Bowling For Michael Moore – The tricky business of renewable energy…

The Planet of the Humans, produced/tagged by Michael Moore caused a bit of a stir recently with the criticism ranging from “hmmmm, a bit out of date” to “he’s effectively now a white supremacist”

Here’s a Guardian critique of Moore if you think the latter summary is a glib throwaway exaggeration: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/07/michael-moore-far-right-climate-crisis-deniers-film-environment-falsehoods

YouTube video

My own criticism is reserved not for the clumsiness of the attempt to highlight both corporate involvement and the reality of renewables but for the rash conclusions from those on both sides of the environmental debate; the film is NOT saying “all renewables are bad so let’s start drilling in the Arctic” it is simply questioning the recent gospel that renewables are ‘all that’ so we must not criticise them.

Meaning “dig a little deeper” into renewables and this is a fitting turn of phrase as renewables require digging. LOTS of digging. And drilling (I’m writing this from a drilling rig on a wind-farm electrical cable-laying project, my tenth or so project this past year alone).

They require so much digging that serious thought is being given to the topic of deep-sea mining, particularly for cobalt. Cobalt is a mainstay of renewables, if you want solar power and electronics then you’re going to have to go and extract cobalt from somewhere.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/04/is-deep-sea-mining-vital-for-greener-future-even-if-it-means-destroying-precious-ecosystems

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/03/deep-sea-mining-to-turn-oceans-into-new-industrial-frontier

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/collapse-of-png-deep-sea-mining-venture-sparks-calls-for-moratorium

This is true of many other materials for wind turbine magnets; the need neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium. Though not particularly rare (even though they’re classified as rare earth elements) they are unsurprisingly rocketing in price due to the ‘renewables boom’ (as an investment magazine I once read labelled it).

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/rare-earth-mining-china-social-environmental-costs

What happens when minerals rocket in price? More mining. Consider that mining is one of the sticks used to beat down the nuclear industry yet the scale of mining for nuclear is absolutely dwarfed by the mining activity required for renewables on a watt for watt basis (uranium pit-mining in the USA is all but obsolete, they use water leeching to extract the uranium, not ideal but at a push they can extract uranium from seawater too, if they even need it what with all the waste that can be reused…).

In our western bubble are we concerned at the environmental practices and standards in places that are likely to be the centres of such mining? Will the rainforests of Papua New Guinea be replaced once we in the west have extracted what we need? Same for Congo and wherever else we can find the various minerals and materials?

We’re up in arms at the potential for gold mine in the Sperrins but happy enough to see other faraway places bear the brunt.

Human rights

Apparently Michael ‘The Monster’ Moore is now on the alt-right and all the horror that comes with that.

The man clearly cares for his fellow man, his track record shows this. If people were to be equally concerned about other humans they would do well to look at what goes on in mining in 3rd world countries. While I doubt that they’re ALL run on the back of child slavery I’d be very surprised if the working conditions and wages are like those of an Australian coal or uranium mine.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/12/phone-misery-children-congo-cobalt-mines-drc

https://www.ft.com/content/c6909812-9ce4-11e9-9c06-a4640c9feebb

 

Gas

The movie also pointed to the likelihood of more gas-fired power stations and though the gas industry itself is in a bit of a pickle at the moment this prediction is playing out, Germany and the US  are building more gas-fired stations. Yes, better than coal. But still fossil fuels none the less.

(And look at this snippet regarding the UK)

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/22/uk-approval-for-biggest-gas-power-station-europe-ruled-legal-high-court-climate-planning

Germany is closing down its nuclear plants before the coal plants (I went past one of the lignite fuelled monsters recently, awful, its coalfield is about to eat up the remains of a once great forest at Hambach, the protest site there received a publicity shot in the arm with a visit from Greta), so, we can expect a temporary spike in carbon emissions until the gas fired stations are on line supplementing more wind-farms and the coal stations are off, where we can then expect less carbon emissions, but emissions nonetheless: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/10/greta-thunberg-climate-change-fight-germany-hambach-forest

Loosely summarised:

Coal plus renewables = greater carbon emissions than nuclear plus renewables

Likewise gas plus renewables = greater carbon emissions than nuclear plus renewables.

No amount of nice posters, re-framing of the argument or narrative crafting will change this state of affairs.

What is also a state of affairs (well, rather a strong theory) is that had the aforementioned coal station been built as a nuclear station instead then Hambach forest would not be chomped up by the coal mine to provide fuel for the lignite beast. Greta and the protesters would not have been needed. The forest would probably still be intact (other commercial interests notwithstanding) and the carbon emissions from the coal plant would never have existed.

Anyway…

The point is that renewables have an underside that is not often discussed.

Personally I think the west, with its solid infrastructure and stability would be wise to have a mix of 4th generation nuclear and renewables.

Let the sunnier developing countries concentrate on solar and let them build their infrastructure around it, many don’t have the centralised grid infrastructure that we have.

If we go down the path of ONLY renewables we will unleash mining on barely imaginable scale (I can imagine it from years of working around mines, drilling rigs and pipelines, I can fathom the carnage). Plus we’ll then have to freight the stuff to the west from these developing nations when they could probably make better use of it.

Why should Portland Oregon use up the share of cobalt that could be used in Port Moresby (PNG)?

To me it just doesn’t make sense creating all that extra unnecessary pollution under the banner of ‘reducing pollution’.

And consider how much electricity we will require in the future especially if we need more hydrogen (from electrolysis), more electric cars and perhaps carbon scrubbers (being looked into). That’s a serious number of wind farms and solar farms even if we can make battery storage from salts or muds (also being looked at).

This is a terrifying amount of material, someone in a poor country will pay the price for this either physically or environmentally and this I believe was the point of ‘The Planet of the Humans’; look under green carpet before jumping on it.

How many people did this and how many just attacked Michael ‘The Monster’ Moore and believed the counterpoints without question?

As a bonus point, regarding the criticism of the movies constant reference to overpopulation (which OBVIOUSLY entails consumption too); The Guardian et al are livid on this point as they somehow twist this to being some sort of racist Malthusian policy, so, I’m just going to leave these here:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/12/want-to-fight-climate-change-have-fewer-children

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/20/give-up-having-children-couples-save-planet-climate-crisis

https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2017/oct/07/should-we-be-having-fewer-children-for-the-sake-of-the-planet

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/06/heres-how-you-can-parent-less-and-give-your-children-space-to-try-fail-and-grow-from-it

Photo by Free-Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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