Renewable energy – is it really sustainable?

    Wind farms in Hesse

(photo courtesy Stephen Mosel cc-by-2.0)

There is a school of thought amongst the green movement that renewable energy is not a solution to the ecological problems facing us, but rather another prop for our unsustainable industrial lifestyle.  This article – An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists – published recently is interesting as it is written by, to quote the author, ‘a recovering renewable energy advocate’.

My main critique of the article is that the fundamentalist tone in which it deplores modern electronics without any acknowledgement that he is using the internet to publish and distribute the article*. Disappointingly the author also fails to discuss any solutions or alternatives. He cites industrial societies as being the cause of current ecological problems but does not offer any meaningful vision of what it would mean to live within the limits of our planet.

That aside I think it is important to remember that building infrastructure for renewable powered energy – be it wind, solar or hydro- requires mining and all the associated damage to the environment. So while renewables are a good way to cut down carbon emissions we should not have the mentality that having renewable energy allows us to use as much as we want. Rather the combination of renewable energy AND reduction in energy use is a critical, but not the only, part of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle.

‘Destruction minus carbon does not equal sustainability’ – Paul Kingsnorth

Budd, Alex 2013. An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists. Deep Green Resistance New York.

Kingsnorth, Paul 2012. Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist. Orion Magazine.

*electricity used for computers and internet is a significant contributor to global carbon emissions eg see – Graham, Michael 2009. ‘The internet is becoming more energy efficient but total energy use is climbing’.  Tree Hugger.

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