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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XVIII–‘Renewables’, Electrify Everything, and Marketing Propaganda

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XVIII
June 5, 2021
Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

‘Renewables’, Electrify Everything, and Marketing Propaganda

As per usual, my comment on an article in The Tyee that gives an interesting perspective on the idea of ‘Carbon Footprint’ and individual verses collective actions in addressing the behavioural/consumption changes necessary for effective action on climate change.

Great read and perspective.

“The problem is that climate change is as much a political problem as it is a scientific one. It’s not that we’ve been failing to make individual lifestyle changes; it’s that powerful interests have knowingly obscured, distracted from and delayed climate action over the last 50 years.”

I find this key to help in understanding one of the narratives that have come to dominate the ‘environmental/climate change/global warming’ movement: a transition to ‘renewables’ (or ‘green/clean’ energy) and ‘electrifying’ everything is the best path forward; and many of The Tyee writers are as guilty of this as well.

As has been shown by Jeff Gibbs’ Planet of the Humans and Julia Barnes’ Bright Green Lies, the ‘environmental’ movement appears to have been hijacked by powerful/influential political/economic interests in order to market the idea that getting everyone to shift away from fossil fuel-based industry and products is the key action in fighting climate change and avoiding the predicted consequences of it.

This idea is, I believe, primarily a marketing/sloganeering/narrative control campaign to help the businesses/corporations/industries involved in ‘renewables’ and associated products in expanding their consumer base and shifting capital towards them. It is not and never has been about protecting or saving the environment and ecological systems. It is about protecting and saving our energy-intensive, business-as-usual complexities and the technologies necessary to support/maintain these; and it is driven by the primary motivation of the ruling class/powers-that-be/elite: expansion/control of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams.

Scratch even gently at the surface of this propaganda/narrative and you will find the emperor has no clothes. Fossil fuels are just as necessary, in fact probably more so, in any transition to ‘renewables’.

Mining and processing of finite materials (particularly rare-earth minerals) require fossil fuel driven vehicles and machinery (and, of course, the fact that these materials are ‘finite’ in nature is key here as their production and distribution would be significantly limited and not capable of meeting the demand of our world — especially of ‘advanced’ economies and their complexities).

Massive amounts of concrete and steel production, which depend greatly on the high heat only available via fossil fuels (particularly coal), would be needed.

Then there’s the issue of energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI): fossil fuels provide far, far greater energy (or at least they did when we were retrieving the easy- and cheap-to-access reserves; not so much now that we are relying on marginal sources such as deep sea reserves, tight/shale oil, and oil/tar sands) than ‘renewables’. And it is the surplus energy that has been provided by high EROEI fossil fuels that has allowed our modern, industrialised, and global civilisation to grow and flourish the way it has over the past couple of centuries. Low EROEI ‘renewables’ are incapable of supporting our complexities in the same way; not even close.

As a final point (although there are other issues/problems/disadvantages), the production of ‘renewables’ also wreaks havoc on ecological systems. From the very dirty mining and material processing to the after-life/disposal of the products, ‘renewables’ continue to produce and disseminate toxins into the atmosphere and local environments. They are neither ‘clean’ nor ‘green’. In fact, the notion of ‘green/clean’ energy is an oxymoron of epic proportions and should never be used by anyone serious about the issues involved in energy production and environmental/ecological issues for it just feeds the monster that is corporate marketing.

And here I come back to another statement in the article that supports my view: “It’s about realizing that the consumer choices we have available to us are deliberately limited by the powerful interests that seek to maintain the status quo.”

Yes, we have powerful interests that have hijacked the narrative via what could be considered the use of the Overton Window: a limiting of ideas of what is acceptable to consider. Fossil fuels verses ‘renewables’. There’s no discussion of the limitations or profoundly propagandised view of what ‘renewables’ actually are and require. There’s just a ‘you’re-with-us or you’re-against-us’ framework and a bunch of well-intentioned but misguided people repeating the mantra: renewables/electrification now.

There’s no thinking outside the box or consideration of what I believe is desperately needed: degrowth. Degrowth is off limits and its discussion suppressed for a number of reasons but mostly because it challenges the primary motivation of those at the top of society’s power/economic structures: control/expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams.

We live on a finite planet with real biophysical limits that have very likely been well surpassed in a number of areas. The sooner we realise this and reach the conclusion that we cannot in any way support or expand our high-energy complexities and the growth that accompanies this, the sooner we might, just might, get on the path towards degrowing our world in a just and equitable way rather than continue to chase the magical thinking necessary to sustain our world as currently contrived and going even further into overshoot than we already have. Reversion to the mean always happens in such instances and if we hope to mitigate in any controllable way the consequences that will flow from this, we need to get started — like yesterday.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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