Calling Something “Green” Doesn’t Always Make It So

Blog, Environment, Ben Eisen

A fascinating piece in today’s Globe and Mail about some of the environmental problems that are created by the installation and use of “green energy” technologies. From the column:

The cruel laws of physics dictate how low power densities and low efficiency of conversion of renewable resources inevitably lead to a much larger environmental footprint. Mismatch between available useful energy from renewable resources and relatively high power densities of modern final energy use means that large-scale diffusion of energy from renewable resources will require anywhere from 100 to 10,000 times the land area compared to conventional resources. Such an expansion of land-use requirements, in relation to the useful unit of energy output, does not rule them out, but they do raise a red flag about “green” assertions.

The unexamined proposition has been that if it is declared to be green, it deserves no further scrutiny or analysis. The large land footprint of renewable sources of generation often collides with other purposes for use of land. This will set in motion a dynamic of social friction with unintended, unpredictable consequences.

For a while now, “green energy” has been fashionable and politicians all around the world have  been tripping over themselves to provide subsidies, fund projects and otherwise demonstrate their green bona fides. This Globe piece is helpful in reminding us that aside from the possible negative impact this sort of government activity can have on the economy, there may also be significant environmental and social impacts.

The worst example of this may have been the heavy subsidization of biofuels, which led to the destruction of huge swaths of rainforests around the world as people cleared the land in an effort to cash in on a government created biofuel bubble. This piece suggests that there may be similar (though perhaps less serious) negative unintended consequences associated with aggressively pursuing other “green” energy technologies like wind and solar.