The modern obsession with Climate Change and its presumed primary cause in the burning of fossil fuels, has led to the unchallenged assumption that modern civilization can and must switch its energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrokinetic (wave and tide) sources.
The question is rarely asked: “Can renewable energy sources replace fossil fuel energy sources to provide all of the energy that human civilization demands, now and into the foreseeable future?”
The usual technocratic response is “Sure. There is no technical barrier to producing all of our energy needs from renewable energy sources.”
The follow up question is never asked: What would be the environmental cost of attempting to produce present and future energy demands with renewable energy sources?”
While it may be *feasible* to produce all our energy needs from “renewable” energy sources, this technological infrastructure comes with large and severe environmental impacts. Mining minerals and rare earth metals necessary to build and maintain renewable energy systems results in habitat loss and natural resource depletion. The enormous physical sites required for wind and solar farms (see above) reduce the availability for natural ecosystems and their native species. Hydroelectric requires dams that inundate huge swaths of natural ecosystems and result in unpredictable seismic changes.
Here is an overview of the environmental impacts of renewable energy sources from the Union of Concerned Scientists:
- Environmental impacts of wind power
- Environmental Impacts of Solar Power
- Environmental Impacts of Geothermal Energy
- Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power
- Environmental impacts of Hydrokinetic energy
The question is not “Which is best, renewable energy or nonrenewable energy?” The only question that is meaningful in terms of the full biosphere is: “How can we reduce our impacts on the natural world by reducing our energy demands?”