Lower EREO

The EREO of renewables is much lower than that of fossil fuels, although once installed they are largely free. This means that post-fossil fuel society may well have less energy available, and this may mean greater limits on what can be done socially. People in the prosperous word will have to find new ways of living. This is likely to be resisted by what Dario Kenner (in his book Carbon Inequality) calls the polluter elite – the people who live through emitting vast amounts of pollution, say through their lifestyles, their shareholdings, their jobs etc. This people may not have much allegiance to pollution, but to a way of life dependent on pollution with lots of air travel, large houses, items imported from overseas, big boats and petrol driven cars etc…

As well as this resistance from the polluter elites we have the problem of generating the energy it will take to produce all the new renewables (and the systems they require) within a reasonable time frame. That includes mining for materials) Most energy being produced is currently being used, and the amount of it likely to be going to build a truly massive number of renewables is probably small. Expanding the number of renewables, may involve temporarily expanding the amount of fossil fuel burning and emissions, in order to build up the replacement renewables. Another solution to this problem would be to cut back energy usage, and apply what we have left to building renewables. This gets us back to the first point, humans (including the polluter elite) may have to use less energy to have a chance of current social orders surviving, and this change will also change social orders. However, it may mean that there is an incentive to end some planned obsolescence.

Land and Community

Renewables take up land or water space, and require new cabling over previously untouched land. This is not trivial. While they do not destroy the land, as is often the case with fossil fuels, they can be imposed on communities in the same way as other neoliberal projects; with apparently fake consultations, commercial in confidence agreements, dispossession of people, and secret agreements. All of which can split the existing community and subject it to stress, splits and new wealth hierarchies. This can be destructive, although avoided by more open processes, more amenable to systems in which everyone has input and benefits from the project

We are essentially asking people to better relate to their ecology and country, while changing that ecology and country, and disrupting the relationship often by force.

Renewables can also disrupt land use. Fertile land can be covered in solar panels. There is the possibility of grazing being allowed on solar panel land, but it happens rarely, and people may be locked out, as the land now belongs to the company. Likewise wind turbines can require huge concrete bases, which not only release CO2 emissions, but can disrupt soil, or local ecologies. The problem with some birds is well known, however we can assume that eventually birds will learn to avoid the turbines, but this may occur too late.  However, just because an energy source is renewable, does not mean it can have no harmful effects.

Community energy

One of the possibly unintentional beneficial effects arises because renewable energy, especially solar, is cheap and modular. It can be bought and added to as capital becomes available, so local communities have the possibility of generating their own supply, and slowly growing that supply. This is simply not possible with coal, and oil and gas burning can be heavily polluting.

In Australia, this is inhibited by regulations (especially regulations about cabling and transmission), and by diminishing returns on feed-in tariffs, although towns who are a long way from the main grid, may have fewer problems, and it has been rumoured that the West Australian government is about to help towns establish their own energy supply [1] because of the cost of maintaining electricity links to those towns.


Tends to supply energy at the same time, during the middle of the day. This means that in some places FF generation must be shut down, or sometimes the solar is shut down to support the FF. Rooftop solar means that solar farms may also have to cut back… Solved by storage.

Imagined technology

Some important climate technology is close to imaginary – either because it so far has not worked at a commercial or useful level, or because its side effects are completely incalculable. The best known fantasy technologies are ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’, and ‘Geoengineering – Solar Radiation Management’. It is perhaps unfair to say that both of these technologies’ main function is to serve as a rhetoric to help continue burning or otherwise using fossil fuels, however that is how they are used. Even if we think that this burning might be dangerous, in the near future, with these technologies humans will be able to deal with these emissions, and the effects of those emissions will diminish.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

The IPCC and the IEA are both keen on CCS, as is the Australian government. It is part of their hoped for suite of improved technologies that will solve emissions problems.

The main problem with CCS is that is an established technology, that has never significantly worked to diminish emissions, despite having had lots of money thrown at it. It functions as a defense mechanism for the fossil fuel industry, implying that at some time in the future, we will be able to extract emissions from the air and store them successfully and to such an extend that we reduce global heating. We can keep on making emissions now, because of that happy future.