Alternatives to alternative energy

04/30/2013 - 18:46

Alternatives to alternative energy

Ozzie Zehner

Ozzie Zehner is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley STSC and author of Green Illusions (GreenIllusions.org).  He researches the social, cultural, political and economic...

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In this interview, Green Illusions author Ozzie Zehner says that alternative energy technologies such as solar cells and wind turbines have become fetishes and spectacles that do nothing to offset coal use. Instead, he says, these technologies serve mostly as symbols that distract Americans and prevent them from considering cleaner and more affordable solutions to climate change and other environmental problems. He argues that subsidizing alternative energy technologies actually has a boomerang effect: By making energy cheaper for consumers, it increases the demand for energy. Zehner criticizes electric cars as inventions that are no better for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles and that simply perpetuate a vehicle-centered culture. He describes how media coverage of energy-producing technologies such as solar cells and biofuels soars along with gas prices, while coverage of energy-saving technologies such as insulation stagnates. In Zehner’s view, Americans don’t have an energy crisis; they have a consumption crisis. He recommends that, instead of concentrating so much effort on developing alternative technologies, each of which comes with an unavoidable downside, environmentalists should focus on social and political programs—he cites youth cycling programs as one example—that are good for public health as well as the planet. Zehner suggests that such programs need to provide immediate personal benefits and long-term climate stabilization.                   

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