End the “Green” Delusions

End the “Green” Delusions: Industrial-scale Renewable Energy is Fossil Fuel+

Industrial-scale renewable energy does nothing to remake exploitative relationships with the earth, and instead represents the renewal and expansion of the present capitalist order.

Renewable energy is not the solution we think it is. We have inherited the bad/good energy dichotomy of fossil fuels versus renewable energy, a holdover from the environmental movement of the 1970’s that is misleading, if not false. Fossil fuels are correctly understood to be at the heart of capitalism, industrialism, and state formation, the results of which have been ecologically catastrophic. Meanwhile, industrial-scale renewable energy has emerged as the protagonist of our times, positioned as a solution to our ever-increasing energy consumption. Along with market-based conservation and “natural capital” policy making, it is taken to be among the central mitigating forces against climate change and ecological degradation. 2

With the rise of the green economy and climate change legislation, renewable energy includes the harnessing of wind, solar, and other apparently infinite “natural resources” to meet energy consumption on an unprecedented, ever expanding scale. However, contrary to the claims of its proponents, it by no means adequately addresses the real problem posed by current levels of energy consumption, which are driven by capitalist growth imperatives that ultimately cause the ecological degradation and climate change we see today. A focus on the technocratic issue of energy consumption often leaves unchallenged the political-economic violence of intrinsic to the social system that such energy powers.

Industrial-scale renewable energy does nothing to remake the exploitative relationships with the earth and ecosystems created and reproduced by “industrialized humans” — people acclimated to and dependent upon an industrial capitalist way of life. The excessive concern with possible energy solutions within capitalism as opposed to more fundamental social transformations expresses our inability to imagine any other way of living, blinding us to the deeper socio-ecological insurrection that climate change has made necessary.

Industrial-scale renewable energy and the grid-centric systems it powers represent the renewal and expansion of the present political and capitalist order. Not only are existing social discontents like inequality, discrimination, and exploitation reinforced by renewable energy, but the amount of infrastructure it presently requires clearly indicates the ecological costs involved in its full implementation. The wind and solar parks that span across fields and hillsides as far as the eye can see are harbingers of what this new energy system would look like. Where does all this metal come from, how much energy can it produce, and what kind of society do these systems propel and enable?

In 1980, American Indian Movement activist Russell Means explained the uncomfortable reality of extractivism in Native territory. Confronting a room of revolutionary Communists about their desire for industrialism, Means said:

Right now, today, we who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation are living in what Euro society has designated a “national sacrifice area.” What this means is that we have a lot of uranium deposits here and Euro culture (not us) needs this uranium as energy production material. The cheapest, most efficient way for industry to extract and deal with the processing of this uranium is to dump the waste byproducts right here at the digging sites. Right here where we live. This waste is radioactive and will make the entire region uninhabitable forever. This is considered by industry, and the white society which created this industry, to be an ‘acceptable’ price to pay for energy resource development. Along the way they also plan to drain the water-table under this area of South Dakota as part of the industrial process, so the region becomes doubly uninhabitable. The same sort of thing is happening down in the land of the Navajo and Hopi, up in the land of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow, and elsewhere. Over 60 percent of all U.S. energy resources have been found to lie under reservation land, so there’s no way this can be called a minor issue. For American Indians it’s a question of survival in the purest sense of the term. For white society and its industry it’s a question of being able to continue to exist in their present form.

We are resisting being turned into a national sacrifice area. We’re resisting being turned into a national sacrifice people. The costs of this industrial process are not acceptable to us. It is genocide to dig the uranium here and to drain the water-table, no more, no less. So the reasons for our resistance are obvious enough and shouldn’t have to be explained further. To anyone. 3

Like the mining of fossil fuels, the siting and implementation of renewable energy systems entails the creation of such sacrifice zones, often on Indigenous land. These projects have thus confronted considerable pushback from rural and Indigenous populations, and the struggles around extraction outlined by Means have only continued to intensify. By clinging to ideas like “sustainable development” and the “green economy,” progressives and other conscientious citizens are staking the future of the planet on dubious mechanisms of oversight, rife with conflicts of interest. The proliferation of voluntary UN standards, corporate social responsibility initiatives, private auditing firms, and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) are but “band aids of good intentions.” They ultimately cover over the true costs of extractivism, especially for the Indigenous people most affected by it.

The distinctions drawn between fossil fuels and renewable energy involve a sleight of hand that masks the continued ecological degradations necessary for the continuation of consumer society and its ecological modernization. Renewable energy requires immense amounts of mineral and fossil fuel resources, both in the construction of machinery necessary for extraction and for the manufacturing, transportation, construction and operation of wind turbines and other industrial-scale renewable energy systems.

For all these reasons, instead of conceiving renewable energy as a “green” environmental solution, industrial or utility-scale renewable energy is more accurately referred to as “Fossil Fuel+.”



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