Clean Energy Seems Like the Answer for the Climate Crisis – But Is It?

Jason Hickel’s article in Foreign Policy, “The Limits of Clean Energy” on September 6, 2019 hits the mark.  As we run to clean energy to stop the climate crisis, let’s pause and look at what that really means.  His article details it nicely.  It may not be what we want to hear but let’s not make the same mistake twice, as we have done with the fossil fuel industry and extreme extraction.

Let’s start with his best quote, “The only truly clean energy is less energy.”  We need to start there.  Unfortunately, most people are thinking that slapping some solar panels up and getting an electric car will do the trick.  His article opens up a whole new can of worms.

Switching from fossil fuel extraction to extracting the resources needed for renewables is just more mining.  As Hickel states, “mining has become one of the biggest single drivers of deforestation, ecosystem collapse, and biodiversity loss around the world.”

Manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels, along with the infrastructure to support and deliver that “clean” energy including batteries for storage tells another story.   There was a report issued by the World Bank in 2017, which detailed what this switch would look like, and it was only to support half of the existing economy.  Hickel goes the extra mile for the rest of the economy and the increase in resources for wind and solar would be “34 million metric tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead, 50 million tons of zinc, 162 million tons of aluminum, and no less than 4.8 billion tons of iron.”  We would need 40 million tons of lithium, which is a 2,700 percent increase for the batteries.  I wonder if this factors in the lithium needed for batteries for electric cars.

And because we have no real idea the cost of resource extraction . . . because we do not see it, his account of a silver mine in Mexico, and silver is needed for solar panels, paints an ecological nightmare that is happening right now.  Just picture this:

“Take silver, for instance. Mexico is home to the Peñasquito mine, one of the biggest silver mines in the world. Covering nearly 40 square miles, the operation is staggering in its scale: a sprawling open-pit complex ripped into the mountains, flanked by two waste dumps each a mile long, and a tailings dam full of toxic sludge held back by a wall that’s 7 miles around and as high as a 50-story skyscraper. This mine will produce 11,000 tons of silver in 10 years before its reserves, the biggest in the world, are gone.

How many other ecological nightmares exist right now along with this silver mine?  But then again, we live in this little bubble . . . so insulated from all the products we buy, except for the people who live near that disaster.

There are water issues and sociological issues in the countries where these resources are extracted.  Some of the resources will run out sooner than others.  We need to look before we go down this road and act wisely.  Please take a look at Hickel’s article.  We need to know the facts.

What we need to do is extreme reduction of our energy and consumption to start with.

Resource Depletion and the Climate Crisis

Resource depletion?  Who talks about it?  No one . . . if you ask me.  It is like a double-edged sword.  Resources and CO2 into the atmosphere, you can’t have one without the other.  Well, you can if you leave the resources in the ground, water, or wherever they are.  Our consumer economy . . . our Western lifestyle of . . . stuff . . . and, convenient energy . . . demands that we take everything we can out of the ground and wherever it comes from.  Extreme extraction is the term out there now, and it is . . . extreme.  But, we want to do something about the climate crisis, too.  Right?

A friend sent out an article by Jason Hickel in Foreign Policy called, “The Limits of Clean Energy,” September 6, 2019.  Can’t say I haven’t thought about some of the facts in the article before.  It is a lesson in Carrying Capacity 101.  He goes through many of the metals, etc. that we will need to replace our fossil fuel laden energy . . . not to mention the energy needed to produce it all.  We are in such a bad place.  How did we get here anyway?

Here is a little example of where we need to go.  Take Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse.”  The book details the societies that collapsed and the ones that made it, and the reasons for both.  Tipokia is one of the successful societies that made it, after listing many that didn’t like Easter Island, Chaco Canyon, the Anasazi, the Mayans, etc.

Tikopia is a prime example of how you adhere to the carrying capacity of your island or land area.  The island is in the Southwest Pacific Ocean and is roughly 1.8 square miles with about 1,200 people.  It has been that way for some 3,000 years.  And, it is remote so imports aren’t something they can rely on.  They have to be sustainable to survive.

First, population control is extremely enforced.  There is only so much room.  Next, pigs ate too much so they decided they had to go.  If they get any animal protein, it is mainly from fish, and even that has to be monitored.  Their food comes from fruits, nuts, and vegetables.  I don’t remember any discussion of wood for heat so securing lumber wasn’t a top priority, although there are trees there.  Pretty simple life.

And, that is the direction we need to go.  It is a long way to go from where we are.  Just mention population control or going without beef and dairy and people feel entitled to those things.  They don’t get that we are talking about our survival.

I highly recommend reading “Collapse.”  I haven’t finished the section on China . . . and I knew that it was polluted beyond anyone’s imagination . . . but it gets worse.  Anything depleted and polluted is that and more.  And, if it is important to be sustainable and provide your people with the necessary food, water, heat if necessary, etc., and you are importing wood for your timber needs, you aren’t sustainable.  That only depletes another country’s timber or the world’s timber, as in the wood from the Amazon Rainforest.  Importing puts a country or area in a vulnerable position if they can’t provide that resource.

What country is totally sustainable these days?  It is a global economy . . . who cares . . . get that resource from somewhere else.  I don’t have the data on how many areas or countries are sustainable, but my guess is it is very few.  And, they don’t live the lifestyle of a person in Tikopia.

So back to the resources needed to make this transition to clean energy.  Everything in the article is critical to know.  One item stood out for some reason . . . a silver mine in Mexico.  I mean . . . who knew?  All of the stuff we don’t know about . . . unreal.  Anyway, Hickel states that this silver mine is some 40 square miles.  That alone is mind boggling.  The “tailings dam full of toxic sludge held back by a wall that’s 7 miles around and as high as a 50-story skyscraper.”  The silver will be gone in 10 years, and this is the world’s biggest mine.

Yes, we think we can just go to the store and buy whatever we want.  And, create this clean energy and life goes on.

We need to get the facts . . . and now.


Why Aren’t We Acting Like This is a Climate Emergency?

This week I saw a video by Extinction Rebellion by Marc Lopatin and read a book by Jonathan Safran Foer . . . both dealing with . . . when are we going to act on the climate emergency.

Extinction Rebellion posted a video called, “Making the ‘Emergency’ feel like one” by Marc Lopatin this week.  He spoke about how vulnerable we are.  How vulnerable our food system is.  I couldn’t agree with him more.  That was one of the main reasons why I moved to my cabin in the middle of rural America.

The truth is that the grid provides our heat, food, electricity, and water.  And, the 1% running that show do not care if we live or die.  They only want to make money.  The class I took on the environment taught me about resource depletion besides all about the CO2 in the atmosphere.  That is when I realized I wanted control over my food, heat, and water.

Why don’t people take action all the while hearing this is a climate emergency?  We are insulated . . . in a bubble . . . pushing buttons to turn on our heat, electricity, our water.  Driving to Big Box Stores buying whatever we want from thousands of mile away without any thought of the ramifications of all of those actions.  And, we are stuck in many ways.

I am trying to grow my own food.  How many people really know how to do that?  I know I have so much to learn.  This year I made progress, and my soil is a little better than last year.  I grew a few more vegetables . . . but not enough to get through the winter . . . let alone the next growing season.  How many people have this as a goal?  How many people know this is important?

Where is the emergency?  There are forest fires, droughts, and flooding . . . but they are isolated incidences that we are not in the middle of if we don’t live there . . . and we forget . . . we go back to the day to day routine.  The Earth is warming up very slowly . . . too slow to think this is an emergency.  And, much of the evidence is far away.  Or is it?

In the area in Wisconsin where I live, there is so much more rain.  In the spring, the farmers couldn’t plant, and the in the fall, they couldn’t harvest.  As I harvested my pole beans, many pods had mold inside or were starting to sprout because of the moisture.  This November, several nights were at 4 degrees.  Really?  In November?  Never.  This week we had five cloudy days in a row.  Last night I was eating by candlelight because all my solar lights were dead.  I could say it was romantic . . . but not really.

If we look, we all are experiencing some form of the climate crisis where we live.  It is not life threatening right now for most of us  . . . but how long until it is.  Until we decide to act.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, “We Are the Weather:  Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast,” was a gift from a friend.  It is about the need for us to go to a plant based diet.  But, more than anything, it is a discussion on how we get people convinced to act and make that change.  He states that a plant based diet is not a silver bullet solution for the climate crisis . . . but we can’t solve the climate crisis without it.

Yes, how do we get people to act.  After that class I took in 2009, I was already a vegetarian but still on dairy.  A friend threw down the gauntlet and told everyone in our activist group that if we are environmentalists, we will be vegan.  He ruffled a lot of feathers . . . but I knew he was right . . . and that is how I got off of dairy.

Safran Foer brings up so many ways to look at the reality of the climate crisis . . .  calling everyone to act.  He brings up our relationships with each other as one of those ways.  I don’t know if my friends and family look at me as just an annoyance or an inspiration to become vegetarian and vegan.

There were many curious things he brought up in the book.  Who acted and who didn’t . . . knowing what we all know about the climate crisis or other atrocities in history.  Why don’t we make a sacrifice and change our eating habits.  It is our life we are saving, too?

Time is running out.  What will push us over the edge to act?  Will there be a tipping point?  I hope so . . . and I hope it is soon.

I highly recommend watching the Extinction Rebellion video by Marc Lopatin and reading the book by Jonathan Safran Foer.  They both just may get you to act.

The End of Mortgages Because of the Climate Crisis?

While the rest of us are freaking out about the future of the planet . . . and humanity . . . the financial sectors are worried about earning their last dollar.  And, if you think about it for a minute, that is a real problem.  It is most likely the reason the climate crisis is not being addressed at the drastic level it should be.  Well, the rest of us are concerned about our jobs being threatened but I personally don’t think as much.  I like to say these people at the top have so much money, what do they really have to worry about.  How about food when we can’t grow it anymore?

So, I came across this article that is a prime example of a financial sector worrying about their bottom line in the face of humanity going extinct.  Mortgages.  Yes, the 30-year mortgage is at risk of disappearing.  This would be mainly in areas of the US where the climate disasters are happening, which would affect the industry as a whole.  It seems that with all the flooding, agricultural losses, and forest fires due to the climate crisis, insurance companies are not able to keep up with all that risk.  So, they will not be covering those houses in areas ravaged by the climate crisis.  Hmm.

Now, we have their attention.  If we know how to speak the financial sectors’ language, they all of a sudden know that the climate crisis is real . . . finally.

In a segment on CBS News, Irina Ivanova wrote a piece called, “Climate change could end mortgages as we know them” on November 8, 2019.

In the article, Ivanova, states, “In California, for instance, 50,000 homeowners can’t get property or casualty insurance because of the increased risk to their homes.”  This wipes out a lot of home ownership, which means less taxes paid in those areas for schools, roads, etc.  I believe, if you don’t have insurance for your house, you don’t get a mortgage.

All of a sudden, they are looking for policy changes to address the financial issues from the climate crisis.

This past year, from Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, and countless other climate groups around the world, all have been demanding that the governments of the world address the climate crisis.

It may just be the financial sectors that push this to the table.


Let’s Add Steel and Cement to the Climate Crisis

In my estimation, most people think we can just change our current fossil fuel energy to renewable energy and it is business as usual.  A co-climate crisis activist friend of mine was even clueless after I told her what was on my list as solutions.  What are people thinking?  Everything we do and buy uses fossil fuels.

Well, if you go to your garden to pick a tomato, no fossil fuels are needed.  But, we have to produce all of our food then!  Yes, that is the direction we need to go.

So, when I read this article about heat intensive industries, like steel and cement, that have no real green energy alternatives, I thought, “Just add another massive challenge to this climate crisis.”  There are some solutions but they can double the cost.  The article, “This climate problem is bigger than cars and much harder to solve,” is by David Roberts in Vox on October 10, 2019.  Roberts does a great job detailing all of the energy options and their costs.  See the link below.

Well, and you might say, “Who cares” because it is something most of us rarely think about.  It is not something we buy at the store each week.  But, our whole economy depends on them greatly.  All of our buildings and roads use cement and steel.  There are also other heat intensive materials and processes like glass, fertilizers, refining, petrochemicals, etc.

Translated, this means that besides few options in green energy, these items are producing a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere when produced, as well.

So what do we do?  In my mind, and there are other people in this camp, we need to scale back severely our notion that we have to have continuous growth.  As a reminder, we are on a finite planet so continuous growth is going to hit a brick wall eventually.  Climate crisis aside, there are only so many resources.

We can live simply.  It is possible . . . but what type of economy will we have when we do.  We have to learn to let go of our current lifestyle.  There just may be something much better on the other side.



Gabe Brown Delivers on Regenerative Agriculture

About 200 people showed up last Friday, October 4, to hear Gabe Brown talk about regenerative agriculture.  It was a mix of farmers, students from a college in La Crosse, a group of Amish, some environmentalists, along with three people who drove all the way from Green Bay to hear Gabe talk.  It was put on by the Tainter Creek Farmer-Led Watershed Council, along with Vernon County Land & Water.  Woodhill Farms hosted it at their farm in Viroqua, WI.  The event was from 10:00 – 3:00 with a lunch included.  There was a $10 fee with all proceeds going to improving the Tainter Creek Watershed.

And who better to talk about regenerative agriculture than Gabe.  He lives and breathes it.  He has been doing it since 1993.  In a really bad debt-ridden situation at his farm in North Dakota, he took the plunge and never looked back.  The proof is in his soil.

How do you change the farming system you have been using all of your life to something you are thinking might not work?  Gabe hammered home that you have to see things in a new way, and it is about profits and not yield.  Several times he said this system works on all soils.  He mentioned what he hears all the time, “But, Gabe, it won’t work on my soil.”  He retorts with a, “Yes, it will!”

Slide after slide showed how important the work going on underneath the soil is.  Regenerative agriculture is basically no till, planting cover crops, and rotation.  By using no till, that keeps the carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere, which is a big plus for the climate crisis.  Cover crops add nutrients to the soil.  It can be used with grazing or row crops.  You have to have all three to be successful.  It is all spelled out in Gabe’s book, “Dirt to Soil.”

You don’t have to tell any farmer that they are losing soil.  Here in the Driftless area with all of the ridges and hills to contend with, erosion and runoff is a big problem.  Monoculture crops using fertilizers and pesticides alone will deplete the soil.  It is what to do about it, and regenerative agriculture has the solutions.  It also reduces or totally eliminates the need for fertilizers and pesticides.  Who doesn’t want to save money on those?

There are several other issues that farmers may not be aware of.  That is, the runoff of those chemicals into lakes, streams, creeks, and rivers creates dead zones.  That hurts the ecosystems, along with the fish count.  Making sure your soil is covered all the time, which is another thing Gabe commented on over and over again, helps the people living in the valleys below.  It can help reduce flooding.  Cover crops give that water somewhere to go, and better soil can hold that extra water, too.

All in all, it was a great event sending everyone home with great solutions to improve their soil and the climate crisis.  Gabe was asked how the future of regenerative agriculture looks.  He said he is booked solid with speaking engagements until 2024.


Now there’s a word . . . and no one talks about it.  It definitely needs to happen to address the climate crisis . . . to really solve the climate crisis.  I realized this when I had an “embodied energy” moment some years ago.  Once you get on the train of reducing your carbon footprint . . . or water footprint . . . or zero waste . . .  embodied energy is not far behind.

For anyone not familiar with the term embodied energy, it is basically all the energy needed to produce a product or service.  It could be anything from a house to snacks you buy in the grocery store and everything in between.

Let’s take a box of raisin bran.  Innocent enough.  First, a field had to be plowed to grow the wheat to make the flakes, then trees were cut down and processed to make the box, oil was extracted for the sleeve and all the transportation for all of the ingredients, grapes were grown and dried into raisins, the wheat was milled and processed to make the flakes, a printing press was used to get the graphics onto the box, and it was all brought to another facility to become raisin bran.  All in all, there were about 8-9 manufacturing plants to make that one item on the grocery shelf.  That does not include all of the conveyors and machinery in each of those factories.  Those factories needed to be heated or cooled and all have electricity.

And, what does that mean?  Tons of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere from all the fossil fuels needed to get that one product manufactured and transported to the store.

That is what is necessary for one product.  Now go through that process for each and every item in a grocery store.  Yes, my head wants to explode at the thought.  No wonder China is so polluted.  And before we blame China, that is where the majority of our products come from.

And, at the end of it all, let’s ask ourselves if we really need that raisin bran?  If we are really concerned about the climate crisis we are in, can’t we all just have oatmeal for breakfast?

So, back to deindustrialization.  Just switching from fossil fuels to solar and wind is not going to cut it as a climate crisis solution.  We like to focus on the energy we use in our homes and buildings, along with the transportation we use.  We never look at the energy we use to make the products we consume.

Besides all of the CO2 emitted from all the convenience products we use and consume, we must also remember we live on a finite planet.  Read Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse.”  He reminds us all what “carrying capacity” is all about.  Look at Easter Island.  Some societies made changes to survive and some did not.  Will we?

Richard Smith’s article in Truthout in November 12, 2014 titled, “Climate Crisis, the Deindustrialization Imperative and the Jobs vs. the Environment Dilemma” talks about what Naomi Klein did not in her book, “This Changes Everything.”  She blames capitalism for the climate crisis we are in . . . but then what?

Granted, it takes guts to talk about what really needs to be done, and Richard does it.  I highly recommend reading that article.  Eliminating all the products we don’t really need will create millions of unemployed people.  What type of economic system will we wind up with?  Not a comforting thought without something to replace our capitalist/ consumer economy.  But, what choice do we have if we want to survive?  Then again, we may end up with a better standard of living by growing our own food and creating community with a local economy.  There are solutions if we look at things in a new way.

Deindustrialization . . . try that out as a topic at the dinner table sometime.