Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism (Our Sustainable Future)

We don’t have an energy crisis. We have a consumption crisis. And this book, which takes aim at cherished assumptions regarding energy, offers refreshingly straight talk about what’s wrong with the way we think and talk about the problem. Though we generally believe we can solve environmental problems with more energy—more solar cells, wind turbines, and biofuels—alternative technologies come with their own side effects and limitations. How, for instance, do solar cells cause harm? Why can’t engineers solve wind power’s biggest obstacle? Why won’t contraception solve the problem of overpopulation lying at the heart of our concerns about energy, and what will?This practical, environmentally informed, and lucid book persuasively argues for a change of perspective. If consumption is the problem, as Ozzie Zehner suggests, then we need to shift our focus from suspect alternative energies to improving social and political fundamentals: walkable communities, improved consumption, enlightened governance, and, most notably, women’s rights. The dozens of first steps he offers are surprisingly straightforward. For instance, he introduces a simple sticker that promises a greater impact than all of the nation’s solar cells. He uncovers why carbon taxes won’t solve our energy challenges (and presents two taxes that could). Finally, he explores how future environmentalists will focus on similarly fresh alternatives that are affordable, clean, and can actually improve our well-being.
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Community Review 
  • I live in MT where wind farms have popped up like weeds. The promises of cheap power have long since given way to higher energy costs. Wind projects in the 300MW range seemed like a great deal until the project managers negotiated with the state public service commission that local power companies – not wind farms – had to pay for the power lines that bring wind power to the grid, and local power companies HAD to include 20% of renewables in their power portfolio. Ironically, hydro is specifically excluded by state law as a renewable ‘to encourage new development.’ Things like this alienate the locals. After all that, the wind farms haven’t lived up to their billing, producing a fraction of the claimed output. We got railroaded.
    Ozzie Zehner’s book Described perfectly what happened to us: Promoters bragged up the ‘data tag’ capacity of the project but forgot to tell us about ‘capacity factor – CF.’ Data tag ratings are for ideal conditions. CF is a running average of the actual output because nature’s hand is on the throttle, not the hand of the grid manager. A 1000Mw coal plant usually has a CF 0f 95%. Due to poor siting (too windy, built near migratory bird routes or rest stops) some of the wind projects have a CF in the single digits. So the power company has to maintain ‘spinning reserve’ to pick up the load when wind can’t.
    Ozzie points out that replacing a 1000Mw coal plant with wind gets into some seriously strange numbers. Each tower must be spaced 3 blade diameters from it’s neighbor. Blades are pushing 300ft, so we are talking 900 ft tower to tower. Build 1000 1Mw towers to produce 1000Mw to replace the coal plant. But wait, CF for a farm is in the single digits – so one needs 10x that many to replace the coal plant. Pretty soon we are looking at 30 square miles of wind towers to replace one coal plant on ten acres. And they will still need the coal plant as backup in spinning reserve. Increase the number even more if they ever get some sort of battery backup, because the batteries will need charging.
    Solar projects suffer even more weaknessses because of dirt, heat, sun angle and reduced output with age. It means that the often repeated claim that we could power the whole USA with a small project in the desert is simply untrue.
    That is just one example of ozzies’s book. He addresses hydrogen, biofuels, nuclear, clean coal et al in a similar fashion.
  • I already had some mild opinions about environmentalism, drilling for oil, empty consumerism, the U.S. car culture, etc before reading this book. I bought this book because I was seeking an honest, open analysis of “what can the average person do help with the climate/environmental crisis?” This book has absolutely, 110%, answered my question.
    Zehner has provided important information that all Americans (really, all people in industrialized countries) should be exposed to. You’ll find out why solar cells, wind power, ethanol, and other “green” energy solutions are not as perfect as they are touted in the popular media. You’ll probably be shocked to comprehend exactly how deeply ingrained we are in U.S. culture with the need to drive cars, buy as much as possible, and work overtime. Think about it – what do people really want? More vacation time? More time with the people we love, friends and family? More time outdoors in nature? And yet what do we do everyday? We go to work, go to the store, sit in traffic, eat prepackaged food, and watch TV. Do these activities make us happier? Healthier? More able to enjoy every moment? No. Absolutely not. The book includes realistic ways for real people to start small in reversing the unhealthy, damaging habits we have developed in our society over the past few hundred years, as well as larger, more sweeping suggestions for communities and the government to consider.
    If you want to read a book that will make you question your current way of life, and start working toward living a better life right now, read this book. If you’re paying any attention at all, it will spur you into action. Let’s start taking better care of ourselves and our earth, today, right now. Thanks to the author for a candid and striking discussion of topics that have typically been swept under the rug in our American society. This is an excellent book that I will read and refer back to again and again.

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