Border ‘will fall like the Berlin Wall’

Can renewables save the planet?

Morrison
Scott Morrison's government keeps promoting coal (cartoon by Paul Dorin @DorinToons)

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Australia’s daft prime minister and climate change laggard says he wants to solve the problem of global warming using technology.

What he means by technology are dodgy developments such as carbon sequestration.

Until that happens he plans to open new gas fields to provide feedstock for new gas-fired power stations, which he thinks produce less pollution.

The reason he is pushing both of these propositions is because he is hemmed in by a group of Neanderthals in his own Liberal Party and its coalition partner, the Nationals, who he needs to keep him in power.

By putting this power-at-any-cost mentality above the fate of the planet Scott Morrison is conveniently forgetting that proven non-polluting, renewable technologies like wind, solar, hydro, geo-thermal and tidal already exist.

Most other countries have recognised these technologies as the way forward.

We Australians should appreciate this belated embrace of renewables even as we feel excruciating embarrassment at our government’s disregard.

So, with the rest of the world heading in the right direction, humans will be saved despite our foolish prime minister.

Or will we?

My cynicism shrieks at me that something isn’t quite right here.

Why are conservative capitalists like Boris Johnson and Joe Biden so willing to phase out fossil fuels and embrace alternative energy sources?

Perhaps they’re not so different from Scott Morrison.

What Morrison wants is what Johnson and Biden want: to maintain their neoliberal world of consumer driven economic growth.

The difference lies only in Johnson and Biden believing they can do that using renewable energy sources.

What they envisage is business as usual being run by pristine and guilt free renewable energy companies which have given up on polluting, planet destroying fossil fuels.

Nothing changes except the way energy is produced to maintain the capitalist project.

We should be glad, it seems, that even if we have to continue to suffer the inequities of capitalism at least we’ll still have a planet on which to live.

Shouldn’t we?

Well, maybe not.

Providing enough electricity to satisfy the appetite of the capitalist project will require a massive increase in renewable energy.

This will necessarily entail huge amounts of metals such as lithium, cobalt, silver, copper, nickel, aluminium, rare earths and silicon sands.

The mining and processing of these minerals, many of which come from poorer countries, have the potential to cause major environmental damage.

Their processing will also require large inputs of energy.

Refining silicon sands for the manufacture of photovoltaic cells, for instance, is not only an energy intensive process but also a toxic one.

The heat required to manufacture aluminium for the frames of the solar panels and the protective high transparency glass to protect them is equally great and just as toxic.

And solar panels only last for about 25 years before they have to be replaced.

Logic suggests that great care needs to be taken with new energy developments so they don’t have a negative impact on the planet.

It also suggests that the world should be aiming for a much more modest energy output with less industrial production.

That aim hardly fits what Biden and Johnson and other first world leaders have in mind.

Comments

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Ross Wilkinson

And it doesn't matter what the mode is, there will always be the classic divide between the exploiters and the exploited.

Lindsay F bond

Whether of fate, and be it late, mate, its the rate.
Any direction, twisting torque, has loss in entropy.
Flora went solar right early. Will humans be clothed in wearable 'chlorophyllia'?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Right tools, wrong motives is the point I wanted to make.

I'm currently reading Scott Ludlam's book, 'Full Circle: A Search for the World That Comes Next'. Scott represented The Greens in the Australian Senate but after a citizenship quandary decided not to seek re-election.

In his book he leads the reader through all of the catastrophes and extinctions that have occurred in the world since it began to come into existence four and a half billion years ago.

What is happening now is small cheese compared to some of those events.

What stands out now, however, is that we are among the ones facing extinction. And all largely at our own hands.

The planet will still be here when we disappear and, as it has done many times before, will recreate itself.

Simon Jackson

Great insight. Renewables are definitely not perfect, or as they are even necessarily sustainable. But for now they are still better than the fossil fuel alternatives and would help reduce emissions.

With better leadership, perhaps we would stop subsidizing Big Oil and put that money (USD$180 billion in 2020, IEA: https://www.iea.org/topics/energy-subsidies) into research and development. For example, green hydrogen, batteries, bio-plastics, solar energy. We have solutions already. We're just not using them.

That might address the desperately urgent crisis we face - to not make things any worse. As Phil rightly points out, energy replacement is only one part of the sustainability problem. It's just the most urgent.

The capitalist, consumerist, and highly wasteful culture of the 'developed' nations is consuming Earth far faster than it can be replaced.

Even if we solve emissions and avoid climate change catastrophe, under 'business as usual' we would be still be destroying the only planet known to support life. (Whether that is intelligent life or not remains to be seen.)

I wrote a song, 'These Are The Glory Days', about where I think we are. In a 'phony war', the calm before the storm, these are the days we may look back on wistfully. We've started seeing the impact of climate change, but not yet enough to seriously buck the system.

The pandemic is only masking the damage of our emissions and our precarious state - by a short-term reduction in emissions, and by limiting people's ability to gather in mass protest. A false sense of security.

The built up demand will almost certainly mean a large bounce in consumption and emissions when (or if) we are able to return to 'business as usual'.

Paraphrasing Churchill's famous quote: "Renewables are the worst form of energy except for all those oth­er forms that have been tried from time to time."

We have a way to go to clean them up, but in the meantime, no other choice.
_________

Link below to check out 'These are the Glory Days' by Simon Jackson and The Sand Spiders - KJ
https://soundcloud.com/si_jackson/these-are-the-glory-days

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