Why Renewable Energy Can’t Be Our Exclusive Solution

When thinking about methods to combat climate change, and eliminate the biggest producers of toxins and waste, the immediate thought is renewable energy. Solar panels, wind turbines, these are different methods utilizing renewable energy in order to combat climate change. It is obvious that the energy sources the world currently relies on must be eliminated, for they are destructive to the environment and causing irreparable damage. Renewable energy resources are viewed as an easy fix. They are a way to produce “cleaner” energy, and are rooted in sources that naturally replenish themselves. However, “cleaner” and “clean”, are two very different things, and unfortunately our current world does not seem to care about the contrast. These “cleaner” methods are not as eco-friendly, and sage as they are believed to be. So, although the issue of climate change needs to be addressed and handled as soon as possible, it will never be resolved if we continue to solely rely on renewable energy resources.

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In theory, renewable energy is the answer, for it is energy collected from renewable resources, meaning they can be replenished on a human timescale, such as the sun, wind, and rain. They are a way to phase out the toxic methods we, as a society, have continually been existing with forever, methods like fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases, that come from fossil fuels, are harmful due to the air pollutants that they emit through the process of burning coal, oil, and gas. These air pollutants are harmful to not only the environment, but also the public health; fossil fuels are one of the greatest climate change offenders. In order to get away from this, renewable energy resources were introduced. For example, solar panels rely on energy from the sun, and can be used as a direct source of electricity. They are a good alternative to fossil fuels, for they solar energy is completely renewable for no cost. Again, at face-value solar panels are the answer, however they are not flawless. Solar panels, while working, are effective, they are an environmentally friendly means of acquiring electricity, the issue arises when they reach the end of their life-span. The IRENA, International Renewable Energy Agency, projected that with the way society seems to be heading, there will be 78 million metric tonnes of solar panel waste in the world by 2050. The issue with that is solar panels are notoriously difficult to recycle, and they often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. Approximately 90% of most panels are made up of glass that cannot be recycled due to impurities, such as the inclusion of plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony, causing solar panels to more often than not pile up in landfills. Another, even less addressed issue with solar panels is the fact that land must be cleared in order to make room for them. This means you must clear a whole area of wildlife. What this tells us, is that while yes, we are desperate for a change in mainstream energy sources, solar panels cannot be the route we rely on exclusively.

Another common renewable energy resource is wind turbines. They are similar to solar panels in that they take a natural resource and convert it to electricity, in this case however, rather than energy from the sun, the energy is coming from the wind. Wind turbines are beneficial, for they do not pollute the air like a power plant rely on fossil fuels would, they are naturally replenishing and functioning, and finally they are cost effective. Our society wants to put all of their eggs in the renewable energys basket, and not even acknowledge the disadvantages of these methods, even if they are severe. These determinants are again evident in the disposal of wind turbines. The blade of a wind turbine can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing, this means that they cannot easily be disposed of at the end of their lifespan. These devices are built to last as long as possible, they are resistant to hurricanes, and cannot be easily crushed, recycled, or repurposed. This means that there is nowhere for them to go aside from landfills, where they will be forever. Another concern with wind turbines is that while they are technically effective during their lifespan they are responsible for a number of other environmental concerns. A wind turbine, generally speaking, has a lifespan of about 20 years, and while that seems like a long time, realistically it is not. During the 20 years that turbine is up, it can effectively do its job of converting the wind in electricity, however during that 20 years it is also a major threat to wildlife, specifically birds. This may not seem like a major deal, especially when put into perspective; house cats kill billions of birds every year and only about a million birds are killed by wind turbines. So, at first glance, wind turbines do not seem like they are doing much damage, however, house cats do not kill big, rare, threatened birds. A house cat will kill small, common birds, such as robins or sparrows. A wind turbine can kill birds that could easily go extinct, such as hawks, eagles, or owls. In fact, wind turbines are the most serious new threat to important bird species that has emerged in decades, for the rapidly spinning devices act as a new predator, a predator these birds never evolved to deal with. These serious impediments are not only often, but constantly overlooked in favor of the the benefits these devices provide, and while it is a positive sign that we are moving in the right direction, the disadvantages of wind turbines need to be addressed and remedied, or their will be no advancements in the fight against climate change.

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While naturally renewing energy sources are more environmentally friendly, they consistently, across the board, have one major setback; what do we do when they inevitably stop working at times. Sometimes the sun does not shine, and the wind does not blow. By putting all of our efforts towards these renewable resources, we are going to run into trouble when there is no backup for when they stop working. When these intermittent resources stop working, it is necessary for there to be an alternate energy source in order for society to function. Currently, there is no solution for when these renewable resources stop working, and it is not even being considered while the world as a collective is trying to be more environmentally friendly. Another drawback that universally affects these resources is the varying geography throughout planet Earth. The world is diverse with varying conditions, such as climates, topographies, and vegetation. So, while this creates a beautiful mix of landscapes, it also means that there are some locations that are more or less fitted for specific renewable resources. For example, a large farm may be a perfect place for solar panels or a wind turbine, but a townhouse in the middle of a city covered in shade would not be able to properly reap the benefits of either of those resources. However, The upside to the issues of renewable energy sources is that it is evidence that the world is attempting to make strides against climate change. If there was no attempt at progress then there would be no issues facing the efforts. However, while an attempt at progress is definitely a positive, it is very different from progress actually being made. If climate change is going to be effectively combated, different means must be utilized. Renewable energy is a step in the right direction, but is not a final solution. The world cannot decide to completely rely on renewable energy, and expect climate change to end. Clean disposal procedures need to be developed and implemented for solar panels and wind turbines. Renewable energy resources need to be altered so that they do not affect wildlife, in a devastating approach anway.

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