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Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism [Paperback]

Ozzie Zehner
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2012 Our Sustainable Future
We don’t have an energy crisis. We have a consumption crisis. And this book, which takes aim at cherished assumptions regarding energy, offers refreshingly straight talk about what’s wrong with the way we think and talk about the problem. Though we generally believe we can solve environmental problems with more energy—more solar cells, wind turbines, and biofuels—alternative technologies come with their own side effects and limitations. How, for instance, do solar cells cause harm? Why can’t engineers solve wind power’s biggest obstacle? Why won’t contraception solve the problem of overpopulation lying at the heart of our concerns about energy, and what will?

This practical, environmentally informed, and lucid book persuasively argues for a change of perspective. If consumption is the problem, as Ozzie Zehner suggests, then we need to shift our focus from suspect alternative energies to improving social and political fundamentals: walkable communities, improved consumption, enlightened governance, and, most notably, women’s rights. The dozens of first steps he offers are surprisingly straightforward. For instance, he introduces a simple sticker that promises a greater impact than all of the nation’s solar cells. He uncovers why carbon taxes won’t solve our energy challenges (and presents two taxes that could). Finally, he explores how future environmentalists will focus on similarly fresh alternatives that are affordable, clean, and can actually improve our well-being.

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Review

"A bold look at the downside of green technologies and a host of refreshingly simple substitute solutions."—Kirkus


"What set Zehner's work apart from the glut of other environment-related titles are his fresh ideas and superlatively engaging prose."—Carl Hays, Booklist Online


"With chapter subtitles like "Step Away From the Pom-Poms" and epigraphs from the likes of Dr. Seuss, Zehner is a delightful apostate in the church of green energy."—Sarah Rothbard, slate.com


"This book is a must read for anyone concerned with sustainable living."—Daniel J. Benor, International Journal of Healing and Caring


"All Americans should read this book."—K. J. White, Choice


"As a nation, we have hard decisions before us. We need to find actual, tangible solutions that will make a real difference. Our path begins with critical thinking and informed choices. This book helps us get started."—Jonathan Hladik, Great Plains Research

About the Author

Ozzie Zehner, who has collaborated on numerous projects in industry, government, and academia, is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opener! July 9 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This author does an excellent job of breaking the spell that proponents of "green energy" have placed upon the public. Not only does he dispel the green energy myth, but he articulates real world solutions to our environmental crisis that both cost less, and carry greater benefit. He draws the readers attention back to the real issues that today's environmentalists must contend with.

It was a pleasure reading this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on the complicated "GREEN" issue Jan. 2 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent introduction to the current serious isssue thst surrounds us all. Ozzie has the subject well researched and logically documented.
He starts by giving the current picture that most of know from the mass media and big business interest groups. He provides details on the real picture of Solar Cells, Wind power, Biofuels, Nuclear , Hydrogen and Hybrid "Fairy Tales" .
Once we see the real issues Ozzie provides us with a starting plan which would assist us in making this a better world.

I strongly believe that all students, politicians and all of us who are concerned about our way of life should read this book and share thier views with all of the friends and co-worker.
Thanks, Ozzie for this book!!!
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating, Astounding and Impossibly Important. June 8 2012
By J.H. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I began quite the skeptic. I know the importance of green energy and I am committed to helping slow the degradation to the environment. To be clear, the premise of Green Illusions seemed provocative to me and rather improbable. However as an academic, I knew that the The Nebraska press has a solid reputation in publishing conservationist thinkers - one of their books was just announced as a Pulitzer Prize finalist and now I know why.

To say that this book is simply powerful would actually be to shortchange it. This book is not just an incisive analysis of our current state of environmental affairs. This book is also a work of sheer epistemology- brilliantly interrogating the very facts and data on which our analyses lay. Given his work as an environment consultant, he should know. Yet, there is a keen sense of sophisticated thinking that requires us to think deeply about "solutions" - taking the time to examine the presuppositions that undergird them and the axioms that allow them to go unchecked. This work of disentangling facts from fiction is prodigious on its own. Yet, to connect this disentanglement to the larger the social, political, and moral obligations that befalls our society makes what was a merely sophisticated argument into an ineluctably ethical one.

I came to this book as an educated skeptic. But the book not only brought me to think in important new ways, it also made me realize why these issues were so incredibly important. The author argues that it doesn't matter how many answers we discover if we are asking the wrong questions to begin with. I certainly had been asking the wrong questions. While I still disagree with the author on some issues, I think that the larger thesis is actually quite profound. The author weaves a compelling story about the global and growing addiction to consumption and the way that desires of technological abdication have obfuscated the relationships between economic habits and its effects in the form of environmental degradation. Zehner undoes this obfuscation through facts. This is where my skepticism began to subside. Working with a mountain of statistics and data, the story becomes undeniably clear and it is here where I find that these facts become incredibly important. But he does not rely on this. Not only does Zehner clearly lay out these facts, he also show us just how limited these facts are given our larger, rapacious trajectory of consumption - a trajectory that is much too fast (and accelerating) to be undone by expert ambiguities about data. No squabbles regarding the true benefits of wind technologies or other green tech solutions - can undo the undeniable consumptive dinosaur in the (world's) room. You can put all of your data regarding benefits of green technology together and they still can not undue the velocity of consumption.. It is there.. at that very moment that Zehner's provocative hypothesis goes beyond the methodological impasses of data to the undeniable truth of causes and solutions.

And yet, the most shocking part, at least for me, revealed after his elegant unraveling of our gilded assumptions, - is the sheer pragmatism of his solutions. The book avoids easy, pie-in-the-sky solutions and instead clearly articulates about three dozen "first-steps" all of which are clearly achievable. This is especially momentous given our current climate of endless political divisions, rugged anti-intellectualism and fact-free rhetorical grandstanding. These solutions touch all areas of our societies - approaching large-scale social problems such as those of healthcare and women's rights (p.187).

As an academic, I'm often prone to a permanent sense of reservation and as a once-ardent defender of green technologies, I actually know a lot about the subject. But I feel quite certain that this book will likely change things in dramatic ways. This book and the larger idea that it represents will likely reorient the entire conversation about energy, consumption, conservation and the sociopolitical tenets that though that we held so dear. As a person who rarely lifts his brow, I actually found this book to be devastating, astounding and impossibly important. I have been converted.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Environmentalist Gut Punch Aug. 23 2012
By Isaac M. Gaetz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Zehner goes right after many environmentalist sacred calves and holds nothing back in Green Illusions. The result is a really intriguing work that hammers home several key points. I'll try to summarize a few of them.

1. Increasing energy production sources (by using power from "renewable" wind, solar, geothermal sources etc. or improving fossil fuel technologies) results in a reduction in energy prices, which history has proven time and time again, results in a rebound effect in which consumption rises, consuming whatever short term gains were accomplished.

2. Comparing the environmental impact of renewable energies to fossil fuels is fundamentally flawed because being more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels is a preposterously low bar which to clear. This results in "less bad" technologies being portrayed as "good" because they are slightly better than the previous "bad" options.

3. Looking exclusively at the power generation side of the equation, whether fossil or renewable, is an approach akin to treating a symptom. Environmentalism would be more productive treating the causal side of the equation, which is consumption.

Zehner's Green Illusions first section is quite similar to Robert Bryce's Power Hungry http://www.amazon.com/Power-Hungry-Myths-Energy-Future/dp/1586487892 . Zehner systematically goes down the list of energy technologies, fossil and renewable, and describes the realities of both their energy production potential and their environmental impacts.

The latter half of the book is closer in tone to Robert Laughlin's Powering the Future http://www.amazon.com/Powering-Future-Eventually-Civilization-Tomorrow/dp/0465022197 . Zehner describes real solutions and ideas of what could occur to actual address the world's power problems via practical reductions in consumption through social, political and cultural changes.

Zehner doesn't have all the answers, but he seems to have honed in on the problem, and as they say, before we can agree on the solution, we have to agree on the problem.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sobering, Essential, Troubling Sept. 23 2012
By GlobalChangeSupercenter5 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Green Illusions" is the best kind of critical journalism, written by a researcher with the good of the cause in mind. The deconstructions of solar, wind, biofuels, batteries, suburbs, "green" academia are written with verve and extensive scientific understanding to extract the reality of our energy predicament. The challenge to orthodox green techno-optimism is very strong and cogent.
The difficulty comes in the more gee-whiz kind of "solutions" banality that occupies the latter half of the book. Zehner is quite right to state that walkable, bikable cities with less consumption would be the way to have some shot at human "sustainability," so his architect background leads him to envision this or that green living utopia, from Dutch cities to kids on bikes to efficient retrofits. Fine - yet where is the data to suggest that this is going to come out of the present supersystem of greenwash and big corporate extraction? All the necessary instruction in how we should have designed our global social infrastructure is irrelevant if we are Too Far Gone.
Robert Laughlin, in "Powering the Future," does not make the assumption that walkable/bikable/voluntary simplicity is the next phase of human social reality - carbon is going to come out of the ground, one way or another, until the last drop or chunk.
Look at the CO2 numbers - too high already, and on track to blow through any Gladwellian cliche. Look at the population figures, the server farms, the global waste, the complete corruption of the political governing bodies and process - and yet there is to be biking and non-coerced Amish living across the energy-hungry globe?
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read and reference book June 11 2012
By A - Olaf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book has done an excellent job not to demonize alternative energy, but rather to encourage me to question my everyday choices and make smarter more informed decisions. This book is a great read that will keep you asking questions about what is going on in the world today.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Kid is Someone to Watch! March 21 2013
By Canman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I haven't finished this book yet and I don't agree with everything he says, but I have found what I've read so far to be incredibly intelligent. So I got on the internet to find out who the hell this guy is and found a YouTube presentation. I was shocked at how young he looks. I'll leave a URL in the first comment.

I've been reading a lot about green technologies and was expecting a bland review of stuff I had already seen. I'm finding lots of new stuff told with engaging prose. My favorite chapter is his brilliant critique of wind power. I highly recommend it!

------Edited after finishing-------

I knew I would probably not agree with much of the rest of this book, but I was surprised at how much he dislikes capitalism and consumption. He's ready with all kinds of ways of social engineering society. Things that he prefers, like vegetarianism and bicycling might appeal to that part of the population that chooses them freely, but will they bring happiness to people who have other choices curtailed.

While the early parts of the book have a lot of original research, the rest is mostly backed up with quotes from other popular authors. I would suggest he look into the history of 'urban renewal' in the mid later half of the twentieth century. To be fair, he does not claim to have all the answers and has clearly shown that he can think outside the box.
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