So Just How Green is “Clean Energy” … Really?

Some people live off the grid, eat local food, and have an energy footprint so minuscule that even the canniest hunter couldn’t track them down. But the rest of us buy from supermarkets, get our energy from — at least in part from — traditional sources like coal, and occasionally forget to turn off the lights when we leave the house. For those of us who are still living with one foot in the old energy world, here are a few helpful hints about what you should buy and what the consequences of shifting to “clean energy” sources like natural gas and nuclear energy are.

Green consumption

Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty points out a useful tool for correcting any misconceptions about how green a company actually is. It’s an assessment that graphs public perception of a company’s environmentalism against its practices. Besides making sure you’ve got the right idea about Starbucks or Nike, Whitty writes, “You can also get a pretty good sense of how sectors perform in relation to other sectors: food and beverage, bad overall; technology, better overall.”

One of the biggest energy expenditures that many of us indulge in is airplane travel. Just one flight can enlarge your carbon footprint dramatically. Although flying may never be truly green, Beth Buczynski reports at Care2 that one airline is moving in the right direction. British Airways is planning the first “sustainable jet fuel” plant.

The plant will make a biofuel, which generally has plenty of drawbacks, but this one sounds pretty good. The company says it will source its raw materials from local waste management facilities and produce relatively harmless waste products.

Hot air from natural gas companies

But the hazards of many “clean energy” sources make going off the grid sound better and better. More and more information is coming out about the environmental hazards that accompany the mining of natural gas, one of Washington’s new energy fascinations. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report on natural gas late last week, and Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that Halliburton, a major player in this industry, admitted to using 807,000 gallons of diesel-based chemicals in the extraction process, which involves pumping large amounts of water deep into the ground.

“Even though the natural gas industry is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, it’s still required to limit the amount of diesel used in fracturing, under a December 2003 agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency,” Sheppard writes. “Halliburton and BJ Services appear to have violated the agreement, according to yesterday’s disclosure.”

That doesn’t inspire confidence in these companies’ assurances that their techniques will not contaminate water sources.

Another meltdown

Nuclear power sounds better than ever to the government, investors, and even some environmentalists. If you need a rundown of the issues involved in nuclear energy production, Grist’s Umbra Fisk has answers to questions like “is nuclear really better than coal?”

One of the strongest objections to nuclear power, however, is the financial risk of investing in nuclear infrastructure. “Nuclear power offers all the fiscal risks of a “too big to fail” bank, with the added risk of being too dangerous to fail as well,” writes Sam McPheeters for The American Prospect.

“And although current nuclear defenders love to crow about the free market…the industry operates with an exponential financial handicap over all other energy technologies, gas and coal included,” McPheeters explains. “Factor in overruns, plant cancellations, and chronic mismanagement, and the only genuine advantage nuclear holds over renewable energy sources is that its infrastructure currently exists.”

Maybe it’s time to invest in solar panels after all.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. 

photo credit: thanks to danielfoster437 via flickr for the natural gas rig pic
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger


Phillip Gilbert
Phillip Gilbert8 years ago

We must come to understand aviation as we know it is over. Any industry hangs on to profits at any cost for as long as possible. Biofuels is one example of deceptive public relations.

Publicizing aviation biofuels is like the tobacco industry unveiling a sustainable tobacco as an answer to the health issues related to smoking.

Hurling a 500 ton metal hulk into the air will continue to damage the environment and harm the health of millions on the ground with or without biofuels.

Just one example; according to a recent Stanford University study, jet over flights can cause a 197% increase in breast cancer. All cardiovascular diseases can be caused or worsened by jet over flights.

Aviation pollution is and its relationship to climate change is just one part of this industry's assault on Planet Earth.

There’s nothing good or salvageable about flight for the Earth and inhabitants.

Bill K.
Bill K8 years ago

I agree with saving energy in our everyday lives. It's surprising how many claim to care for the environment and green energy but who continue to increase their consumption along with everyone else. It's like they are waiting for someone else to come along and "fix" things for them.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W8 years ago

The best solution is to save energy as much as possible, because even relatively 'green' sources cause some damage to the environment.

Marian B.
Marian B8 years ago

I live in the UK and use a Fuel additive that helps the petrol and diesel, and cuts the emissions.

Bruce Mowbray
Bruce Mowbray8 years ago

I live in Northeastern PA, right in the middle of this gas drilling mess. Believe me, this exploitation of our natural resources is turning a once beautiful rural area to live in, into a massive industrial area. We -the local residents- were told by the gas companies that there would be little impact to the landscape. We were shown pictures of what a gas well looks like when it's finished. We were told how much local business would benefit and that there would be thousands of new jobs. All lies!! These gas well drill sites are 3 to four acre industrial sites that were carved out of the beautiful Endless Mountains. Open pits of hazardous waste - endless trailer containers of "dirty water" that is not fit for human contact - Very loud diesel pumps and compressors - Blinding lights that can be seen for miles - Heavy truck traffic. All going on 24-7-365. The only local businesses that are benefiting from this are the local hotels. This is because all of the "new jobs" are filled by people from outside this area-experienced well drillers and seismic surveyors- mostly from Alabama, Texas and Canada. Water wells have been polluted, wildlife habitats have been destroyed, and most of all, the quality of our rural life is going downhill fast. Clean natural gas? No it's not. It is a limited quantity energy source - one where a few people are making a ton of money and ruining our environment while doing it.

Support renewable energy. Not the lies that the gas companies tell you.

James Carpenter
Past Member 8 years ago

solar panels should be considered --- yes after we find if making them is green too

Catrina V.
Catrina Velez8 years ago

(continued) ....but if ONE well is financially productive, what's wrong with two, with four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one hundred and twenty-eight? Remember, greed has no limits! It's exponential.

Catrina V.
Catrina Velez8 years ago

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as a means to extract natural gas from undergound shale formations is a danger to the environment, to wildlife and it destroys rural lands. If you own rural land and you sign away drilling rights to these smoothie gas drillers, you no longer have control over who does what to your property. If you want to sell your land, most buyers will be afraid to buy. Drillers will assure you that "fracking" is entirely safe, and only a small amount of your land will be used for the actual drilling site. But what they really do is drill deep down and pump the shale full of chemicals that will drive out the gas. They won't tell you what these chemicals are, but environmentalists are warning that these substances can leach into the aquifer and contaminate wells and reservoirs. Then after taking a wee patch of your land for their cute little wishing well, they have to build a dusty, gravelly, truckload weight bearing road for all their noisy vehicles, which spew exhaust fumes day and night. And when you least expect it, they will "flare off" their gas well, sending a firey plume into the sky, looks like hell coming to get you and your kids, terrorizing livestock and all the woodland animals and leaving a terrible stench in the air. Why don't they try to drill in the middle of a city? Because the city folks have been telling them to go drill in the country! The drillers think that "a few" such wells per square mile would be a reasonable number, but if o

Maurice Earl F.
Maurice Earl F8 years ago

Very nice presentation. It is, indeed, time for renewable energy projects of wind, solar, and wave. I'm particularly intrigues and hopeful about the combination of ocean wave and desalinization in the Pacific NW.
The transition has to get a great deal more energy from us, however. And it certainly can get some of that, right now, with writing/calling on our Senators to take a serious look at the Senator Murkowski attempt to strip the Clean Air Act of authorizing to act, most particularly in Alaska at the moment. It'll be on the Senate floor, apparent, this week, as a procedural "movement to disapprove."
Transmission problems are likely the only and worst issues with which we truly need grapple for the electrical. But it sure wouldn't hurt to devise, if even currently possible, a way to utilize or segregate nuclear waste. The dirty waste technologies must become a less dominant element in our energy profile!
Thanks for a very nice post.

Mervi R.
Mervi R8 years ago

Interesting, thanks!