by Dave Gamrath
One-liner: In Bright Green Lies, environmental activists Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert provide a wealth of data to dispute claims that “green” technology can save the planet, and call for major structural changes to human behavior, society and our civilization.
Environmentalism includes a wide spectrum of beliefs. In Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost its Way and What We Can Do About It, authors Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert fall into the “Deep Green” environmentalist camp. They believe that “to save the planet, humans must live within the limits of the natural world”. This will entail “drastic transformations in our societies, culture and lifestyles.” Alternatively, “Bright Green” environmentalists believe we can solve the environmental crises we face through technology, while at the same time allowing our “high-energy lifestyle to continue indefinitely”. The authors claim this is patently untrue, and provide a wealth of data to back this claim. In the process, they slam mainstream environmentalists and organizations for lying to the public. Green technologies are far more interested in saving what they call our “industrial civilization” over saving life on earth.
Bright Green Lies methodically attacks “green energy” sources, including solar, wind, hydro, tidal, biofuels and others. In doing so, they analyze the full systemic requirements for each energy source, from raw materials through manufacturing, transportation, installation, operation, maintenance and disposal. Their point is that when you add up all that is required to implement green energy sources at the levels necessary to replace fossil fuels, including the externalities they cause, the resulting damage to the earth is not much less than sticking with petroleum. The authors also repeatedly stress that green energy is largely just providing additional energy for our industrial civilization, not reducing the usage of fossil fuels (the all-time high for fossil fuel usage was in 2019).
In its nearly 500 pages, Bright Green Lies provides many, many examples. Regarding solar energy, they detail the extensive mining required for materials, and how manufacturing silicon emits extensive carbon, pollutants, and waste. They show how the solar panel manufacturing process poisons the earth. They go through this same systemic analysis for wind turbines. Their point, again, is that manufacturing green energy is a dirty, resource intensive process. With wind energy, they also discuss the massive bird and bat kills from wind turbines. Building wind turbines to levels needed to replace fossil fuels would result in over 100 million bird kills and 250 million bat kills annually, on top of the already ongoing bird and bat population collapses due to environmental degradation.
The authors write “the entire bright green scheme depends on energy storage”, and try to prove that needed storage levels are impossible, and that trying to build them will be incredibly harmful to the planet. They write that “the grid itself is destroying the planet”, and show why. They challenge energy efficiencies as not resulting in meaningful reductions of energy usage. They provide extensive data to show that the claimed benefits from recycling are largely a myth, and that the true purpose of recycling is to help industry. They attack biofuels, biomass (the burning of trash for energy), geothermal energy, and harvesting energy from tides. They provide especially damning data on the damage caused by mining, shipping and hydropower. And they dedicate a chapter to showing how sustainable cities are a false solution, with illusory benefits. They also reject geoengineering (the injecting of aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect solar radiation) as a disaster waiting to happen.
Where does that leave us? The authors state that collapse is already here. They claim the basic issue is that humans don’t really care (that much) about nonhumans. It’s all about saving us, and maintaining our current way of life. The authors admit they like the conveniences of our lifestyle. They write that the difference is that they are willing to acknowledge the cost: life on earth. We are facing human-caused mass extinction on the planet. Over the past 50 years, “humans have killed 60 percent of the earth’s animals”. The key questions are if we care, and if non-human life matters to us.
The authors write that we are buying the false story told by the Bright Greens because we want it to be true, but unfortunately, capitalism and industrial civilization aren’t sustainable. We can’t have it all, thus we have a choice: saving the earth or trying to keep our lifestyle.
The authors provide a “true environmentalism test” for an action to be green: the “action must tangibly benefit the natural world on the natural world’s own terms.” The question isn’t if the action makes things easier for us. Questions they stress that need to apply to all Bright Green technology proposals include: where do the materials come from? How does it impact earth? What happens when it wears out? Unfortunately, Bright Green solutions aren’t passing this test.
To save our planet, the authors write that we need to “stop destroying the planet and let natural life come back”, and that “make no mistake, this will require a serious and dedicated resistance movement”. We need to stop industrial civilization and heal the land, including the restoration of forests, marshes, wetlands, grasslands and the soil. They provide fourteen meaningful goals for a truly green community, including stopping net carbon emissions within five years, protecting aquifers, removal of dams, the immediate phaseout of monocrop agriculture, protecting endangered species, stopping government funding of big infrastructure projects, rejecting the idea of perpetual growth, and addressing overpopulation and overconsumption. They suggest we reduce the budget for the US military by 80 percent to provide a peace dividend to pay for all this. At the individual level, they suggest to their readers to just pick a place, and start the work, one acre at a time. “Find something you love and defend it”, and begin to organize political resistance.
Obviously, Bright Green Lies is a grim report, and the authors’ suggested solutions resonate as patently unobtainable. The Republican Party seems hellbent on killing any meaningful environmental regulations, as well as killing democracy if that’s what it takes for them to win and keep power. How bad must things get for a counter populist movement to rise up and fight for actually saving the planet? It’s hard to imagine, but if the authors are correct, rocky times are coming. I need an adult beverage.
Reviewer Opinion: an important read.
Reviewer Rating of Book: thumb up.