“Too Hot Not to Handle”
Dangerous Renewable Energy Propaganda
FTW Staff Writer
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“Perhaps the greatest flaw in the Peak Oil movement’s current operating paradigm is that, a part of the movement at least, instead of building lifeboats in the face of an immediate disaster, is delusionally focused on trying to build alternative-powered luxury liners that operate just like the paradigm we as a species need to be abandoning. Not only is this a futile effort, it may well be responsible for killing or destroying the lives of people who at least partially understand Peak Oil and who are trying to find the best courses of immediate action for themselves and their families.”
Michael Ruppert, THE PARADIGM IS THE ENEMY, Speech delivered at the Local Solutions to the Energy Dilemma Conference, April 29, 2006
June 6th 2006, 1:06 PST (FTW) – New York – The recent HBO Documentary, “Too Hot Not to Handle,” does an outstanding job of outlining the reality of global warming, but completely drops the ball when dealing with renewable energy. It leaves the viewer feeling as if the technology is currently available to allow over-consumption to continue without changing the “American way of life.”
This is dead wrong.
The damage being caused by this irresponsible renewable energy PR campaign is hard to overstate. “Too Hot Not to Handle” is merely one small example of a much larger problem that is running rampant throughout the media. FTW cannot deconstruct every piece of renewable BS that is put out there otherwise that would be all we could do: there is more bad information than good being pushed now.
But since this documentary is such a high quality production, presenting all of the proper information on climate change from prominent scientists and researchers, we must shine a spotlight on the deceptive handling of renewable energy information in “Too Hot Not to Handle.”
It is likely that some, even most, of this deception is unintentional, but that is effectively meaningless. Just because those producing the false information believe it doesn’t make it any better. What makes this campaign potentially deadly, and perhaps unstoppable, is how desperately the populace at large wants to believe in it.
No one wants to change his or her lifestyle or have to think too hard. People just want renewables added into the equation of the current suicide economy so they can keep leading the same destructive lifestyles they’ve become hypnotically comfortable in. Both industry and the populace at large want to use renewables to supplement over-consumption instead of fostering sustainability.
Renewable energy works great within sustainable systems but not in a suicide economy of over-consumption. Those who have been following FTW’s maps of Peak Oil, renewable energy and the economy are in better shape than most; these people are best equipped to analyze this gigantic push for Big Renewables in the proper, realistic (and perhaps lifesaving) context.
I am amazed to see just how effective this Big Renewables campaign has been from both the left and the right. It is an amazing Zeitgeist of our time. For years renewable energy has received vocal support from liberal environmentalists, but now we see the likes of Michael Savage and other conservative pundits jumping on the bandwagon especially since gas prices broke $3.
People want to believe. Everyone wants to believe.
The hard truth is that we are all looking for a renewable savior to save us from ourselves. A false sense of security is the last message we need drilled into our heads as Peak Oil and climate change become undeniable realities, but that is what we are getting because it is what we want. “No need to change our way of life because the renewable solutions are already here,” goes this PR-driven argument. “We just need to implement them.”
As is almost always the case, not all of the information presented on the reality of renewable energy in “Too Hot Not to Handle” is bad. The documentary showed that cities and localities have been leading the way in conservation and efficiency efforts due to a lack of national leadership: very true. In Portland, Oregon, it took 13 years for the city to curb their CO2 emissions 13% while its economy grew 16%.
This is somewhat good news, but not good enough. On both a national and global level CO2 emissions are continuing to rise, not fall. And the sad reality is that the damage has already been done. CO2 emissions from 30 years ago are just now showing signs of affecting the climate. Science now tells us to brace for the inevitable. It is hardly the time to be celebrating a city’s 13% reduction of CO2 emissions in the face of our ecological habitat falling off a cliff.
Where this documentary fails miserably, and unforgivably, is that it never addresses the necessity of a Powerdown strategy that would include drastic lifestyle changes and massive conservation efforts that far exceed the drop in the bucket we are currently seeing from U.S. cities and localities.
Increased efficiency was presented in this documentary as a way to curb CO2 emissions, but the fact that increased efficiency leads to more (not less) consumption was never addressed. When more efficient air conditioners and refrigerators were invented, people bought bigger ones and often more than one. With cars that get better gas mileage, motorists drive longer distances more often. Efficiency is great in theory, but it is delusional to ignore human behavior in the final analysis.
So why were such important truths omitted?
It would not be “hopeful” for the viewer to see and hear the harsh reality of global warming if they weren’t presented with readily available solutions that would not change their way of life; solutions that are palatable and non-intrusive. A deep look into the reality of renewable energy would not create the feel-good Hollywood viewing experience that the filmmakers of “Too Hot Not to Handle” were obviously going for.
Big Solar Propaganda
In Part 4 of FTW’s series on Renewables, we debunked the ridiculous PR myth that a 100-square-mile Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) installation in the Mojave Desert could supply all of America’s electricity. Stirling Energy Systems (SES), who is currently building the first massive 4-square-mile CSP installation in the Mojave Desert, is a big supporter of this myth. “Too Hot Not to Handle” utilized this piece of PR in conjunction with a stunning 3D graphic portraying one small dot in the desert lighting up the entire nation.
Wow! Just imagine that!
This was very effective propaganda, but still dead wrong.
FTW Published the following on March 4, 2006:
SES boasts that it would take one CSP installation of 100 square miles to produce all of the electricity consumed in the United States, but that is nothing more than wishful thinking used as a public relations tool. This hypothetical installation – which could never possibly exist – would need to be operating constantly at peak output to produce such massive amounts of energy. Since CSP operates at 30% efficiency, this imaginary project could only be counted on for 30% of America’s electricity production.
What would such a mammoth installation do to the ecosystem of whatever desert it was installed upon? How would you transport energy from the desert throughout the entire U.S.? The longer the transmission lines transporting the energy, the more energy lost in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics. So there goes CSP’s 30% efficiency down the tubes.
Whether or not CSP technology will make a significant dent in the energy market is questionable, but the limitations of this technology make it impossible to mitigate the coming energy crisis of Peak Oil even when considered in conjunction with the largest renewable energy source available today, wind turbines. CSP may offer a “benefit” to the Southwest since there is plenty of arid desert land, but if we consider the growing problems this area already has with available fresh water supplies CSP may be a Trojan horse!
Should we continue to supplement over-consumption and exponential growth in a region that is destined for water wars with neighbors? Increasing available energy in the Southwest will bring economic growth, which inevitably intensifies stress on fresh water supplies that are already being utilized at unsustainable rates. Population continues to rise in this region due to over-zealous real estate investors interested solely in the bottom line.
Big Wind in Focus
Big Wind farms are advocated as a real solution to climate change in “Too Hot Not to Handle,” but the complex problems facing wind installations are completely avoided.
What do you do when the wind doesn’t blow? “Shadow stations” are needed on stand-by, ready to produce electricity for this very regular occurrence. Usually natural gas is a good counterbalance to wind because gas-powered turbines can be powered-up immediately. But natural gas supplies in North America have peaked.
What we are about to see is an increase in coal-fired power generation, and as more wind turbines are installed, more coal plants will be needed as “shadow stations” for when the wind doesn’t blow. This is why upstate New York is now anticipating new coal-fired power generation. And since the wind doesn’t blow when electricity demand is highest in New York (hot summer days), upstate wind farms may end up being little more than smoke screens for more coal!
Is this a real solution for global warming?
Every wind project is different, and each one needs to be analyzed individually. Many will hate to hear this, but the hard truth is that it is not always a good idea to build more massive wind turbines. One study conducted by Scientist David Keith, using computer generated simulations, has shown that if enough wind turbines were operating throughout the world, global wind patterns could be significantly altered contributing to climate change.1 This thesis is still being explored, but it reinforces the fact that the problem is not energy but over-consumption.
Even renewable resources can be over-consumed. Case-in-point: water. We’ve all been taught that water is a renewable resource, but when consumed at unsustainable rates, fresh water becomes a precious commodity due to pollution, over-population, over-consumption and drought.
Yes, we can use the wind to produce electricity when it blows, but if we think that thousands of miles of gigantic wind turbines can be installed across the world to maintain over-consumption with no environmental impact on global wind patterns then we are crazy, and we will get what we deserve.
Some local cooperative wind energy systems, using smaller (often vertical) turbines, have already been implemented. There are battles brewing between big corporations and small cooperative movements, and FTW will be reporting on this soon. Local cooperatives should be the focus of a new energy bill, funded with tax-payer money, but don’t hold your breath. The federal government works to protect global capitalism above all else and in this instance that means supporting Big Renewables over local cooperatives.
These are just a few of the problems facing wind farms. For a more in-depth look at the complexities and shortfalls of wind energy see Renewables Part 1 and Renewable Energy, Too Little, Too Late.
In China, villagers have revolted over a proposed wind farm that will negatively impact (if not entirely destroy) the local fishing economy, according to local villagers. 2 What is more important: electricity or food, or fuel?
Biofuels: Contributing to the Problem
This brings us to what may be the most critical of all the aspects in the energy debate: biofuels. Ethanol and biodiesel are being presented to us the holy grail of transportation fuels. It is repeatedly ignored that once you exploit biofuels on a large scale3 there will be an inevitable head-to-head competition between food and fuel with ecological damage that is hard to overstate.
“Too Hot Not Too Handle” never addresses this. Instead they flashed questionable, un-sourced statistics on the CO2 emissions they claim are saved when using biofuels. This is merely pro-biofuels’ propaganda that addresses none of the critical issues of using food as fuel. Whether biofuels provide as much of a CO2 benefit as stated in this documentary is highly questionable. Some research has shown that it takes 29% more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces.4 Other studies show about a 1:1 rate while a few show a marginal positive energy return of (e.g) 1.2:1.
This is not sustainable.
At Petrocollapse II, after delivering a speech outlining many of the facts in this report, I was given two pamphlets on biofuels that were written by Alexis Zeigler. One of them was Biodiesel and Other Biofuels in Ecological Perspective, which does a good job of portraying biofuels and the “oilification” of agriculture in the proper perspective.
Professor David Pimentel of Cornell is cited in this report. Many say he is a controversial figure. Perhaps he is, but his math on the agricultural and ecological impact of biofuels is correct. The numbers Pimentel presented to Congress upset a few congressional members from corn producing states, so they had the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) investigate his report. The GAO produced a significantly longer report than his and found Pimentel was 100% correct.5
One notable absence from Pimentel’s work is that he never accounts for the fact that biofuels are said to be produced from “agricultural waste” because the protein of the plant is used to produce cattle feed. The carbohydrates “left over” are not used to fertilize the topsoil because commercial fertilizers are currently made from natural gas. Once we fall off the natural gas cliff this system will fall apart and it is anyone’s guess what the final outcome of that crisis will be.
Despite this blank spot in Pimentel’s work, it takes nothing away from the thrust of his argument. Some say he is controversial because he is opposed to illegal immigration, but that is simply unfair. Look at the man’s scientific work, not his politics. The truth is the truth, no matter who tells it. Don’t muddy the waters of the energy debate with a separate, non-scientific debate that will never be resolved by those who hold opposing views. We should not allow the truth to get lost in politics; it happens way too often and the stakes are too high here.
As FTW and other publications have reported in the past, it is impossible to grow enough feedstock for biofuels to power even a small fraction of our national fleet of vehicles. According to Professor Pimentel: 6
- U.S. produces 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol a year, which is less than 1% of the total fuel consumed by our vehicles.
- 14% of total U.S. corn production is needed to produce 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol.
- If 100% of U.S. corn production went to ethanol, it would provide 7% of the total fuel consumed by our vehicles.
- If we were able to dedicate 100 million hectares of land to cellulosic ethanol production (which may not even be possible), we would produce 1% of U.S. fuel consumption.
- If we made biodiesel from soybeans – the most efficient crop to utilize – it would take all of the arable land in America to produce enough fuel to power the U.S. fleet of trucks (not including cars).
Farmers do not decide what their crops are used for. American industrial farmers essentially grow one of three crops; corn, soy beans or sugar. Whether they end up as food for humans, as cattle feed, or in automobile gas tanks is determined by the market. Money takes precedent over people. Food and fuel will compete in America as biofuels are further exploited, just as they did in Brazil. Bean production dropped in that country as sugar cane crops took over more land to produce ethanol. The poor had to pay more for beans and other staples while rich motorists filled their gas tanks with ethanol.
What is the morality of using food as fuel?
We must recognize that biofuels will not solve the problems that over-consumption has brought us. From there we can move on to look for real, decentralized, local solutions.
think small, think local
Not one of the above critical points is ever addressed in “Too Hot Not to Handle.” We are certain to see many more manifestations of the Big Renewables’ Zeitgeist permeating through the media, so when it comes around again remember this report. Don’t get sucked into the feel-good Big Renewables propaganda campaign. There is no more time to waste. No longer will we pray to the gods of centralized power in hopes they can save us from ourselves.
The energy motto of the 21st Century is “think small, think local.” FTW’s focus on renewable energy systems is now gearing up in this direction. Many people have asked me, “What small wind turbines would FTW recommend investing in? What renewable systems will be sustainable Post-Peak?”
This is where we will find real answers. The time of self-empowerment has come, even if long overdue, and FTW hopes to lead our subscribers in the right direction by pointing to local solutions that are now being implemented.
2 Edward Cody, “Police Open Fire on Rioting Farmers, Fishermen in China,” Washington Post, December 8, 2005 http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/121905_china_plant.shtml
Larry Chin, “South China dispute over wind power plant turns deadly,” FTW, December 16, 2005, http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/121905_china_plant.shtml
3 There are small-scale, sustainable biodiesel projects being implemented at the local level. Each one needs to be analyzed individually as every situation is different.
5 Pimentel stated this during the Q&A session after his presentation at Local Solutions to the Energy Dilemma Conference in New York City on April 28, 2006.
6 All figures as publicly stated by Professor David Pimentel’s presentation at the Local Solutions for the Energy Dilemma Conference in NYC on April 28, 2006.
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