Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh, grow up

I attended an informal seminar last night about the state of alternative (solar) energy in Minnesota.  And while we do lead the nation in installed wind power, it is still a tiny sliver of the energy picture which is about 50% coal-fired and 20% nuclear.  The speakers included a guy from the renewables (wind) department of Xcel energy, a guy representing the wind industry, and someone who believes the state is just waiting for more needed photovoltaic installations.

If this gathering had happened in 1979, I would have been impressed and happy.  But in 2010, it was just another depressing reminder of how profoundly unserious we are in USA about solving our thunderingly obvious energy problems.  There was almost no discussion of how other countries were easing their way out of the Age of Petroleum.  There was NO discussion of how such a goal could be accomplished without a national industrial policy.  And of course, there was no discussions about how much this energy conversion would cost and the financial reforms necessary to pay for such a project.

It was like listening to a bunch of concerned but otherwise ignorant teenagers.  I asked a couple of participants whether they thought accurate the IEA's estimate that reducing carbon emissions by 50% would cost about $45 TRILLION.  They were in deep denial.  Anyway, here's what I wrote when the IEA study was released in 2008.
The Economic Benefits of Addressing Climate Change
Great news for us Keynesians
The Associated Press reported (on Friday June 6, 2008) that the International Energy Agency claims a serious effort to combat global warming will cost $45 trillion. I happen to think this is an underestimate. But the idea is very good. And if we run the global economy with sound economic policy, such a project could lead to the greatest prosperity in human history.
The report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency envisions a "energy revolution" that would greatly reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels while maintaining steady economic growth.
"Meeting this target of 50 percent cut in emissions represents a formidable challenge, and we would require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale," IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said.
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The scenario for deeper cuts would require massive investment in energy technology development and deployment, a wide-ranging campaign to dramatically increase energy efficiency, and a wholesale shift to renewable sources of energy.
Assuming an average 3.3 percent global economic growth over the 2010-2050 period, governments and the private sector would have to make additional investments of $45 trillion in energy, or 1.1 percent of the world's gross domestic product, the report said.
When I wrote Elegant Technology in the late 1980s, the organizing theme was that job #1 was to use our natural energy capital (fossil fuels) to build a society that could run on the energy income we could harvest from the sun. I discussed class theory, tool development, industrial conversion of militarized production, and especially political economy. Everything—social organization, education, finance, political institutions, and other cultural manifestations had to be harnessed in such an effort—so important was this project.
Of course, if humanity is going to attempt to completely rebuild the industrial umbilical chord that sustains our lives, we might was well take care of the other problems of early-stage industrialization—toxic waste, resource depletion, mining the soil for crops, WATER, etc. etc. No shortage of scope on this project! (Elegant Technology was about 110,000 words long and I thought I was coming to the point!) more

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