Is there a dark side to green energy? In our race to save the climate, a new book claims that we are destroying the environment and starting a new war over natural resources. Most offshore turbine magnets weigh about 650kg for every MW (megawatt) of power they generate. And for most, about a third of the magnet is composed of materials with exotic names like neodymium and dysprosium, from a group of metals known as rare earths. And while rare earths are not rare, they can be very, very dirty. Yet they are very special too. Indeed many forms of green energy are dependent on these rare earths, along with 20 or so cousins called ‘rare metals’ or ‘critical raw materials’. Though known as ‘rare’, scarcity is not an issue, as they are about as abundant as silver, and found around the world, including in Britain, says Andrew Bloodworth of the British Geological Survey. The problem arises, however, in getting them out of the ground. Many renewables are, it turns out, particularly difficult to renew themselves. ‘We tend to think of solar panels as clean, but the truth is that there is no adequate plan to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20- or 25-year life,’ notes Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never. ‘In the effort to try to save the climate, are we destroying the environment?’ Extraction and recycling are just two of several problems with renewables, says Shellenberger. Threat to wildlife is also an issue – and not only a result of mining. As solar farms need to be extremely large, building them can involve displacing animals; wind farms threaten birds, in particular, says Shellenberger, ‘big, slow-to-reproduce birds: kites, raptors, eagles and hawks and owls’.
Telegraph 16th Jan 2021 read more »