My Turn: Adjusting our priorities to avoid the pitfalls of green energy

For the Monitor
Published: 11/28/2021 8:00:40 AM
Modified: 11/28/2021 8:00:12 AM

Last year we added 18 solar panels to the roof of our home. Despite the western exposure, our electric bills have been significantly reduced. I’ve also been thinking about electric cars and have been a full supporter of the Green New Deal. But a book I recently read has me questioning all of this.

Bright Green Lies makes a strong case that the development of green energy can be as destructive to the planet as fossil fuels. It makes no sense to switch to renewable energy, whether solar, wind, hydro or biomass, as long as the removal of finite resources is required. It makes little difference to the Earth what rationale we use to destroy it. Only an immediate cessation of all practices that kill living systems can save us. The only way to restore a forest is to stop cutting down trees.

Every form of green energy is based on mining, authors Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert say. Computer chips, solar cells, lithium-ion batteries all depend on these minerals. The demand for these minerals continues to grow exponentially as we switch from fossil fuels.

The more rare metals we remove from the Earth the harder they are to extract and the more harm their removal causes. The worst examples occur far from our eyes, in Africa, China and South America. Mining should be outlawed as a crime against nature and humanity. There are no green mines.

A recent article in the New York Times revealed the greed and exploitation behind the rush by China to extract millions of tons of cobalt from a Congolese mine. A Tesla longer-range vehicle requires about 10 pounds of cobalt, more than 400 times the amount in a cellphone. Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt production comes from the Congo, where this wealth does not trickle down to the people.

A Washington Post article printed in the Monitor exposed the cost to the environment of a proposed new road through the Brooks Range wilderness of Alaska to extract copper and other minerals. Similarly, the rush to extract minerals becoming available in the melting Arctic adds to the madness.

So, if we must end our dependence on fossil fuels because of the carbon dioxide they release and the development of green forms of energy also destroys the environment, what are we to do?

We must immediately stop devouring the planet and embrace a simpler, sustainable world, the authors write. All new drilling, mining and logging must come to a halt. Dams must begin to be dismantled so the flow of our natural waterways can be restored. Modern agriculture must shift to regenerative, small-scale farming. A paradigm shift in values is required.

Perhaps a new way of life would in part resemble the Israeli kibbutz I lived on for a year in 1966. Everyone enjoyed a good standard of living. Most of the food consumed was grown on the farm. Several businesses provided additional income. Food, clothing, shelter and daycare were free. In many ways, it was a model for a high-quality, sustainable life. No one was hungry or un-housed. No one had to choose between rent, food or childcare.

We moved to rural New Hampshire nearly 50 years ago to live lightly on the land and to grow vegetables in our front yard. The influx of people who have moved here the past two years seek a simpler lifestyle, one free of traffic and lines and pollution. Gardening and small-scale farming are on the rise. Could small New England towns be models for a more sustainable civilization?

Our wasteful acquisitive lifestyle cannot be sustained at the current rate of growth, either by fossil fuels or green energy. We’re literally drowning in stuff. The world’s shipping lanes are clogged with things we think we need. We’re having a collective heart attack caused by overconsumption.

Now that I’m more aware of the hidden costs of many green products, I’m going to hold off buying an electric car as long as possible, as well as anything else electronic that’s not really necessary. I’m going to shop locally for fewer gifts that are meaningful and lasting.

The solutions proposed at the Glasgow Climate Conference, according to this book, are futile. World powers continue to kick the ball down the road with no call for a more sustainable world or systemic change in values. No wonder Greta Thunberg is irate.

The message of Bright Green Lies is an unsettling and urgent one I hope becomes an important part of the environmental conversation.

(Sol Solomon lives in Sutton.)

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