By JR on Sunday, August 14, 2011
It's one of his rare bursts of sanity. He knows they are useless and calls them The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. He wants TAX, TAX and more TAX on our energy use. In his dystopian vision, only the rich would be able to afford air-conditioning and central heating:
The tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.
Can renewable energies provide all of society's energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.
This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of 'policy' thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. – maybe even a tar sands pipeline.
Why the inconsistency? Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.
Reluctance to be honest might seem strange, given that what is needed to solve the problem actually makes sense and is not harmful to most people. I will offer a possible explanation for their actions below. But first, let's look at one of the main sources of the Easter Bunny fable. Fig. 7 updates Figure 2 of "Storms of My Grandchildren"(http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/).
It compares actual U.S.6 energy consumption with projections made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and by Amory Lovins in the 1970s. Note how EIA keeps adjusting energy projections down as reality disproves their assumptions of rapid growth.
Lovins, and many others, are right to assert that energy efficiency is the cheapest and most effective way to satisfy energy requirements. Of course, a principal reason for slow growth of energy use is that much of our manufacturing moved overseas.
Note the failure of U.S. energy to follow the 'soft' energy path of Lovins. Lovins asserts that we could phase out nuclear power, large hydro, coal, oil and gas. But soft renewables are still nearly invisible after 30 years, providing about one third of the thin renewable slice of total energy.
Yet Amory Lovins is the most popular person that I know and has received uncountable awards. He deserves them. But I believe his popularity is in part because he says everything people want to hear. He even says there is no need to have a tax on carbon.
Thus even fossil fuel companies love him. Fossil fuel companies are happy to support energy efficiency, which places the onus on the public and guarantees fossil fuel dominance far into the future.
When I saw Amory most recently and queried him, he affirmed that no tax was needed. He said that hundred dollar bills are being left on the ground by companies that ignore energy efficiency.
Indeed, there is still great potential in energy efficiency. However, the full potential of energy efficiency to help rapidly phase down fossil fuel CO2 emissions will be achieved only if there is a substantial rising price on carbon emissions. As long as fossil fuel energy is cheap, efficiency encourages more energy use.
For example, solid state lighting is much more efficient, but it encourages more extensive lighting. That would be o.k., if the energy source were carbon-free.
The Real World
Many well-meaning people proceed under the illusion that 'soft' renewable energies will replace fossil fuels if the government tries harder and provides more subsidies. Meanwhile, governments speak greenwash while allowing pursuit of fossil fuels with increasingly destructive technologies (hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, longwall mining, drilling in the deepest ocean, the Arctic and other pristine environments) and development of unconventional fossil fuels
It will be a tragedy if environmentalists allow the illusion of 'soft' energies to postpone demand for real solution of the energy, climate and national security problems. Solar power is just a small part of the solution. Subsidies yielding even its present tiny contribution may be unsustainable.
Victor and Yanosek discuss ineffectual U.S. policies to promote green energies and green jobs in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. They conclude that the policies do not promote technologies that can compete with fossil fuels without subsidies.
Victor and Yanosek suggest incentives for innovative technologies, including advanced nuclear power. Bill Gates is so distressed by the irrational pusillanimous U.S. energy policy that he is investing a piece of his personal fortune to help develop a specific 4th generation nuclear technology
The Real Solution
As long as fossil fuels are cheap, they will be burned. But fossil fuels are cheap only because they do not pay their costs to society. Costs include direct and indirect subsidies, human health costs from air and water pollution, and climate change impacts on current and future generations. The public can appreciate that a rising price must be placed on fossil fuel emissions, if we are to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels.
A carbon fee must be placed across-the-board on all fossil fuels in proportion to carbon emissions. The fee should be collected from fossil fuel companies at the first domestic sale (at domestic mine or port of entry).
More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)