Renewable Energy Harms Environment, Says Leading Environmental Activist

Published October 1, 2007

Rockefeller University’s Jesse Ausubel, a prominent environmental advocate, has stunned other environmental activists by reporting in the July International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy, and Ecology that the use of renewable energy is wrecking the environment.

“Renewables are not green,” is how Ausubel begins the article. It is a remarkable statement coming from someone who beat his fellow Greens to global warming alarmism by at least 10 years.

Ausubel’s Rockefeller University biography says he “was one of the main organizers of the first U.N. World Climate Conference (Geneva, 1979) which substantially elevated the global warming issue on scientific and political agendas” and that he “played major roles in the formulation of both U.S. and world climate-research programs.”

Hydroelectric Land Use

In his new article, Ausubel calculated the amount of energy produced by various renewable energy sources–including hydroelectric, biomass, wind, and solar power–in terms of power output per square meter of land disturbed.

For example, if you could collect the average annual rainfall of the 900,000 square kilometer Canadian province of Ontario–about 680,000 billion liters of water–and store it behind a dam 60 meters tall, you would produce a regular output of about 11,000 megawatts of electricity–which is only about 80 percent of the output of Canada’s 25 nuclear power stations, Ausubel says.

In other words, this works out to a power production rate of 0.012 watts per square meter of land. It would take 1 square kilometer of land to provide enough electricity for about 12 Canadians, according to Ausubel. He says this inefficiency is a key reason environmentalists have reduced their demands for greater use of hydroelectric power.

‘Criminal’ Biomass

According to Ausubel, biomass is even more harmful.

Large-scale power generation from biomass would require “vast areas be shaved or harvested annually,” Ausubel says. It would take 2,500 square kilometers of prime Iowa farmland to produce as much electricity from biomass as from a single nuclear power plant.

“Increased use of biomass fuel in any form is criminal,” Ausubel stated in a media release. “Every automobile would require a pasture of 1-2 hectares,” he noted.

Unacceptable Footprints

Wind power, Ausubel’s study shows, is much less land-intensive than biomass, but that’s not saying much. A 770 square kilometer area would produce only as much electricity as a single 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant.

A wind farm the size of Texas would be required to extract, store, and transport annual U.S. energy needs. “Every square meter of Connecticut” would have to be turned into a wind farm just to provide all of New York City’s electricity demands, Ausubel notes.

Solar power is also quite a land hog, according to Ausubel. As photovoltaic cells are only 10 percent efficient and have seen no real breakthroughs in 30 years, U.S. electric consumption would require a 150,000 square kilometer area of photovoltaics–an area the size of England–plus additional land for electricity storage and retrieval.

The photovoltaic industry would have to step up its production by 600,000 times its current output to produce the same amount of power as is generated by a single 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant.

Sober Reassessment

In addition to land misuse, Ausubel identifies other undesirable consequences of renewables.

Wind power produces low-frequency noise and thumps, blights landscapes, interferes with TV reception, and chops birds and bats to death; dams kill rivers; and solar power would require large areas of land be essentially “painted black” with photovoltaic cells. The infrastructure of a wind farm uses five to 10 times the amount of steel and concrete used in a 1970 vintage nuclear power plant.

The first part of Ausubel’s heresy closes with a sobering assessment:

“Cheerful self-delusion about new solar and renewables since 1970 has yet to produce a single quad of the more than 90 quadrillion BTU of total energy the U.S. now yearly consumes. … Let’s stop sanctifying false and minor gods and heretically chant ‘Renewables are not Green.'”

Favors Nuclear Power

The second part of Ausubel’s heresy is his prescription for nuclear power.

Greens traditionally oppose nuclear power wherever and whenever they can. Even those Greens that say it’s time to consider nuclear power seem to be paying no more than lip service to the concept–witness the lack of progress on greenhouse gas-free nuclear power despite all the hoopla about supposed fossil fuel-caused manmade climate change.

But Ausubel says, “Like computers, to grow larger, the energy system must now shrink in size and cost. Considered in watts per square meter, nuclear has astronomical advantages over its competitors.”

Steven Milloy ([email protected]) publishes and This article first appeared on, and is reprinted with permission.