Environmentalism includes a wide spectrum of beliefs. In “Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It,” authors Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert fall into the “deep green” environmentalist camp. They believe that, “to save the planet, humans must live within the limits of the natural world,” which will entail “drastic transformations in our societies, culture and lifestyles.” Alternatively, “bright green” environmentalists believe technology can solve the crises we face while allowing our “high-energy lifestyle to continue indefinitely.”
The authors’ claim that this bright green theory is patently untrue is backed up by a wealth of data. In demonstrating that, they slam mainstream environmentalists and organizations for lying to the public. Green technologies, the authors say, are far more aimed at saving our “industrial civilization” than saving life on Earth.
“Bright Green Lies” methodically attacks “green energy” sources, including solar, wind, hydro, tidal, biofuels and others. The authors analyze the full systemic requirements for each energy source, from raw materials through manufacturing, transportation, installation, operation, maintenance and disposal. Their point is that when you add up all that is required to implement green energy sources at the levels necessary to replace fossil fuels, including the externalities they cause, the resulting damage to the Earth is not much less than sticking with petroleum. The authors also repeatedly stress that green energy is largely just providing additional energy for our industrial civilization, not reducing the use of fossil fuels. The all-time high for fossil fuel usage was in 2019, implying that efforts to switch to greener energy haven’t made much of an impact, so far.
In its nearly 500 pages, “Bright Green Lies” provides many, many examples. Regarding solar energy, the book details the extensive mining required for component materials and how manufacturing silicon emits a great deal of carbon, pollutants and waste. The authors show how the solar panel manufacturing process poisons the Earth.
This same systemic analysis is applied to wind turbines. Their point, again, is that manufacturing green energy is a dirty, resource-intensive process. With wind energy, they also discuss the massive number of bird and bat deaths via wind turbines. Building wind turbines to levels needed to replace fossil fuels would result in more than 100 million birds killed and 250 million bats killed annually. That’s on top of the ongoing bird and bat population collapses due to environmental degradation.
The authors write that “the entire bright green scheme depends on energy storage” and try to prove that needed storage levels are impossible. In fact, according to “Bright Green Lies,” trying to build them will be incredibly harmful. “The grid itself is destroying the planet.”
The authors challenge the idea of “energy efficiency,” arguing that it does not result in a meaningful reduction in energy usage. They provide extensive data to show that the claimed benefits from recycling are largely a myth and that the true purpose of recycling is to help industry. They attack biofuels, biomass (the burning of trash for energy), geothermal energy and harvesting energy from tides. They provide especially damning data on the damage caused by mining, shipping and hydropower. And they dedicate a chapter to showing how sustainable cities are a false solution with illusory benefits. They also reject geoengineering (the injection of aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect solar radiation) as a disaster waiting to happen.
Where does that leave us? The authors state that collapse is already here. They claim the basic issue is that humans don’t really care (that much) about nonhumans. It’s all about saving “us” and maintaining our current way of life. The authors admit they like the conveniences of our lifestyle. They write that the difference is that they are willing to acknowledge the cost: life on Earth. We are facing human-caused mass extinction on the planet. Over the past 50 years, “humans have killed 60 percent of the earth’s animals.” The key questions are if we care and if nonhuman life matters to us.
The authors write that we are buying the false story told by the bright green environmentalists because we want it to be true, but, unfortunately, capitalism and industrial civilization aren’t sustainable. We can’t have it all, thus we have a choice: saving the Earth or trying to keep our lifestyle.
The authors provide a “true environmentalism test.” For an action to be green, it “must tangibly benefit the natural world on the natural world’s own terms.” The question isn’t if the action makes things easier for us, but if the action is better for the environment.
The authors stress certain questions that need to apply to all bright green technology proposals: Where do the materials come from? How does it impact Earth? What happens when it wears out?
Unfortunately, bright green solutions aren’t passing the test.
To save our planet, the authors write that we need to “stop destroying the planet and let natural life come back. … Make no mistake, this will require a serious and dedicated resistance movement.” We need to stop industrial civilization and heal the land, including the restoration of forests, marshes, wetlands, grasslands and the soil.
They provide 14 meaningful goals for a truly green community, including stopping net carbon emissions within five years, protecting aquifers, removing dams, immediately phasing out monocrop agriculture, protecting endangered species, ending government funding of big infrastructure projects, rejecting the idea of perpetual growth and addressing overpopulation and overconsumption. They suggest we reduce the budget for the U.S. military by 80 percent to provide a peace dividend to pay for all this. At the individual level, they suggest readers pick a place and start the work, one acre at a time.
“Find something you love and defend it” is the best way to begin to organize political resistance.
Obviously, “Bright Green Lies” is a grim report, and the authors’ suggested solutions resonate as patently unobtainable. The Republican party seems hellbent on killing any meaningful environmental regulations and democracy, too, if that’s what it takes for them to win and keep power. How bad must things get for a counter-populist movement to rise up and fight for actually saving the planet? It’s hard to imagine, but if the authors are correct, rocky times are coming. I need an adult beverage.
Dave Gamrath is a longtime community activist who founded InspireSeattle.org and serves on multiple regional boards and committees.
Read more of the Sept. 7-13, 2022 issue.