Renewables – Not About the Environment

There’s something about renewable energy that I feel needs to be properly addressed in the public sphere, in order to convince certain sections of the public of the necessity to one day achieve a state of play where 100% of our energy comes from renewable sources.

I’ll lay my stall out here by saying that when it comes to the climate change debate, I’m very much on the side of the scientists who tell us man has accelerated the heating of our planet, as opposed to being on the side of the laymen arguments and the corporate-sponsored right-wing pseudo-science that tries to tell us otherwise. Switching to renewable energy sources will stop us polluting the air so much, and hopefully mitigate the effect we’re having on the planet. However, that’s not even half the issue when it comes to renewables, and I think it does more harm than good to have even a smidgeon of suggestion to the contrary.

What do we mean by renewable energy? If you ask the average person on the street, many of them probably associate “renewable” with “green” (or “environmentally-friendly”, as we used to call it). The thing is, we should be associating it with “infinite” and “inexhaustible”. The problem with associating renewable energy directly with the environment/climate change is that climate change denialists and people who care more about being able to do what they want without a thought for the consequences for future generations will scoff at the idea of trying to move towards a 100% renewable energy society. However, no matter where you stand on the climate change debate, renewable energy is still of the utmost importance to the future.

My dad is a climate change denialist. In many ways, he’s a classic climate change denialist: he’s retired, his national paper of choice is the Daily Mail, and he has, shall we say, some very old fashioned views about the world. However, he’s also an intelligent guy and worked in the oil industry for over two decades. As a result, he realises that fossil fuels will run out one day, so he understands how crazy it is to continue to base our survival on finite energy sources. “They still don’t get it, the good times have gone. Oil is only going to get more expensive” was his reaction to last weeks’ budget.

We need to be making more sceptics think like my dad. Many climate change denialists will never change their views on climate change, but that’s no reason for them to think renewable energy is a con. The renewable energy debate needs to be completely removed from climate change debate and contained almost entirely within the debate over energy security, with jobs and the economy getting a little bit of a look in as well. The oil and gas will run out one day, but that will only affect us if we continue to heat our homes with gas and run our cars on petrol until the very last drop of oil is squeezed out of the ground. But if we concentrate on basing our economy on renewable energy, then we’ll be fine. In fact, we’ll be more than fine, because while other countries are tearing their hair out trying to work out where their energy is going to come from, we’ll be able to wean ourselves off fossil fuels with ease, and then people will look to us to help with their problems.

Nuclear energy is touted as a solution to the impending energy crisis, and even after the problems in Japan, there are still people extolling the virtues of nuclear power. This is another reason why the environment should not come into the energy debate. The claims that nuclear energy is “green” because it releases less carbon dioxide into the air than other forms of energy production are dubious at best, if not outright lies. They are predicated on the (wrong) assumption that there is no carbon dioxide used in the construction and decommissioning of nuclear power plants, as well as rather bizarrely pretending that radioactive substances are not harmful to the environment. Nuclear power is also a great example of why it’s such a shame that the term “fossil fuel” has been somewhat abandoned in energy debates, as people seem to forget that the substances used to generate nuclear energy are mined from the ground, and thus are every bit as finite as wood, coal and oil. I suspect it’s probably partly because the average person does not quite understand how nuclear power is generated, and maybe also because the UK is less familiar with uranium mining than it is with coal mines and oil and gas fields.

Just like Nick Clegg has had to take a bit of a back seat in the AV debate in order to stop AV being tainted with the Nick Clegg brush, perhaps environmentalists need to take a step back so “renewable” stops being associated with “green”, “leftie” and “climate change”?

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  1. Ray Bell says:

    I think there is a hidden agenda going on with some of the renewable generation in Scotland.

    Electricity does not travel well, and loses power over distance. And yet, a massive windfarm is being forced on the people of Lewis – which is obviously NOT for local needs – and we have seen attempts to build a massive powerline between Beauly and Denny, which would hook it up to the southern part of the UK grid.

    Likewise, there was a proposed windfarm off Shetland, which would have been linked with England via an undersea cable. One proposal would have seen this cable linked to England, and to the continent, but not Scotland.

    Certainly in some of these cases, it seems to be a repeat of North Sea oil, with Scotland being used to power the rest of the UK (even though it’s not efficient to transport electricity long distances!), but without the associated benefits.

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