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« Survey Invitation | Main | A Resource Collapse? »

April 08, 2008


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I'll tell you why we don't. There's a perfectly good reason.

First, to set the stage, let's ask why we *should* do those things. You didn't say, but two reasons are generally cited. The first is global warming and the second is resource shortage. We need to switch away from fossil fuel first because of CO2 pollution and second, if you believe Peak Oilers, because there isn't going to be any more of it anyway.

Think about how a free society, built around free markets and individual decision making, plans for the future. Is it at the mercy of new developments, unable to anticipate them and forced always to live in the present? Of course not. People make plans, decisions and investments all the time based on their expectations of future conditions and events.

Suppose people knew, today, that in 2020 or 2030 fossil fuels were no longer going to be available as a common fuel source, either because we've run out of accessible resources, or because worldwide environmental protection treaties have taxed or regulated them out of existence. How would that change people's plans? I think we would see reactions right away. Car companies would be gearing up for a transition to electric vehicles. Utilities would switch over to nuclear and renewable sources. Individual buyers would realize that today's high prices are only going to get worse and we would see a rapid switch towards greener products.

These things are all happening to some extent, but not as much as you think they should be. What does that mean? I think it follows logically that most decision makers do not believe that fossil fuels will become so unavailable in the next couple of decades. You can argue that they are being irrational, that the end of the era of fossil fuels is upon us and that there is no uncertainty whatsoever about it, but that is not how most people see it.

Now, whether they are right or wrong, there is another key point. This perception of continued fossil fuel availability has two consequences. The first is what I just listed, that private decisions are not moving towards green fuels with breakneck speed. But the second is just as inevitable: there is an absence of political will for government regulations moving us there. And the reason is the same: lack of public consensus on the urgency of the energy and climate change situation.

The point is this: in order for government action to be politically acceptable, the public consensus has to change. But once that happens, we will see the other private changes that I described above. And in that case, government action is no longer needed! Now, there may still be some things that government can usefully do, but it will not be necessary for government to force the hand of industry to get it to start preparing for a fossil free future, because the very public consensus that would have enabled such government actions will also change market conditions so that private industry will be moving rapidly in exactly that direction.

In the end, then, the answer to your question about why we are not doing these things is simple. It is because people do not believe they are, or will be, necessary.

Perry E. Metzger

Why not do it all: because resources are not infinite, so it is necessary to make tradeoffs. You can only do so much at once.

Why not begin now: so far as I can tell, VC investment in alternative energy is now not just at an all time high but dramatically higher than it was even just a few years ago, when it was already at an all time high. It appears we have already begun.

"It's obvious that nations who depend less on outside sources for non-renewable resources are both more secure and financially stronger." -- no, that's not obvious in the least. If you compare your hypothesis against the excellent test of history, you'll find it doesn't prove to be correct. I'll put it another way: would you have rather lived in the 19th century in Belgium, which had almost no natural resources, or in the Belgian Congo, which to this day is amazingly rich in non-renewable resources? (Indeed, which would you pick even today?) Would it be better today to live in Japan, with virtually no natural resources, or in Iraq, which has vast petroleum reserves? Hong Kong is rich and is just a rock on the coastline, ditto Singapore, ditto Manhattan -- resources do not mean wealth. You may complain that this is all anecdotal, but the objective studies have been done, and wealth is not even remotely driven by resource independence.


Wind power - there is 3-4 year wait for the large efficient wind turbines

February 15, 2008 by Danny Fortson in The Independent

Ambitious plans to erect more than 10,000 wind turbines across Britain and around the coast by 2020 are at risk of being derailed by a critical supply bottleneck. The German engineering giant Siemens, which is one of the leading wind turbine manufacturers, admitted yesterday that it had a four-year backlog of orders for its largest machines. "Supply is indeed tight, relative to demand," a spokesman said.

Solar power build out also has supply chain issues. You have to buy theland and get the permits, and build the factories and build the factories that supply the parts etc...
There is training the people.

My energy plan

In the short term (up to 5 years)= oil, conservation and efficiency
Midterm = new fuel coatings and configuration can boost nuclear power by 50% in existing reactors. (nuclear would go from 20% of US electricity to 30% in the USA.) thermoelectric advances (could boost another 50%. Nuclear up to 40%. Could displace a lot of coal.
New reactor build and new reactors (advanced fission, some new fusion plays.)

By 2030 could be at France level of nuclear power.

Energy substitution has been shown to work in the past. Depowering does not. Solar's numbers do not work out yet.

McKinsey efficiency policy adjustment to address agency [if I am staying here for 3 years or not paying the bill why should I save the renter or next owner money] and other problems

optimum home energy efficiency

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