Qualicum Institute: Advocating a science-based understanding of ecological, social and economic survivability

Green Energy

Unlimited Economic Growth Using Green Energy is Possible Only if We Don't Understand Physics

Green energy and clean growth feasibility curve
Graph adapted from William Rees presentation

The question we asked was: is economic growth possible using only green energy? The correct answer is: No. Although solar and wind are unlimited sources of energy, the materials used to convert them into useful energy (e.g. rare metals, fossil fuels) are not.

The promise of green energy allows us to buy into the comforting notion that we don’t need to make any fundamental changes in our consumptive lifestyles. The only changes needed are in line with the economic growth paradigm: buying more and more stuff like solar energy panels, solar powered batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and other green technology inventions.

Promoters of green energy as the solution to climate change give us hope that we can just switch from fossil fuels to green energy without altering our over-consuming lifestyles.

But there is a growing realization that there are “cracks in the foundation of the mainstream energy transition narrative.1

This narrative of “affordable clean energy” views the world through a narrow keyhole that is blind to innumerable economic, ecological, and social costs (ibid).” 

The economic, social and ecological costs are best captured by the “Carbon Tunnel Vision” graphic by Dr. Jan Konietzko.2

Green energy and carbon tunnel vision
Carbon tunnel vision image by Dr. Jan Konietzko

Addressing externalities is a huge step in the right direction, but the article referenced above gives many promising business strategies while remaining within the economic growth paradigm. As with many proponents of solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss, the article fails to identify that climate change and biodiversity loss are themselves only symptoms. That the root cause of these symptoms is economic growth.

This dance of dealing with symptoms while failing to address the key drivers of economic growth is the underlying fallacy of “Green Energy” in its current form. It is “an eco-washed version of the status quo with its unquestioning faith that technology will save us and its comforting narrative of business-as-usual by alternative means.”1

But business as usual was fueled by fossil fuels. And replacing those fossil fuels by green energy in order to meet 2030 and 2050 targets remains a physically impossible aspiration. Green energy proponents “fail to address how the gigatons of already severely depleted metals and minerals essential to building so-called Renewable Energy technologies will be available in perpetuity considering typical five to 30-year life spans and the need for continuous replacement (ibid)“. 

For an eye opening analysis, we invite you to read the article by Megan Seibert and William Rees cited below. 

The following articles by Andrew Nikiforuk are also excellent and easy to understand:

There is no question that technology to develop green energy is needed. Our point is that, while green energy is a desirable alternative to fossil energy, at our current state of consumption and economic growth, it remains a pipe dream.


Stop ecological overshoot caused by economic growth

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