We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On the Smallness of Green Energy

It takes a lot of chutzpah to quote E.F. Schumacher in an editorial that claims nuclear and fossil fuels have “smaller footprints” than renewable energy. Yet, Robert Bryce apparently thought he get away with it by referencing “small is beautiful” as a central theme in his June 7, 2011 op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Gas is Greener.”

A little background: Schumacher was among the first economists to make the argument for an economy based on renewable resources. In his book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973), chapter 4 (part 2) is titled "Nuclear Energy-- Salvation or Damnation?" If Mr. Bryce had read the book, he would know that Mr. Schumacher emphatically concludes the latter, by referring to a nuclear economy as "a transgression against life itself."

This abuse of Schumacher, and its implications are embarrassingly irresponsible. It would be like quoting Gandhi in an article applauding the merits of sweatshop labor for poverty alleviation.

The California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) does not require “energy sprawl.” California’s largest utilities get roughly 18% of their energy from renewable sources already. In order to get 33% renewable sources, one approach would be to start by reducing consumption by focusing on energy efficiency without building any new power plants. Californians could also add small-scale distributed de-centralized wind and solar on rooftops and in backyards (Schumacher would approve) without even touching the desert habitat that Mr. Bryce is so concerned about. In fact, Californians have connected more than 3,000 MW of rooftop solar panels since 2006.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bryce’s estimates for the land impact of wind farms ignores the fact that individual turbines occupy less than an acre, and that 95% of land in a wind farm can continue under its present use after the project is constructed, unlike land dedicated to conventional energy technologies.

Speaking of "energy sprawl," Mr. Bryce doesn't seem concerned with the Appalachian wasteland desecrated by mountaintop removal coal mining, the extraterrestrial landscape of Northern Alberta's Althabasca tar sands, Wyoming's coal strip mines, the Marcellus shale watershed in New York and Pennsylvania where tap water is now flammable due to irresponsible drilling for natural gas, or the Pacific coast of (you guessed it) CALIFORNIA where dairy cows now contain trace elements of nuclear radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown.

The concern of "energy sprawl" may lead Mr. Bryce to ask what it might be like to live next door to another kind of power plant... he could start by asking our neighbors in Pilsen, 42 of whom died prematurely in 2010 due to the emissions of ComEd's Fisk and Crawford power plants.

This editorial should be seen for what it is: a shameless defense of status quo energy consumption and short-sighted economics in direct opposition to the overwhelming majority of public opinion which favors renewable energy development, especially wind and solar.

For what it's worth, I'd be happy to send Mr. Bryce my copy of Small is Beautiful so he can understand how Schumacher actually feels about comparing fossil fuels to renewable energy:

“The essential difference between non-renewable fuels like coal and oil on the one hand, and renewable fuels like wood and water-power on the other cannot be simply overlooked. Non-renewable goods must be used only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or extravagantly is an act of violence…”

Perhaps Mr. Bryce actually believes that all American power plants are indeed “indispensable” and the USA’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is not “extravagant.” Nevertheless, in an economy that runs on 92% fossil fuels and nuclear power Mr. Bryce has the audacity to claim that these energy sources are somehow smaller and therefore “greener” than the wind and the sun.

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