Why Renewables Won’t End Environmental Destruction

The first corporate AI like the VoC used ‘sustainable’ technology like wind and solar exclusively. “A senior merchant of the Dutch East India Company, presumably Jacob Mathieusen.”

Colonialism began with renewable energy. Wind to sail across the world, solar to grow cash crops, and human blood, sweat, and tears to grow them. For the violent and resource-poor tribes of Europe, ‘blood for oil’ began as ‘blood for sun’. Vile companies like the VoC (the first multinational) technically had zero emissions. By this logic, you could say that early colonialism was ‘sustainable’ but it obviously wasn’t. Because the problem isn’t the energy source, it’s what you use that energy for.

Colonialism actively destroyed natural ecosystems to plant cash mono-crops. They brutally hunted land cousins for their skin and ocean cousins for their bodily oils, bringing many species to the brink of extinction, and quite a few over it. To accomplish this all without energy slaves, they trafficked human slaves across the world, leaving millions at the bottom of the ocean. Colonialism both actively and passively spread disease across the world, leading to genocidal levels of depopulation. Then of course there was the outright killing, raping, and stealing. Most perniciously, they framed this all as ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’, which is still the frame we live in. We call this ongoing process ‘capitalism’ or ‘development’ now, but it’s the same thing. Destroying the natural world to make artificial profits. The truth is that colonialism never ended. We’re still in it, just with different branding.

Colonialism was simply a process of creating artificial beings (called corporations) and feeding the natural world to them. Not only do these beings consume energy voraciously, they consume resources in general. Humans, species, land, air, water, whatever. A few capitalists got to ride these beasts and many people got intoxicated by their waste products (manufactured goods) but in the end we all live on the planet and the planet is what’s getting eaten. In the long run, all that gets left behind waste heat and a bunch of garbage. And the long run is where we are now.

People blame colonialism on countries and individuals (and fuck them) but the truth is that colonialism was directly perpetrated by these artificial beings. From the first IPO (of the VoC) we have been surrounded by legally recognized artificial beings, who both have more power and less responsibility than humans. I call these corporations AI because they’re both artificial and intelligent and words should mean things. We talk about AI ‘becoming’ powerful in the future as if corporations didn’t already enslave half the world centuries ago and as if they don’t run everything now. Hubris, thy name is humanity.

The only ‘programming’ we gave these golems is to maximize their own growth and to not measure what they take from the environment at all. Then we let them loose upon the whole Earth, like especially virulent bacteria in a Petri dish. The metabolic process of this AI has always been to consume natural resources and human labor. Early corporations used solar and wind for this consumption and then they massively accelerated with fossil fuels. But the fundamental logic did not change. Just the speed of consumption.

Today we think we can avert our fate by making the beasts’ energy source ‘renewable’, which just completely ignores where the monsters came from. They started from cloth sails and sun-kissed opium! Changing back to renewables doesn’t actually change the course we’re on. Locomotion is not destination.

Today we think we can switch from ripping coal and oil out of the Earth and just rip out lithium and copper instead. But ‘renewable’ rape does not change the fundamental raping going on. An electric bulldozer rips up the earth as much as a diesel one. Luckily (?) we physically cannot sustain this civilization on renewable energy alone, but an even bigger problem is if we could. As Dr. Tom Murphy says in his essential physics textbook, “if energy became essentially unlimited by some technology, I shudder to think what it would mean for the rest of the planet.”

Modern thought condenses all the bad shit we’re doing to the planet as ‘emissions’, as if the only problem with a planet-consuming dragon is its farts. Yes, the farts are incredibly toxic, but so is what the behemoth uses all that energy for. The self-preserving lie told by the AI is that if we can ‘just switch to renewables’ and carry on as before, or even better than before. This is both ignorant of the many threads that bind the future (fish, insect populations, animal populations, land use) and blind to the past.

What happened before before was that the whole extractive machine ran on renewables to start with. Late capitalism is just ending up where early colonialism began, and calling this a solution. The system has no concept of the actual problem which is not ‘how’ they do the dirty but ‘what’ they’re doing. In the past, the beast chewed up land, resources, species, humans, and more ‘civilized’ cultures using renewable energy. In the present, it does this even more rapidly with fossil fuels. A future of doing the same thing with modern renewables is not a real change, it’s just a death spiral.

Colonialism, capitalism, ‘green’ capitalism, it’s all the same thing with different branding. We’re all just scarred cattle that keep believing we’re being led anywhere but the slaughterhouse. The centuries long project of colonial-capital has been prioritizing its metabolism (use of energy and resources) over all other life on Earth. It doesn’t matter ‘how’ you do this. What matters is ‘what’ is being done. The type of energy source used by corporate AI is— in the long run — about as relevant as Hitler being a vegetarian. As long as its basic algorithm is grow at all costs, it will inevitably cost it all. Changing energy sources may change the speed of natural collapse, but only changing course completely can avoid catastrophe.

But please don’t think I’m ending this on a hopeful note. There are much bigger historical, biological, and physically processes at play and les jeux sont faits decades if not centuries ago. Gaining insight from a blog post is about as relevant as a single cell in your body composing RNA poetry. My country was consumed by corporate capital centuries ago and I know the process intimately, I can see it in the empty pearl deposits of Mannar, or the deforested hills of Nuwara Eliya, or the empty stomachs of Sri Lankan children today, suffering under the administration of the IMF just as we did under the VoC. It is, as my historical thesis goes, same shit different day. Colonial capitalism completely devoured the south centuries ago and now it’s come for us all.

Renewables won’t save us because it’s precisely renewables that enslaved us in the first place. I won’t get into the physics of why a seamless renewable transition isn’t physically possible (read Murphy), I am simply saying that it’s not a change in trajectory at all. We’re literally going in circles, right down the drain, passing the past and thinking it the future. The process of exploitation might change names and change colors, but the process remains the same. Early colonialism started with renewable energy and late capitalism is ending there. There’s nothing new under the sun, not even ‘renewables’. I’ll repeat myself because history repeats. Same shit, different day.