Book review of “Bright Green Lies”

This is a book review of “Bright Green Lies. How the Environmental Movement Lost its Way and What We can Do About It” by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert.

This is a timely book.  The Biden administration is alarmed by how China controls up to 90% of rare earth and other essential minerals we’ll need for bright green power and anything else electronic. Analysts are predicting that the Biden infrastructure plan will include mines for lithium (such as the open-pit lithium mine at Thacker Pass, Nevada), a new copper mine in Arizona on land the San Carlos Apache Tribe considers sacred and more destruction of U.S. land, rivers, and aquifers.

This book covers the amazing amount of damage bright green power will do to the climate, biodiversity, and ecology, but above all by mining.  If you are trying to lose weight, read this book, you will lose your appetite, I guarantee you!

And why destroy our country to mine metals to compete with China? In my book “Life After Fossil Fuels”, I write “Let China monopolize the second most polluting industry on earth. Mining spews out acid rain, wastewater, and heavy metals onto land, water, and air. One fifth of China’s arable land is polluted from mining and industry.  Mining the materials needed for renewable energy potentially affects 50 million square kilometers, 37% of Earth’s land (minus Antarctica), with a third of this land overlapping key biodiversity areas, wilderness, or protected areas. If mined, that would drive biodiversity loss, harm (rain) forests, and poison ecosystems.  Renewable energy is anything but clean and green. And quite a Pyrrhic victory for China!”

Some religions promise life after death, bright green lies promise that we can continue our gluttonous earth-destroying lifestyle without any sacrifices.  Instead of Jesus, our savior will be Renewable Energy, recycling, and more. 

Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” applies to Bright Green Lies.  You’re being told that because of climate change, you need to hand over huge subsidies to the industrial economy to destroy huge amounts of the natural world with toxic wastes for the electricity generating contraptions that will allow you to continue with your non-negotiable lifestyle.

More than any other book, this one zeroes in on the massive amount of ecological destruction that mining the materials to make millions of wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear and other electricity generating devices will cause.  In many ways the harm is more substantial than greenhouse gases, which get all the attention.  I am just sickened by the harm mining for wind and solar contraptions causes.   Tremendous harm, agricultural areas seeded with toxic metals, great harm to creatures great and small with consequent biodiversity loss, polluted rivers, lakes, and oceans from all the toxic chemicals used to extract metals from ores, and much more. 

The authors expose the huge negative ecological impact wind turbines can have on landscapes, especially from the mines required to get copper, iron, and other ores to construct them with.  There’s a lot to be said about this, and not surprising when you consider the scale of Stuff required. Just the blades to generate 2.5 TW of power would need about 90 million metric tons of crude oil to make the resins. The 3.8 million 5 MW turbines Mark Jacobson calls for would need 2.4 billion tons of steel, 1.9 million tons of copper, 2.6 billion tons of concrete, and much more. We’re talking 60,000 Hoover dams of materials here!  

On top of that, wind, solar, and other renewables are not reducing emissions, nor are they making a dent in energy use except for a teeny tiny amount in electricity generation.  Germany, which has gone further than any other nation to wean themselves off fossil fuels, known as “Energiewende”, is a huge failure as shown in Chapter 3: The solar lie part 1.  Yet the most expensive attempt in the world to replace fossils with renewables is falsely praised as a success by the Sierra Club, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and other environmentalists.  The authors also point out that solar power may actually have a negative energy return on energy invested (EROEI), especially in northern climates.   

Solar panels, like wind turbines also require a horrifying amount of raw materials, none of which are renewable, such as lead, indium, nylon, polypropylene, silicon, zinc sulfide, gold, silver, chlorine, aluminum, copper and tin, and few of which will ever be recycled.  In addition, solar panels need transformers, substations, transmission lines, a network of roads to provide maintenance access, vehicles, fuel for the vehicles, factories to build the vehicles, and so on.  And that’s nothing compared to what a concentrated solar plant such as Ivanpah requires, which destroyed wildlife after covering 3500 acres (5.4 square miles) of ecologically fragile desert land.  Like wind turbines, solar panels depend on mines producing vast amounts of toxic wastes. 

Increasing the electric grid to carry more renewables, or building more dams and geothermal power also has a huge impact on the mining of billions of tons of minerals and ecological harm.  And a dozen other “solutions” such as tidal power or biofuels. None can be done without destructive mining.

And please don’t forget: Most of the components of wind and solar will not be recycled for reasons discussed in Chapter 8, and what little is done to recycle will just add even more toxic elements onto the earth to tease metals and minerals apart and large amounts of fossil fuels for the high heat needed to separate them. For most metals, it is back to the mines and yet more destruction.  Nor is collecting recycling materials with hundreds of thousands of diesel-powered garbage trucks good for the environment, and at least half of this material will end up in the landfill anyhow.

Keep in mind, that after all this destruction, rinse and repeat. Onshore wind has a lifespan of about 20 years on shore, 15 years offshore, solar panels from 18 to 25 years, and so on as I write about in energyskeptic.com post “55 Reasons why wind power can not replace fossil fuels“.

When it comes to batteries for energy storage and autos, keep in mind that it takes half a million gallons of water to produce just one ton of lithium.  Thousands of already dry areas of Bolivia and Chile – the flora and fauna – are under threat from lithium mining.  Cobalt is mined by 40,000 child slaves in intense heat with no safety equipment.  Lead and other battery minerals are equally destructive.

Pumped hydro storage seems like a less destructive way to store electrical energy, but this book will disabuse you of that notion.  Nor are compressed air energy storage and other proposals any better or feasible.

You’d think that bright green contraptions would solve our problems with efficiency, but that isn’t true either.  Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the book…it’s complicated.

There’s been so much hype that compact dense cities will reduce energy use and emissions, keep wild lands from development, and save biodiversity that you may be surprised by how absurdly untrue these myths are.  For one thing, cities aren’t staying compact. Every heard of urban sprawl?  From 1945 to 2000, 45 million acres, larger than Washington state, was developed.

Real Solutions

  • Subsidies can be diverted from the military to everything from battered women’s shelters to free education to free health care to wildlife and stream restoration to massive projects of dam removal, reforestation, and revivification of prairies and wetland
  • Industrial civilization is incompatible with life on the planet. That makes the solution to our systematic planetary murder obvious, but let’s say it anyway: Stop industrial civilization. Stop our way of life, which is based on extraction. No, that doesn’t mean killing all humans. That means changing our lifestyle dramatically.
  • First, we need to stop the ongoing destruction being caused by so-called green energy projects, by oil and gas extraction, by coal mining and ore mining, by urban sprawl, by industrial agriculture, and by all the other million assaults on this planet that are perpetrated by industrial civilization. And second, we need to help the land heal.
  • Stopping deforestation, restoring logged areas, grasslands, wetlands, salt marshes, peat bogs, and seagrasses would remove more carbon dioxide from the air each year than is gen[1]erated by all the cars on the planet
  • And finally on page 446, since overconsumption and overpopulation are the driving forces of this endless destructive growth, “all forms of reproductive control must become available to all”.
  • Close all military bases on foreign soil.

This book doesn’t address the fact that peak oil has happened. From “Life After Fossil Fuels”: “Conventional crude oil production leveled off in 2005, and it appears to have peaked in 2008 at 69.5 million barrels per day (mb/d) according to Europe’s International Energy Agency (IEA 2018 p45). The U.S. Energy Information Agency shows global peak crude oil production at a later date in 2018 at 82.9 mb/d (EIA 2020) because they included tight oil, oil sands, and deep-sea oil.”  

Within the next few years, oil will be declining at a rate of 6% or more a year.  Oil is the master resource that makes all other goods possible: coal, natural gas, mining, logging, transportation, agriculture, construction, cement, steel, and so on. Nothing could possibly reduce greenhouse gases more than oil decline. No geoengineering project could even come close and would almost certainly bring on unexpected side effects worse than the “cure”.  Oil decline will be exponential, which means in as little as 16 years we could be producing just 10% as much oil, and everything else for that matter, than we produce today. Or sooner if a shrinking economy triggers enough instability to case civil war, social unrest, and war over the remaining oil. 

Bright Green Lies is trying to stop the madness of destroying the planet and biodiversity for something that won’t solve any of our problems, except to enable the billionaires to grow even richer in the very last financial bubble before collapse.

Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com  author of “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy“, 2021, Springer; “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer; Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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10 Responses to Book review of “Bright Green Lies”

  1. Hugh Spencer says:

    Yes, but we DON’T WANT TO KNOW!!!! – we are dreaming the dream!! – that is, until it becomes a nightmare.

  2. David Higham says:

    Regarding the second paragraph of the ‘real solutions ‘ section,stopping industrial civilisation doesn’t mean killing all humans,but it does mean that
    the vast majority of humans would die. Maybe they should be more explicit about that. The greatly inflated human population’balloon’,with all the associated grotesque ramifications ,can only remain inflated by the continued use of fossil fuel. We really have constructed the mother of all quandries.

  3. Michael Gray says:

    As much as I knew about these issues, this book is an astounding wake up call to just how big the issues are. Recommended to all. It pulls no punches and goes straight into the big issues.

    Like you said, the section on hydro power just left my jaw on the floor with issues I had never conceived but now seem so obvious.

  4. Bill Chaffee says:

    The massive increase in population during the last 100 years is mostly the result of a drop in the death rate. There was a lag before birth rates started going down. The birth rate is still way to high in Africa however in many parts of the world it is below the replacement rate. I recently turned 70 so I don’t think that I will live to see how this plays out. I live in Fullerton California which seems to be in the midst of another drought, in fact much of the western United States is in a drought.

  5. RP says:

    Hi Alice and other commenters:

    “Within the next few years, oil will be declining at a rate of 6% or more a year…. Oil decline will be exponential, which means in as little as 16 years we could be producing just 10% as much oil, and everything else for that matter, than we produce today.”

    Could you recommend a reference for this decline rate please? I would like to read more about it.
    Many thanks.

    • energyskeptic says:

      I wrote within the next few years. It could be one year, it could be ten years, but the 6% rate is in sight. The IEA says peak conventional oil happened in 2008, the EIA in November 2018 (they include non-conventional oil). The 6% will happen when all oil is in decline. 6% is the lowest possible rate, the average that the giant oil fields, which will have provided 2/3 of all oil ever produced, decline at after peaking. Read my new book “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy” which was just published here: https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783030703349 That is where you will find the explanation and citations. The IEA reports that the natural decline rate is already 8.5%, with 4% now made up by maintaining production at oil wells (which means pushing water, CO2 etc into the well to push the oil up to towards the surface). More can come from discovery, but not much oil was discovered the past 7 years, and even if it had been, new projects, which take ten years often to produce, weren’t started due to the low price of oil. the IEA expects fracked oil, which was 82% of new oil since conventional oil peaked in 2005, to also start to decline. Yet it is fracked oil that has “saved” us since 2005. With 2/3 of the remaining conventional, easy, cheap to pump oil in the Middle East, while the USA is down to the dregs of their oil reserves, the Middle East is in the drivers seat. China and Southeast Asia will probably get a lot of what they produce, not the USA. Russia is a mafia totalitarian state and hasn’t been spending money growing their oil infrastructure, so don’t look to them either.

      • rpb1001 says:

        Thank you very much for your reply.
        It’s thoroughly depressing.
        I’m beginning “Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet” from Thomas Murphy, and will consider the $149 outlay for your book on Springer if I can still face the world after that.

  6. DavidS says:

    Of course its a lie, the environmental movement sold out. To be fair, perhaps the degrowth, depopulate message was just too impossible to sell. But it will be a decade at least, probably longer before the lie is exposed – by blackouts, collapsing living standards, barely a dent in C02 etc. By then the damage will be done. We can only stand back and witness events. This only stops when humans completely exhaust their biosphere and population crashes. The slightly odd list of “real solutions” are so unlikely, that they can not be considered real or solutions- one might as well believe in renewables in that case – either belief is simply a coping mechanism – understandable but ultimately won’t make a damn bit of difference to the outcome.

    • DavidS says:

      I might add – the dark green lie is population. The planet cannot support 8+ billion without oil. This isn’t about “access to reproductive control” – this is about 75%+ population reduction in a timeframe of 20 to 30 years. Yet population remains a taboo subject for most environmentalists – bright or dark. Not that it matters, we clearly have no humane mechanism to achieve these rapid population reductions. Instead nature will do it for us – as it does for all species in overshoot.

  7. Sheila Chambers says:

    I have been “harping” about overpopulation for decades!
    The response I received “the earth could support 10+ billion humans”, “look at all that “empty” land, there is plenty of room for more people”, “if we cut food wastage, we could feed twice as many as now”, “if we all became vegan, we could save the planet” & the real zinger is “Texas could contain all of earths people with room to spare!”
    You got to be kidding!
    These people are profoundly ignorant as to how much GOOD fertile land it takes to support one person, their clueless.

    Another huge problem is RELIGION!
    Religion has taught them that we are a “special” creation so the laws of nature don’t apply to us, the earth was “made” for us, no, it’s not “made” & we are just a bipedle, mostly hairless APE.

    Our “education” system has failed us big time, it’s weak on SCIENCE, it doesn’t correct religious beliefs even when they can be proven wrong, they allow religion to be taught in the schools & most of the worlds governments encourage religious beliefs, it makes the population easier to control I guess.
    Now we are being fed the LIE about “renewables”, people are soaking up that lie & buying EV’s, solar panels, wind farms are cluttering the landscape killing birds, wind farms are being erected off our coasts, killing more life, NONE of those OIL DEPENDENT TECHNOLOGIES can replace OIL COAL OR NATURAL GAS & for 8 BILLION humans to survive, we must have OIL, a lot of OIL!
    OIL is the keystone of this civilization, as mentioned by other commentators, it’s in decline & that decline will be expodental just as our cancerous growth was.
    We could have saved ourselves IF we had addressed population starting in the 1920’s if not sooner or at least by the end of WW2 but instead, the worlds governments pushed GROWTH endless GROWTH.

    That growth has doomed us, enjoy this way of life while it lasts, it will be but a tiny blip in geologic time.
    We don’t even have a prayer now.

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