There’s No Free Lunch in Renewable Energy, But It’s a Cheap Date Considering the Alternative

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Here’s a good discussion of what I call the “no free lunch” theory of renewable energy: everything we do, whether it’s solar, wind, hydrokinetics, etc., comes with a non-negligible ecological cost. The issue, obviously, is objectively identifying all costs – ecological, financial, and human (e.g., disease and death stemming from various types of energy generation and consumption), and using these data to make fair-minded decisions about our energy future.

I happen to have read this article the same day I edited the transcript of my interview with Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute for my upcoming book, “Renewable Energy – Following the Money.” Jerry and I discussed this subject of costs in some depth, and I have to say that I was amazed at how many different philosophies there are competing with one another. I admit that I was taken by a few of them, whereas others seem to make no sense at all. Here’s a quick summary of two of the latter category:

The result of the damage that is currently being done to our planet via the consumption of fossil fuels is very small right now, though we know that it will be extremely painful in 100 years. Therefore, we should do very little about it now, but be prepared to address it aggressively 100 from now. (Say what? Here’s what I told Jerry when I heard that: Even if you accept the premise, which I don’t, if we know the damage we are doing now is going to have enormous repercussions in 100 years, shouldn’t we be doing something aggressive about it now? It strikes me that the person who proposed that solution doesn’t understand that preventing a problem of global proportion is far easier than fixing it once it’s wreaking vast devastation. Either that, or he simply doesn’t care. It’s the equivalent of an oncologist encouraging someone with stage one skin cancer to continue to sun-bathe, on the basis that the condition isn’t terminal at this point.

Here’s another that starts with the same premise: The damage that is currently being done to our planet via the consumption of fossil fuels is very small right now, though we know that it will be felt in the extreme in 100 years. But so much can change in the next 100 years that dealing with this subject now requires guesswork. (Yes, it requires guesswork, but that hardly justifies doing nothing. Again, and no offense intended, it sounds rather like the guy who propounded this concept really is looking for any idea, regardless of how far-fetched, to rationalize a “business-as-usual” approach to energy.)

On we go. Do we as a species have what it takes to apply our “big brains” to this problem, and kill it before it kills us? Or will specious arguments like these keep us all fat, dumb and happy until it’s too late? We’ll see.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. “On we go. Do we as a species have what it takes to apply our “big brains” to this problem, and kill it before it kills us? Or will specious arguments like these keep us all fat, dumb and happy until it’s too late? We’ll see.”

    Allow me to proffer that is already too late absent a truly Herculean effort to transition away from fossil fuels ASAP and deal with the methane that is venting from the arctic. Fat dumb and happy, will be fat dumb and dead otherwise.

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/p/global-extinction-within-one-human.html

    Time to wake up, folks….

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