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Outing the Pipe Dream of Renewable Energy Solution

Are some of the big players in the climate change mitigation movement guilty of playing fast and loose with some truths? Spin is a propaganda tool used by those with good intentions perhaps as often as by those with evil intent. This piece at Counterpunch makes the Wall of Fame this week for exploring this possibility:

100 Percent Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia

What is “green-energy cornucopia?” It’s the notion many have and advocate, that we can halt the growth of the human carbon footprint and then shrink it, avoiding the worst of the looming climate catastrophe, simply by eliminating fossil fuels completely as an energy source. No other action needed. We don’t have to curtail population growth, we don’t need to scale back levels of consumption in the over-developed world, and we don’t have to stop worshipping economic growth. Are you shocked?

The piece is written by Paul and Stan Cox, authors of How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, From the Caribbean to SiberiaThey cite several credible studies indicating our massive, consumption and growth-addicted economy cannot be sustained on 100-percent green energy. This essay is a fairly comprehensive catalog of the flaws in the thinking of those who say we can. If you are under the delusion we can continue business as usual, as long as we power it with the sun and wind, this will be an eye-opener. It is an important read.

Eventually, the Coxes get around to some high-level reflection on why the climate movement avoids advocating economic degrowth or even a steady state economy; why the movement puts little or no effort into persuading individuals to give up their cars and weekends at the mall, swap their mcmansions for tiny houses, and bring no more than one child into the world:

“Some in the climate movement believe in the 100-percent dogma and the dream it holds out: that the (affluent) American way of life can keep running forward in time and outward in space without breaking stride.”

They also propose what I think may be the more likely explanation, at least at the higher levels of climate-focused NGOs:

“There are others who know that to be an impossibly rosy vision but urge the movement to limit public discussion to such green dreams anyway, because talking about a regulated, low-energy economy would crush hope and enthusiasm at the grassroots.”

Is that a wise and defensible strategy? Do we have to sell a pipe dream JUST to get the world to embrace renewables quickly? If so, there’s going to be an ugly day of reckoning when everyone discovers this renewable utopia won’t power their big lives, that they have to scale back and simplify.

Would we be better off to tell the whole truth now – even though it is much more inconvenient? This piece doesn’t examine these questions. You’ll find smart people on both sides of the issue. Your take on that will determine whether you thank the Coxes for this sharp debunking of the myth of a Green Energy Cornucopia.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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