Is Renewable Energy Really Eco-Friendly?

There’s much being said about the need for renewable energy sources; we’re being asked to tap the natural power of the sun, the ocean, the wind and biomass instead of depleting the earth’s natural resources for our energy needs. And so we’re seeing the emergence of solar panels, biomass fuel generators, and wind and water turbines that use the power of the wind and the water to create electricity.

However, there are a few people who believe that the development of renewable energy sources on a large scale would involve environmental destruction of the greatest kind – Climate change researcher and conservation biologist Jesse Ausubel feels that key renewable energy sources like the sun, wind and biomass would require large tracts of land if developed up to large scale production. He also controversially recommends nuclear energy as the most viable and eco-friendly alternative. His theory is that for energy must be produced efficiently, and his definition of efficiency is the amount of energy that can be produced per square meter of land used – this makes nuclear energy the most effective of the lot. Ausubel claims that as renewable energy use increases, this measure of efficiency will decrease as the best land for wind, biomass and solar power get used up.

Many other scientists disagree with Ausubel’s theory – their argument is that existing land like rooftops can be reutilized for maximum efficiency and that land on which wind turbines are built can also be used simultaneously for farming.

Meanwhile, there’s another spanner in the works in the world of renewable energy, one which questions the reliability of tidal and wave powered generators. Scientists are of the opinion that these generators and the cables that bring the power they generate to the shore could seriously mess with the internal compasses of sea creatures that migrate long distances using the earth’s magnetic field as a guiding device and cause a massive change in the ecosystem of the oceans. We know that great white sharks travel thousands of miles across the ocean, that salmon make an incredible journey from rivers to seas and then back again to spawn and then die at the place where they were born, that sea turtles hatched on beaches swim against many tides and battle many ocean currents to head home, and so on.

We don’t really know how they do this, but oceanographers with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Marine Sciences Lab in Sequim, Washington, are of the belief that power generating devices in the water could hamper the ability of these sea creatures to lead their natural lives.

Whether these two theories are really true, no one really knows. But the question here is – are we willing to take the risk to find out if they are real possibilities? How do we know for sure without going ahead with the search for renewable energy sources? And if these are proven correct, can we live with the fact that we destroyed natural habitats and messed up ecosystems in our haste to find alternatives to fossil fuels?

It’s a minefield that must be crossed, and to do so without setting off any of the random mines, progress must be made, but it must be done slowly and steadily, after considering each step carefully and thoroughly.