The Lie of Clean Energy

While nature gradually goes dark during the winter months, and plants and animals decrease their metabolic activity almost down to zero, there is one species that represents a bizarre aberration to the planet’s seasonal metabolic patterns.  Humans continue to consume throughout the winter, their energy use increasing while most other species go into hibernation.

Dependent on their electric lights, gas heating and automobiles, humans represent an immense anomaly in the natural energy grid of the planet.  This energy grid was once limited to sunlight, chemical energy from food, and geothermal sources.  By unearthing fossil fuels and harnessing electrical energy, humans have not only expanded this grid for their own selfish use but decimated the planet in the process.

Our civilization has always focused on “harnessing” energy rather than managing energy use, the assumption always being that energy and other resources are infinite; therefore, if there is a lack, we should simply harness more energy rather than manage what we are using.  This belief became yet another important foundational “truth” in our civilization’s exponential expansionist model.  A “no limits” policy on energy and water use still exists throughout humanity.  The more the better, and any increase in demand is a legitimate reason for an increase in natural destruction to achieve the new energy quotas.  We still believe that there are no limits: the more energy, the better.  Whether it is fossil fuel or food, humans stash away as much energy as they can.  And while everyone wants to have more of it, no one ever knows how to spend it wisely. 

This foundational belief is also the reason why sustainable development has not focused on managing energy consumption, but on further ramping up energy production.  The doctrine that energy production can be ramped up in a sustainable manner is a capitalist myth and an oxymoron, because “sustainable” energy is a myth all to itself.  Wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries barely ever compensate for the carbon footprint of their construction, transport and operation by the time they have reached the end of their lifetime and become useless, toxic landfill waste.

We need solutions to manage our energy use, not to service its exponential increase.  By continuing this path all we are servicing is natural destruction and inequality.  As long as we have an insatiable need for energy and an unwavering crave for the latest fashion, there will be petrochemical oligarchs and sweatshops. There will be climate breakdown and extinction.

“Green energy” is the biggest successful re-brand ever perpetrated.  An entire for-profit industry successfully convinced consumers that it had “cleansed itself”, when in fact it merely updated its technological approach to natural destruction.  

The “renewable energy industrial complex”, aka the fossil fuel industry, has not changed.  It still relies on an economic growth model of increasing demand, rather than finding ways to downsize our demand.  It still focuses on how it can service this increasing energy demand and make money for its investors.  What the renewable energy industrial complex ignores is that making our energy renewable is not a technology issue, but a social issue.  It is about changing our lifestyle, not producing more energy from sources that are anything but “green”. 

But social issues are the first issues governments run away from.  Our society has already proved that it would rather create mini suns in mega particle colliders, than fully use the energy of the one, real sun that is already there, and which is more than enough for all of us.  It has proved that it would rather pursue the holy grail of developing carbon capture technology, when there is one already in existence in the form of trees.  The renewable energy industrial complex wants to have its cake and eat it too.  We are constantly fed myths about how renewable energy will allow us to continue to ramp up our energy use with the aid of powerful renewable energy, as if the production of solar panels and EV batteries has no impact or carbon footprint. 

The truth is that the concepts of “renewable” energy and “sustainability” were corrupted and weaponized almost at their inception, and before they could even take hold.  Sustainability became the art of deluding consumers into buying products that magically de-consume themselves.  Greenwashed renewable energy investments became nothing but a shopfront for environmental crime, and a hopeless cat and mouse game kicked off between “green” technology and regulation, whereby the renewable industrial complex is allowed to destroy Earth faster than any new environmental legislation can catch up.  Almost every product now has its “green alternative”: its more “presentable sister”, who however is just as sinister and just as destructive on the inside.

We are more preoccupied with the ephemeral construction of the edifices that our civilization produces, rather than their re-cyclability and re-usability.  It is profoundly ironic that humans have put so much effort in creating two materials that will last forever i.e. plastics and radioactivity, yet themselves they have become an evolutionary dead end.  Even if humans went extinct, under ideal conditions much of the plastic they left behind wouldn’t decompose until at least 1,000 years into the future. The Anthropocene would be followed by the silent millennium of the Plasticene.

All “sustainable” solutions marketed by politicians and corporations come from people like you and I who just needed a job: they were once hired as consultants to work for a company and paid salaries to develop “renewable” technologies, for the ultimate purpose of winning contracts, earning investments, selling products, and making a profit for their stakeholders.  Inherently profit-motivated and human-centered, sustainability is an oxymoron and will never be “sustainable”, simply because nature was never included in the long list of stakeholders.

In fact, the majority of humanity itself is usually not included in the stakeholders list either.  Profit, capitalism and consumption benefited only segments of human society throughout our history, and have always, without exception, destroyed Earth in the process.  All that remains after the destruction is stale greenwashing propaganda created by marketers and PR gurus living in their own sustainability delusion bubbles, spending their time managing perceptions and magically turning brown to green.   They become self-proclaimed “Earth defenders”.  But Earth is not waiting to be “saved” by anyone.  Earth is waiting to be left alone.

The reality is that, in order to manufacture anything “sustainable” or “clean”, you always have to pollute something else.  At the heart of this is the human model of manufacturing and economic growth itself, which puts profit before purpose.  Manufacturing and economic growth are both dirty processes because they are based on depletion and exploitation, as this is the production model that results in maximum profit.  Almost everything that humans have created during their brief history on this planet had to involve some element of natural destruction.  There are hardly any products in our civilization for the birth of which something or someone didn’t have to die or be exploited.  Almost everything man-made is cursed with the karma of a spurned planet. Meanwhile human rights and the protection of the environment are, and have always been, the biggest impediments to profit.  No technological know-how, no renewable energy technology or Green New Deal will ever fix a black heart: a heart that wants to exploit, to consume, to turn people and beings into products and profit

Both primitive and modern humans suffered from the same, infinite delusion that they can continue to deplete and exploit until the end of time. They both failed to realise that the day we ceased to have natural predators, was the day we became responsible for controlling our own population size.  Thanks to capitalism and the industrial revolution, the cheap mass production of goods resulted in the cheap mass production of more humans. 150 species are made forever extinct each day, just as 385,000 additional human babies are born into a world of diminishing resources. That’s 2,500 more humans per day per extinct species.  We are replacing the Creation with copies of ourselves. Every new baby brought into this collapsing world not only constitutes child abuse, it is also a CO2 mega bomb that by far dwarfs the carbon footprint of any other single human activity on the planet.  We are literally the weeds in an overgrown Garden of Eden, the algae that is suffocating the river of life.  And that, is definitely not sustainable.

George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books

5 thoughts on “The Lie of Clean Energy

  1. Hi George,
    Blaming an “ism” is missing the root cause. Any system created by humans is the result of human nature, individual heredity, cumulative experiences since conception and after birth(all embodied and physical), and the then present external conditions( environmental and cultural.) We are as selfish as other species, and cooperate when that results in more energy throughput and well-being for the clan/tribe.

    Jay Hanson wrote an explanation of overshoot a decade ago, building on the work of several giants. See:

    1. As a biologist I completely agree. And that “ism” is exactly the result of that inherent biological greed and selfishness. I’m a Doomer exactly because destroying this planet is our destiny, as much as that sounds crude, hopeless, defeatist and misanthropic. My mission as always is to shine the light.

  2. “The reality is that, in order to manufacture anything “sustainable” or “clean”, you always have to pollute something else”
    Or exterminate something else I might add ;
    Associated Press article quote;

    The Biden administration on Thursday proposed a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill eagles, amid growing concern among scientists that the rapid expansion of renewable energy in the U.S. West could harm golden eagle populations now teetering on decline.

    The federal government already issues permits to kill eagles. But Thursday’s proposal calls for new permits tailored to wind-energy projects, power line networks and the disturbance of breeding bald eagles and bald eagle nests.

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