Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism


Every day, the news about climate change and the harms that are sure to accompany it gets worse and worse. To many environmentalists, the answer is simple:power shift. That is, shift from fossil fuels to clean, green, renewable, alternative energy. Well-meaning concerned citizens and activists have jumped on the bandwagon.

The problem with this simple solution: Things aren’t as simple as they seem, and “there’s actually no such thing as a free lunch” when it comes to energy consumption and production. Further, what we’re often sold as “green” and “clean” is actually neither. In the spirit of these inconvenient truths came a timely and provocative book, perhaps missed by many, titled, “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism,” by Ozzie Zehner.

As Zehner writes in the book’s opening pages, “…this certainly isn’t a book for alternative energy. Neither is it a book against it. In fact, we won’t be talking in simplistic terms of for or against, left and right, good and evil … Ultimately, this is a book of shades.” The book does show some of the “shady” sides of the clean energy hype and in so doing, dampens the hype around it.

Steve Horn contact to Ozzie and ask him follow-up questions. Below are some points that can be considered by me as a cross-section of his thoughts. 

Initially the writer noting the differences between the modern environmental movement and the activists of the past concluding in that: “The modern environmental movement has rolled over to become an outlet for loggers, energy firms and car companies to plug into.

Moreover he claims that the relationship between fossil fuels and alternative energy resources is strong and we can’t just choose one of them. He mentions that: “There’s a misconception that once alternative energy technologies get off the ground, they can fly on their own. But alternative energy technologies are better understood as a product of fossil fuels. It’s notably more expensive to build a wind turbine today than it was a decade ago. Biofuels rely on petrochemical fertilizers and energy-intensive agriculture.” 

He also points out the fact that even though renewable energy sources, such as sun and wind, are free they end up being an expensive energy resource, even with massive subsidies. In addition based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) he notes that: “Finally, we have to consider the mining, health, pollution and waste problems of renewable technologies. For example, we are now learning that the solar cell industry is one of the fastest growing emitters of virulent greenhouse gases such as sulfur hexafluoride, which has a global warming potential 23,000 times higher than CO2“. He concludes by saying that “There’s no such thing as clean energy, but there is such a thing as less energy. Every energy generation technique has side effects and limitations. The best way to avoid these negative consequences is to use less energy overall. That strategy also has side effects and limitations, but at least those can be addressed within the laws of physics on our finite planet.”

Regarding the use of biomass and the term used for it “black gold” and after visiting a new tree-burning plant on the campus of the University of British Columbia he says that “If you live on an infinite planet and have a time machine, maybe biomass could be sustainable. However, on our finite world, forests are a depleting resource just like fossil fuels. They are also our lungs. That’s why burning them is the fastest route to civilization collapse.

If you ask him what he thinks about electric cars he will simply answer that electric car companies haven’t found a way around the physics in order to use less neergy, but they’ve created an illusion that they have.

If you are asking my opinion about his points of view I have to say that I find them very interesting and most of all unbiased. He isn’t against the alternative energy resources but he simply tries to see the truth behind the “miracle” of the renewable energy resources. We must use less energy, renewable or not. Renewable energy resources won’t save us if we don’t change our lifestyle. It is not a fairytale where the dragon is the fossil fuels and the prince the renewable ones.  You know what they say “All that glitters is not gold”. So think harder. 


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