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Can Green Energy be Demythologized? (Part 2)

“Capitalism has a built-in incapacity to generate legitimations of itself, and it is particularly deprived of mythic potency; consequently, it depends upon the legitimating effects of its sheer facticity or upon association with other, non-economic legitimating symbols.”

– Peter Berger, The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions about Prosperity, Equality and Liberty

In Part 1 of this two-part series, conventional, market-based electricity was described as inescapably lacking an overarching myth that gives it legitimacy against postmodern renewable energy, global-warming ideology, and energy regulation in California. This insight comes from sociologist Peter L. Berger’s 1986 book The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions about Prosperity, Equality and Liberty.

Given Capitalism’s mythic deprivation, what then can be done, if anything, to re-legitimate cheap, clean or cleaner conventional energy and demythologize renewable energy?

Can Anything Be Done?

Berger offers a central proposition in the quote above that suggests several ways to re-legitimate conventional rational electricity. First and foremost, for those who can be persuaded to accept it, there is the  utilitarian value standard that is conventional among economists. But we must recognize that it is only one value standard among many and not a provable truth. Therefore, it needs to be supplemented by a recognition of its limits; by association with other forms of legitimation; and by the de-legitimation or co-optation of its opponents’ standards.

Below are some corollary propositions borrowed from Berger and applied to the conventional electric industry’s ideological war with renewable energy.

Proposition 1 – Industrial capitalism and rational electricity has generated the most productive human power in history. As industrialized energy has become the “master resource” of Market Capitalism, it continues to generate the highest material standard of living for large masses of people in history.

The best pathway to a “low carbon future” is not wind and solar power. Policy incentives in California that are biased against large-scale hydro, nuclear and combined-cycle gas power—in favor of wind and solar power—are a very expensive, inefficient, and economically unsustainable way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, as even the liberal Brookings Institution concluded. This has huge implications for GDP and the U.S. standard of living. See below. (Click on chart for better resolution.)

Myth Table 1

Even if questionable reduction in CO2 are assumed to be worthwhile, hydro, nuclear, and natural gas power are fare superior ways to achieve such reductions at cheaper costs with equal reductions in CO2.

Proposition 2 – Capitalist development and rational electricity are more likely than socialist development or Crony Capitalism to improve the material standard of life for all people.

Yet  the myths of global warming persuade people to reverse their high standard of living and partly socialize renewable energy by subsidies that can only result in ever-higher energy prices. How?

As Ludwig von Mises writes in his book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis: “Socialism is an emanation of asceticism.” The psychological pull of the myth of semi-socialized electricity lies in living a morally superior lifestyle of sacrificial conservation through the use of non-carbon or post-industrial energy sources. Energy culture wars are a force that gives meaning to empty lives. Asceticism has always been used by socialists and post-modern socialists to legitimate their agendas (e.g., Robespierre, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse-tung, Ghandi, Jerry Brown, William Cottrell, Earth Liberation Front, etc.).

The Capitalist inner-worldly asceticism of electricity experimenter Benjamin Franklin — which rested on saving, thriftiness, austerity, and a work ethic —has been replaced by an inner-worldly asceticism of conservation and anti-consumption. As a result, the definition of Market Value has morphed from the lowest economic price that induces consumption to the highest economic price that brings about conservation. That it comes with a lower standard of living is a feature not a bug to the advocates of conservationism.

Proposition 3 – There is an intrinsic linkage between semi-socialized, crony-capitalistic electricity and the bureaucratization of the economy, on the one hand, and economic inefficiency on the other.

In her paper “On the Energy Crisis of the 1970’s” Ayn Rand wrote:

“It is in the nature of a mixed economy that its policies are rationally inexplicable, that there are no identifiable causes, no accountable initiators, no ascertainable villains — and that you are losing your jobs, giving up your automobiles, catching pneumonia in unheated bedrooms, not because some giant evildoers are plotting your destruction, but because some seedy hack wanted an unearned salary, and some crummy professor wanted an undeserved prestige, and some measly shyster wanted a chance to fish in muddy laws, and none of them cared to or could watch the state of the country’s economy, and the sum of such termite aspirations has eaten through the pillars of the structure so that one kick from a sheik was sufficient to make it crumble.”

Socialism is bureaucratically parasitic. Marx lived off Engels. California lives off the whole world. Twenty five percent of its energy is imported. However, California can’t make its 33% Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard work without creating a semi-socialized Energy Imbalancing Market that relies on cheap imported hydropower during “Duck Chart” hours of the day. But, absurdly, domestic hydropower resources do not qualify as renewable energy in California.

Parasites have only one real objective – sustaining themselves off others. In the case of socialists they point the finger at Capitalists and accuse them of the same, while, in fact, capitalism lives off people who voluntarily pay for the goods and conveniences it provides.

Proposition 4 – The modification and distortions of market mechanisms in electric generation by socialism and Crony Capitalism will encounter economic limits, which are caused by the inability of the artificial green market to replicate the efficiency of the capitalist market.

Witness the proliferation of Community Choice Aggregation electricity buying cooperatives in California. Buying cooperatives are a favored policy tool of the political Left. Cooperatives were introduced in California by socialist Upton Sinclair and his End Poverty in California campaign in 1934. The only way that such buying cooperatives can compete with market energy is through the buying of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) from conventional energy sources and then “greenwashing” them as renewable energy.

Semi-socialized renewable electricity is one of the most powerful myths of the modern era. To the extent that socialist energy retains this mythic quality, it cannot be refuted by overwhelming empirical evidence. But it can be debunked, for example, as a regional trade war between petroleum and non-petroleum producing states and nations, with carbon used as the marker or measure to delegitimize petroleum states.

Green energy occupational ideologies also need to be debunked as described by Berger:

“We can speak of ‘ideology’ when we analyze the belief of many American physicians that standards of health will decline if the fee for service method of payment is abolished, or the conviction of many undertakers that inexpensive funerals show lack of affection for the departed. The self image of the insurance salesman as a fatherly adviser to young families, of the burlesque stripper as an artist, of the propagandist as a communications expert, of the hangman as a public servant — all these notions are not only individual assuagements of guilt or status anxiety, but constitute the official self-interpretations of entire social groups, obligatory for their members on pain of excommunication.”

Thus, occupational ideology explains the demonization of California farmers and dams by water conservationists and renewable energy advocates. Occupational ideology also explains the global warming “denier” McCarthy-like campaigns, and the expulsion and retribution against climate scientists who break ranks as “skeptics.” Demythologizing socialized energy can thus take the form of exposing the social functionality of the ideological pretensions of its supporters. Berger: “The debunking motif of sociology lies in this penetration of verbal smoke screens to the unadmitted and often unpleasant mainsprings of action.”

Proposition 5 – Capitalistic electricity must depend on the legitimating effects of its sheer facticity or upon association with other legitimating symbols, including where possible those of renewable energy.

For example, in pursuit of associating conventional power with renewable energy symbols, one might consider filing an antitrust action against California’s refusal to treat hydropower as renewable energy under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. A new study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy indicates hydropower can be potentially doubled, even in California. And the state’s blockade of ultra-cheap hydropower from the market allows high-priced “renewable power” to keep raising its price. Isn’t that was antitrust actions are supposed to fight?

Proposition 6 – Science, or scientism, has replaced religion as the dominant legitimation device of welfare states and of mythic renewable energy. Since Karl Marx, socialism has claimed that it is “scientific socialism.” 

So, how about capturing the supposedly scientific term “sustainable”? The Second Law of Thermodynamics asserts that nothing is ultimately sustainable. Net zero requires a lot of energy-cooking of science books. How about going back to an old definition of “sustainable”? If you can afford it, it’s sustainable as shown in the data table shown earlier. Green power is not economically sustainable even in reducing disputed CO2 emissions.

Then, too, much of the environmental science of pollution is only a scientific half-truth because it omits the workings of the environment. What is toxic isn’t solely CO2, or NOX, or perchlorate, or asbestos, but the environments that trap and concentrate such substances, such as air basins, water basins, and energy-tight buildings.

California has nine cities on the list of the worst 25 cities for air pollution, while Texas has none, because California is a Basin State and Texas a Plains State.

The environment causes pollution and contamination, not some industrial substance alone. Big Energy may be caricatured as causing air pollution but small is not beautiful when it comes to pollution. The dose or confinement of a substance makes the poison and the solution to pollution is dilution. Thus, it is unlikely that wind and solar energy will significantly reduce air pollution in Plains States or reduce it at all in windy coastal, Great Lakes, or desert cities.

Likewise, the scientific double standard of environmental impact reports and case law must be debunked. Consider the double standards and hypocrisy of how killing birds is treated and how financial and energy crimes are treated by our liberal legal system. If an oil company kills a bird in a spill, the penalties are extreme. If an individual kills a bird (say an eagle) for its feathers, it’s a felony. Even collecting the feathers can be a felony. Yet wind farms have carte blanche to kill eagles, and the entire food chain that feeds off airborne insects is vaporized by solar farms.

Proposition 7 – A modification of industrial socialism through the introduction of market mechanisms will encounter political limits, which are caused by the resistance of the beneficiaries of political patronage defending their vested interests.

In California, the City of Davis and City of Lancaster have met with resistance from electrical workers unions to the municipal takeover of electricity-buying functions from monopoly electric utilities such as PG&E, So Cal Edison, and SDG&E. State Assemblyman Steven Bradford of the City of Inglewood has authored a union-backed bill – California Assembly Bill 2145 – to make it more difficult for cities to create electricity buying co-ops. Electrical workers and construction trade unions support this bill.

Proposition 8 – The myth surrounding renewable energy has a quasi-religious eschatology – dealing with the end of the world and mankind – in its inflated prophecies of global warming and climate change.

Socialism has spiritual power. As Berger points out, socialist energy has substituted pollution for original sin, the judicial process for god’s redemptive activity, the environmental community for the church (e.g., the Sierra Club denomination), and the attainment of “sustainability” as the kingdom of god. Environmentalism has twisted and appropriated Protestant Christianity for its own purposes.

The post-modern version of energy socialism in California does not yearn for a Marxist future energy utopia. Rather, it seeks to return to de-industrialized, bucolic past of updated windmills and magnifying glasses and a sacrificial lower standard of living.

Socialists are “true believers,” as described by Eric Hoffer, and it makes no difference that history doesn’t validate their beliefs. Nor can they be persuaded to believe otherwise, because often their livelihoods or status are dependent on such beliefs. Even socialist Upton Sinclair acknowledged: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary is dependent on not understanding it.”

Environmentalists are the secular equivalent of religious fundamentalists.  This has led to conflicts with older religious institutions and world views.  Ironically, the post-modern environmentalist believes “religious ideology can lead to terrible results (e.g., Christians who welcome catastrophic climate change as a sign of the end-times”), while having a willful blindness to his own apocalyptic myth of global warming. This is a version of sectarian culture war just as Catholics warn of converting to Protestantism and vice versa.

Vested Ideas, Not Just Vested Interests

With secularization, religious symbols have been co-opted in California mostly by the renewable energy movement, in order to forge a mythic ideology.  It has been institutionalized by academia, media, Leftist politics, liberal religious institutions, liberal Federal appeals courts, Federal and state laws and regulations, and by electricity regulatory commissions and state public utility commissions.  Its objective is to de-legitimate Market Energy.

There has been a counterpart spillover effect into the commercial sectors whereby renewable energy is now a way to repackage and re-market uneconomic, luxury environmental goods.  Thus, the commercial sector has also institutionalized the green energy ideology, often fueled by tax credits.

As such, the myth of green energy has vested interests that are protected by vested ideas. There isn’t much that can be done to reverse this entrenched  mythic ideology in Post-Industrial California given its institutionalization, or rather, its entrenched bureaucratization.  Rational argument is inclined to be weak when up against powerful institutionalized cultural forces.  But it can be helpful to the conventional energy industry to know what they are up against and to better know their parasitical antagonist.

Clean, cheap conventional energy is a hard sell becasue Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth has convinced folks that poverty is virtuous, and besides, this being California it won’t really be poverty. You will still do everything you want (since you “want” poverty). Thorstein Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption” will be morphed into “conspicuous conservation.”

3 comments

1 Sean { 06.06.14 at 6:21 am }

With California importing so much of its electric power, I’m not sure the new EPA CO2 rules will be such a boon to the CA market. A lot of power comes from the Columbia River’s hydroelectric plants, which even if it does not count as renewable at least is inexpensive. The problem is that Washington state needs to cut it’s CO2 emissions by nearly 60% under the EPA plan so will like rely more heavily on that resource in the future. In So. CA, a lot of power comes from the Colorado River, renewable energy plants in AZ & NV and is backed up by desert coal generation & natural gas. The EPA rules will make the renewable portion of that power more valuable to keep in state and it will drive up the price of exportable renewable power that goes to CA. In essence, the new EPA CO2 rules will increase renewable power prices and CA, with the highest mandates for this type of power, will pay dearly.

2 Charles Battig { 06.06.14 at 8:11 am }

Or…it is not possible to use reason to change the beliefs of someone, when reason was not the source of those beliefs

3 Wayne Lusvardi { 06.06.14 at 11:40 am }

Reply to Sean:
In California hydropower is not counted as renewable power. I assume U.S. EPA’s new C02 reduction mandate will include hydro. If you know whether it does or does not I would like to know.

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