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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Arkilaus Kladit
My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.
Map of the Knasaimos traditional lands.
- New Player Begins Clearing Rainforest for World's Largest Palm Oil ... ›
- Indonesia Forest-Clearing Ban Criticized as 'Government Propaganda' ›
- Forest Loss in Papua New Guinea Increases Domestic Violence ... ›
By Farah Aqel
Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.
Ruminating<p>According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796420/" target="_blank">ruminating</a> involves replaying a problem over and over in your mind. We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation.</p><p>It usually involves regret, self-loathing and self-blaming. Rumination is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. </p><p>People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being: </p><p>- I should have been more patient and more supportive. </p><p>- I have lost the most perfect partner ever. </p><p>- No one will love me again.</p>
Worrying<p>Worrying is wanting to predict the future. It involves negative thoughts about things that might and might not happen.</p><p>- They'll not like me in the interview; they'll not give me the job. </p><p>- I haven't heard back from other employers. How long will I be unemployed?</p><p>These thoughts are energy-draining and distressing. They could happen to anyone under stress. But when you reach the point where your thoughts and worrying are preventing you from doing what you want to do — from living your life to the fullest — then you should take action.</p>
Catch Yourself Overthinking<p>Reuben Berger, a psychotherapist at the university hospital in the western German city of Bonn, recommends several practical steps that you could employ in your daily routine when you catch yourself worrying or ruminating.</p><p>One effective remedy, says Berger, is the <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9938" target="_blank">thought-stopping technique.</a></p><p>"When the negative thoughts come or ruminations start, you say to yourself: 'Stop!,'" he says, adding that it is more effective when you actually say the word out loud.</p><p>He even recommends having a rubber band around your wrist to ping against yourself while saying the word. Adding a visual component by imagining a stop sign also makes the technique more powerful, he says.</p><p>The main idea here is conditioning yourself to stop the loop of worrying (making future predictions) or rumination (obsessing over past events).</p><p>Berger says the technique could take up to two weeks to take effect and that it needs to be practiced every day. "Consistency is very important," he says. </p>
Thoughts Are Just Thoughts<p>Another way of dealing with negative thoughts often used in modern therapy is realizing that thoughts aren't facts, says Berger.</p><p>He says it is important when we think something to ask: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>Flight anxiety is one example where untrue thoughts are accepted as facts. Although air travel is the safest way to get around, people suffering from fear of flying accept their thoughts and fears as reality, then act upon them by refusing to fly.</p>
Mindfulness<p>Berger also recommends the use of mindfulness techniques, in which attention is paid to experiences in the moment without judging them, as a way of reducing worrying.</p><p>"Mindfulness helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and to be more present in the moment," he says.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432145/#R2" target="_blank">Several studies</a> have shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on reducing stress-related behaviors such as rumination and worrying, as focusing on the moment makes anxiety about other problems impossible.</p><p>Mindfulness can be practiced during routine activities by paying attention to your body and your surroundings. For instance, when you leave for work in the morning, you can focus on sensing the breeze, listen attentively to birds, feel the gravel under your feet and monitor your breath. </p>
Trick Your Brain Into Happiness<p>People plagued by obsessive thoughts do not always choose healthy ways like mindfulness to distract from them, however.</p><p> Dr. Edward Selby, a psychologist at Florida state university, has shown in a study that people try to avoid rumination by engaging in a range of uncontrolled behaviors, such as binge eating and substance abuse.</p><p>But he says that a much better way to overcome such distress is by distraction and shifting attention away from problems that are obsessing us.</p><p>There are many activities that can be used to distract from rumination, he says, and people should choose the one that works best for them. Here are some examples:</p><p>- Listen to music</p><p>- Read a book</p><p>- Take a hot shower</p><p>- Dance or exercise </p><p>- Talk to a friend (not about the problem)</p><p>- Watch a movie</p><p>- Mindfulness meditation</p>
Changing the Perception of Events<p>The way people perceive a situation largely influences their emotions and behavior. It is not the situation itself that determines how they feel, but rather the way they interpret it.</p><p>Reframing negative thoughts can lead to positive emotions and, subsequently, healthier behaviors — including a reduction in damaging overthinking and worrying.</p><p>Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently a gold standard in psychotherapy. CBT aims to change the way people think and act. It largely involves challenging unhelpful beliefs or attitudes such as overgeneralization — thinking "I always fail at public speaking" when you have had one bad experience in front of an audience, for example — or "catastrophization," i.e., imagining the worst possible outcome to a situation. </p><p>A psychotherapist can teach people how to implement such thought-changing techniques into their lives. Techniques vary depending on their issues and goals.</p>
Solutions Are at Hand<p>Try to find ways of avoiding worrying, rumination and overthinking that make you feel most comfortable.</p><p>Incorporating any routine in your life when you're stressed isn't an easy task, but you can do it! If you feel overwhelmed, you can always seek professional help. </p><p><em>If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, <a href="https://www.befrienders.org/" target="_blank">at this website.</a></em></p>
- Should 'Eco-Anxiety' Be Classified as a Mental Illness? - EcoWatch ›
- Online Therapy Is Showing How to Expand Mental Health Services ... ›
- How to Stay Healthy at Home During the Coronavirus Lockdown ... ›
Researchers at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a cheap, efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, potentially reducing the amount of new carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.
- Jet Fuel From Sugarcane? It's No Flight of Fancy - EcoWatch ›
- What Role Can Biofuels Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas ... ›
A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.
- Stunning Photos Show Huge Crack in Antarctic Ice Shelf - EcoWatch ›
- Manhattan-Sized Iceberg Breaks off Antarctica - EcoWatch ›
- Where Has All the Ice Gone? - EcoWatch ›
The coronavirus cases surging around the U.S. are often carried by kids, raising fears that the reopening of schools will be delayed and calling into question the wisdom of school districts that have reopened already.
- How Other Countries Reopened Schools During the Pandemic ... ›
- Until Teachers Feel Safe, Widespread In-Person K-12 Schooling ... ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- Young Children May Have Higher Coronavirus Levels, Raising ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson
On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.
Deaths From COVID-19 Per Million Population<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU0ODIyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjkzMDc1OX0.7Yp1h1hokihlMJUurDukGmq-Y8NJB0V-07O1ukEjGt0/img.png?width=980" id="0fe6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bce85a610aee18e2f4f1c1caca7b8a0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<div id="77fff" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce7b34f8986d3d36bee5d4d83ac0822c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1292270210238447616" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">COVID-19 Update There are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today. It has been 100 days since t… https://t.co/Cz55ixGZUz</div> — Unite against COVID-19 (@Unite against COVID-19)<a href="https://twitter.com/covid19nz/statuses/1292270210238447616">1596936201.0</a></blockquote></div>
Getting Through the Pandemic<p>We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.03.20089854v4" target="_blank">slightly below 1%</a>.</p><p>This infection also causes serious <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2815" target="_blank">long-term consequences</a> for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5" target="_blank">immunity to this virus</a>, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.</p><p>This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310086/" target="_blank">impact on Māori and Pasifika populations</a> could be catastrophic.</p><p>We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.</p><p>Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:</p><ul><li>resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system</li><li>ensuring all New Zealanders own a <a href="https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/mass-masking-an-alternative-to-a-second-lockdown-in-aotearoa" target="_blank">re-useable fabric face mask</a> with their <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12354409" target="_blank">use built into the alert level system</a></li><li>conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including "mass masking days" to engage the public in the response</li><li>carefully exploring processes to allow <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/16/preventing-outbreaks-of-covid-19-in-nz-associated-with-air-travel-from-australia-new-modelling-study-of-alternatives-to-quarantine/" target="_blank">quarantine-free travel</a> between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)</li><li>planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.</li></ul>
Building Back Better<p>New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.</p><p>We should conduct an <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/11/five-key-reasons-why-nz-should-have-an-official-inquiry-into-the-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">official inquiry into the COVID-19 response</a> so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.</p><p>We also need to establish a specialized national public health agency to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2017/12/20/the-havelock-north-drinking-water-inquiry-a-wake-up-call-to-rebuild-public-health-in-new-zealand/" target="_blank">manage serious threats to public health</a> and provide critical mass to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/02/05/a-preventable-measles-epidemic-lessons-for-reforming-public-health-in-nz/" target="_blank">advance public health generally</a>. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.</p><p>Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12353555" target="_blank">Massey University survey</a> suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.</p><p>New Zealand's elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2025203" target="_blank">published</a> in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.</p>
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
- World Tops 10 Million Coronavirus Cases, 500000 Deaths - EcoWatch ›
- New Zealand Government Wins Battle Against Coronavirus ... ›
- Pressed on Surging Covid-19 Cases and Test Shortages, Trump ... ›
- U.S. Passes 4 Million Coronavirus Cases - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 130,000 Amid Surge in Cases ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›