It’s a fine line to walk between being an “environmentalist” and being a renewable energy lobbyist or advocate. The connotation associated with environmentalism precludes an adamant environmentalist from maintaining consistent logic in the face of strong opposition. Such opponents are often unwilling to listen to one word out of an environmentalist’s mouth. Environmentalists are tree huggers, some say, and therefore have no place in the decision-making of wide-scale energetic dilemmas.
Therein lies the dilemma inherent in renewable energy advocacy: while a renewable energy lobbyist or advocate may pursue a completely logical, economical, and tactical energy policy (for example: let’s build all new power plants with renewable energy since it requires no fuel input, and thus lowers our fuel imports), their logic is usually confounded with environmentalism and so it loses strength and efficacy. The result is a rejection of the renewable energy proponent’s ideas and logic.
Personally, I’ve found it quite challenging to make the distinction between being an environmentalist and believing in the benefits of renewable energy. Yet, this delineation is so utterly important, because in the field of renewable energy activism, one immediately loses half the audience if labeled an environmentalist.
Almost daily, I must field the incessant, but still cumbersome question: “You’re an environmentalist, right?”
No, not really at all. I’m a political philosopher. I’m an economist. I like logic. I believe in humanity. I believe in social progress. I’m a futurist, a forward thinker. I examine the present in the light of the past, and looking towards the future (to paraphrase Keynes). Sure I believe in some forms of renewable energy, but think other supposed renewable energies (ahem, corn-ethanol) are usurping the term for their own benefit; and in fact, use more energy than they create.
I have no problem acknowledging the importance of fossil fuels to the world economy.
Yes, I believe fossil fuels could become irrelevant one day. No, I don’t think renewable energy can completely replace conventional energy right now. But yes, I do think more and more people should be involved in energy decisions, thought processes, innovations, explorations. The more people involved, the better chance for creating new, innovative renewable energy.
When attempting to explain to my family, close friends, or other acquaintances what I do (which albeit is difficult because presently I work in several somewhat divergent fields), almost immediately I’m labeled an ‘environmentalist’.
This is usually how it goes:”So what are you doing right now; what is it that you do?” My typical reply: “Well, for example, last week I attended a conference discussing the technological innovations behind battery storage, in order for us to harness and use more renewable energy. Renewable energy is basically energy derived from the earth that does not require a constant input including solar energy, wind energy, or geothermal energy—though others certainly exist.”
The response: “Oh okay, I get it. So you’re an environmentalist.” “No”, I say, “I’m simply a logical thinker focused on the best, most holistic solutions for societies around the world. By using energy more efficiently, and deriving it more directly, we as mankind are moving forward. Renewable energy is not environmentalism; it is logical human progress.”
The most ironic part is that this thought actually comes from a self-preserving, almost selfish, prescience: I’d like my grandchildren to breathe clean air. I’m actually concerned about the extension of my bloodline more than the environment.
The simplest way I can describe what I do is to declare that I work in energy awareness. The more people I can convince to examine their own energy use, or investigate renewable energy technology, and the highly beneficial part they personally can play in the subject, the more successful I will be. I’m sort of a renewable energy lobbyist without the paycheck. There are several I.O.U.s out there that someday I may collect, if one day I’m associated with the progenitor of such efforts.
Renewable energy is logical energy because once built and installed, it requires very little human input or raw material input. In other words, no coal, oil, natural gas, or uranium needs to be trucked to a solar or geothermal power plant after it is built. This allows us to use our computer technology to very effectively monitor and control energy within localities; this will ultimately increase energy efficiency dramatically.
If, for instance, a computer system is in charge of controlling a solar energy power plant, it can precisely dispatch electricity across the grid as required; it can store excess energy in batteries, steam, molten salt, hydro-pumps, or fly wheels, as needed. That stored energy can then be dispatched when it is needed.
On the other hand, a conventional power plant such as a nuclear reactor, must run 24/365 at full capacity, wasting as much as 75% of all the energy it has created; or a coal power plant which is largely at the mercy of human error, takes many hours to power up and down; and therefore, cannot respond to actual societal needs.
To me, the former renewable energy technology is a significant step forward for human civilization. Though it may be shortsighted to immediately convert all power plants around the world to renewable energy, (since the technology keeps getting better (Moore’s Law), it does make sense to carefully begin implementing the technology within reason.
The Merriam-Webster’s definition of environmentalism is this: “a theory that views environment rather than heredity as the important factor in the development and especially the cultural and intellectual development of an individual or group; advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment; especially the movement to control pollution.” This brings up one more important point: renewable energy lobbyists must back away from arguing within a “carbon frame”, or arguing in favor of renewable energy in order to stymie the negative effects of carbon emissions. Arguing in this frame lays the game wide open for manipulation by advocates of “lower carbon emission” energies such as nuclear and natural gas.
I suppose I am guilty of having an emotional tie to renewable energy. I’d like my children and grandchildren to inherit a life similar to mine. I feel very fortunate to have been given a beautiful, luscious, hospitable planet.
I believe in space exploration but think colonization of another planet is far away. I think logically about the earth’s resources. Sure, I care about the environment but that comes after my first two core beliefs: I believe in humanity and progress. Conventional energies are no longer progressive, though at one point they were. Humanity must begin to bind together to coherently create new energies. This collective exploration and implementation must begin now.
Picture Sources: James Provost & Pacific Northwest National Laboratory