Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism (Our Sustainable Future)

by Ozzie Zehner

Paperback, 2012

Call number

333.79 ZEH



University of Nebraska Press (2012), 464 pages


We don't have an energy crisis. We have a consumption crisis. And this book, which takes aim at cherished assumptions regarding energy, offers refreshingly straight talk about what's wrong with the way we think and talk about the problem. Though we generally believe we can solve environmental problems with more energy--more solar cells, wind turbines, and biofuels--alternative technologies come with their own side effects and limitations. How, for instance, do solar cells cause harm? Why can't engineers solve wind power's biggest obstacle? Why won't contraception solve the problem of overpopulation lying at the heart of our concerns about energy, and what will? This practical, environmentally informed, and lucid book persuasively argues for a change of perspective. If consumption is the problem, as Ozzie Zehner suggests, then we need to shift our focus from suspect alternative energies to improving social and political fundamentals: walkable communities, improved consumption, enlightened governance, and, most notably, women's rights. The dozens of first steps he offers are surprisingly straightforward. For instance, he introduces a simple sticker that promises a greater impact than all of the nation's solar cells. He uncovers why carbon taxes won't solve our energy challenges (and presents two taxes that could). Finally, he explores how future environmentalists will focus on similarly fresh alternatives that are affordable, clean, and can actually improve our well-being. Watch a book trailer.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member owen1218
I was fairly impressed by the section focusing on the impossibility of green energy schemes to create positive environmental change, and on the whole I agree with the author that social justice and environmental justice issues bleed into one another, and that downshifting is a good direction for
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people to take. However, the author fails to escape the mindset of individual carbon footprints and Taylorist efficiency. In particular, he fails to take a critical perspective on the claim that cities are a green solution.

Yes, it could be that people in cities may have a smaller individual average carbon footprint (or it may simply be more obscured). But then, the pigs on a factory hog farm have a smaller individual average carbon footprint than the hogs living on pasturage. One problem is that a city, like a factory farm, cannot be sustained indefinitely. It requires the continued extraction and importation of resources from the outlying country. More than that, we need to see a city as more than the sum of the individuals living there. If we want to calculate the footprint of a place like New York City, we need to ask ourselves: what is the carbon footprint of the businesses located there? What is the carbon footprint of the New York Stock Exchange? What is the carbon footprint of the ports? And also, we need to ask: where do the materials to build and maintain this city come from? Where does the food and water come from? Who are these things being taken from? What is the ecological and human cost of the mining, the manufacturing, and transportation going into this?

I appreciate the challenges the author presents to many of the technological fantasies of the bright green environmentalists and their corporate sponsors, but I wish he hadn't been so quick to accept wholesale some of their other fantasies.
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LibraryThing member larryerick
This is a book directed towards Americans about their energy usage and how best to obtain it and use it. As such, it accomplishes its task, but it does so in a very uneven way. The beginning chapters are about the alternatives to fossil fuels. Clearly, it is aimed at the "soft" environmentalists
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who think that being an environmentalist is as simple as just opposing what the Republicans want. (No diehard Republican would be caught dead reading this book.) In short, the book quite effectively tears down all the popular "green" solutions, for a variety of reasons: too costly, too "dirty", too difficult, too inadequate, etc. Moreover, the author points out how getting more "green" energy, assuming it was easy to get, would simply increase the demand for energy, rather than replace "dirty" energy. At this point, the book shifts gears. Frankly, the author handles the adjustment very poorly. Imagine your high school math teacher being Sir Laurence Olivier dressed as Hamlet. It just was too much "eloquence" and not enough rationale. Also, it was sort of like trying to figure out what someone, who is mumbling to themselves, is really talking about. Yet, eventually, after a rather odd section on how a lack of women's rights is a big reason why we use so much energy, only some of which relates to what I, at least, think of as women's rights issues, the author goes into a series of chapters on using less energy and why it would work well, especially since it works elsewhere in the world so well. This is not a perfect book for its purpose, but it is definitely worth reading for what it does accomplish. Read it and be enlightened.
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