Why Green Energy Means No Energy

Here are some basic facts about energy and human well-being.

  • There are 7 billion people in the world who need cheap, plentiful, reliable energy to flourish.
  • Some three billion have virtually no energy by our standards. Over a billion have no electricity whatsoever.
  • In the history of energy technology, only three methods of energy have proven able to produce cheap, plentiful, reliable energy on any significant scale. These are hydrocarbon (fossil fuel), nuclear, and hydroelectric power—with hydrocarbon being the most scalable and versatile (e.g., it provides virtually all our liquid transportation fuel).
  • Two of those methods—nuclear and hydro–are not carbon-based and therefore are the obvious choices to champion to the extent you are concerned with reducing CO2 emissions.
  • The biggest opponent by far of both of these technologies is the green movement—the movement that claims to care the most deeply about reducing CO2 emissions.
  • That movement keeps insisting, against all evidence, that their anti-fossil, anti-nuclear, anti-hydro stance is not a problem because solar and wind, unreliable, parasitical sources of energy that increase costs wherever they are significantly deployed, will somehow save the day.

Why does the green movement oppose every practical form of energy?

There is only one answer that can explain this. Greens oppose every practical form of energy not out of love for the non-existent virtues of solar and wind energy, but because they believe practical energy is inherently immoral.

It’s in their philosophical DNA.

To “be green” means to minimize our impact on nature. In the green philosophy, the standard of value, the metric by which we measure good and bad is: human nonimpact—does an action make our environment more or less altered by humans?

If we take that idea seriously, than practical energy is not a good thing.

Energy is “the capacity to do work” that is, the capacity to alter the placement of matter in nature from where it is to where we want it to be–to impact it. The fundamental use of energy is to power the machines that transform our environment to meet our needs.

15 Chapter 3 3.1 Fossil Fuel Use and Human Progress - The Big Picture


Sources: CDIAC; Maddison Project; World Bank

If an unaltered, untransformed environment is our standard of value, then nothing could be worse than cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. A consistent advocate of green energy therefore would oppose fossil fuels under any circumstances—if they created no waste, including no CO2 , if they were even cheaper, if they would last practically forever, if there were no resource-depletion concerns.

Could this really be true? Yes, in fact history proved it true in the late 1980s.

For many decades, the ultimate energy fantasy has been what’s called nuclear fusion. Conventional nuclear power is called nuclear fission, which unleashes power through the decay of heavy atoms such as uranium. Nuclear fusion unleashes far more power through fusion of two light atoms, of hydrogen, for example. Fusion is what the sun uses for energy. But all human attempts at fusion so far have been inefficient—they take in more energy than they produce. But if it could be made to work, it would be the cheapest, cleanest, most plentiful energy source ever created. It would be like the problem-freefossil fuels I said the Green leaders would oppose.

In the late 1980s, some reports that fusion was close to commercial reality got quite a bit of press. Reporters interviewed some of the world’s environmental thought leaders to ask them what they thought of fusion—testing how they felt, not about energy’s human-harming risks and wastes but its pure transformative power. What did they say?

There are some quotes from a story in the Los Angeles Times called “Fear of Fusion: What if It Works?” Leading environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin: “It’s the worst thing that could happen to our planet.”

Paul Ehrlich: Developing fusion for human beings would be “like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.”

Amory Lovins was already on record as saying, “Complex technology of any sort is an assault on human dignity. It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy, because of what we might do with it.”

He is talking here about something that, if it had worked, would have been able to empower every single individual on the globe and that undoubtedly would have given him a longer life through the increased scientific and technological progress a fusion-powered society would make. He’s talking about something that could take someone who had never had access to a lightbulb for more than an hour, and give him all the light he needed for the rest of his life.

That is what Amory Lovins regards as disastrous “because of what we might do with it.” Well, we’ve seen what we do with energy—we make our lives amazing. We go from physically helpless to physical supermen. We build skyscrapers and hospitals. We take vacations and go on honeymoons. We visit our families and tour the world. We relieve drought and vanquish disease. We transform the planet for the better.

Better—by a human standard of value.

But if your standard of value is unaltered nature, then Lovins is right to worry. With more energy, we have the ability to alter nature more, and we will do so—because transforming our environment, transforming nature, is our means of survival and flourishing.

To the anti-humanist, that’s precisely the problem. Have you ever heard mankind described as a cancer on the planet? Prince Philip, former head of the World Wildlife Fund, has said, “In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation.” Biologist David M. Graber, in praising the theme of Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature, said, “Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

This is the logical end of holding human nonimpact as your standard of value; the best way to achieve it is to do nothing at all, to not exist. Of course, few hold that standard of value consistently, and even these men do not depopulate the world of themselves. But we need to depopulate the world of their ideas.

Our goal should not be the impossible idea of a form of energy that doesn’t impact nature but the form of energy that most benefits human beings. We don’t want green energy we want life-enhancing, humanitarian energy.

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