RENEWABLE ENERGY VERSUS LIVING SIMPLY

 

            An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal last week by energy tech expert and author Mark Mills questions the entire renewable energy agenda as incorrect.  Just a couple of tidbits will help set the flavor.

             If Paris accord solar goals are reached, by 2050 disposal of solar panels will be twice as much weight as today's global plastic waste stream.  Fabricating one normal battery for an electric car requires mining 500,000 pounds of material--both the usable and unusable.

             A wind turbine costs 900 tons of steel and 2,500 tons of concrete, not to mention 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic.  The column continues in this ilk prophesying environmental, political, and economic hardship going toward a solar and wind power future. 

             This is another one of those debates missing the most important points.  The more important point is what is getting suppressed.  In the late 1960s numerous folks developed 100 mpg carburetors; each was bought out by either petroleum companies or car manufacturers and the patents or ideas shelved.  To kills these breakthroughs is unconscionable.  In earth justice, it's certainly criminal.

             Today, numerous geniuses are developing major energy breakthroughs, many of them literally in basements and garages, but they don't attract investors for one reason or another.  I've met some of them in my travels; I'm not at all concerned that we're going to run out of energy.  Goodness, 40 years ago a farmer set a little windmill on his farm pond to run an electrolysis machine to separate hydrogen from oxygen.  He ran his whole farm on hydrogen.  The exhaust?  Water.

             Another fellow developed a turn-key wood-fired steam engine.  That's what I want.  You get charcoal, incentivized biomass stewardship, in-situ reliance and heat all at the same time.  What's not to love?  But alas, he couldn't punch through costly manufacturing in the U.S. and was held up trying to get it done in India. 

             The world is literally awash in decentralized doable options like this that simply aren't getting traction.  I'm not opposed to solar or wind, but their intermittence and environmental cost, like this op-ed piece points out, is enormous.  Why not use tree leaves as solar panels?

             Micro-hydro.  Dig ponds to stop flooding and slowly drain them through little turbines.  Hydrate the landscape.  The problem with putting all our money in one thing, like solar panels or windmills, is that it keeps us from developing democratized, localized, customized, decentralized solutions in our backyards.

             The second point is how much can be done by simply living simply.  Stay home.  Grow food.  Enjoy cooking.  Forget fashion.  Growing tomatoes is certainly as exciting as kicking a ball.  Who needs Hollywood?  Who needs Las Vegas?  Who needs McDonald's?  Who needs factory farms?

             Simplification and intentionalization can certainly compete with renewable energy.  Lots of little lifestyle changes add up to major energy savings.  I remember reading an article about the imbedded cost of a new car.  The gist was that unless you had a 50 mpg car that lasted a million miles, it was far and away environmentally better to buy a used gas guzzler and squeeze more use out of all that imbedded energy.  Fabricating a new car takes more energy than all the gas that car will burn in its lifetime.  So drive your old car another two years.

             If you come and visit our farm, you won't see solar panels.  I'm not opposed to them.  At the same time, I appreciate the rare earth metals and all the mining and then the waste stream imbedded in them.  I'm waiting for my wood-fired steam engine.  We can put men on the moon, but we can't build a simple turn-key wood-fired steam engine?  Really?  Meanwhile, wildfires burn enough U.S. biomass each year to power the entire country.  Let's harness it, along with a cadre of other things.

             What have you done to reduce energy use?