Can we all agree that the current energy economy is fundamentally toxic to nature and people? Can we agree that there is no more important task than building a new energy economy, one that supports flourishing human and natural communities? Can we agree that the future energy economy should be powered by renewable sources, not fossil fuels?

One would think that every reasonable person (I’m looking at you, members of Congress) would agree with these propositions. Virtually every energy and climate change activist would immediately say yes. But move past truisms and get into specifics of just how to advance toward this energy future, and consensus breaks down. Remaking the energy economy cannot be accomplished overnight and thus there will be disagreements over strategies and tactics among activists.

cover of "ENERGY"
The book that’s got some folks pissed off.

In every social change movement, there is friction between incremental reformers and advocates for radical change. Internecine squabbling is inevitable. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that some “green power” activists have gotten riled up — in a negative way — by our new book ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, centerpiece of Post Carbon Institute’s Energy Reality Campaign. But it has been a little discouraging.

To be fair, overall reaction to the book and just-launched campaign has been overwhelmingly positive. But a small percentage of the folks who read through ENERGY, which depicts all facets of energy production and transport, get bent out of shape by a handful of the book’s roughly 200 photos. Some NGOs we expected to be natural allies have declined to distribute free copies to their activist lists or to policy makers. Some folks have called us to complain.

And just what is so offensive? In a sequence of images showing landscapes that have been aesthetically and ecologically diminished (OK, let’s be honest — places that have been trashed) by the insatiable rush for more energy resources, we included photos of a concentrated solar plant and a wind power development.

big solar project in Mojave Desert

An accompanying headline employed the phrase “energy blight.” Cue howls of outrage from some readers.

wind farm

Was the headline accurate? Yes. Was it intentionally provocative? Yes. Was it a tactical blunder to include industrial-scale renewables in a photo series with coal plants, tar-sands development, and the shattered hulk of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station? I don’t think so, but the point is debatable, and you can judge for yourself.

Some folks don’t want to have a conversation about the whole energy picture — including the significant ecological costs of renewables — but hope to create broader societal support for “green” energy by only talking about the upsides. Discussing the downsides of Big Wind and Corporate Solar only strengthens the fossil-fuel lobbies that are hell-bent on cooking the planet, goes their argument.