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Reinventing the Wheel

Reinventing the Wheel - Teaching Old Hydro New Tricks

By x356039 - January 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

When discussing green, renewable energy something of a holy trinity of sources consistently emerges in every discussion: solar, wind, and water. Of the three the one receiving the least press these days as a possibility are those options and opportunities based on water power. This is understandable when one considers the first image that springs to mind when discussing the subject: towering tons of cold concrete caging the roaring rivers of the world to work for the whims of the wealthy and powerful.

There is little debate in spite of the incredible potential hydroelectric dams offer that they come at enormous environmental costs. At the consequences of these projects is summed up with very strong, damning words. In spite of the extensive studies regularly conducted on new dam sites the changes caused by construction lead to a number of unintended and deadly consequences for the local ecosystem. The most obvious is, of course, the diversion of the river's flow but the impact of this happens on more levels than immediately meets the eye. The creation of massive artificial reservoirs that result from the construction of these dams destroys the previously existing green water habitats of the rivers making them quite hostile to the native species. This leads to massive influxes of invasive species like snails, algae, and non-native predatory fish ensuring further ecological havoc. Added to this is the blocking of new sediment deposits, resulting in increased erosion and the lowering of the water table denying plant life of the needed moisture to thrive.

The negatives of hydroelectric dams don't stop there. Adding further insult to injury is the displacement of indigenous populations that often results from these massive building projects. According to a report titled, “Social Impacts and Social Risks in Hydropower Programs” submitted to the 2004 United Nations Symposium on Hydropower and Sustainable Development the number of people displaced in China and India over the past 50 years by such projects is staggering. Of the estimated 45 million people in China displaced by new industrial projects during this period at least half were forced out of their homes due to the construction of new dams with a new project in the Yunnan province expected to add tens of thousands more to their number. In India the number is believed to be at least fifty million and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. A recent report by Survival International argues hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced as we speak by new projects in Brazil, Malaysia, Guyana, Ethiopia, and Peru. The Ethiopian Gibe III Dam, expected to be the highest dam on the continent when it is completed in 2020, has already forced over 200,000 people from their homes and it still has six years to go.

If this was all there was to the story of hydropower then there is little doubt that any sane environmentalist would stay as far away from this source as possible and consign it to the same category as nuclear, coal, and other dirty sources of energy. Thankfully there are a number of recent innovations, many inspired by pre-industrial uses of water power, that show hydropower has a few more tricks up its sleeve that make it an equally necessary component in any green energy future. These new developments harness the potential offered by flowing rivers, the roll of the tides, and crashing waves in non-invasive, minimally impactful ways. What makes these even better is, like wind and solar power, these inventions can be implemented on a far smaller, more evenly distributed scale ensuring that all forms of renewable power remain truly grassroots power.

Reinventing the Wheel - The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

By x356039 - August 12, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In the discussions of climate change one item often overlooked is one of the most surprisingly obvious: food. Without any doubt the modern industrial food system is incredibly destructive to the environment. The carbon emissions, runoff from feedlots, use of pesticides and other toxins, and the impact of genetically manipulated frankenfood on ecosystems are all proven environmental consequences of factory farming. In spite of these factors industrialized food is often very far down on the list of mainstream environmental activists' priorities.

The relative lack of emphasis is not surprising. When it comes to climate change the first targets of efforts are usually the fossil fuel industry and rightfully so. It is thanks to their activities we are facing a climate crisis in the first place. On top of that agribusiness and their supporters have for decades made the case their methods are what the world needs to keep everyone fed. These claims often go unchallenged with food activists focusing more on the health consequences and nutritional benefits of natural, organic food over factory food. Thanks to these factors the mainstream discourse is not whether or not we should ditch fake food but seeking the best balance between factory food & real food.

This status quo suit agribusiness just fine for a very simple reason. Contrary to their most strident claims organic farming can not only feed the entire world, In some cases it can do it better. According to a report released by the United Nations FAO in 2007 organic farming techniques, when implemented in a comprehensive fashion, are capable of yielding as much in terms of crops as “traditional” factory farming. Quite contrary to the claims by more moderate voices it is very possible to do this without the use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically mutilated crops, or any of the other dubious hallmarks of fossil fuel farming. Even more impressively organic farming performs up to 60% better in drought-prone areas like Ethiopia than high cost, high maintenance, highly destructive factory farming.

Reinventing the Wheel - The Question of “Rare” Earths

By x356039 - June 26, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Rare earths often have the same effect on a conversation on renewable energy as a bucket of cold water to the face. With China's near-total monopoly on their production and refinement coupled with their necessity for producing green energy technology such as wind turbines many see rare earths as a question of trading Saudi oil barons for Chinese mining magnates. Others decry the environmental damage done by the mining and refinement processes, arguing the cost outweighs any benefit from green energy. In the eyes of many the issue of rare earths makes solar and wind power dead ends, effectively short-circuiting any green energy revolution. Such preconceptions are based on incomplete, inaccurate, and insufficient reporting on the real story behind rare earths.

Reinventing the Wheel - Kicking the Oil Habit

By x356039 - June 17, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Oil. It is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room at every discussion of climate, energy, and the economy. Our society is unquestionably addicted to it, with the United States consuming a whopping 19.1 million barrels of oil every day. When the total energy used is converted from barrels of oil to watt hours the figure is staggering. Running in at 31 terawatt hours per day, this massively dwarfs all energy consumed in the electric grid which runs in at a much smaller 4 terawatt hours daily. Much of this goes to running our transportation networks, providing fuel for trucks, ships, trains, and airplanes across the country before we even start looking at military consumption. With how incredibly ubiquitous oil is for our economy it is no surprise mainstream environmentalists talk of slowly phasing it out as opposed to going cold turkey on the black stuff, implying one more hit won't put us over the edge.

This is all based on the assumption that we do not have the means to go off of oil. Even renewable energy production is caught in its sticky web. Yet there is hope. The current potential for renewable energy is so great that if we implemented it on a sufficiently large scale even the massive demand for energy the oil economy supports could be met. As was established in a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study released in 2008 if 7% of all commercial and residential rooftops in the United States were fitted with photovoltaic solar panels our electric power demand of 4.05 terawatt hours per day would be completely satisfied. Now granted oil does provide for 33.8 terawatt hours of energy per day so how could solar meet that demand? If we increased the number of solar panels to cover 65% of all residential and commercial rooftops in the United States the massive thirst for oil would be quenched by clean, free sunlight.

Reinventing the Wheel - The REAL Green Jobs Story

By x356039 - May 2, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In the accepted limits of debate in Washington and Wall Street the main argument by proponents of the fossil fuel industry is the same as its always been: do you want to protect the environment or create more jobs? They argue expanding fossil fuel exploitation, in spite of the proven risks to the environment and public health, is necessary for the sake of job creation. By building Keystone XL across the Great Plains, opening the Powder River Basin to coal interests, expanding offshore drilling, and opening up new lands to fracking the fossil fuel dinosaurs claim our economy will recover & energy independence will be achieved. When confronted with the facts on clean energy sources like wind and solar power fossil fuel proponents argue clean energy is too expensive. They claim it would not be cost-effective to build a green energy economy and that it would lead to a decline in standard of living.

Quite contrary to the boldest of claims made by those dinosaurs the facts show shifting to a clean energy economy would create more jobs, cost less money, and easily exceed all performance needs. Research by the Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory at University of California, Berkeley shows the fossil fuel industry's claims of better job creation rates compared to green, clean energy are vastly overblown. As shown in this chart below renewable energy sources produce as many if not more jobs per megawatt of capacity as traditional dirty sources of electricity:

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