In the search for solutions to carbon emissions many in the climate change movement advocate solar, wind, and other “renewable” sources of energy.
There is an inherent problem within that phrase – ‘renewable sources of energy’ – though. In fact, two problems. First, “renewables” are not renewable. Renewable suggests there is no impact upon the earth and that the electricity produced is carbon-neutral. Both are a myth. Second, is the word “energy.” One of the biggest confusions in the discussion about renewables is the conflation of energy and electricity. Renewables can supply electricity, but not total energy. In fact, electricity production in most countries of the world is no more than 20% of total energy, in some cases much less. This conflation can lead to false claims. The authors cite the case of Germany which is often touted as being a leader in renewables. Bright Green Lies quotes a leading climate change campaigner as lauding Munich obtaining “half its energy from solar panels” on some days. As the authors note, that is physically impossible. In attempting to present credible solutions, such claims for solar and other “renewables,” are irresponsible. Furthermore, such claims send out a message of “false hope,” which surely does nothing for future generations.
These are but two of several myths identified by the authors. Others include the myths of: decoupling, efficiency gains, scaling, and no harm.
The basic problem with “renewables” is that they continue the same industrial progress mentality with which we got ourselves into this mess in the first place. From the mining of materials, to the processing, to fabrication, and to installation; all “renewables” do damage to the environment, often displace local people, and – significantly – require fossil fuels for their construction.
The authors comment on this mentality of damaging the planet in order to save it. “The most important, and simplest, solution to the destruction of the planet is to stop the destruction of the planet.” What could be simpler?
Two western concepts are at the heart of our continued destruction, and the authors take issue with each.
Our western cultural heritage has left us with an anthropocentric, hierarchical, model of the world with humans at the top. The book also hits us in our consumptive belly, and hits hard. Reading this will double you up with a painful recognition that there are no alternatives; there is no “renewable” road to sustainability.
There will be many within the climate change movement who will scorn this book, attempt to counter its arguments, and dismiss it. That will be a pity, because it is only when the “environmental” approach to the earth is reclaimed, that any halting of the destruction of the earth can occur. Admittedly, there are some within the movement who seem to understand this. In fact, I wonder if Greta Thunberg has read this book. When I listen to some of her recent speeches, I suspect she may have, or at least arrived at similar conclusions on her own.2
The authors of Bright Green Lies often deride “environmentalists” for advocating technological solutions that will continue to damage the environment. It is disappointing that the authors choose to use the term “environmentalist” in this way. To my way of thinking, those who continue to advocate for damaging technologies, are not acting from an environmental awareness, but rather from an anthropocentric one. Environmentalism must reclaim its mandate and remove itself from underneath the heavy footfalls of technological industrialism.
“OK, OK,” I hear the cries. “Its all very well telling us that “renewables” are not the solution – what is?” The authors address this in the last two chapters of the book, although a hint of the solutions is made in the very first sentence of the book. The book begins with a note on language, and begins thus:
“It’s customary when writing about nonhumans to use the relative pronoun that rather than who: ‘We cut down the tree that used to grow by the pond,’ not ‘We cut down the tree who used to grow by the pond.”
Simply changing from the first perspective to the second would radically transform our understanding of who we are, where we fit, and how we act.
Bright Green Lies is as important a cautionary book in 2021 as Silent Spring3 was in 1962. If you didn’t read Silent Spring then, read Bright Green Lies now.
P.S. I do have one suggestion to the authors and publishers of this book, if they decide to do a second edition. Please add an Index.
1. Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, & Max Wilbert, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost its Way and What we can do about it. Monkfish Book Publishing Co., Rhinebeck, New York, 2021.
2. For example, listen to her speech to the Austrian World Summit, July 2021 here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6eQwAi2U18)
3. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, Boston, 1962.