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Category — ECONOMIST (magazine)

Anatomy of a Debate: Rejecting Renewable Energy at THE ECONOMIST (Part II)

“This house believes that subsidizing renewable energy is a good way to wean the world off fossil fuels.”

- ECONOMIST magazine, Online debate, November 8–18, 2011

Yesterday we reviewed the surprising rebuke of renewable energy–and the underlying premise that fossil fuels were inherently unsustainable–by an international voting audience.

Today we revisit the essential question: Can renewable energy really help ‘wean the world off fossil fuels’?

Although the affirmative’s Matthias Fripp, moderator James Astill, and their colleagues evaded this fundamental question, here is a sampling of oft-heard rationales, most if not all of which were implicit in Astill’s comments and final announcement. Windpower (providing more than 75% of any politically correct renewable portfolio), we are told, helps to:

(a) Reduce reliance on foreign oil;

(b) Substitute for coal;

(c) Complement the fuels used in our electricity generation portfolios;

(d) Provide a fair return to wind investors while making them feel good about helping save the world;

(e) Spawn discretionary revenues to help bootstrap our economic doldrums;

f) Create new jobs;

(g) Establish leadership credentials to encourage the rest of the world to follow our example; and

(h) Serve as a bridge to newer, better technologies in some more enlightened future.

All of the rationales are severely lacking. Even if one believes that fossil fuel usage is greatly harming the earth and its inhabitants, renewables, used extensively, can only make that problem worse. [Read more →]

December 14, 2011   5 Comments

Anatomy of a Debate: Rejecting Renewable Energy at ECONOMIST Magazine (Part I)

“Arguments have no chance against petrified training; they wear it as little as the waves wear a cliff.”

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Last month, The Economist magazine conducted a two-week Oxford style online debate over the proposition “that subsidizing renewable energy is a good way to wean the world off fossil fuels.”

“Renewable” in the case is really politically correct renewables: basically wind power, with some solar and a bit of of biofuel/geothermal thrown in.

Matthias Fripp, a research fellow for the Environmental Change Institute and Oxford’s Exeter College, defended the motion, while Robert L. Bradley Jr., founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research, argued against. Three comments by Jeremy Carl , Travis Bradford , and Ben Goldsmith each played to the premise that government energy policy had to displace fossil fuels.

The Economist’s James Astill, the magazine’s energy and environmental editor, and a decided climate alarmist/energy transformationist, moderated the discussion.

On November 18, Astill (reluctantly) announced the winner: the opposition (Bradley) with 52% of the vote. Turnout was high, with the total votes more than doubling the pre-debate estimate of 6,000.

An Upset Victory

Readers can follow the to-ing and fro-ing of the debate, while perusing the various comments from people around the world and drawing their own conclusions about the merits of the argument. However, the wording of Astill’s brief announcement, barnacled with non-sequiturs and the audacity of hope, barely disguised his disappointment over the outcome.

The Economist, indeed, has been promoting renewables for many years. The magazine cheered Enron’s ecopork, particularly when this company became a founding member of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s Business Environmental Leadership Council.

The Economist has been handwringing over global warming even as the sloganeering shifted to Climate Change. Moderator Astill distilled the magazine’s supercilious editorial stance that a surfeit of CO2 from fossil-fuel dependence is turning the world into a too-hellish place.

It is a tribute to Bradley and discerning voters, and not to mention many perceptive comments (of the 450 in all), that the opposition prevailed if the face of the home bias. [Read more →]

December 13, 2011   4 Comments

ECONOMIST Debate on Renewable Energy (Part III: Fossil Fuels Triumphant)

[Ed. note: This is Bradley's final statement to: "This house believes that subsidising renewable energy is a good way to wean the world off fossil fuels." After nine days and thousands of votes cast from around the world, the opposition is polling very close.]

“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.” John Holdren (2000)

“Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” James Hansen (2011)

Energy density (think energy efficiency) is the most important concept for the House Proposition. Dense energy, carbon-based energy, was an important enabler of the Industrial Revolution and has fueled rapid economic progress and population growth ever since. There is no going back to mankind’s poverty era, when renewable energy had a 100 percent market share.

Diluteness and intermittency explain why wind and solar miscarry economically, operationally, and environmentally as primary energies. These market-rejected energies require government favor to enter the grid and fossil-fuel blending/firming to leave the grid. Industrial wind parks and solar complexes are energy sprawl writ large, with service roads on one end and long-distance transmission lines on the other, all superfluous. [Read more →]

November 16, 2011   3 Comments

ECONOMIST Debate on Renewable Energy (Part II: Climate Alarmism vs. the Environment)

The first of two rebuttal phases of the ECONOMIST’s online debate on renewable energy is up. My opening statement focused on energy density by resurrecting the timeless wisdom of William Stanley Jevons. My rebuttal below (against Matthias Fripp of Oxford University) expands the energy density argument to stress that environmentalists must reconsider (not assume) climate alarmism to stop the assault of government-enabled renewables on the environment.

With growing grassroot opposition against industrial wind parks, the supply-side strategy of forced energy transformation is in real trouble. Wind power is not much of a supply source, which raises the question about why anti-fossil-fuel types have not embraced nuclear power.

To play devil’s advocate, is the real strategy of anti-industrialists to purposefully restrict supply to force conservation via high prices? Is the real enemy cheap energy itself? After all, it was Paul Ehrlich who infamously said, “Giving society cheap energy at this point would be equivalent to giving an idiot child a machine gun.” (1)

(1) Paul Ehrlich, “An Ecologist’s Perspective on Nuclear Power,” Federal Academy of Science Public Issue Report, May-June 1975, p. 5.

Part II’s rebuttal by yours truly follows. Part III of our debate will follow this weekend. [Read more →]

November 11, 2011   7 Comments

ECONOMIST Debate on Renewable Energy (Part I: W. S. Jevons Lives!)

I am part of an online event hosted by The Economist magazine debating the proposition:

This house believes that subsidising renewable energy is a good way to wean the world off fossil fuels.

I am opposed. Defending the motion is Matthias Fripp, Research fellow, Environmental Change Institute and Exeter College, Oxford University, who defends renewables from the premise that “we must reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 in order to avoid dangerous risks to the environment and ourselves.”

With my opening statement, I began with a recent observation by the rising UK intellectual star Matt Ridley and continued with the timeless insight of William Stanley Jevons. Readers of MasterResource know Jevons well from previous posts, but I wanted to make sure to put him front and center of this debate to awaken his homeland that he ‘refuted’ renewables nearly 150 years ago.

I also bring in crony capitalism, the popular term for rent-seeking businesses in the mixed economy (what I prefer to call political capitalism). That has to be a sore spot among the statists these days, not so much with Solyndra but because their renewables scheme involves so much back-room politicking (cough, cough).

My opening statement follows. Part II and Part III of our debate will follow in the next days. Be sure and vote! [Read more →]

November 9, 2011   8 Comments