20. Is renewable energy better for biodiversity? (Alexandros Gasparatos)

March 2022


Renewable energy is one of the great hopes of humankind when it comes to addressing the threat of climate change and some forms of pollution. Thanks to technological advances it’s now become cost-effective enough to compete with non-renewable energy sources. As renewable energy technologies and efficiency continue improving, and new innovations emerge, it’s hoped that we can make clean energy ubiquitous. But, as Thomas Sowell said, "there are no solutions - only trade-offs". Energy generation is not just about the gasses emitted during the generation process. It’s also about where renewable energy infrastructure is located; the materials that are mined and transported to build energy infrastructure; the batteries to store energy from non-baseload sources; the waste produced when energy infrastructure needs to be renewed; and, of most relevance to today’s discussion, the relative impacts of different forms of energy production on biodiversity.

Alexandros Gasparatos is Associate Professor of Sustainability Science at the Institute for Future Initiatives at the University of Tokyo; and Adjunct Associate Professor at the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, also in Tokyo. He is an ecological economist interested in, among many other things, renewable energy and energy policy. In my conversation with him he makes clear above all, I think, that the relationship between energy production (from both renewable and non-renewable sources) and biodiversity is highly complex and what constitutes best solutions can be context-dependent.

Resources (linked):

Time stamps:

2:13 Different energy production "pathways"

3:50 What is bioenergy?

6:39 How gaps in the literature inspired Alexandros to explore this area of conservation

13:48 How different forms of energy production differ in terms of their impact on nature

20:15 The difficulty in comparing different forms of energy production

25:02 Scale mismatches, and local versus global impacts

30:45 Other factors to consider, like energy security

32:44 Configuration choice and other ways of reducing impact

38:00 Trade-offs and context

42:18 Working with stakeholders