I'd like to respond to comments by both Gar Lipow and David Schwartzman (pasted below), some of which is echoed by others on various lists. Sorry this is long!
Gar says most of neodymium is not used in wind turbines today, which may well be true, for the US anyway. But according to the article: "... only with the rise of alternative energy solutions has neodymium
really come to prominence, for use in hybrid cars and wind turbines. A direct-drive permanent-magnet generator for a top capacity wind turbine would use 4,400lb of neodymium-based permanent magnet material". Wikipedia says the electric generators for wind turbines uses up to 600 kg of permanent magnet material per megawatt, while neodymium content is estimated to be 31% of magnet weight. So, the kinds of large increase in wind power called for by many ambitious plans of "100% renewables" certainly would mean huge increase (still) in neodymium (and other rare earth minerals - REMs) demand.
Yes mining in China is generally much worse in health and environmental damage than here in the west, so for heaven's sake they need to do much better, but -
-- first of all, what do you expect from a country eagerly playing catch up on capitalist "growth and development", as is supposed to be the world economic model they're told to look up to? Mining in the U.S. during early "development" was probably also not so pretty, as in many other currently developing countries (which you probably don't hear about as much in
the news because it's China bashing that serves special imperial interests;
-- second of all, since the vast majority of REMs are currently being mined and processed in China, i.e., several steps removed from the influence of environmentalists' "push" for any policy "improvements" here in "developed" countries, isn't it illogical to argue that as long as we advocate "environmentally responsible" mining, then it's fine to push for a target of replacing all our current energy needs here with "renewables", as many in the environmental movement do, as opposed to advocating vastly reducing demands here (and not 3.5 KW/person, see below), and then meeting the minimal essential needs with equitably shared
(I know Gar advocates environmental justice, but there are environmentalists who feel that as long as carbon emission is reduced, environmental problems from mining etc. is China's responsibility, and the destructive impact is local. Besides the obvious environmental justice issue, it's also of course not true that it's only their environmental problem - from air, precipitation, biodiversity impact, to food (including
seafood), and products we buy, we share the environmental burden of other regions around the world more than we ever realize.)
And how environmentally responsible can mining for REMs be? To get rid of the toxic/radioactive acid soup used in mining and processing, the most you could do is probably to bury it deep underground. But as we've seen it play out here with fracking, even when they inject the waste water underground instead of leaving it in surface tailing ponds, it still threatens ground water contamination, which is permanent (so is soil
contamination). There is no such thing as "truly clean" energy, David. Let's drop that term.
What I advocate, if that wasn't clear to you at first, is not that we totally discard wind energy, but that, we have to place extreme emphasis, in the "developed" world (where per capita energy consumption is magnitudes higher than poor countries), on dramatically eliminating most of our energy needs through redesigning our
activities/organization, and through conservation and efficiency, and THEN meet the absolutely necessary needs with renewable energy shared equitably with the rest of the world, rich or poor - meaning, aiming for similar per capita allowances in the end.
As Gar pointed out, improving mining/production management, and recycling rare earth minerals, all help reducing the environmental cost of renewables, but my point is that these costs are high and mostly borne by others FOR us, so less is more, and what matters goes beyond just
carbon footprint. It's part of the crucial lesson we need to learn to live holistically with nature.
I agree with Gar that "we have to get beyond markets if (we) want to solve our environmental catastrophes." And I say it's not just a simple matter of using direct rules for regulation (as in efficiency standards) vs. relying on market forces to achieve, say, safer mining, lower SF6 emissions, etc. It's also about how to reorganize all our
activities, including production and consumption, so that decarbonization and ecological protection reaches far beyond energy production, rapidly. The latter requires fundamental changes to our society and ownership, without which, among other consequences, technologies that can theoretically be implemented "correctly" will certainly not be.
David wrote: "Present world energy consumption corresponds to 16 Tera Watts", but that to achieve maximum life expectancy, we need "7 billion x 3.5 kilowatt/person = 25 Tera Watts". I disagree. From the top graph on your website, it's clear that the life expectancy in Hong Kong is about at the world maximum, while I know that the energy consumption in Hong Kong (clearly below 3.5 KW/person on the graph) is certainly way more than a sustainable system should be able to reduce to. Even in China, where per capital consumption is lower still, so much energy is wasted in the production of unnecessary things, and in ecologically damaging ways of production and consumption, by and for a very large portion of the population, as well as for export, not by some 1% as you imagine. So the bottom line is that the 3.5 KW/person figure is based on unsustainable models of existing country-wide economies, a gross over estimate. A more meaningful figure,
as an idealized reference level to set goals upon, would likely need to be gleaned from experiments with communities that consciously practice ecological farming and essential goods production, with built-in sufficient system complexity and resilience.
Population size also needs to reduce, not increase or even stable. That takes some time, but is not automatically a "Malthusian" concept, considered radioactive waste for hordes of otherwise intelligent leftists (and rightists). Equity is the key. As long
as all countries, and all peoples, are treated with equity, materially and policy-wise, and basic needs are met for all, then we all share the same responsibility for ensuring we don't wreck our planet. Relying only on education, women's rights, healthcare, etc., important as they are, can only go so far (as shown by western countries populations, which are mostly stable, with average families having two children, not decreasing as the planet certainly needs us to). How do we achieve this equity? We have to stop the current imperialist world dominance, exploitation, and extreme inequality.
We have to explain all of this to the American people. Green capitalism, and imperialism with a "greening" military, won't work, and if we all unite to tell that hard truth, we can be convincing. If we continue to advocate mere techno fixes, we perish.
From: Gar Lipow <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 6:31 PM
Subject: Re: [no-offsets] Why wind power, hybrid cars are NOT the solution
It is worth remembering that most of this metal is used not in wind
turbines, but in hard disks and auto batteries. (I agree with you that
electric autos are at best a transitional technology). In terms of
the horrid effects of mining - China's mines are generally a horror.
"For example China's death toll in coal mines is something like 100
times as awful per tonne of coal mines as the U.S. which is bad
enough. Neodymium does not have to mined in such an awful way. And it
can be recycled. The same applieds of SF6. SF6 can be used in a way
that leakage in minimized and that it is recaptured and reused at end
of equipment life. Of course that won't happen in a market dominated
economy but that is true of any solution. We have to get beyond
markets if want to solve our environmental catastrophes.
Also, the Mail is a well know right wing paper with a strong bias in
favor of fossil fuels and
to a lesser extent nuclear power over
renewables and efficiency and conservation. Any time you hear about
how horrible some aspect of solar or wind power is, you need to ask
1) Is it inherent in the technology, is it how it is being implemented
in a "profits before people":economic system?
2) Per unit of power, how do the effects compared to coal, oil, gas
and nuclear power?
3) Is whoever is describing the effect telling the truth, or are they lying?
From: David Schwartzman <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:37 AM
Subject: Re: [EcoRev] Why wind power, hybrid cars are NOT the solution
Maggie makes an argument here against wind power being viewed as clean energy, citing the experience in China, with the implication that if China has such a horrendous record of environmental protection (generally true of nearly all their industrial production), then any wind power development anywhere it must be rejected as an alternative to the unsustainable energy sources (fossil fuel, nuclear, most biofuels). But only determined transnational class struggle will insure much stronger social management of the production and deployment of wind power and solar to insure it is truly clean. Should we also revert to early 20th century mechanical adding machines and not use modern computers and laptops because their production and disposal needs
to be subjected to a much stricter environmental regime than the present (such as recycling using industrial ecological methods) ?
Unless carbon emissions are sharply reduced in the near future we will plunge into climate catastrophe, with only wind and solar technologies having sufficiently low C emissions in their life cycles to make this reduction possible if accompanied by rapid phaseout of coal and non-conventional petroleum (tar sands, fracked gas) first. Hence Maggie is right to critique techno fixes, including truly clean energy in themselves as the solution, especially if fossil fuel consumption continues to increase globally. And of course the capitalist mode of production and consumption needs a radical overhaul and replacement in the directions you indicate. Yes, lifestyles in the U.S. must change, and change to the better, with clean air, water and organic food,
shorter work week etc.
But truly clean energy supplies must increase globally to eliminate energy poverty that exists for most people in the world, living in the global South. Go to our websitewww.solarUtopia.org
and find the latest data plotted, life expectancy versus energy consumption per capita, the example of energy poor Cuba, demonstrating a likely minimum of roughly 3.5 kilowatt/person to achieve state of the science life expectancy. Present world energy consumption corresponds to 16 Tera Watts, 7 billion x 3.5 kilowatt/person = 25 Tera Watts. The 3.5 kilowatt/person is of course necessary but not sufficient, since high income inequality reduces life expectancy even with higher energy consumption. In other words what is needed is a revolution in both the
physical and political economies.
On our website the reader will also find a discussion of most of what Maggie discusses here as well as the point she makes at the end of her remarks below citing the greenhouse forcing of SF6.
> This article with its hellish photos really brings home the point. As I've
> been arguing, society (especially the affluent societies of the "developed"
> world) can not simply replace their current energy needs with "renewables",
> or with low/"zero" carbon energy sources, and think that'll avert the
> climate/ecological collapse we're facing. Our entire
system of production,
> distribution, consumption and waste treatment of food and other essential
> products must be overhauled and redesigned with paramount emphasis on
> ecological considerations, as well as equity and justice. Most of today's
> production and consumption, which are not for essential needs, must be
> eliminated, and the world needs to come together (i.e., first stop imperial
> wars and military buildup) to help each other get by with minimum further
> damage to the planet. That's the only way our species can hope to survive
> the oncoming disaster with as little carnage as possible. Environmentalists
> who try to convince the public the whole task is as simple and painless as
> replacing energy source, or other techno fixes, while our lifestyle can
> remain largely unchanged, is helping to waste more precious time muddling
> the real picture, and
shielding the public in their ignorance.
> "In China, the true cost of Britain's clean, green wind power experiment:
> Pollution on a disastrous scale"
> This article did not mention all sources of concern around wind power that's
> worth mentioning, for example it didn't mention the SF6 emission, which is
> the most potent greenhouse gas evaluated by IPCC (with a Global Warming
> Potential about 23,000 times that of CO2), and extremely long lived
> (thousands of years).
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