ask.
With each passing quarter, the 100 percent target is becoming less an aspirational goal and more the obvious solution. Hell, I spent the spring in some of the poorest parts of Africa where people—for the daily price of enough kerosene to fill a single lamp—were installing solar panels and powering up TVs, radios and LED bulbs. If you can do it in Germany and Ghana, you can do it in Grand Rapids and Gainesville.”
“That’s always been the trouble with renewables: The sun sets and the wind dies down. Indeed, one group of academics challenged Mark Jacobson’s calculations this spring partly on these grounds, arguing that unproven techniques of capturing and storing carbon from fossil fuel plants will likely be necessary, as well as continued reliance on nuclear power. Yet technology marches on. Elon Musk’s batteries work in Tesla cars, but scaled up they make it economically feasible for utilities to store the afternoon’s sun for the evening’s electric demand. In May, at an industry confab, one California utility executive put it this way: “The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100 percent? That can be done today.”
“That means, of course, that renewables advocates need to emphasize the jobs that will be created as we move toward sun and wind. Already, more Americans are employed in the solar industry than in coal fields, and the conversion is only just beginning. Sanders and Merkley’s federal 100 percent bill, beyond its generous climate benefits, is expected to produce 4 million new jobs over the coming decades.”
And yes, he touts the ‘Just Transition for displaced workers, as well as the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) a pro-climate and pro-labor group advocating that such workers get a deal like the 1944 G.I. Bill: three years of full wages and benefits, four years of education and retraining, and job placement in community economic development programs. Lol, kewl, Bill, et.al. Any other Pipe Dreams you can offer? Okay, just one more…
“Sometimes, Brune says [Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club], all environmentalists have to rally together to work on the same thing, such as Keystone XL or the Paris accord. “But in this case the politics is as distributed as the solution. It’s people working on thousands of examples of the one idea.” An idea whose time has come.”
Yes, but about those ‘scalable’ Tesla batteries (or others); how many rare metals and minerals are in nations the US would love to plunder further (I mean ‘liberate’)? Lithium, coltan, and cobalt, for three, Bill? Have you ever bothered to say ‘quit consuming, ‘live simpler so that others might…live’, end factory farming and tout actually sustainable small organic farming, or Stop all Wars and Occupations? No, you zoom around on jets to protest Climate Change in very narrow ways. But could we surmise that your plutocrat funders might not like that? Betcha they even bought the tickets for all of the Indigenous folks who ‘led’ the various climate marches with you, most especially in Paris. Nice touch, though.
(added: rats; the tweet had also said that Bill’s been fighting Obama over Keystone XL for years!!!)
Hilarious, given ‘Tweeting while the World Burns’, Bill and his elite latté lib dem friends at the White House using Obomba’s campaign logo ‘protesting’ the XL pipeline…knowing that he’d Gone Fishin’. Here’s the Proud Saint on Twitter.
But back to Cox and Cox: “What are we hoping for?
“A generally overlooked but crucial point about high-energy, 100-percent renewable proposals is that they seek to meet future demand patterns in a way that would leave in place today’s great distortions in access to energy and other resources. The American economy would carry on uninterrupted with its overproduction, overconsumption, and inequality, while billions of people in poorer regions and countries would not get the access to energy that’s required for a minimally good quality of life.”
The 100-percent scenarios themselves, as well as the critiques of them, hold one especially valuable lesson. Unintentionally, they show in stark terms why rich countries need to start planning to live in the renewable but lower-energy world envisioned by Moriarty and Honnery rather than the high-energy world that the mainstream 100-percent scenarios envision. With society having zeroed in singlemindedly on acquiring enough energy to keep driving, flying, and overproducing as much as we want, there’s no reason to expect that other problems, including enormous distortions in economic and political power and quality of life, along with racial and ethnic oppression, would have been solved.”
The authors don’t add that BigAg factory agriculture and…the military have the first two highest carbon footprints in Amerika, either, nor did they instruct us as to what percentage of the world’s resources the US ‘consumes’, but those might have been beyond the purview of their critiques for this exposé.
Excerpts from lyricist Phil Rockstroh’s ‘Walking in an Anthropocene Wonderland: “But I’ll Know My Song Well Before I Start Singing“, Dec. 26, 2013
‘In the Anthropocene Epoch, in our manic flight from consequence and accountability and our attendant estrangement from empathic imagination, we have come to regard all the things of the world as fodder for our empty appetites, as commodified, meretricious objects that exist to distract us and then be discarded. By our actions, we are destroying the living things of the world by caprice. The fetishization of mechanization and its concomitant soulless and habitual reductionism has mortified our psyches, inflicting alienation that we attempt to remedy with the palliative of perpetual media distraction.
Devoid of the musk and fury of true communal engagement, this communion with electronic phantoms only exacerbates our alienation and decimates one’s ability to evince empathy, when, conversely, empathy is the quality required to feel the suffering that hyper-capitalist industrialization has wrought. If we are to pull back from the brink of extinction, we must lament what has been lost to cupidity.
Yet, one must resist the temptation to become intoxicated by grim prophesy. It is possession of the qualities of sadness and gravitas that separates an individual bearing accurate augury from false prophets. The tears of the world will saturate the soul of an individual who lives in the truth of our era of Climate Chaos and global-wide ecocide.
‘And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing…”
~ Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain Gonna Fall’
Allow the images of thinning polar icecaps, of oceanic acidification and depletion, and of the 150 to 200 species of plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals that become extinct on a daily basis to permeate your heart and mind. Thus, you will know the tears at the heart of things.
Then decide what your song will be, arrange it according to your individual talents, and start to sing. Because we must end this paradigm or it will end us.’ [large snip]
“Late capitalism’s putrefying paradigm has but one remedy for the devastation reaped by the system…insanely, more production and more consumerism. Bafflingly, despite the vast carnage inflicted and multiple promises betrayed, why does the storyline of the capitalist/consumer state still resonate with so many? Consumerism, in the US and elsewhere, is one of the few activities in the capitalist paradigm whereby fantasy and human libido merge (albeit a facsimile thereof). The mall, the big box store, even upscale stores and department stores are phantasmagoric agoras, much like the fairways of old style roving carnivals wherein the modus operandi of carnies was to bamboozle gullible, repressed rubes by bait-and-switch scams involving the commodification of curiosity and desire.”
(again, the rest is here; longish, but heart-piercingly, achingly relevant to the capitalist consumer culture and …heading toward the sixth extinction. the Last Roundup?)
Believe it or not, I have material for at least a Part II. ;-)