Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism (Our Sustainable Future) Paperback – 25 Jun 2012
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"Terrific book. . . . Zehner is especially good at untangling sloppy thinking."--David Owen, author of "Green Metropolis"--David Owen (09/30/2011)
"At once prophetic and pragmatic--must be read by anyone concerned about our collective future."--Joel Bakan, author of "The Corporation" and "Childhood Under Siege"--Joel Bakan (09/30/2011)
"An extremely important message for a society whose best-intentioned members have lost themselves in a wilderness of wishful thinking. . . . In fact, the sort of techno-narcissistic behavior that Ozzie Zehner identifies is a tragic distraction from the actions that would keep us from falling through the cracks of history."--James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long Emergency"--James Howard Kunstler (09/30/2011)
"Provocative and essential! "Green Illusions" shakes us awake to the true challenges we face as a species . . . and inspires us to take action."--John Perkins, author of "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man"--John Perkins (09/30/2011)
"Think the answer to global warming lies in solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuels? Think again . . . . In this thought-provoking and deeply-researched critique of popular 'green' solutions, Zehner makes a convincing case that such alternatives won't solve our energy problems; in fact, they could make matters even worse."--Susan Freinkel, author of "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story"--Susan Freinkel (09/30/2011)
"There is no obvious competing or comparable book. . . . "Green Illusions" has the same potential to sound a wake-up call in the energy arena as was observed with "Silent Spring" in the environment, and "Fast Food Nation" in the food system."--Charles Francis, former director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture Systems at the University of Nebraska--Charles Francis (09/30/2011)
"All Americans should read this book."--K. J./i>--K. J. White "Choice "
"What set Zehner's work apart from the glut of other environment-related titles are his fresh ideas and superlatively engaging prose." Carl Hays, "Booklist Online"--Carl Hays "Booklist Online ""
"With chapter subtitles like "Step Away From the Pom-Poms" and epigraphs from the likes of Dr. Seuss, Zehner is a delightful apostate in the church of green energy." Sarah Rothbard, slate.com--Sarah Rothbard"slate.com" (08/01/2012)"
"This book is a must read for anyone concerned with sustainable living." Daniel J./i>--Daniel J. Benor "International Journal of Healing and Caring ""
"All Americans should read this book." K. J./i>--K. J. White "Choice ""
"As a nation, we have hard decisions before us. We need to find actual, tangible solutions that will make a real difference. Our path begins with critical thinking and informed choices. This book helps us get started." Jonathan Hladik, "Great Plains Research"--Great Plains Research "Jonathan Hladik ""
About the Author
Ozzie Zehner, who has collaborated on numerous projects in industry, government, and academia, is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.
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To say that this book is simply powerful would actually be to shortchange it. This book is not just an incisive analysis of our current state of environmental affairs. This book is also a work of sheer epistemology- brilliantly interrogating the very facts and data on which our analyses lay. Given his work as an environment consultant, he should know. Yet, there is a keen sense of sophisticated thinking that requires us to think deeply about "solutions" - taking the time to examine the presuppositions that undergird them and the axioms that allow them to go unchecked. This work of disentangling facts from fiction is prodigious on its own. Yet, to connect this disentanglement to the larger the social, political, and moral obligations that befalls our society makes what was a merely sophisticated argument into an ineluctably ethical one.
I came to this book as an educated skeptic. But the book not only brought me to think in important new ways, it also made me realize why these issues were so incredibly important. The author argues that it doesn't matter how many answers we discover if we are asking the wrong questions to begin with. I certainly had been asking the wrong questions. While I still disagree with the author on some issues, I think that the larger thesis is actually quite profound. The author weaves a compelling story about the global and growing addiction to consumption and the way that desires of technological abdication have obfuscated the relationships between economic habits and its effects in the form of environmental degradation. Zehner undoes this obfuscation through facts. This is where my skepticism began to subside. Working with a mountain of statistics and data, the story becomes undeniably clear and it is here where I find that these facts become incredibly important. But he does not rely on this. Not only does Zehner clearly lay out these facts, he also show us just how limited these facts are given our larger, rapacious trajectory of consumption - a trajectory that is much too fast (and accelerating) to be undone by expert ambiguities about data. No squabbles regarding the true benefits of wind technologies or other green tech solutions - can undo the undeniable consumptive dinosaur in the (world's) room. You can put all of your data regarding benefits of green technology together and they still can not undue the velocity of consumption.. It is there.. at that very moment that Zehner's provocative hypothesis goes beyond the methodological impasses of data to the undeniable truth of causes and solutions.
And yet, the most shocking part, at least for me, revealed after his elegant unraveling of our gilded assumptions, - is the sheer pragmatism of his solutions. The book avoids easy, pie-in-the-sky solutions and instead clearly articulates about three dozen "first-steps" all of which are clearly achievable. This is especially momentous given our current climate of endless political divisions, rugged anti-intellectualism and fact-free rhetorical grandstanding. These solutions touch all areas of our societies - approaching large-scale social problems such as those of healthcare and women's rights (p.187).
As an academic, I'm often prone to a permanent sense of reservation and as a once-ardent defender of green technologies, I actually know a lot about the subject. But I feel quite certain that this book will likely change things in dramatic ways. This book and the larger idea that it represents will likely reorient the entire conversation about energy, consumption, conservation and the sociopolitical tenets that though that we held so dear. As a person who rarely lifts his brow, I actually found this book to be devastating, astounding and impossibly important. I have been converted.
1. Increasing energy production sources (by using power from "renewable" wind, solar, geothermal sources etc. or improving fossil fuel technologies) results in a reduction in energy prices, which history has proven time and time again, results in a rebound effect in which consumption rises, consuming whatever short term gains were accomplished.
2. Comparing the environmental impact of renewable energies to fossil fuels is fundamentally flawed because being more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels is a preposterously low bar which to clear. This results in "less bad" technologies being portrayed as "good" because they are slightly better than the previous "bad" options.
3. Looking exclusively at the power generation side of the equation, whether fossil or renewable, is an approach akin to treating a symptom. Environmentalism would be more productive treating the causal side of the equation, which is consumption.
Zehner's Green Illusions first section is quite similar to Robert Bryce's Power Hungry http://www.amazon.com/Power-Hungry-Myths-Energy-Future/dp/1586487892 . Zehner systematically goes down the list of energy technologies, fossil and renewable, and describes the realities of both their energy production potential and their environmental impacts.
The latter half of the book is closer in tone to Robert Laughlin's Powering the Future http://www.amazon.com/Powering-Future-Eventually-Civilization-Tomorrow/dp/0465022197 . Zehner describes real solutions and ideas of what could occur to actual address the world's power problems via practical reductions in consumption through social, political and cultural changes.
Zehner doesn't have all the answers, but he seems to have honed in on the problem, and as they say, before we can agree on the solution, we have to agree on the problem.
The difficulty comes in the more gee-whiz kind of "solutions" banality that occupies the latter half of the book. Zehner is quite right to state that walkable, bikable cities with less consumption would be the way to have some shot at human "sustainability," so his architect background leads him to envision this or that green living utopia, from Dutch cities to kids on bikes to efficient retrofits. Fine - yet where is the data to suggest that this is going to come out of the present supersystem of greenwash and big corporate extraction? All the necessary instruction in how we should have designed our global social infrastructure is irrelevant if we are Too Far Gone.
Robert Laughlin, in "Powering the Future," does not make the assumption that walkable/bikable/voluntary simplicity is the next phase of human social reality - carbon is going to come out of the ground, one way or another, until the last drop or chunk.
Look at the CO2 numbers - too high already, and on track to blow through any Gladwellian cliche. Look at the population figures, the server farms, the global waste, the complete corruption of the political governing bodies and process - and yet there is to be biking and non-coerced Amish living across the energy-hungry globe?
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.
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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