This is a book review, which is not my usual target. And a book titled “Green Illusions”, well, that could be red rag to my bull. I’ve been there before – there was the godawful Mark Lynas so recently, the turncoat who discarded his green mantle to put on a “pragmatic” lead suit, such that he could sleep with nuclear materials and preached how genetic manipulation had overnight changed from demon to saviour. This is clearly what big money can do – change objectivity. And in so many ways, of course.
So Ozzie Zehner’s tome was like as not a tomb, too, to his youthful environmental credentials, cast aside as he “grew up” into the “real world” and “saw things how they really are”. He probably used to rail on about excess packaging around merchandise, he probably used to eat organic food. I imagine he didn’t have a television and recycled his old clothes. But now, in the clear light of day, he could see his previous naiveté and was writing to correct any misconceptions he had left and help others avoid making the same mistakes.
It carries the subtitle “The dirty secrets of clean energy and the future of environmentalism” which continues to be offputting. Except, well, thing is, I kinda know there’s a whole lot wrong with solar panels. wind turbines and biofuels. All three have oft felt my ire. Like my ongoing tale of the Mexican peasant provided with a brand new, energy efficient stove on which to cook her tortillas and so reducing her carbon footprint – the stove financed, of course, from carbon offset monies. Only now she cannot afford the flour because it’s all being turned into biodiesel. Wind turbines always seem to be engineering feats, concrete sumps and operationally marginal, although certainly the right kind of idea. We have to harness our energy supply direct from solar input – which the wind certainly is. So is solar and yet they only seem economic if they carry huge, ongoing subsidy. In the UK the subsidy is recently reduced although still quite generous but is funded by other users, unable to buy the panels. It is, thus, direct subsidy of the well off by the poor. And in most of the country they are inefficient and soon need replacement – at further great expense.
So slightly less reluctantly I first watched Ozzie give a talk and Q&A session, in which he seemed open, honest and realistic. Easily enough to see that yes he shared my cynicism about green technology but yes he was indeed a reasonably dark green, as I see myself. Committed to developing a sustainable future based upon an objective and realistic appraisal of the current state of play. So I ordered the book – from the library, of course!
And now I’ve read it and it lives up to my expectations. A fine piece of work and evidence, too, of an aspect of character I share less with him. He is an avid accumulator of data. Me, I do that and I research topics well and with accuracy. I smell fraud and misdirection quickly and am usually correct. I really, really want to say “always correct” but do not like to tempt fate! But this guy has independently logged huge catalogues of evidence. One figure is drawn from evidence he derived from 50000 media articles on energy use, to glean a picture of social understanding and fashion.
He told the story of how, when asked to quote to install solar energy panels as part of a green upgrade for a house he had told the client that, really, he’d be better not to. This was because the tall, sheltering mature trees close up to the house would have to be felled, as they shaded the roof space. He was dismissed from the contract! Of course on all sane environmental grounds he was correct but with grants and credos for panel use the modern economy says otherwise.
The first half of this writing is so devoted to pricking the consumerist green bubble – the driver being what he terms productivism – green productivism. With his admirable analytic power, backed with hordes of data this section is very effective. No-one could doubt the strength of his case – and it is both realistic and pragmatic. So wind, solar electric, biofuel and other lesser green methodologies are positioned as providing no solution to present day over dependence on easy and plenteous supply of energy. He then catalogues the well exercised problems of fossil carbon and nuclear, as most greens already can.
In the second half of the book Ozzie, bless him, then gently persuades us all why not to jump off that window ledge. The picture is beak but if we all calm down see, this is the future of environmentalism. Much must change but, hey, we can do it. To find out how, well you must read the book and you could just find that it becomes a central text to your life. Not least because his admirable ability to collect data and information sources is reflected in a comprehensive set of references to support his projections.