Thursday, 12 May 2016

Environmentalism and over-population. Then and now.

Much of how the anti-nuclear power movement came about can be understood in terms of over-population obsessions. This is not very helpful today because, if you mention it, a modern enviro won't know what you are talking about. Modern Environmentalism is very different to its parent. Environmentalism was totally captured by the left from the early 1990s onward. In response to the Soviet Union collapse, many ex-Marxists joined the environment movement, and seem to have taken it over (at least ideologically). It's no longer legitimate for modern enviros to worry about population in public. I can't think of any green organizations promoting population as a problem. Au contraire, most enviros want unrestricted immigration into the West. Malthus still dominates environmentalism, but it's the Malthus of limits: resources running out, environments polluted, and earth's capacity exceeded.

The origins of environmentalism, and the anti-nuclear movement were very different, as Donald Gibson points out:

... In the pre-World War Two period the Rockefeller interests also became deeply involved in an area that would become increasingly intertwined, both organizationally and ideologically, with conservationism and environmentalism - population. Fox notes that “As social movements, population control and conservationism shared parallel histories, intersecting at many points over the years.” That probably began with Malthus. John D. Rockefeller III would later be eulogized by the population control establishment and given the informal title of 'Mr. Population.' In the early decades of the 1900s the focus was on the solution of social problems through population control and eugenics, one of Henry Osborn's areas of specialization.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. set up the Bureau of Social Hygiene in 1911 ...

A few things to note.

  • The Rockefellers funded and, to an extent even directed the 1956 BEAR 1 agenda - a key report made by geneticists which formulated Linear no-threshold, LNT, (claiming there's no safe radiation dose). Many of these geneticists were worried about the impact of genetic mutations on the human species itself. They believed genetic degeneracy caused by radiation would cascade down the generations. We can see the influence of eugenics concerns here. The LNT hypothesis would later become a key environmental regulation tool, and in the eyes of enviros, transform itself into a scientific theory just because they said it was. Rod Adams has written extensively on this aspect.
  • Scientists term radiation a peril to future of man - even small dose can prove harmful to descendants of victim, report says, From front page of New York Times, June 13 1956, referring to BEAR 1 report.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation also funded radiation education in universities with substantial grants
  • "The Population Bomb", 1968 (by Paul R. Ehrlich) was written at the suggestion of David Brower, Friends of the Earth founder.
  • Friends of the Earth, FotE, manufactured the rationale for anti-nuclear power movement, with a Gish Gallop of pseudo-scientific arguments. Many of these key memes in the anti-nuclear power movement were created during discussions between David Brower, Amory Lovins and their colleagues at FotE.
  • Because they called themselves an environmentalist organization, many journalists took FotE claims are valid. Being against nuclear power became part of environmentalism.
  • This despite the fact that none of the anti-nuclear power arguments invented/popularized by Lovins & Co were actually environmental problems or concerns.
  • Liberal pro-nuclear scientists didn't know how to respond to barrage of pseudo-scientific arguments put forward by Amory Lovins et al.
  • Opposition to nuclear began as Malthusian — anti-growth — but greens invented made up environmental reasons” (hat tip to Michael Schellenberger for this and previous 4 points)
  • Michael Schellenberger points out that over-population was the key Malthusian worry of early Friends of the Earth (David Brower).

    ... Starting in the mid-sixties, a handful of Sierra Club activists feared rising migration into California would destroy the state’s scenic character. They decided to attack all sources of cheap, reliable power, not just nuclear, in order to slow economic growth.

    If a doubling of the state’s population in the next 20 years is to be encouraged by providing the power resources for this growth,” wrote David Brower, who was Executive Director of the Sierra Club, “the state’s scenic character will be destroyed. More power plants create more industry, that in turn invites greater population density.” ...

    --Michael Schellenberger


  1. Donald Gibson, 2000-2014. Ecology, Ideology and Power, pp35-36
  2. Stephen Fox, 1981. The American Conservation Movement, pp 144-145.
  3. Michael Schellenberger, 2016, Why Environmentalists Keep Changing Their Mind On Nuclear
  4. Jennifer Gunn, 1999. "A Few Good Men: the Rockefellers and Population Studies." Pp. 97-114 in The Development of the Social Sciences in the U.S. and Canada: the Role of Philanthropy, eds. Theresa Richardson and Donald Fisher (Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing, 1999).
  5. Rod Adams, 2014. Shaping public perceptions of radiation risk

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Solar photovoltaic cells cause more greenhouse gas emissions than they save, in Northern Europe

A new report published in Energy Policy, by engineers in Switzerland concludes that solar panels do not stop global warming. Solar photovoltaic, PV, has a negative energy return. Over its lifecycle, it takes more energy to manufacture than we get back from it. This is the case for all of Northern Europe (Britain, Germany, Poland, Northern France, etc.), Canada, and regions getting moderate sunlight (moderate insolation)

They calculated the extended energy return on energy invested for solar PV, ERoEIEXT, and discovered that the ratio of energy returned, divided by energy expended was less than one. That it takes more energy to manufacture, deploy, and decommission solar PV than is made over the lifetime of the panels. The energy produced by solar PV (green), is less than the energy needed to make it (pink). Resulting in a net energy loss, or drain (red).

Here are the report's conclusions:

Conclusion and policy implications

The calculated value for ERoEI is dimensionless, constituting the energy return (2203 kWhe/m2) divided by the energy invested (2664 kWhe/m2) – a ratio of 0.82. It is estimated that these numbers could have an error of ± 15%, so that, despite a string of optimistic choices resulting in low values of energy investments, the ERoEI is significantly below 1. In other words, an electrical supply system based on today’s PV technologies cannot be termed an energy source, but rather a non-sustainable energy sink or a non-sustainable NET ENERGY LOSS. The methodology recommended by the expert working group of the IEA appears to yield EROI levels which lie between 5 and 6, (see Section 4.1), but which are really not meaningful for determining the efficiency, sustainability and affordability of an energy source. The main conclusions to be drawn are:

  • The result of rigorously calculating the “extended ERoEI” for regions of moderate insolation levels as experienced in Switzerland and Germany proves to be very revealing. It indicates that, at least at today's state of development, the PV technology cannot offer an energy source but a NET ENERGY LOSS, since its ERoEIEXT is not only very far from the minimum value of 5 for sustainability suggested by Murphy and Hall (2011), but is less than 1.
  • Our advanced societies can only continue to develop if a surplus of energy is available, but it has become clear that photovoltaic energy at least will not help in any way to replace the fossil fuel. On the contrary we find ourselves suffering increased dependence on fossil energy. Even if we were to select, or be forced to live in a simpler, less rapidly expanding economic environment, photovoltaic technology would not be a wise choice for helping to deliver affordable, environmentally favourable and reliable electricity regions of low, or even moderate insolation, since it involves an extremely high expenditure of material, human and capital resources.
  • Research and development should however, be continued in order in future to have more efficient conversion from sunlight to electricity and a cheaper, more reliable PV-technology offering increased efficiency and a longer, failure-free lifetime. The market will then develop naturally.


"Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation", by Ferruccio Ferroni, Robert J. Hopkirk. Energy Policy, Volume 94, July 2016, Pages 336–344, doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2016.03.034 [actual pdf]