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Over the last few decades, concerns have been raised on whether renewable energy is green and beneficial, especially during this period when there are heightened efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Several bills have been sponsored to address the problem of sustainable energy sources; for instance, the former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates Marty Gearheart introduced the House Bill 2001 that sought to repeal several sections of the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act in West Virginia. West Virginia, for instance, is known for its coal mining activities, which happens to be a non-renewable source.
Today, a host of countries are adopting renewable energy sources such as the anaerobic energy, solar power, wind power, biofuels as well as geothermal energy at the expense of the traditional forms like fossil fuels. The global rush for “the-so-called” green energy is thus questionable. Biomass, for instance, is renewable energy but is its production sustainable? Can it be said to be renewable then? Therefore, this research essay seeks to unmask the dark side of the much-touted renewable sources and their environmental hazards contrary to the overemphasized claim that renewable sources are green and beneficial.
Renewable sources of energy are those that are capable of being replenished. They are typically sources that can be used without the worry of them running out. They are also said to be more environmentally friendly as opposed to the non-renewable sources which release too much carbon dioxide to the environment thereby, leading to the depletion of the ozone layer. The natural renewable sources include wind, hydropower, solar, etc. Other renewables that are being produced from the adoption of technology include solar thermal, biomass, ocean energy, etc. Though most of these energy sources are renewable, they are not green and therefore, are harmful to the environment too.
In this section, we examine some of the renewable sources whether they can be said to be green energy sources or not and their implied environmental effects.
Hydropower is one of the renewable energy sources that have been projected to expand in their market base in the next few years. Hydropower production is by far not clean and is unsustainable. For instance, efforts to develop hydropower plants have led to tremendous flooding and deforestation in the Amazon forest, which is the world’s largest tropical rain forest. Rainforests are known as a major absorber of the carbon gas because trees need the gas to grow. According to the World Wildlife Fund, forests reduce over 200 gigatons of carbon in the atmosphere. Activities involving cutting of trees lead to the emission of carbon up to 15 per cent in the atmosphere, making it the highest contributor to greenhouse emissions. Since hydropower production involves massive cutting down of trees to construct the hydropower dam projects, such an activity proves to be more expensive than even the problem we seek to solve.
Moreover, the mega rainforest dam projects produce organic matter that is very slow to putrefy. It takes several years for the matter to decompose leading to water acidity. The matter consumes large amounts of oxygen in its long decomposition process thereby leading to deficiency of the oxygen gas that is majorly used by humans as well as other living creatures within the ecosystems. As a result, most animals and fish such as dolphins, especially those that live in water and near the dam projects have tremendously reduced in number leading to their extinction. Human beings too have not been left behind, there have been numerous health effects associated with these hydropower dam project developments. Furthermore, there have been huge displacements of people living around these areas, especially in the South-American Amazon region. This has led to growing complaints by civil societies that question the legality of the dam projects. For instance, the indigenous Kayapos have been battling over the construction of the Belo Monte dam at the heart of their ancestral land leading to the displacement of several of them. In the end, therefore, the hydropower production has proved unsustainable and not as clean as touted.
Wind power is another source of energy that is being recommended as an alternative source to non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels. Today, there are close to twenty million homes in the United States that are being powered by wind energy. While this seems promising especially to the renewable sources’ advocates, the adoption of wind energy has led to numerous challenges such as land grabbing. For instance, to meet the energy requirements for the year 2005 using wind power, there was need to have an area as large as Texas completely furnished with wind power erections operating nonstop. By 2017, the Texas population was slightly less than 23 million people. This, therefore, meant that if the US were to go full-wind energy, it would need to displace about 23 million people in order to meet its electricity needs. To service New York’s energy demands alone would require the evacuation of people in an area the size of Connecticut. That would quite be unsustainable and impractical to implement.
Wind energy is only capable of producing up to 2W/m2. This would be too insufficient to meet the needs of the US large population and electricity needs for companies. Therefore, wind energy cannot be said to be a green energy source as has been peddled by the renewable sources’ advocates.
This form of energy is majorly obtained from organic matter like animal matter. While most people have been drawn to believe this source is a clean source, much in its preparation raises a lot of questions. In most cases, bioenergy is obtained from sawdust which comes from wood. Since the raw material for producing biomass comes from wood, it becomes unclean source because it requires huge felling of trees. Trees, as noted earlier, are a major absorber of the CO2 that leads to the depletion of the ozone layer, hence global warming.
To produce large amounts of biomass, therefore, a lot of trees will need to be cut to power the biomass production plants. Furthermore, burning wood to produce biomass leads to extensive emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Biomass power plants produce up to 65 per cent of carbon dioxide which is greater than that produced by coal. Its production leads to further release of carcinogenic gases like nitrogen oxides and leads which tremendously pollute the environment. Therefore, biomass, though considered a renewable source, is more harmful in terms of air pollution compared to coal energy.
Contrary to those who hold a different opinion on the renewable sources, the pro-renewable sources have succeeded in advancing their arguments and won the conviction of most governments as well as organizations.
Their central argument has been anchored in the belief that renewable sources produce fewer greenhouse emissions as compared to the non-renewable ones. The existence of the global problem of intense warming has enhanced their argument of low carbon emission by renewable sources. For instance, they hold that wind energy is purely clean and pose no effects on the environment. Wind power produces only 0.02-0.04 pounds of CO2 per hour, which is very little compared to other sources such as coal which produces up to 3.6 pounds of CO2 per hour. However, what they forget to note is that while wind energy produces less carbon emission, its production is just as hazardous as are other fossil fuels. From the displacement of people to the cost of erecting wind power structure, this source is not as green as we are made to believe. Another case is of the hydropower that is largely advocated for by governments, including the United States. While the use of this power may seem promising, it is as well associated with numerous hazardous effects making it unreliable as a green energy source. Compared to fossil fuels like coal and petroleum oil, this energy source produces less carbon to the environment. Similar to biomass, hydropower involves felling of numerous trees to facilitate the construction of hydropower plants. Borneo and Amazon forests are just examples of how extensive deforestation for hydropower plants constructions have caused the world. Since trees are a major absorber of carbon, cutting them down is unjustified regardless of the reason for which they are being felled.
Moreover, these hydropower dam projects have led to the displacement of several people, especially in the South American region. Due to these projects, the local inhabitants of these areas where dams are to be erected normally get displaced which sometimes lead consociations between the displaced ethnic groups and the inhabitants in the areas to which they move to seek residence. Should these consociational agreements fail, ethnic wars emerge. Additionally, these dam projects produce organic matter which takes hundreds of years to decompose. This, in return, leads to water and soil acidity making it unsafe for both human and animal survival. Therefore, it can be deduced that the disadvantages of the hydropower source outweigh the advantages thereby making it an unreliable source which cannot be deemed to be a green energy source.
According to renewable energy advocates, biomass is an alternative source of energy that needs to be embraced fully in order to reduce global warming. Ideally, biomass is less harmful to the environment compared to coal and other fossil fuels. Since it uses organic matter for its production, the greenhouse gas emission effect becomes minimized. However, the production of this energy source leaves a lot to be admired. Encouraging the adoption of biomass as an alternative source motivates cutting down of trees for its production. Besides, biomass is associated with the production of the harmful carcinogenic gases like nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. Due to these limitations, therefore, biomass cannot be said to be a green energy source since its weaknesses transcend its strengths.
Renewable energy sources, just like the other sources, have tremendous negative effects on our environment. Coal, which is largely dismissed as an unworthy source is a better one compared to the other fossil fuel sources as well as a non-renewable source. Unlike most renewable sources, coal production does not lead to deforestation, hence is better. Moreover, the production of some of the renewable sources is practically expensive and untenable. For instance, adopting the production of wind power will require large tracts of land in order to be able to produce enough power for the nation. The question of whether renewable sources are green and beneficial is thus negated.
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