Friday, October 5, 2012
Yesterday, I got an email from a second cousin about my post concerning my brother's net-zero house. He's a retired lawyer / senior civil servant who lives in Washington D.C. He's a really nice guy and was a family favorite when my brother and I were boys. But living inside the beltway for his working life has caused him to drift politically rightward over the years so he can now be counted on to bring up some Faux News talking points.
This time, he had to make a crack about how solar required subsidies to make it work economically. How this makes PV cells different from other energy sources I haven't yet figured out. After all, a strong case could be made that the nearly $Trillion / year Defense budget goes mostly to secure / subsidize the oil business.
But this was just a warm-up. He then suggested my brother do a cost / benefit analysis to convince the skeptics that his solar home made sense. Since one of the benefits of going solar is that it is one of the few ways to make a dent in the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change, the costs must be compared to the benefits of keeping the biosphere habitable by humans. But this is not what he had in mind at all—for him the costs had to be compared to what they would be if my bother simply bought some more coal or nuke generated electricity. Of course, the burden of proof was on a solar advocate like my brother—not on the systems that are causing climatic catastrophe. Building a solar house that actually works wasn't enough—my brother was supposed to do some more work (a Powerpoint presentation, perhaps) to convince the solar skeptics—who are politically predisposed towards ignoring scientific data.
This sort of thing thoroughly depresses me. My cousin is a highly educated and accomplished man who has been part of the permanent government. Yet he isn't convinced enough about climate change to think we should actually do something about it. And his politics makes him believe that we shouldn't be subsidizing solar development because to do so would be a "corruption of the markets." And because there a lot more like him, we have done nothing of significance as a society to address recorded history's biggest threat to human survival.
Nikolas Tesla was a genius. But you don't have to be a genius to understand what he said. Yet it is highly uncommon for our public intellectuals and high level civil servants to show his sort of understanding about energy matters nearly 100 years later. I have no idea why.