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Green Energy Revolution or Evolution?

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

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[After 250 years of dominance, fossil fuels coal-gas-oil are sentenced to death.

Renewables, wind-sun-hydro are starting to turn our wheels … again.

It is tempting to see this movement as a “green” revolution. Why?

Because revolutions are binary. They have two clear and distinct opposites. Baddies vs goodies; old vs new; conservatives vs progressives; masters vs slaves … and it appears … planet-killing vs planet-saving energy sources.

But this is NOT a revolution. This article explains why]

Welcome to 1878 Paris. The crowded streets are buzzing with excitement. The old dim gas and oil lamps are being replaced by – what-do-they-call-it – electrical street lights!

And what a night … lighting up the streets for longer, without blowing up or stinking like a refinery.

Flicking the switch in the city of lights sparked a chain reaction. After the Parisians, Londoners then Baltimoreans followed suit and soon the whole Western world was lit up and buzzing.

Suddenly, people could engage in late-night shopping

Buying what? All those new electrical appliances – lamps, telephones … then fridges, vacuum cleaners, TVs, washing machines and kettles.

New electricity and new appliances were exciting and life-improving.

Today, the buzz is in the air again.

Not because of appliances themselves - people are already used to smartphones, computers, TVs, vacuum cleaners, let alone banal street lights.

Not because of electricity itself. It’s still AC/DC.

Today’s excitement is about the SOURCES of electricity.

Coal, and, on a smaller scale, gas power plants are being replaced by wind and solar farms - a progressive move.

Old, dirty, polluting energy sources are going…

New, clean, “green” energy sources are coming.

Planet-warming fuel cars are headed for a dead-end street…

Electric, clean and “green” cars have a green light.

(which isn’t only consumer-driven; for example, the UK government banned the sale of conventional cars from 2030.)

Lights, cars, buildings … even countries are progressive and “green” if they run on renewable, “clean” energy.

Lights, cars, buildings … even countries are regressive if they run on fossil, dirty energy.

Is it a “green” energy revolution or evolution?

Revolutions are polarizing. You can pick sides in a sec. You are either rear-viewing, sticking to the good-ol’, or forward-looking and progressive.

Take the Great French Revolution of 1789.

After 300 years, people got sick of the old monarchy. They were starving, while the Aristocrats were choking on caviar and champagne, despite the crippling debt. People had enough, so they stormed the Bastille. What followed was three-coloured – white, blue, and … rivers of red. In four turbulent years, the revolutionaries got rid of the monarchy, one Guillotined head at the time.

The new republic was born – favouring reason over religion and science over the church.

Today, after 250 years, old, and inefficient coal-gas-oil are on a death row – like the old French monarchy. They too have been burdening others with crippling debt for generations to come. A debt of planet-warming emissions leading to coral bleaching, glacier melting, and hotter heatwaves.

People had enough. They join the dots, despite decades of misinformation about the reality of climate change.

They have seen their leaders waving a lump of coal in parliament house, they have heard them saying “climate change is cr-p”. They want clean air; green, liveable suburbs; koalas in the canopies; coral reefs to show their kids; drinking water in the ground.

Today, any politician choking on coal-gas-oil risks a metaphorical Guillotine …

Which looks like a revolution, but …

The “green” energy transition is NOT a revolution

Here’s why:

a) Renewable energy isn’t new. We have been using rivers and wind for hundreds, if not thousands of years. We’re coming back to nature – after 250 years of a fossil fuel detour. It’s not exactly back to a medieval windmill of course.

Today, our wind turbines generate electricity, our cars have batteries for storing it. But the raw energy sources and ideas to tap into them are the same.

b) We’re not replacing any old order with a fresh, progressive one as the French did. Our system and governments remain the same. Which is great - here in Australia, democracy and capitalism are working.

(There are flaws, e.g. land clearing or measuring the country’s progress in GDP … but it’s the best we’ve got. Do you know of a better alternative to democracy and capitalism?)

c) The polarity between fossil fuels and renewables (coal vs wind) isn’t as black and white, as the revolutionaries want you to believe. Renewables aren’t all sunshine and breeze – pardon the irony. True, in its raw state, wind, sun, and water are clean; its conversion to electricity doesn’t release planet-warming emissions.

But car batteries and wind turbines can’t operate without finite rare minerals, e.g. cobalt, graphite, and copper – lots of them. And our gold-rush hunger for these minerals poisons rivers, air, and soil.

So we are STILL relying on finite resources, only this time it’s different resources. And the way we are extracting them has very bad environmental and social consequences, as this post highlighted.

But these consequences are hidden, partly because, people want to believe that renewables are the answer, that it’s the magic green pill, that’s it’s the polar opposite of fossil fuels.

In summary, I prefer the term “green” energy transition, evolutionary style.

Not revolution

Seeing it as a revolution is wrong, even dangerous.

Why dangerous?

Will share that next time, stay tuned.


P.S. Do you want unwrapped unplugged greensights? Join my email list here

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