Can Renewable Energy Outshine Fossil Fuels?
I'm not popular with environmentalists when I tell them that renewables can only provide a small fraction of the energy that fossil fuels do in powering industrial civilization. In fact, I was recently called a liar at the screening of an anti-nuke film for suggesting so.
Many greenies imagine that someday we'll power our plasma TVs and computers with electricity from wind turbines and solar panels, drive electric cars to corporate jobs and fly biofuel-powered jets to European vacations. In short, they believe that our lives will be essentially unchanged when we switch from a dirty, fossil-fuel regime to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
To some environmentalists, what gets in the way of the renewable revolution is federal policy that favors greedy corporations. I've even been accused of secretly working for these corporations to spread disinformation about the promise of renewables.
But the question remains - can we live a high-energy lifestyle that doesn't pollute the atmosphere with climate- changing gases or depend upon finite fossil fuels? Can we keep our iPods and Blu-rays without destroying the planet?
Renewable enthusiasts claim that enough sunlight falls on the earth in one hour (or minute, depending on whom you talk to) to meet world energy demand for one year. And that if we covered just a small fraction of the planet's surface with solar panels we could produce all the energy we need - and more. To examine these claims of renewable energy's essential equivalence with fossil fuels, let's start with some basic principles:
1) Nearly everything is solar energy
The sun is the ultimate source of most of the energy we use, but we have to capture that solar energy in ways we can use it. Nature has its own "solar collectors" in the form of biomass (plants, trees), which have evolved over millennia to efficiently capture sunlight, and which we then burn, releasing carbon dioxide and energy. But the U.S. uses more energy each year than the amount the country produces annually through photosynthesis, the process by which solar energy is captured by U.S. forests, food crops, lawns, etc.
Fossil fuels are prehistoric biomass stores of plants and animals that have been concentrated over millions of years from intense geological heat and pressure into an extremely dense form of energy. Where solar panels can daily collect current solar energy, we daily burn oil from millions of years of solar energy - quite a difference.
2) It takes energy to get energy
To extract energy, process it into a form we can use and transport it to where it's needed requires large amounts of additional energy. Oil and gas wells must be drilled and pumped and the fuel transported and refined. Coal must be mined by stripping away land, digging tunnels or blowing up mountaintops. The materials used in solar photovoltaic panels must be mined and the panels manufactured. Corn for ethanol must be fertilized and mechanically-harvested. But also required is the energy to build the machines and facilities used throughout - drills, refineries, coal cars, tractors, etc.
A measure of how much energy is required for different sources is called "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" and is measured as a ratio, which is expected to sharply decline for diminishing, harder-to-extract fossil fuels. According to the report, "Searching for a Miracle" by Richard Heinberg, oil currently has a 19:1 ratio (19 units of energy produced from an expenditure of 1 unit), when it used to be closer to 100:1. Coal has a ratio of 50:1; natural gas is 10:1; wind is about 18:1; solar photovoltaics range from 3.75:1 to 10:1 and geothermal is from 2:1 to 13:1. Ethanol may take more energy to make than it yields at 0.5:1. Liquid fuel alternatives are especially low in their energy yield, making petroleum - which accounts for 95 percent of global transportation fuel - perhaps the hardest to replace.
3) Siting, intermittency, and storage
Renewable energy sources face other challenges as well. Many of the best sites for hydroelectric dams and wind turbines have already been taken so that with each successive installation the energy returned on energy invested drops. And sometimes the best sites are in remote areas far away from populations, so more energy has to be used for transportation and transmission.
Perhaps the most significant problem for renewables is their intermittency - solar panels only work when the sun is shining and wind turbines when the wind is blowing above a certain speed. So renewables can only be used as "peaking fuels" while the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week base load power that keeps hospitals, schools and police stations running comes largely from fossil fuels. Storage is a terribly complicated question, involving expensive batteries, themselves produced from finite minerals.
Today, wind and solar energy combined account for just a fraction of a percent (about 0.3 percent) of total U.S. energy use after nearly two decades of rapid growth. Hydroelectric stands at just over two percent while combustible renewables (which still contribute CO2) are nearly 10 percent.
It's clear that fossil fuels are required in copious quantities to develop and maintain the infrastructure for a renewable energy regime. In fact, that is the best possible use for these fast-diminishing, finite fuels. Then, renewables can ease the demise of the fossil fuel age, which fueled the most energy-intensive civilization on the planet.
Possibly in a century or two, renewables may be the world's primary energy source. It would be a de-globalized, less industrialized, more localized world where we would continue to rely on photosynthesis, thrive on low-tech, decentralized energy sources (micro-hydro, solar thermal, small-scale biodiesel) and use other energy as available. And we may only consume a quarter or less of the energy we use today.
Perhaps that's why people call me a liar. It's easier not to think about that.
After ongoing pressure from environmental groups and Indigenous communities, Bank of America has said it will not finance any oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, making it the last major U.S. financial institution to do so.
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A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA's 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. NOAA
The updated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. NOAA
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By Dana Drugmand
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
‘Protect Our Future’<p>Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/09/03/youth-climate-lawsuit-portugal-33-european-countries" target="_blank">bringing the case</a> with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (<span style="background-color: initial;">GLAN</span>), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.</p><p>Portugal recently sweltered through its <a href="https://www.ipma.pt/pt/media/noticias/news.detail.jsp?f=/pt/media/noticias/textos/resumo-clima-julho-20.html" target="_blank">hottest July in 90 years</a> and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017. </p><p>Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case." </p><p>"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."</p>
‘Highly Significant'<p>The decision represents a "highly significant" step, <a href="https://www.glanlaw.org/about-us" target="_blank">GLAN</a> Director Dr. Gearóid Ó Cuinn said in a <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/" target="_blank">press release</a>.</p><p>"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added. </p><p>By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.</p><p>If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.</p>
‘Major Hurdle’<p>The <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/the-case/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries targeted</a> include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/paris-agreement">Paris agreement</a> target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).<a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a></p><p><a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Action Tracker rates</a> most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.</p><p>The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eu-climate-action/2030_ctp_en" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 55 percent by 2030</a>. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that <a href="http://www.caneurope.org/energy/climate-energy-targets" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">European climate campaigners say</a> is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.</p><p> The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense. </p><p>"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.</p><p>"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/11/29/court-advances-landmark-youth-climate-lawsuit-against-33-european-nations" target="_blank">DeSmog</a>. </em></p>
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By Liz Kimbrough
Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the "Green Nobel Prize," this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continents.
Kristal Ambrose, the Bahamas<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzI3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM5NTk5MX0.fdMrrUqf0HvWq0Uh0Ii3mXxJczHPyN1jcnSsQoXoerE/img.jpg?width=980" id="b9e66" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b8b8777f7964bb7100672b3be0abf3fe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Kristal Ambrose. Goldman Environmental Prize
Chibeze Ezekiel, Ghana<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTgzOTE3OX0.KoEZr3oMPKbeG2uT8q-ZsGPOGtIZ3l6V6NXEK5U90FU/img.jpg?width=980" id="65224" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ec640a8ba56a4db22b57e4f8734a7a4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Chibeze Ezekiel. Goldman Environmental Prize
Nemonte Nenquimo, Ecuador<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzYxODYwM30.cys5ZsFGd75UcjybADGBPFt20jrzgrsFujoj_qMTK4E/img.jpg?width=980" id="96b5a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0778ab7334e3297e0ead52d5fd1499e5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Nemonte Nenquimo. Goldman Environmental Prize
Leydy Pech, Mexico<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkzOTYzOH0.uHlN2FQoJJ_KFJWTn4oL__lDyjA0-HDnxewBhwgQRVg/img.jpg?width=980" id="9ab07" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc347126d4ce9ddbb3b9c1b4673391b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Leydy Pech. Goldman Environmental Prize
Lucie Pinson, France<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzE0NTU1NX0.OutmX3sfl4pMaoYssTQ4zk7Y14_hans7-Z-0B0xsjfM/img.jpg?width=980" id="4bcd7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff14750dc0a70fc79e9484ea2bdbd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Lucie Pinson. Goldman Environmental Prize
Paul Sein Twa, Myanmar<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDAyNjU0MH0.DHrKykngmcJyJ5rn4r91ANH7FmQ7Us6ZMEOis8yAzGY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8fa36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e703d62288df00931cd678c861c6e0b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Paul Sein Twa. Goldman Environmental Prize
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