But the film does make some silly mistakes. Gibbs claims that a solar panel will generate less energy than it took to build the panel. That’s a misleading claim. Many teams of researchers have addressed the question of energy return on energy invested for solar power, and even the most pessimistic results (with which I mostly agree) say that the technology can yield a marginal energy gain. Much of that gain goes away if we have to “pay” for the energy investment entailed in providing batteries or redundant capacity. Wind power generally has a better energy payback than solar, but the location of turbines matters a great deal and ideal sites are limited in number. Assessing solar and wind power calls for complicated energy accounting, but the film reduces that complexity to a blanket, binary dismissal.
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Less of What We Don't Need
Stories about Less of What We Don't Need.
Let me be clear. Gibb’s critique of renewables is just wrong, and its proportions are absurd. You would never know that the “gas as a bridge fuel” people are no longer held in esteem. You would never know that the intermittency problem is being solved, and the storage problem too. You would never know that the problem of decarbonizing the grid has been front and center on the renewables agenda for decades, and that the electric car people know it all too well. You would never know that the technology revolution is well and widely understood to be necessary but not sufficient to the green transition. All of which is to say that this would have maybe been a good movie 20 years ago. Maybe.
I really want to end on a hopeful note, so here goes. It doesn’t have to be this way. We’re perfectly capable of increasing our happiness without piling on more environmental harms. Tired old promises about green growth won’t get us there. What we need instead is a collective change of heart and mind that leads to fundamental shifts in institutions and norms, prioritizing well-being and life satisfaction over ever-more consumption—just as we’re prioritizing health over economic activity by quarantining ourselves during the pandemic. The fact that we’ve put off that shift for 50 years doesn’t mean we have to continue doing so. Maybe the pandemic, along with the resulting temporary shuttering of travel and commerce, is an opportunity to rethink and reboot both our individual lives and our collective ways of being on this precious planet. That would make this Earth Day a truly meaningful occasion.
Noam Chomsky has long advised leftists to read the business press closely, to better understand what social elites want each other to know. This article, originally from Bloomberg News, explains how demand for oil has fallen by 30-35% globally, and that production and refining are beginning to shut down. US oil companies attempt to play the ‘jobs’ card to lobby for bailouts, but this article makes it clear that they will still need to drastically reduce production, and are beginning to do so.
Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, mandarins, tangerines, grapefruits, limes, pomeloes) are the highest-value fruit crop in terms of international trade. Citrus plants are not frost-hardy and can only be grown in tropical and subtropical climates – unless they are cultivated in fossil fuel heated glasshouses.
However, during the first half of the twentieth century, citrus fruits came to be grown a good distance from the (sub)tropical regions they usually thrive in. The Russians managed to grow citrus outdoors, where temperatures drop as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius, and without the use of glass or fossil fuels.
By 1950, the Soviet Union boasted 30,000 hectares of citrus plantations, producing 200,000 tonnes of fruits per year.
Could response strategies to suppress COVID-19 be the impetus to actually respond to climate change, rather than as stop-gap measures to get back to “business-as-usual” as quickly as possible? The answer remains to be seen, but some measures have already been proposed that have been otherwise considered at worst anathema to capitalism, including the nationalization of private enterprise in France and a universal monthly income in the US. As some have argued, COVID-19 presents society with an opportunity to actually respond to climate change through “planned degrowth” that prioritizes the well-being of people over profit margins. This might occur by getting accustomed to lifestyles and work patterns that prioritize slowing down, commuting less, shorter work weeks, abolishing rents, income redistribution from the richest to the poorest, prioritizing workers health (especially for low-wage migrant workers who are substantially more vulnerable in the face of an economic downturn), and relying on more localized supply chains.
Medical Student going door to door. Photo: Abel Padrón Padilla