So Yahoo! has a front page article on their portal, titled "Building Renewable Energy Sources Could Wreck the Environment"
. (Only they didn't capitalize it like you're supposed to for titles)
So let's take a closer look at this article. First off, on the actual article, the title is "Study: Renewable Energy Not Green". First paragraph:"Renewable energy could wreck the environment, according to a study that examined how much land it would take to generate the renewable resources that would make a difference in the global energy system."
provocative! But wait, let's look at some details, like who did this research, and how they did the study. That's how you tell if it's any good or not."Building enough wind farms, damming adequate number of rivers and growing sufficient biomass to produce ample kilowatts to make a difference in meeting global energy demands would involve a huge invasion of nature, according to Jesse Ausubel, a researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York."
Well, that's the who. Let's do a quick google to find out who this guy is. Here's his bio
from the school. "Jesse H. Ausubel is Director of the Program for the Human Environment and Senior Research Associate at The Rockefeller University in New York City." Okay, most of his bio looks like stuff related to the subject at hand. One thing, at the end of his bio, it says he's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations
, one of the nodes of conspiracy theorists all over. But of more note here is the list of Corporate Members
for the CFR. Pretty much every major oil company there. Oil companies, involved in think tanks influencing government? I am shocked sir, shocked! But the CFR has been involved in a lot of the fiascoes and wars the US has been involved in.
But all in all, it seems like he's pretty qualified, so let's continue through the article."Ausubel came to this conclusion by calculating the amount of energy that each renewable source can produce in terms of area of land disturbed.
“We looked at the different major alternatives for renewable energies and we measured [the power output] for each of them and how much land it will rape,” Ausubel told LiveScience. "
Okay now there's a red flag that this guy might not be exactly unbiased. Referring to building solar plants and wind farms and so on as "rape"."The results, published in the current issue of International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, paint a grim picture for the environment. For example, according to the study, in order to meet the 2005 electricity demand for the United States, an area the size of Texas would need to be covered with wind structures running round the clock to extract, store and transport the energy."
So why is a study on wind power and stuff in a journal for "nuclear governance"? This is the kind of thing a journalist should notice."New York City would require the entire area of Connecticut to become a wind farm to fully power all its electrical equipment and gadgets.
You can convert every kilowatt generated directly into land area disturbed, Ausubel said. “The biomass or wind will produce one or two watts per square meter. So every watt or kilowatt you want for light bulbs in your house can be translated into your hand reaching out into nature taking land.”"
This is just talking about wind, which nobody's talking about JUST wind. And there's a couple other points I'd make, but those get made by other scientists later in the article. Like so:"Other scientists are not on board with Ausubel’s analysis and say that his use of energy density—the amount of energy produced per each area of land—as the only metric may not be the correct way to calculate the impact of energy from renewable resources on the environment.
“In general, I would say his use of energy density just does not capture the entire scope of issues and capabilities for all the different resources,” said John A. Turner, a principal scientist at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who was not involved in the study.
Turner explains that if the entire United States were to be powered by solar cells with 10 percent efficiency, an area about 10,000 square miles would have to be covered by solar panels in a sunny place such as Arizona or Nevada.
“Now there’s 3.7 million square miles of area for the continental U.S.” Turner told LiveScience. “This represents a very, very tiny area. And that’s just one technology.”
“If you look at how much land area we’ve covered with roads, it’s more than double that. So yeah, it’s a large area, 100 miles by 100 miles, if you pack it into one thing, but if you scatter it across the country and compare it to all the other things we’ve already covered, it’s not an egregious area.” "Here's wikipedia on solar cells
. Most solar cells are more than 10% efficient now. And nobody's talking about using just wind, or solar, or whatever. Not to mention all the neat ideas out now, like offshore wind farms (which wouldn't disturb any land, or flying tethered windmills, energy from methane off landfills, or any of the more hypothetical and exotic things either in testing or ready to be used. But I'm kind of repeating myself."Ausubel’s analysis concludes that other renewable sources such as solar power and biomass are “un-green”. According to his findings, to obtain power for a large proportion of the country from biomass would require 965 square miles of prime Iowa land. A photovoltaic solar cell plant would require painting black about 58 square miles, plus land for storage and retrieval to equal a 1,000-megawatt electric nuclear plant, a more environmentally friendly choice, Ausubel wrote."
Ah hah. And this is why the study was in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology. I wonder if his analysis of nuclear power plants includes the square mileage of the strip mines and processing centers to dig up the uranium for nuclear fuel. I kind of doubt it."However, new land doesn’t have to be put into use just for a solar plant. Some scientists say already existing infrastructures could be doubled up for use to cover such an area.
“We could do with just rooftops of buildings and homes, land area we’ve already covered,” Turner said. “We could meet 25 percent of our annual electrical demand by just putting solar panels on already existing rooftops of homes and businesses.”
“Similarly, wind farms use up a lot of land area but they only really take up 5 percent of the land they cover,” he explained. “The rest of it can be used for farming so it doesn’t really impact the land area that much.”"
I don't really have any disagreement with this part of the article, I just wanted to quote it to agree with it and so it saved me the trouble of making these points. Especially the part about putting solar panels on roofs and other places where they don't "rape" the land, because there's already structures or parking lots there. Like solar trees
, which make power and provide shade, which helps reduce the heat island effect from giant spaces of blacktop."Ausubel thinks that a better alternative to renewable energy resources would be nuclear power, which would leave behind far less waste than other alternatives.
“There are three legs to the stool of environmentally sound energy policy—one is improved efficiency, second is increased reliance on natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration and the third is nuclear power,” he explained.
“Nuclear power has the proliferation issues, which are serious but the environmental issues are small. With nuclear energy the issue is to contain radioactivity, which has been successfully done.”
Well, his three legs are sort of right. We need to vastly improve energy efficiency. We have many many ways of doing that already, but companies haven't been working very hard at them. Which is especially odd since improving efficiency means less waste, which means less costs and more profit. We have the technology to do a lot of energy efficiency, we just haven't been. It's a massive market failure, and one of the reasons we need government to step in on the issue. As for natural gas, I don't recall any working examples of carbon capture and sequestration, the power companies don't seem interested in that except as a way of avoiding any real cuts in their production. And if we have working carbon capture and sequestration, they'd presumably work on coal and oil and anything else, not just natural gas. Nuclear power I'm iffy on. There's a lot of downsides, but there's also a lot of new designs that address some of the safety and other issues, so it's something that depends. There's still the issues of waste, which haven't been as successfully addressed as the flippant quote it the article makes it sound. And the fact that nuclear power is just a matter of piling radioactive stuff up until it gets hot and then using that heat to make steam feels kind of inelegant."Turner agrees that nuclear power leaves a smaller carbon footprint, but he thinks that the waste issue associated with this technology is very serious.
“It’s unconscionable to dismiss the issue of nuclear waste," Turner said, “because you have to store that waste for hundreds of thousands of years and nuclear wastes are particularly damaging to the environment and have social impacts also.”
Similarly, Gregory A. Keoleian, co-Director for the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, thinks more in-depth analyses are needed before dismissing renewables and considering nuclear power as a viable option.
“I think the characterizations made that ‘renewables are not green’ and ‘nuclear is green’ sound provocative, but they do not accurately represent these technologies with respect to a comprehensive set of sustainability criteria and analysis,” Keoleian told LiveScience. “The treatment of renewable technologies [in this study] is shallow and the coverage of the nuclear fuel cycle is incomplete." "
I agree with most of the critiques of the study above. It's too bad the people writing the headlines didn't read this part of the article. Or the editor didn't read it and promote this point to the main point of the article, which gives the study a false aura of importance, when it's shallow and flawed and ignores several major issues."To capture the entire scope of issues and capabilities for all the different resources, scientists believe there need to be more studies and discussions.
“We have a finite amount of time, a finite amount of money and a finite amount of energy, and we need to be very careful about the choices we make as we build this new energy infrastructure,” Turner said. “I’d like to see something that will last for millennia and certainly solar, wind and biomass will last as long as the sun shines. “ "
Well, the one sentence paragraph about more studies is banal, and mostly false. Not that scientists are against studies and discussions, but the invocation of "more study!" by global warming deniers and opponents of change makes it ring really hollow. Scientists have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. Which is get away from burning coal and oil and gas, and use less energy, and use the energy we use smarter. The specifics of how to do it for each area depend on the area. Though I'm pretty sure biomass, wind, and solar plants would require upkeep, repair, and upgrades to last as long as the sun shines.
This article's worst sin is its totally misleading headline and title, which are usually not the reporter's fault. And the author did a good job of speaking to other scientists to find out other opinions on the study. But the other big failing with this article is the same as with many other articles, in science, politics, and beyond. It's presented just as a "He said, and he said" article, with the two opposing viewpoints presented, but the author doesn't do any research to determine which of the viewpoints is right. Objectivity doesn't mean reporting just "both" sides of something, it means trying to find the objective truth behind it. And there's no attempt at that here. No concluding paragraph showing the author has an understanding of the issue and isn't just a stenographer. The whole reason journalists are supposed to be paid is to help people reach an understanding and knowledge of what's happening. And at that, they're failing.