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Defining Green Energy

June 3, 2009
Three Gorges Dam in 2006
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In 2008, international investment in renewable energy surpassed spending on fossil fuel resources, according to The Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009, a report prepared for the UN Environment Programme’s  Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative. This is good news for global warming, but global warming isn’t the whole story when it comes to environmental protection and justice.

The New York Times notes that the figures for renewable energy spending include “[l]arge hydropower projects”. In my home bioregion, Cascadia, such projects have devastated wild salmon runs and have thus had a tremendous negative impact on Native American communities living near the rivers. The construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam has uprooted communities and altered the habitats of already endangered species. Worse environmental damage may be yet to come.

Sacrificing local communities and habitats to combat the problem of global warming is neither environmentally practical nor just. Local effects do not remain local. When migratory birds decline due to loss of one habitat, the other habitats through which they pass are impacted. When dams increase the local risk of waterborne diseases, those diseases may be carried elsewhere by tourists and migrant workers alike.

Massive hydroelectric projects may be technically renewable, but they are not truly green. Resources would be better spent focused on projects such as retrofitting existing structures with solar panels and developing wind turbines using recent technologies that minimize bird mortality.

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