Faith-based environmentalism

Contributing Columnist

There is a lot more faith than facts in today’s environmental programs. This is particularly true in California where the California legislature, in a fit of environmental myopia, decreed that the state must reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. According to a Wall Street Journal editorial, the California Air Resources Board asked the United States Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to determine whether California can reduce emissions to that level.

“The lab’s conclusion:” according to the editorial was, “dream on.” Even if the implausible and suicidal economic policies dictated by the legislature were actually implemented in full, the Berkley lab concluded that emissions in 2050 would be virtually unchanged. As the editorial concludes: “The state could obtain 50% of its electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass; grow its fleet of zero-emission vehicles to 17 million from 50,000 today; increase fuel efficiency to 78 miles per gallon, and expand rooftop solar generation by 800 %,” and it would still miss its target by a green mile.

One would have to conclude that California is spending billions of dollars subsidizing zero emission cars, wind and solar energy and, the billion dollar bullet train for exactly nothing. Talk about faith-based dreams.

Europe and our own federal government have indulged their wishful thinking gene to come up with policies that make about as much sense as decreeing that our electricity needs will be met by Unicorns pooping green energy.

Take Spain. Spain spends about 1 percent of her GDP subsidizing solar and wind power. The $11 billion on green energy boondoggles is more than the country spends on higher education. And, what has Spain accomplished by spending itself into penury? Not much according to environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg. “At the end of the century, with current commitments, these Spanish efforts will have delayed the impact of global warming by roughly 61 hours, according to the estimates of Yale University’s well-regarded Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model. Hundreds of billions of dollars for 61 additional hours? That’s a bad deal.”

Forget the cant that tells us that green energy is good for us whether or not the world is actually getting warmer. Producing the windmills that give us green energy is not environmentally benign. Wind turbines required neodymium and dysprosium, rare earth minerals mined almost exclusively in China.  A report for Britain’s Daily Mail tells that the dumping grounds associated with China’s rare earth industry is a 5-mile-wide lake of industrial waste. “This vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals is the dumping ground for million tons a year of mined rare earth after it has been doused in acid and chemicals and processed through red-hot furnaces to extract its components,” according to the reporter.

It was also disclosed that mining one ton of rare earth minerals produces about one ton of radioactive waste. Last year the United States added 13,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity. At least 4.9 million pounds of rare earth minerals were used to manufacture the turbines and this means at last 4.9 million pounds of radioactive waste were created to make those turbines. So, the manufacture of the wind turbines created as much, and possibly more, nuclear waste last year than the entire American nuclear industry. That’s impressive for a form of power generation that accounts for only 3.5 percent of all electricity generated in the country.

It is very unlikely you could convince eagles or other raptors to endorse wind energy. In January 2012, the Spanish Society of Ornithology published a report that Spain’s 18,000 wind turbines are estimated to be killing up to 18 million birds and bats a year. The international situation is equally grave. The study found that, “White-tailed Sea Eagles are being killed by wind farms in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Scotland and the Netherlands; Bald Eagles in Canada; Golden eagles in the US, Sweden, Scotland and Spain; Wedge-tailed Eagles and White-bellied Sea Eagles in Australia; eagles from 5 different species in Spain, all condemned to disappear because of the government’s “green” policy.”

The situation in California has become serious, at least according to field biologists.  The death count, averaging 67 a year for three decades, worries field biologists because the turbines . . . lie within a region of rolling grasslands and riparian canyons containing one of the highest densities of nesting golden eagles in the United States. “It would take 167 pairs of local nesting golden eagles to produce enough young to compensate for their mortality rate related to wind energy production,” said field biologist Doug Bell, manager of East Bay Regional Park District’s wildlife program. “We only have 60 pairs.””

Still, wind energy is a real bargain, that is, if you don’t mind paying two and three times the price per kilowatt hour; or, if you’re comfortable with the production of tons and tons of hazardous nuclear waste; or, if you don’t mind causing the extinction of Bald and Golden eagles. A real bargain: It’s a matter of faith.

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5 Responses for “Faith-based environmentalism”

  1. Tony Bridges says:

    I have just been watching a pair of White bellied sea eagles soaring over a limestone sea crag. I for one would be willing to pay higher energy bills to keep these magnificent birds. Keep beating that environment drum the world needs people like you.

  2. Tom Burgum says:

    Mr. Dewhirst, the estimate of Spain’s contribution was made by Yale University’s Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model. Yale University is not known to be a haven for conservative climate deniers. (Just ask Dick Hershatter.) As to offsetting the costs, best check with those tracking the possible extinction of eagles, hawks and other raptors. There seems to be a very high environmental cost for such a minimal production of energy.

  3. Martin Dewhirst says:

    The fact that one of the sources you used came from The Daily Mail which is one of the worst examples of the british press. This is a paper which is written and read by some of the most selfish and greedy people in the world! Anyone could search the internet for opinions which support their own selfish ideals. I completely dispute these figure being published about he impact that Spain’s efforts will have on reducing global warming. The fact is that for every bit of natural and free energy we harvest we do not have to burn fossil fuels, the cost of building a coal, oil or gas power station is just as polluting as building the equivalent wind turbines. The turbines once completed and erected will begin offsetting these costs where as the fossil fueled power stations just add to the problem throughout their lifetime. The fact that a country with a struggling economy is spending 1% of their GDP this way should be applauded. The rest of the western world including my own country should be ashamed.

  4. Tom Burgum says:

    I absolutely agree that access to rare earth minerals is essential — in the extreme. My point was that windmills are not environmentally benign. In fact, they are very destructive if you include the damage to endangered birds. Environmental groups have pointed out that the hazards of mining rare earth minerals is an argument against battery operated cars and many have rated an ordinary Honda Civic as the car that does the least damage to the environment. We need rare earth minerals but maybe windmills are not the bargain some people imagine.

  5. Marcello says:

    Although some of your arguments are correct, the whole picture you are drawing is misleading. In deed, the main consequence of rare earth materials technology revolution is that everything will be lighter, smaller, less energy consuming. In order to make it very clear for you: have you seen what has happened to your TV display, over the last 10 years: the weight of your TV set has (62 inch) gone from about 90 kg down to 3 kg (LED and OLED will weight even less). Well this materials & energy decompression will happen for any tool, any machine, any industrial process: that’s the very essence of the rare earth materials revolution! The Nation which misses this will lag behind!

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