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Green Illusions

The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

By Ozzie Zehner
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism by Ozzie Zehner
Synopsis

Green Illusions deflates the hype surrounding new alternative energy sources. It also explains why, if we truly care about the environment, we should focus on changing our own excessive consumer behavior.

Key idea 1 of 12

Conventional energy sources, like fossil fuels and nuclear power, are dangerous and environmentally damaging.

For over a hundred years, humanity’s energy needs have been met for the most part through the use of conventional energy sources like fossil fuels and uranium. But herein lies a problem: the quantity of these resources on earth is finite and humanity’s need for energy is infinite. All experts therefore agree that we need alternative solutions.

But before we dive into alternatives, let’s examine the primary conventional sources used today.

Of all conventional energy sources, coal is by far the worst environmental offender as it is the largest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Another obvious downside is that burning coal pollutes the air and exposes people to health risks. Installing filters is of no help because they produce a toxic sludge that poisons the groundwater. And since the coal has to be mined before it can be burned, it devastates entire landscapes.

Yet, despite its negative impact, half of America’s electricity and 80 percent of China’s electricity is generated with coal simply because it’s cheaper than oil.

Another prominent conventional energy source is uranium, which is used to generate nuclear energy. But unfortunately, it’s not much better than coal because it’s so dangerous.

Though nuclear energy accidents are less likely to occur than, say, oil spills, their damage potential is exponentially greater. Accidents can happen due to operating errors, like in Chernobyl, or natural disasters, like the tsunami that caused the Fukushima catastrophe. On top of that, since they can be so damaging, nuclear plants are also terrorist targets.

What’s more, storage of the radioactive waste generated through nuclear power is both expensive and fraught with uncertainty, as engineers have yet to find a long-term storage method that is safe and impenetrable to the radiation from the waste.

In addition to the environmental and health risks, coal and nuclear power really aren’t that economical, either: according to one subsidy watchdog, they’re only profitable due to state tax subsidies.

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