American Elephants

Chasing Real Problems or Chasing Green Unicorns? by The Elephant's Child

The reason that I try to point out what other nations are doing about energy, is that nobody knows all that much about how to run a government. Old Washington hands may know a good deal about our history (or they may not), but they are confronted with the possible or potential problems of the future. If France is doing something and it works, that provides cover for doing the same. (Not my fault, see — France is doing it).

Not too many people remember that back in the 1970s, the big fear was a cooling earth, a new ice age. The Club of Rome had been very big on a declining future, “peak oil,” running out of needed raw materials, we were using it all up. Then there was the population bomb, running out of food. The Baby Boom generation was so imbued with its own importance that they were sure the world was going to hell in their own time. Then computers came along, with the potential to model things like the stock market and the climate. One would think that the lack of success in modeling world finance would offer a little hesitation in the expectation that they could construct a program that would model world climate, but such was not the case.

In the course of things, governments got a little panicky. If we were running out of energy, if the world was heating up inexorably. if the seas were rising and going to inundate London and Santa Barbara (the city council wanted to paint a line through the city to indicate how high the seas were going to intrude), Manhattan Island, and Los Angeles, we had to do something. There was the IPCC, and Al Gore, climate conferences in the resort capitals of the world.  Governments, being cautious, invested vast funds in grants to scientists and universities to prove just what a problem global warming would be. Every professor in some discipline of science suddenly became an environmental scientist. The list of things purportedly caused by global warming grew and grew. Skeptical scientists were demonized, discharged, and worse, unlikely to get any grant money.

If we were running out of oil, then what would substitute? Putting food in our gas tanks was popular, George W. Bush was impressed with switchgrass, and the environmental organizations became obsessed with the “free” natural energy of wind and solar. Nuclear energy was clean, and France went for it in a big way. Chernobyl and Fukushima frightened the Germans badly and they decided to abandon nuclear energy. Holland, and Denmark went for wind in a big way, Spain and Portugal went for solar and wind. Russia saw an opportunity to control the natural gas supplies on which Europe depended.

With governments willing to subsidize, in one way or another, many experiments in energy there was plenty of speculation, and universities developed new departments and new prestige by being in the forefront of some climate effort.

I am a natural skeptic. I grew up in the foothills of the Rockies at around 4000′ elevation with plenty of weather. We had fires, flood and lightning strikes, were snowed in and had years of heavy snow and reasonably mild winters. Nobody ever seemed to ask what the right climate was, or the right temperature. We produced our own power for many years with a small dam and power house. For many years we were without power, and lived with Coleman lanterns and kerosene lamps. Dependable power is better.

People have been fascinated with the potential of “renewable” energy. Hydro is the most renewable, of course, but the places for big dams are pretty well used up, and “the Greens” want to tear down existing dams because of some romantic notion of “wild and free” rivers.  The sun doesn’t shine at all for roughly half of each day, nor does it produce energy when there are too many clouds or on rainy days. It is very diffuse energy that to be “dependable” requires 24/7 backup from a conventional power plant. The wind is intermittent. Promoters talk about “capacity” which means the amount of energy that could be produced if the wind blew all the time at the perfect speed. In some installations wind produces energy at only 1% of “capacity,” which seems to be a meaningless term designed to impress financial backers.

Since January 1, 2013, ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news programs have aired 92 stories about “climate change” or “global warming.” Not a single one of those stories mentioned the “warming plateau,” reported by even The New York Times, recognizing that there has been no warming at all for over 15 years. And as far as that goes, there has been no statistically significant warming since the late 19th century. If you extend the date back to 1850, according to Met Office data, the relative likelihood  of a rise in temperatures is 0.001.

The success of “fracking” and America’s vast supplies of natural gas in the Bakken and Marcellus shale deposits are bringing down the cost of energy in America, and industries that are dependent on cheap and plentiful energy are showing signs of moving to America in preference to nations like Germany who have gone “all-in” in their approach to green energy.

Germany plans to build 60,000 new wind turbines  in forests, foothills of the Alps and  in environmentally protected areas.  Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that green energy policies are weakening Germany’s competitive advantage in the global economy. Germany is paying a lot more for electricity than it did seven years ago. Was it all just a fraud? Another case of speculators getting rich at the expense of the rest of us? The evidence is piling up.

ADDENDUM:”Germany’s Energiewende or “energy revolution” has been heralded by greens as a shining example of the kind of true commitment to renewable energy that our planet requires, but in practice, its been a flop.” The EU is stepping in. Many provisions in the law may be in breach of EU single market rules. It isn’t acceptable that Germany subsides its own wind power but makes no subsidies available to operators from Denmark and Norway.  From Walter Russell Mead

After only a year, Australia plans to scrap its hated carbon tax and move to an emissions trading scheme in an attempt to bolster support for the Labor government ahead of November’s election. It’s a political move, “designed to neutralize public angst about the carbon tax, to try to remove the word tax from public debate and appease the business community who are concerned they are paying more than the EU.”

When governments get involved, it’s always about politics, not economic principle, and certainly not letting the consumer decide.

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