Magical Thinking About Green Energy


by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:

The incentives must change from “waste is growth” to hyper-efficiency, conservation, right to repair and manufactured objects engineered to last a generation or longer and be recyclable at scale.

Humans like novelty but don’t like change. It’s easy to confuse the two. When we say, “I need a change,” what we mean is “I’d like to be refreshed by some novelty,” not “I want all the uncertainty, ambiguity and potential for errors and losses that come with change.”

Humans like a new model of truck (novelty) but don’t like their truck is taken away (change).


Since life is change, we all some experience with it. Some changes happen to us, others are the result of conscious choices we make.

Every individual has a mix of aptitudes, strategies and experiences with both kinds of change. Some of us are better at handling one kind or the other, some don’t handle either very well, some handle all change remarkably well.

Very few of us say, “I sure would like to have a health crisis.” We don’t choose the health crisis, but we do choose our response.

Like many of you, I’ve had accidents (health crises), major career changes and multiple moves to different locales.

as a general rule, changes we choose / direct have a push-pull aspect: there’s something negative we want to avoid or end, and something positive we want to obtain.

For example, we might realize that our current job is a dissatisfactory dead-end (the negative) and we need a more satisfying career (the positive).

A health crisis is negative but the prospect of this being a catalyst for a healthier lifestyle is positive.

Being fired or losing our job is negative (not the change we wanted or chose) but once we accept that our life is going to change one way or the other, we can view this negative as a positive catalyst– a move we didn’t choose for various reasons, but a positive move because otherwise we wouldn’t have taken all the risks and uncertainties that go with fashioning another career.

As a species, humanity is approaching the end of the past 200 year period of expansion of energy consumption. In the initial stages of this vast expansion, much of the new energy went into positive improvements: rural electrification, enormous leaps in food production and healthcare, and so on.

But beyond a certain point, energy and resources are being spent on consumption rather than investment, what I call “waste is growth:” once we set energy / resource consumption as the measure of prosperity, vehicles burning fuel in traffic jams, food that has been thrown out, half-empty aircraft and so on are viewed as positive “growth” because more fuel and resources were consumed.

Needless to say, waste is not growth, it’s squandering precious resources.

Humans habituate to new conditions with remarkable ease. Conditions that are initially horrific (Gulag prison camps, etc.) are soon just “everyday life.”

So humans have habituated to “waste is growth” and consider wasting energy and resources perfectly normal and desirable, as waste is more convenient than conservation and efficiency.

When humans are told 1) hydrocarbons are a limited resource that will soon become more expensive to extract and 2) burning hydrocarbons is ruining the biosphere we all depend on, few humans think “gosh, we should use much less energy.”

Instead, they think, “Let’s replace those 30 billion barrels of oil, the 30 billion (equivalent) barrels of natural gas and the 30 billion (equivalent) barrels of coal we burn every year with “green energy” that doesn’t pollute the biosphere with greenhouse gases and other negative consequences.”

Since humans don’t like change but they do like novelty, it’s very easy to anticipate electric-powered air-taxis (small helicopters), a billion all-electric vehicles, etc., all powered by “green” “renewable” energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels.

The transition away from hydrocarbons won’t require any sacrifices or inconvenience, it will be a seamless transition from the petroleum-fueled vehicle to the electric vehicle, from gas-fired generators to solar/wind and batteries, and so on.

Everything in the new energy system will naturally be recyclable.

Unfortunately, the anticipated seamless transition to all renewable energy is magical thinking in virtually every way.

Renewables are not actually renewable, they wear out and must be replaced, so they are “replaceable” not “renewable.”

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