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FEATURE

The Age of Tradeoffs





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Are green energy industries about to ruin the environment and undermine national security? Are they engaged in the ecological equivalent of mountaintop removal? Are they the new Big Oil, making us dangerously dependent on imported strategic resources?

Those questions are implied in “
Clean Energy’s Dirty Little Secret”, a provocative article in the current issue of The Atlantic. Author Lisa Margonelli points out that wind turbines, hybrid cars and some other green technologies carry “their own hefty environmental price tag”, including the use of rare-earth minerals extracted from open-pit mines or imported from places like China.

I’ve encountered similar concerns among members of the U.S. intelligence community: In the pursuit of green energy, will we trade our dependence on one imported strategic resource – oil – for dependence on other imported strategic resources?

Margonelli’s piece offers some solutions. Our research on renewable energy resources should include substitutes for rare-earth minerals, particularly those that are imported or require harmful extraction techniques. We should require that strategic minerals be recycled.

But a larger question lurks between the lines: Should green technologies and products be held to the same environmental standards as other industries? Is a company that mines neodymium for Prius motors any less responsible than Peabody Coal for good environmental stewardship?  Continued...

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