Environmental Persuasions of Eco-Rhetoric

by Jackie Moreau on January 19, 2012

in Blog

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Eco-rhetoric has infiltrated all forms of media, consumer products, and political campaigns, fashioning a bias in effective energy sources.  Renewable and non-renewable energy have been divided and labeled into opposing categories: “Conventional” or “unconventional,” “sustainable” or “unsustainable.”  These categories have created energy associations that are contrived and deceptive.

Let’s start with the pejorative “unconventional.” The modifier “unconventional” has been associated with fossil fuels like tar sands, shale gas, and coalbed methane.  What makes these resources unconventional is their past inability or difficulty to be accessed.  Now, new but “unconventional” technology (hydraulic fracturing, open pit mining, etc.) has made these resources accessible.  In eco-tease, however, “unconventional” has become synonymous with “dirty.”  The Sierra Club’s “dirty fuels” page exemplifies the use of eco-rhetoric towards new non-renewables: “It’s one thing for society to be saddled with an existing energy strategy that could result in dangerous climate change; it’s another thing when new technologies are exploited that push us closer to climate disaster – and that is what the commercialization of unconventional fossil fuels would do.”  Claims such as these hold no water; the efficiency of new technologies to expedite “unconventional” fossil fuels like shale gas and oil have made these non-renewables viable— that is, “conventional.”

The irony of this eco-rhetoric is that renewable energy is unconventional.  Green power producers wouldn’t exist if they weren’t showered with subsidies, yet you rarely hear this slighting term associated with them in the mainstream.

This dovetails with what qualifies energy as “sustainable” or “unsustainable.”  Renewable energy forms have appropriated the roll-off-your-tongue-nicely label of “sustainable” because they regenerate.  However, the turn of the screw lies in their inability to sustain the demands of human society.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that Americans used renewables to meet only 8% of their energy needs in 2009.  The reasons given for this low percentage of consumption is that renewable energy power plants are generally more expensive to build and to operate than coal and natural gas plants. They are often available only in remote areas, making the building of transmission lines to deliver power to large metropolitan areas very expensive.  Moreover, they are intermittent. The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. Unreliable energy is unsustained energy.

On the other hand, non-renewables like the unconventional fossil fuels are “unsustainable” because they are exhaustible, unable to regenerate themselves.  However, these are the sources of energy that are lush throughout the U.S., allowing an affordable quality of life for the majority, which is what truly sustains humanity.

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