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Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

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  • Posted June 12, 2012

    Within the alternative-energy landscape sound a cacophony of lef

    Within the alternative-energy landscape sound a cacophony of left or right leaning pundits espousing the merits or the drawbacks of this windmill or that coal plant. In this milieu stands author and professor Ozzie Zehner, a beacon of sound and level-headed reason amongst the hoards of ideologues. His chapters on solar and wind power expose the often unheralded drawbacks and weaknesses of these repeatedly trumpeted solutions. Without a hint of extremism, Zehner attempts to fill in the gaps of public knowledge through "shades" of arguments. It's clear that in a day and age of polarizing political campaigns we need a voice like Zehner's to lead the way to real and thoughtful conversation.

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  • Posted June 9, 2012

    This is an amazing book that everyone interested in alternative

    This is an amazing book that everyone interested in alternative energies should read. In fact I think ALL of our policy makers should have this book as mandatory reading. The book is easily read, fast paced and full of good anecdotes and straight forward thinking on the 'business' of alternative energy sources. Mr. Zehner offers so many practical solutions to our growing energy crisis. Green Illusions will turn your Alternative Energy thinking on it's head. As I said, Green Illusions is a must read for all students, educators and policy makers concerned with the growing

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  • Posted June 1, 2012

    This is a book both devastatingly honest and realistic about the

    This is a book both devastatingly honest and realistic about the challenges we face, but also full of reasons to be hopeful. Personally, I think it is the only environmental book that really addresses the inter-connectedness of the many challenges we're confronting as a society, and Zehner does so with searing intelligence and quite a bit of humour. His critiques are forceful without being pedantic or accusatory. And his writing is extremely accessible and engaging. What's particularly impressive is that Zehner grounds his analysis in social science scholarship, yet you never feel like you're reading an academic book. He reminds us that scholarship cannot only show us where we've gone wrong in our thinking and actions, but in piercing through the fog of our own desires, carve out a realistic path forward. This is an impressive book that I believe will become a classic not only in specific studies of energy technologies, but for the environmental movement more broadly.

    Zehner's central critique is that alternative energy technologies are unlikely to make much impact on displacing fossil fuel consumption. This is largely because of what Zehner calls a "boomerang effect" consistent with basic economic principles: Producing more energy (alternative or not) lowers the cost of energy overall, thus leading to increasing energy consumption. In other words, unless you implement some kind of backstop such as an energy tax on all types of energy, alternative energy technologies simply lead to more consumption via lower costs, rather than displacing fossil fuel use. This is a compelling argument and one largely supported if we consider energy consumption historically (e.g., construction of nuclear power plants was accompanied by more, rather than fewer, coal-fired power plants). What's more, says Zehner, these technologies have serious limitations of their own. For example, solar cells contain elements that are quite toxic, require environmentally-unfriendly mining operations, and pose significant disposal issues at the end of their lifespan. They're also expensive. So expensive that they divert funds from much more promising, though less technologically-sexy, alternatives. This might be tolerable if they were doing something to offset fossil fuel use (though even then they would entail trade-offs). But they don't. And, they simply do nothing to change the way we live, which Zehner says is unsustainable given increasing population and therefore, increasing levels of consumption.

    Though Zehner critiques the contemporary environmental movement for having lost their way by placing too much emphasis on so-called "green technologies" that simply aren't, his critique is not borne out of animus. Rather, it emerges from deep concern about the future and faith that the environmental movement can do better. It has done better. And Zehner says we need to return to the powerful fundamentals that have less to do with technological "solutions" (solutions that simply allow us to continue consuming without feeling guilty) and more to do with what kind of society we wish to live in. In what may be a counter-intuitive argument to many, focusing our attention on issues like healthcare, women's rights and how we organize our communities in ways that not only reduce consumption but simultaneously improve human relationships will do more to address our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels than all of the solar cells, wind turbines and electric cars combined.

    This book is simply a must-read for anyone concerned about issues of consumption and environmental justice, or even those who are simply skeptical of the hype around alternative energy technologies.

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