George Monbiot's recent anti-micropower rant is seriously anti-green

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In early March 2010 everyone in British green circles, from the eco-warrior to the likes of RenewableUK, has been talking about George Monbiot; but then that is more or less the way he likes it.

Monbiot's words were that Britain cannot afford renewable energy and should and must got for the nuclear option. This shows, aside from the fact who seems to be paying his bills, what a pathetic idiot that he is. The nuclear option we cannot afford at all and that for more than one reason.

George Monbiot is an unashamed cheerleader for big power – in his column in the Guardian he has previously come out in favor of large nuclear power stations – and now he has spoken out against micro-generation. This really shows how clued up he is, NOT.

He is also in favor of large, centralized wind farms and other forms of renewable energy, and sets himself firmly against micro-generation –which he caricatures as a middle class subsidy.

The truth is that we need more micro-generation and not less; much more in fact. And we need to look changing the kind of electricity that we need. If we would use 12 V DC circuits with inverters as and where needed we would be a great deal better of in so many way and we could generate electricity very, very local.

The occasion for his latest outburst was the introduction of the UK government-backed Feed-in tariff (FiT), which will reward householders and others who generate renewable energy back into the grid. Ignoring the fact that the FiT was enormously successful in Germany, which has become a European leader in micro-generation, “the only renewables policy that makes sense,” says George, “ is to build big installations where the energy is – which means high ground, estuaries or the open sea – and deliver it by wire to where people live.”

Mr. Monbiot has missed several points here – the most important is that the reasons for installing micro-power are not entirely financial – it is also good for energy security if each house has its own power supply, and it is empowering (literally) for communities, to know they are collectively able to generate power independently of the grid.

Then there are multiple other considerations – the expected increase in fuel bills, the incredible inefficiency of the grid in transporting electricity around the country, and the likely increase in efficiency of wind turbines, solar panels, Ground source heat pumps, Bloom boxes, methane digesters and other forms of micro-power.

We can expect a reduction in price, as the technology improves and the economies of scale increase. But again, price is only one issue, there is also the social benefits in terms of attitudinal change and awareness of environmental issues.

One of the most important aspects, aside from energy security, of micro-generation is that lower voltages can be generated, making turbines much more efficient.

Building could and should be build and retrofitted with 12 V DC circuitry for lighting and most applications as this is better and safer, and not just for the environment. It can be done, won't cost much and is not rocket science.

George Monbiot cited a McKinsey report saying geothermal cost £3 to save a tonne of carbon whereas. That is not an option in the UK as there is no geothermal in Britain. The McKinsey report is based on other countries and not the UK.

Mr. Monbiot has a huge following of middle class liberal Guardian readers, but over the years he has proved himself to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

The condescending and puritanical outbursts of his against those who disagree with his stance on global warming have encouraged others to equally overstate the green case, and turn off millions of potential supporters. Along with films like “The Age of Stupid,” Monbiot accuses Global warming “deniers” of being stupid – and so, of course, they respond by ignoring him.

Having said that, however, the film, “The Age of Stupid”, made a number of points that we cannot and must not ignore, namely that if we do nothing we are the problem.

Whether or not global warming, aka climate change is “mad-made”, and here the other factor and question is the definition of “man-made”, man has a hand in it through the pollutions that we pump into the atmosphere and especially by the wholesale destruction of forests – not just the rainforests everyone speaks of – ever since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

George says that the “solar rip-off” is a government subsidy for a middle class status symbol, but what about the hundreds of thousands who live in council housing and housing association houses – are they somehow excluded from this scheme? Certainly not – they will be just as able to take part, and a whole category of householder who has hitherto been excluded from the Eco-movement will suddenly be part of it again – just not on the terms that George would like.

As FiT allows councils and social housing organizations to become electricity producers, they will pass on some of their savings to tenants and that will be more than a financial gain – it will also raise Eco-consciousness.

On the other hand, small wind turbines do not cost a fortune any longer and in fact can be knocked up by Granddad in his garden shed and if councils and housing associations would permit people to put up their own turbines they, the tenants, could become small-scale electricity producers themselves.

Mr. Monbiot appears to live in a strange world, more like a parallel universe, where his religious approach to saving the planet means he is forever engaged in strange, almost metaphysical arguments about which policy will or will not harm the environment and confuses himself and others.

He even supports large nuclear power stations because they emit no carbon, even though these plants have huge embodied costs, require vast pylons to be built everywhere and even though the industry is moving towards smaller nuclear reactors.

In addition to that the nuclear option is unsustainable as – one – uranium is not an infinite resource (in fact we are running out of the stuff in many places already) and – two – and this is the biggest factor – the waste from nuclear power stations will be with us for millennia.

Yes, its true the Germans have now sort-of canceled their FiT scheme, as the UK will do in 3-5 years. But its job is done. A green industry has been nurtured. A skills base has been built. Eco-consciousness has been raised. However, people who have surplus energy from micro-generation can still feed to the grid in Germany, only no longer at highly subsidized rates. Instead thy will get paid the going rate for wholesale electricity. Not something that was even the case in the UK until now. The British rates were peanuts and not even half of the wholesale price.

Millions of homes in Germany are now off-grid ready and off-grid already and they no longer need the grid. The grid is an aging technology and the wrong way to organize the energy and social structure.

The biggest problem is the loss, in my view, of energy while it travels along the wires that are hung on the pylons, in addition to the danger of the electromagnetic radiation from such high-voltage cables; we are talking tens to hundreds of kilovolts. I certainly would not like to live below such a corridor.

Its time Mr. Monbiot started listening. But he is set in his ways and will call anyone who does not agree with him stupid and an idiot. Maybe he should consider the last three letters in his name. It could be that soon someone might refer to an idiot or a climate imbecile as a “Monbiot” in the same way as people refer to some people who like to go back to ways of old as “Luddites”.

Wake up, George. Nuclear is not the option and neither is big wind and all that. Our grid system is a problem and we need to change it. Nor, George, is everything black and white as regards to climate change and climate science.

© 2010