Beyond Fuel Switching

If fossil fuels are causing the problem, then a simple switch to another kind of “alternative” energy to power the same system seems the easiest solution. Unfortunately, most forms of energy generation that have been proposed to replace fossil fuels have big problems:

  1. Large hydropower can flood precious lands, release methane and it hardly ever meets the criteria set out by the World Commission on Dams.
  2. Nuclear energy sooner or later produces nuclear accidents. Nuclear waste is difficult if not impossible to store in a safe place anywhere.
  3. “Bio”fuels compete with food for fertile lands, sometimes poison the land, are often grown in monocultures and can lead to further deforestation, landgrabbing, etc.
  4. Big wind energy projects are used for greenwashing by fossil fuel companies, take away the land from local people and kill birds and bats.
  5. Solar panels and wind turbines require rare earths that contaminate the regions where they are mined, e.g. in China.
  6. Firewood, the most widespread renewable energy source, creates respiratory problems and is responsible for huge numbers of deaths worldwide.

When looking for a way to meet our needs, we must take all these obstacles and dangers into account in order to build a sustainable energy system. A real “solution” is to scale down energy use to make it fit with the amount of renewable energy available in the region with current technology. Sufficiency is the key word. Much less can be sufficient once we focus firmly on quality of life.

More information about the need to change the energy system can be found in this report by Friends of the Earth: Good Energy, Bad Energy and about the likely properties of the future (renewable) energy system in this essay by Richard Heinberg: Our Renewable Future.