Green Illusions

Green Illusions

The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

Book - 2012
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We don't have an energy crisis. We have a consumption crisis. And this book, which takes aim at cherished assumptions regarding energy, offers refreshingly straight talk about what's wrong with the way we think and talk about the problem.
Publisher: Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2012
ISBN: 9780803237759
0803237758
Characteristics: xx, 437 p. : ill. ; 23 cm

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dnk
Feb 04, 2018

Two and a half decades ago, I took a class called Environment and Society. Required reading for that class was State of The World 1990. What that book clearly laid out was that technology was not the answer to our problems with energy; to solve the problem, we'd have to rethink our systems, not just create new technology. There was a place for renewables, but ultimately the answer was using energy more intelligently.

Unfortunately, that's not what we we've been told. Many of us have been dreaming of a day when a combination of solar, wind and hydro power can replace coal and oil for all of our energy needs. That is, if we haven't been convinced that hydrogen, nuclear power or (non-existent) carbon capture are the keys to solving our energy problems.

The first part of Zehner's book slams down those arguments. While he points out many of the drawbacks inherent in renewable technologies (I'm not likely to look at photovoltaic panels again and not think about the waste associated with them), the most damning pieces are his exploration of how hydrogen and "clean" coal came to dominate the energy discussion in the last decade, reaching its most intense pitch during the 2008 election cycle.

The technology, however, is not the real problem and it never was. While our energy delivery systems need to be made more efficient- over half of what is generated is lost before it reaches consumers- the real roots of the problem are population and consumption. Zehner is sensitive to the fact that many population-control measures have been ham-handed at best and draconian at worst (read Mara Hvistendahl's Unnatural Selection for more on that); what he argues for (as many others have for decades) is a comprehensive program that improves women's rights and education. Once empowered, women tend to choose to have fewer children. That's easier- and less tragic- than forcing couples to reproduce at certain levels.

Perhaps because I'm a mother of younger children and teenagers I found the exploration of marketing to children to be particularly disturbing, but I suspect others will too. Anyone who wants to argue that consumption should be the engine of our economy should read about the way children are stalked so that advertisers can figure out the best ways to market to them, or the way poorer city children are exploited so their tastes and habits can be sanitized and marketed to more affluent youth as a safe form of rebellion. And why is that relevant to a discussion about adult buying habits? Because children become adults- and advertisers want to make sure that they are socialized as early as possible to become consumers.

While the picture many paint is bleak (and rightfully so), Green Illusions points to places where energy is being used more efficiently. Zehner notes many of the efficiencies available in the Netherlands- and big cities like New York City. While this may fly in the face of the DIY model of self-sufficiency that asks us to envision ourselves on rural homesteads, city-dwellers are among the most energy-efficient in the world. The reason that isn't touted more? Because there is nothing sexy (or salable) about small apartments, public transportation or shared furnaces. However, those are the things that consistently work.

Highly recommended for anyone concerned about energy use.

m
mamabadger56
Nov 14, 2016

An important, informative book - although discouraging to those of us who would like to believe there are easy solutions to the environmental crisis. Zehner takes the subject with the seriousness and thoughtfulness it deserves.

p
pm221
Nov 11, 2016

The pessimists guide to energy production of all types, followed by a plea for sociological change to minimise energy consumption. All very valid if discouraging.

l
Lon11
Jan 14, 2015

It could be considered two books in one really. If you approach the book in that manner it is a very satisfying read.

brendancarlson Apr 24, 2014

I'm in agreement with the commenter below, the first half of this book is a fairly good read, the second half...not so much.

b
binational
Aug 02, 2012

This book is easily over a hundred pages longer than it needs to be, and that taxes the reader's patience. Still, it debunks a lot of "politically correct" myths about solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, LEED ratings, and other supposedly "sustainable" technologies that turn out to be far less "green" than the greenwashing marketing hype would have you believe. The real answer, Zehner argues, is in less glitzy options - the new urbanist building codes, heat and electricity cogeneration, weatherizing existing homes, bicycling, etc.

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marcosdog123
Mar 20, 2013

marcosdog123 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

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