Green has become the symbolic colour of sustainability, taken up by politicians and industry as the colour of the future. Whilst operating towards a target of 100% sustainability for all our future energy sources is necessary, it is in reality, virtually impossible to achieve such levels. For a technology or a process to score a 100% sustainability ranking , two important criteria must be met in full. Firstly, neutrality in terms of emissions, and secondly, it must be beneficial, or at least benign in ecological terms. 100% sustainable Green Energy is only found in traditional local agricultural economies which do not import fertilisers and industrial chemicals, and who farm using organic soil enrichment, and where the physical work is done by people and animal power, fuelled by the crops they grow onsite.
A vehicle can only be tagged “zero-emission”, if it didn’t cost the planet to make, operate and recycle it, examples being a horse or a handmade sailing boat constructed from renewable materials grown organically. The horse can walk and carry more or less anywhere without the need for a costly arterial network of tarmac roads and bridges, likewise the sailing boat needs only the natural waterways of the world. Bicycles provide a good modern example of a vehicle which boasts low life-cycle emissions.
Additional to life-time fuel consumption, the manufacturing of a modern automobile requires the globe to be scoured for specific raw materials, and presupposes a sophisticated road infrastructure. Thus the manufacturing and whole life costs of cars, wind turbines, PV and fuel cells must be honestly discussed alongside those of agricultural energy crops and waste processing.
An Honest Approach
Which is worse - contaminating our atmosphere or our land and sea? This is the big dilemma we must all face up to. If reduced carbon emissions is the sole focus of our climate mitigation strategy, we run the danger of imposing a critical level of damage to other components of our biosphere. We need to maintain a healthy environment if we are to retain a global ecological carrying capacity which can provide sufficient healthy food and clean water for the ever growing human population.
The catalogue of non-fuel oil products is wide ranging and includes most of the toxic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides that have for the last 50 years being increasingly released into the environment. This loading of harmful chemicals is now firmly embedded within our food chain. Most mass-produced food stuffs contain a cocktail of toxic residues from the chemicals with which they have been sprayed.
If we purvey biodiesels as the panacea to our transport fuel problems, we are simply not being honest. Firstly there is nowhere near enough land area to grow sufficient quantities of the required energy crops. Secondly if they are grown as they are presently, they require multiple sprays of toxic and harmful chemicals which then enter the environment, contaminating soil and polluting water courses. Eventually most non-biodegradable chemicals find their way to the oceans, where they enter the marine food chain, becoming concentrated in the fish species that we like to eat.