Ozzie Zehner

Author of Green Illusions

Ozzie at the City Club

AndrewWeeksPhotography©2009_001No, I’m afraid that’s not a statue of me. But if you are interested in a Green Illusions show-and-tell or would like to hear about the new project I’ve been working on, I will be giving a talk and taking questions at the City Club in San Francisco on June 18th at noon, lunch included. Tickets are $45 (If the cost causes any difficulties, let me know). Here’s the link.

JAMISON ROUNDTABLE LUNCHEON
Featuring: Ozzie Zehner, author of “GREEN ILLUSIONS
Wednesday, June 18
12 noon – 1:30 pm

The City Club of San Francisco
155 Sansome, 10th floor
9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

 

See more about the book:

Green Illusions

Northern California Book Awards at the Mechanics’ Institute

Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions Mechanics Institute Library

I’m delighted to announce that Green Illusions has won the Northern California Book Award. I’ll be saying a few words and taking questions along with two amazing writers, Victoria Sweet and Art Beck at the Mechanics’ Institute, an impressive San Francisco literary landmark. Mention that you are my guest to receive a complimentary ticket at the box office or call (415) 393-0100.

Tuesday, September  24 at 6:00 pm at Mechanics’ Institute, 57 Post Street,  San Francisco, 4th floor Meeting Room

The Northern California Book Awards are presented and sponsored by Northern California Book Reviewers, Poetry Flash, Center for the Art of Translation, Red Room (redroom.com), PEN West, Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco Public Library, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and Readers Bookstore at the Main.

photo by  Brandon Doran

See more about the environmental book Green Illusions here:

Green Illusions

Tesla, Leaf: Unclean at Any Speed?

Fisker Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions Tesla Leaf Unclean at Any Speed Coal

I was once an electric car enthusiast. I even built one! But in my new IEEE cover feature, I ask, “Are electric cars among the cleanest transportation options, or among the dirtiest?”

Unclean at Any Speed considers the entire life cycle of electric cars, especially their manufacturing impacts, in an effort to reveal a more comprehensive understanding of these vehicles, which governments are spending billions to subsidize. But there’s a more intriguing question.

Why did we ever think electric cars would be clean in the first place? And, how did electric cars come to be revered as a symbol of progressive green identity?

I start the article with a story from last summer, when California highway police pulled over pop star Justin Bieber, speeding through LA as he attempted to shake off the paparazzi. His car? A chrome-plated $100,000 plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma. Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, and fellow singer Usher offered it as an 18th-birthday gift – televised – where Braun remarked, “We wanted to make sure, since you love cars, that when you are on the road you are always looking environmentally friendly, and we decided to get you a car that would make you stand out a little bit.” Mission accomplished.

Bieber joins a growing list of eco-celebrities who are leveraging their electric cars into green credentials. President Obama once dared to envision a million electric cars in the U.S. by 2015. London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, vibrated to the press over his born-again electric conversion after driving a Tesla Roadster, marveling how the American sports coupé produced “no more noxious vapors than a dandelion in an alpine meadow.”

Environmentalists who once stood entirely against the proliferation of automobiles now champion subsidies for companies selling electric cars and tax credits for people buying them.

Alas, these carrots can’t overcome the reality that the prices of electric cars are still very high—a reflection of the substantial material and fossil-fuel costs that accrue to the companies constructing them. And some taxpayers understandably feel cheated that these subsidies tend to go to the very rich. Amidst all the hype and hyperbole, it’s time to look behind the curtain. Are electric cars really so green?

My article considers how electric cars merely shift negative impacts from one place to another. Most electric-car assessments analyze only the charging of the car. This is an important factor indeed. But a more rigorous analysis would consider the environmental impacts over the vehicle’s entire life cycle, from its construction through its operation and on to its eventual retirement at the junkyard.

The electric car’s presumed cleanliness has not held up to scrutiny from broad, publicly funded studies from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation and the Congressional Budget Office. For instance, The National Academies’ assessment drew together the effects of vehicle construction, fuel extraction, refining, emissions, and other factors.

In a stomach punch to electric-car advocates, it concluded that the vehicles’ lifetime health and environmental damages are actually greater than those of gasoline-powered cars. Indeed, the study found that an electric car is likely worse than a car fueled exclusively by gasoline derived from Canadian tar-sands!

Electric Car pollution environmental impact Unclean at Any Speed IEEE Ozzie Zehner

The hope, of course, is that electric-car technology and power grids will improve and become cleaner over time. But don’t expect batteries, solar cells, and other clean-energy technologies to ride a Moore’s Law–like curve of exponential development. Rather, they’ll experience asymptotic growth toward some ultimate efficiency ceiling. When the NationalAcademy’s researchers projected technology advancements and improvement to the U.S. electrical grid out to 2030, they still found no benefit to driving an electric vehicle.

If those estimates are correct, the sorcery surrounding electric cars stands to worsen public health and the environment rather than the intended opposite. But even if the researchers are wrong, there is a more fundamental illusion at work on the electric-car stage.

Almost every electric vehicle study compares electric vehicles to gas-powered ones. In doing so, their findings draw attention away from the broad array of transportation options available—including living walking, bicycling, and using mass transit.

No doubt, gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars are expensive and dirty. Road accidents kill tens of thousands of people annually in the United States alone and injure countless more. Using them as a standard against which to judge another technology is a remarkably low bar. Even if electric cars someday pass over that bar, how will they stack up against other alternatives?

Read the full article here: http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/unclean-at-any-speed

Or, check out the book:

Green Illusions

Green Illusions Nominated for Northern California Book Award

Green Illusions Ozzie Zehner censored section

 

I just received a letter of congratulations this morning.  Apparently that critique of green energy that I wrote is one of five nominees for the 32nd Annual Northern California Book Awards. Although, the other four authors are perhaps insurmountable competition. My money is actually on Seth Rosenfeld for Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power.

 

Read more in my recent environmental book:

Green Illusions

Is Renewable Energy Renewable?

Is Renewable Energy Renewable - Ozzie Zehner, Green Illusions

Of the disadvantages of renewable energy, one issue stands out: Can these technologies be renewed without fossil fuels? I recently spoke with Mark Hand about the renewability of renewable energy in an interview. Here’s the first question:

SNL Energy: What is your reaction when you see news headlines that say, “100% renewables could be closer than we think,” or, “European Union could reach 100% renewables by 2050?”

Ozzie Zehner: There are lots of research studies saying we have enough wind energy to supply 100x our needs or we have enough solar in the Mojave Desert to do this and that. The problem is that if we were to actually build that many solar panels, for instance, it would be an ecological disaster. The Mojave Desert might be the Saudi Arabia of solar, but if we were to cover deserts with solar cells, the consequences would destroy civilization as we know it within a single generation just because of heavy metals, greenhouse gases, economic effects and so on.

In my mind, there is a presumption that we have a choice between alternative energy and fossil fuels. But the reason that I wrote the book was to draw out why that choice that we seem to have between the two is an illusion. And that’s because alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels through every stage of their life. They rely on fossil fuels for raw material extraction, for fabrication, for insulation and maintenance, and for decommissioning and disposal.

Aside from the physical lifespan, they also rely on fossil fuels for their financing. They rely on an economy whose growth is driven by fossil fuels. The kind of financing that you need for renewables requires that. You need concurrent fossil fuel plants running alongside solar cells and wind turbines at all times.
From ‘Green Illusions’ author dissects ‘overly optimistic expectations’ for wind, solar in SNL Energy, April 1, 2013.

Read more in my recent environmental book:

Green Illusions

Is Obama’s New Energy Security Trust Trustworthy?

Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions White House Energy Security Trust

President Obama’s Energy Security Trust, announced this morning, expands offshore oil drilling operations in order to provide a tax base for alternative energy, which will in turn lead to economic growth.

The irony in the president’s proposal is that it exposes how alternative technologies rely on economic arrangements that are themselves reliant on fossil fuels. And, if they work as advertised, these energy technologies will spur the kind of growth that will increase pressure to extract and burn fossil fuels well into the future.

Read more in this environmental justice book:

Green Illusions

What You Don’t Know about Inequality

 

Inequality in American society is apparently not well understood by the general public. This motion infographic renders:

1) What people think a fair income distribution looks like

2) What people think income distribution really is

3) Actual income distribution in America

Wealth ultimately arises from natural resource extraction, primarily fossil fuels. So, this film offers a launching point to think about how the earth’s resources should be shared among its inhabitants. Also, how does income inequality affect rates and forms of consumption, investment, growth and other stresses on the non-human world?

See more about energy inequality in this environmental book:

Green Illusions

Why Biochar Isn’t Green

Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions Biochar UTNE Reader

UTNE Reader | Ozzie Zehner

While burning biochar, a rebranded term for charcoal, is less harmful than burning firewood, the fuel source would have a negative impact if produced on a large scale. “Green Illusions,” by Ozzie Zehner, is a practical, environmentally informed and lucid book that persuasively argues for a change of perspective on dealing with climate change. When contemplating alternative energy sources, such as biochar, one must understand its advantages as well as its limitations. The following excerpt comes from chapter 3, “Biofuels and the Politics of Big Corn.”

Even as legislators flood cellulosic ethanol and other biofuel initiatives with funding, some biofuel opportunities go over­looked, mostly because they are boring in comparison. For in­stance, wastewater treatment facilities release methane, the main component of natural gas, but more than 90 percent of Amer­ica’s six thousand wastewater treatment plants don’t capture it. As mentioned earlier, methane is a major greenhouse gas liability since its venom is more potent than that of carbon diox­ide. The sludge output of the average American yields enough power to light a standard compact florescent light bulb without end. So skimming the methane from an entire city’s wastewa­ter would not only prevent harmful emissions but also would produce enough power to run the entire wastewater operation, perhaps with energy to spare. Although not a large-scale solu­tion, captured biogas is a reminder of the modest opportunities to draw upon biofuels without advanced technology.

Another biofuel product that is now starting to gain more at­tention is a convenient replacement for firewood. Burning fire­wood directly is a relatively dirty practice, emitting dangerous particulates, hydrocarbons, and dioxins. In poor countries, the soot from firewood, waste, and dung kills about 1.6 million peo­ple per year. It’s also a local climate changer; soot darkens air and darker air absorbs more solar radiation. But there’s another way to extract energy from wood besides burning it—one that was widely employed before the Industrial Revolution but has since fallen by the wayside—charcoal (recently rebranded as biochar). When processors heat wood above 300 [degrees celcius] with limited oxygen, in a process called pyrolysis, it spontaneously breaks into three useful fuels: biochar, heavy oil, and flammable gas. In addition to its use as a fuel, farmers can till their soil with bio­char in order to reduce methane and nitrous oxide greenhouse-gas emissions. Archaeologists uncovered ancient South Amer­ican settlements in which buried charcoal has been sequestered for thousands of years, lending interest to the concept of using biochar as long-term storage for excess carbon.

In all, there may be many benefits to implementing biochar tech­niques in place of burning wood and waste for fuel directly. But this doesn’t make biochar a global solution. Cornell researcher Kelli Roberts points out that large-scale biochar production, as envisioned by some eager biofuel productivists, could yield unintended consequences. As with other biofuel methods, if producers clear virgin land to grow biochar inputs such as trees and switch grass, the process could ultimately do more harm than good. Alternately, if producers grow biochar crops on ex­isting farmland, farmers may be forced onto new land, yield­ing the same negative effects on virgin land plus the added risk of local food price instability. And then there is the hitch with any method for increasing available energy supply—it inevi­tability leads to growth, expansion, and increasing energy con­sumption—a reminder that smart upgrades in energy practices for local communities may not have the same positive effects if implemented on a larger scale.

 

Excerpted from Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism by Ozzie Zehner, with permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2012 by Ozzie Zehner. Available wherever books are sold or from the Univ. of Nebraska Press (800) 848-6224.

Read on: Utne.com

 

An environmental book John Perkins is endorsing:

Green Illusions

Las Vegas Mall Touts “Imported Water” in Pond

Ozzie Zehner Blog Water Imported Las Vegas Shopping Mall Green Illusions

This photograph by Gwen Sharp, a professor of sociology at Nevada State College, shows how much this shopping center in Las Vegas cares about the water shortage at Lake Mead. It also renders how far our illusions have brought us. If we are capable of being fooled by this sign, then we can truly be hoodwinked by any green illusion.

Here’s what Dr. Sharp had to say:

It has several elements of classic greenwashing. The organization “cares about the environment and the community” — a vague, general claim that commits them to nothing specific. And their supposedly eco-friendly behavior is dubious and hard to evaluate…

The imported water comes from somewhere — an aquifer? another water shed? thousands of bottles of Perrier? — and it seems it would require energy to get it from there to here. The focus on not using a local water source sidesteps the larger question of whether it is environmentally responsible to build ponds and fountains (and grass-based lawns, for that matter) in the desert, regardless of where the water originates.

Send me your Green Illusion or discover other Green Illusions in:

Green Illusions

Windy Assumptions

Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions The Hill Congress Blog

The Hill published my article on renewable energy subsidies. Please feel free to comment on The Hill article rather than on this site.

Windy Assumptions

Like the 28 governors and numerous environmental groups currently scrambling to extend wind power subsidies, I long assumed that wind turbines and solar cells offset fossil fuel use. They probably don’t.  >> read the article

See why this environmental book is a Top-20 Nonfiction 2012:

Green Illusions

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