Renewable Energy: The Real Cost

Bright Green Lies - MonkfishMonkfish

Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About it

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keither and Max Wilbert

Monkfish Book Publishing Company (2021)

Book Review

The main premise of this book is that fossil fuels, especially oil, are functionally irreplaceable – that there is no way we can run our present industrialized society on renewable energy alone. A “Bright Green” environmentalist, according to the authors, is one who believes that green technology and design, along with ethical consumerism, will allow our modern, high-energy lifestyle to continue indefinitely.

The bulk of the book examines the massive environmental degradation associated with each of the renewable technologies, alongside major economic obstacles that prevent them from replacing fossil fuels. The authors devote an entire chapter to Germany. Despite spending tens of billions of dollars annually subsidizing renewable energy, the country derives 11.5% of its energy (30% of it biomass from clear cut forests*) from renewables.

Solar

Mining and manufacturing processes that produce silicon PVC’s are enormously energy intensive. In addition to producing hundreds of tons of CO2, the process produces large amounts of hexafluoroethane, nitrogentrifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, greenhouse gasses tens of thousands of times more potent than CO2. They are also turning vast areas of China into wastelands where nothing grows and residents experience high cancer rates.

Wind

One Bright Green environmentalist calculates we must build 3.8 million 5MW wind turbines by 2030 to phase out our fossil fuel use by 2050. This will require 1.4 billion tons of steel for the towers and 1.9 million tons of copper for the nacelles.

The world’s largest iron mine is in an area of clear cut Amazon rainforest in Brazil. In addition to displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous Brazilians, it (like other iron mines around the world) disseminates toxic wastes that cause cancer, birth defects and lung disease in nearby residents. Steel manufacture is the third largest source of green house gases after fossil fuels and electrical generation.

The largest global copper mine is the Rio Tinto Kennicott open pit copper mine near Salt Lake City. In addition to contaminating the region’s groundwater, the mine has contaminated the Great Salt Late with mercury, arsenic and asbestos-related chemicals.

Recycling steel and copper doesn’t significantly reduce the massive amount of energy required (and carbon emissions produced). At present, roughly 80% of steel is already recycled (the rate’s even higher for copper). Steel’s massive carbon footprint stems from the fossil fuel energy required for the 3200 degree F smelting furnaces used.

In addition, expanding US wind energy to produce 20% of the country’s total electricity is estimated to result in the death of 1.4 million birds yearly from collisions with its turbine blades. This doesn’t include bird deaths from habitat destruction or collision with towers and power lines.

Energy Storage

Unlike fossil fuels, which store energy, renewable energy technology requires separate storage infrastructure for days when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

The most efficient storage batteries use 40-year-old lithium based technology. Fifty percent of the world’s lithium comes from high desert basins in Nevada, Tibet, Bolivia and Chile. Lithium mines in Chile’s desert basin have totally wiped out fish and unique desert vegetation, in addition to deprive the area’s subsistence farmers of scarce water resources. Lithium batteries aren’t recycled because it makes no economic sense: It’s complex, hazardous and more expensive than mining lithium.

Other storage technologies explored include

  •  green (produced from hydrolysis) hydrogen fuel cells – which suck up scarce clean water resources and release carcinogenic polytetrafluoroethylene (aka Teflon) to the environment.
  • pumped hydrostorage, which requires large artificial reservoirs similar to those used for hydropower schemes. At present artificial reservoirs are responsible for 23% of all methane emissions linked to human activities.
  • Compressed air – which is only 50% efficient and requires massive investment in CO2-producing infrastructure and freshwater consumption.

The conclusion the authors reach is that serious environmentalists should stop campaigning for corporate interests promoting renewable energy technology. What they recommend instead is

1. Campaigning to stop all environmental destruction caused by so-called green energy projects; oil, gas and coal extraction: urban sprawl; road building; industrial agriculture; deforestation; the destruction of coastal wetlands and peat bogs and the production of nuclear energy and weapons

2. Helping to heal the planet  by promoting natural carbon sequestration

  • through regenerative farming and pastoral management** and
  • restoring wild grasses, forests and seaweed.

3. Campaigning to downsize energy consumption by transitioning from a perpetual growth to a steady state economy.

4. Campaigning to reduce hyper consumption and overpopulation (by liberating women***).

5. Adopting the same attitudes and behaviors required to prepare for the collapse of civilization (which looks increasingly likely). In other words, working to rebuild local communities to be self-sufficient and respectful of all life (including human beings).


*At present Germany imports timber and wood chips from clear cutting operations in the US, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, Belarus, and Ukraine to feed its biofuel industry. Much of this timber is sourced from US Southern wetland forests that are being cleared four times faster than the Amazon.

**The nacelle is the cover housing that houses all of the generating components in a wind turbine, including the generator, gearbox, drive train, and brake assembly.

***Research reveals that increase the carbon content of our soils by 2% would offset 100% of our greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

****Empowering women to pursue secondary and tertiary education is consistently associated with lower fertility rates.

South Africa’s Gold Mines: Radiation Sickness and Lead and Arsenic Poisoning

Toxic City: The Cost of Gold Mining in South Africa

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary exposes the high level of uranium and heavy metal contamination in South African townships adjacent to giant gold mining slag heaps. South Africa’s mountains of toxic waste have been building up for decades – their gold mines produced 2.7 tons of toxic slag in 2017 alone.

Still largely white-owned, the country’s gold mines produce only 5 grams of gold for every ton of ore they process. They leave behind untreated slag with large quantities of iron, manganese, nickel, arsenic, lead, cobalt and uranium.

What’s most worrisome, of course, is the 600,000 tons of uranium contained in toxic dunes surrounding Johannesburg. This results in local radiation counts as high as those of the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine.

French investigative journalist Martin Boudot tests the hair of goats dying of radiation sickness and children afflicted with neurolodevelopmental disorders and other chronic illnesses. According to lab results, the latter suffer from lead and arsenic poisoning.

Thus far, South Africa’s corrupt ANC government has done absolutely nothing to regulate the open disposal of toxic slag by gold mines – nor to investigate the health problems of mainly Black township residents adjacent to toxic sites.

Local activists recently lost a court case against the gold mines because (owing to cost) they failed to present lab evidence of adverse health effects. They hope to reopen the case with the lab results Boudot has provided them.

The film, which can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Toxic City

How Polio Vaccine Didn’t Conquer Polio

 

Smoke, Mirrors and the Disappearance of Polio

Dr Suzanne Humphries (2011)

In this presentation, board certified nephrologist Dr Suzanne Humphries traces the real reasons for the decline of poliomyelitis (aka infantile paralysis) in the US. She begins by describing the natural course of polio virus infection. Ninety-five percent of infected patients have no symptoms whatsoever, 4% have fever, headache and flu-like symptoms and 1% develop poliomyelitis (paralysis). The reason paralysis develops is because a defect in cell mediated immunity (CMI)* allows the virus to enter the central nervous system.

Humphries has spent years tracking down toxic environmental exposures known to impede cell mediated immunity. She has identified four that closely correlate with increased rates of polio infection in the 1940s and 1950s.

The first was increased use of infant formula contaminated with high levels of DDT and arsenic (in the forties and fifties, dairy cows were heavily treated with DDT and arsenic to suppress infectious disease).

The second was heavy use of DDT, which can cause flaccid paralysis independent of infection with polio virus, in middle class schools and households. Children and their food were routinely sprayed with DDT in the 1950s to protect them against infectious diseases. In addition, there were a wide variety of household products containing DDT. Humphries believes this may be a primary reason why “infantile paralysis” was far more prevalent in upper middle class families than in poor families who couldn’t afford these products.

The third was an epidemic level of tonsillectomies (in the 1950s, 85% of American children received tonsillectomies). Not only does tonsillectomy remove the primary barrier preventing infectious bacteria from entering the airway and gut, but the surgical trauma allows the polio virus direct access to the central nervous system. The link between tonsillectomies and infantile paralysis has been well documented since the early fifties, and surgeons were strongly warned not to do these procedures during “polio season.”

The fourth was a big increase in consumption of white sugar and and flour treated with quick lime, bleach and other toxic chemicals to whiten it.

Nearly all of these environmental exposures (DDT, arsenicals, tonsillectomies, toxic sugar and flour bleaches) were either banned or drastically curtailed at the end of the 1960s. According to Humphries, this, rather than vaccination, was the primary reason for the so-called eradication of polio in 1979.

An important secondary reason was an improvement in diagnosis of infantile paralysis. Following the introducing of polio vaccine in 1954, the medical establishment, eager to promote its effectiveness, were more careful to separate out other common causes of paralysis that were being misdiagnosed as polio (DDT and arsenic poisoning, Guillain Barre and coxsackie virus infection).

Franklin Roosevelt, who actually suffered from Guillain Barre, was the most famous person to be misdiagnosed with polio.

Humphries also briefly touches on the disaster caused by the introduction of the Salk vaccine and the 1955 Cutter incident, in which 220,000 children were accidentally infected with live polio virus, resulting in 200 cases of permanent paralysis and ten deaths.


*In cell mediated immunity (CMI), which is separate from the humoral immunity (involving antibodies), special attack cells kill the invading organisms. Vaccines only stimulate antibody production – they have no effect whatsoever on CMI.

 

China’s Ecological Tragedy

when a billion

When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy it

 By Jonathan Watts (2010 Faber and Faber)

 Book Review

 (Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that nearly 1/5 of China’s farmland is contaminated with heavy metals, such as arsenic and cadmium, that are absorbed by rice and very damaging to human health.) 

The major premise of When a Billion Chinese Jump is the enormous threat China’s burgeoning middle class poses to climate stability with their insatiable demand for gas-guzzling cars and energy-intensive homes and consumer goods.

The reader comes away with an overall impression of an environmental war zone: severely contaminated rivers, aquifer depletion, clear cut forests, smog, landslides, toxic waste-related cancer villages, and mass species extinction

Watts makes no secret of his belief that catastrophic climate change can’t be prevented – no matter what the rest of the world does – unless China drastically curbs its reliance on coal for energy production.

China: the West’s Industrial Cesspool

Watts traces a variety of political, economic, and philosophical influences that have led to China’s current ecological disaster. Ironically the key factor behind the country’s rapid development – the outsourcing of western industry – is number one on the list. For the past thirty years, western companies have been exporting their industrial base to China and other Asian countries to exploit low labor costs. They have simultaneously exported the major ecological damage associated with heavy industry – along with mountains of defunct electronic devices for end-of-life disposal.

The second major cause of China’s ecological nightmare is the reality that most of provincial China operates outside the law. Despite China’s “totalitarian” central government real power, according to Watts, rests in a middle band of local party chiefs, factory owners, and foreign investors and outsourcers.

He believes centralized control of China began its decline with Mao’s death. In his view, each successive government is more politically “timid” than the previous. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has developed many far-sighted environmental regulations that the Politburo is afraid of enforcing at a regional and local level. They are terrified of imposing any measures that might impair development. Without elections, the central government has no popular mandate. This means that surging development and nationalism are the only source of their legitimacy.

An interesting side effect of this endemic corruption is that illegal protests and riots – usually over crop and health damage caused by pollutions – are extremely common. In most cases, rioting is the only way to ensure environmental protections are enforced.

The Chinese Environmental Movement

The book’s most interesting chapter concerns the Chinese environmental movement. When Beijing shut down the pro-democracy movement after the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, many pro-democracy advocates found it was safer to transplant their activism to the environmental movement. Especially after President Hu Jintao explicitly called for greater public, NGO (non-governmental organization) and journalistic oversight to expose companies that breach environmental regulations.

Despite nominal central support for greater openness and transparency, Chinese environmentalists still play a cat and mouse game with government authorities. National environmental networks have been forbidden since 2008, owing to deep Politburo suspicion of the role the CIA played in instigating the 2004-2005 color revolutions in Eastern Europe.

Watts talks about an invisible line circumscribing acceptable activism – activists, journalists and lawyers don’t know where the line is till they cross it and local security officials beat them up and throw them in jail.