One of the smarter greens out there is warning against getting carried away by the hype over renewable energy. Bjørn Lomborg puts the current state of green energy in historical context in a piece for Project Syndicate:
The reality is that humanity has spent recent centuries getting away from renewables. In 1800, the world obtained 94% of its energy from renewable sources. That figure has been declining ever since.
Solar and wind make all the green headlines, but as Lomborg points out, in context their growth is less impressive considering they’ve expanded “from almost nothing to slightly more than almost nothing.” The two renewable mainstays contribute very little to overall energy production, or even renewable energy production:
Solar and wind energy account for a trivial proportion of current renewables – about one-third of one percentage point. The vast majority comes from biomass, or wood and plant material – humanity’s oldest energy source. While biomass is renewable, it is often neither good nor sustainable.
We’ve written before about the dubious green credentials of biomass; Lomborg notes that the energy source can lead to widespread deforestation and deadly air pollution, and to the extent that biomass displaces food crops, it drives up global food prices which can have a devastating impact on the world’s poor.
Overall, Lomborg adds some much-needed nuance to the green versus brown energy debate, noting the environmental benefits fossil fuels have wrought while also pointing out some of the damages supposedly “green” energy sources have wreaked. His conclusion, that more money should be funneled into energy research and development, finds welcome ears here Via Meadia. The less money we spend propping up these kinds of technologies and the more we spend developing them, the better.
[Photo of Bjorn Lomborg courtesy of Getty Images]