Thursday, 13 August 2015

The origin of the term renewable energy and what it really means

The term "renewable energy" goes way back at least to the mid-1970s when Amory Lovins used it. I tried to trace its origin, using the OED. Although the word renewable dates back to 1727, it does not seem to have been used with energy, as in "renewable energy", prior to 1971 when it was first used in Scientific American. [OED, 2e, vol. XIII, 1989, pg. 613]
2. Of a source of energy: not depleted by its utilization.
1971 Sci. Amer. Sept. 43/2 (caption) Continuous, or renewable, energy supply can be divided into two categories: solar and non-solar.
I think it's no coincidence that the origin of this term dates back to the beginning of the organized anti-nuclear power movement. The first single issue anti-nuclear power organization was founded in 1969 when Friends of the Earth began. Nor a coincidence that it was Scientific American who first used the term. They's been pushing renewable energy at us for a long time, and continue to this day.

My argument against algal biofuels

There's a paradox here. Many nuclear power supporters have scant faith in biomass (too resource intensive). Anti-nuke climate campaigners (aka 100%-RE advocates) may not like biomass much but they're surely not against it with the same fervency seen in their anti-fracking and anti-FF campaigns. Biomass, is actually responsible for most EU renewable energy (biomass was 64% of European Union renewable energy in 2013). In my experience, support is reversed for algal biofuel. Greens (the CC, 100%-RE people) oppose it because they know it means supporting GMOs. Techno/nuke supporters are for it! Am I the only one who's very skeptical of biofuels?

  1. It's resource intensive; more so than most biomass. It will have a big environment footprint, in terms of land/sea area and pesticides.
  2. We don't need biofuel. We can make synthetic fuels from electricity or heat; made with nuclear power. E.g. Ammonia.
  3. It's, by no means, guaranteed to work. The feasibility and ease of growing hundreds of thousands of square miles of algal monoculture is greatly overestimated (mainly by people who've never done anything like that before). In terms of scale it rivals geo-engineering projects.

Wait a minute, no one has ever done anything like that before.


  • RE: renewable energy
  • FF: Fossil fuel
  • CC: climate campaigner
  • GMO: genetically modified organism

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?

TOWNSEND: I was making a speech to nearly 200 really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to two hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure with my little magic wand that we do not go above two degrees of global warming. However, by waving my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of physics not with people – they will be as selfish, they will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger, the houses will get bigger, the planes will fly all over the place but there will be no climate change. And I asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave its magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised their hands.
-- Solitaire Townsend Co-founder and Chief Executive of Futerra Sustainability Communications, Broadcast as 'Analysis', BBC Radio 4, 25 Jan 2010, 8:30pm: Podcast | Transcript