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Category — Energy Postmodernism

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.) [Read more →]

June 6, 2014   3 Comments

Energy Postmodernism: Obama Today, Amory Lovins Yesterday (645-page powerplant rule to nirvana)

All good things to all people. That is how the Obama/EPA Power Plant Rule is being sold this week in the U.S. and around the world.

Lower prices, more jobs, greater security, accelerated innovation. New for old, cleaner for dirtier. Better air and less ailment.  Take the disadvantages of rationing carbon dioxide in U.S. power plants and assert just the opposite. Get others to echo for a ‘shared narrative.’ Think energy postmodernism of wish, want competitive intermittent renewable energy.

Say it is a free lunch. Better yet, say it is a lunch that we are paid to eat.

And all this for a better future. “This is something that is important for all of us,” Obama stated in regard to the proposal. “As parents, as grandparents, as citizens, as folks who care about the health of our families and also want to make sure that future generations are able to enjoy this beautiful blue ball in the middle of space that we’re a part of.” Save the Planet!

Never mind the infinitesimal climate effect of incremental emission reductions. (Do some simple math here assuming that power plant emissions are 38 percent of the U.S. total. I get a year-2050 temperature reduction of .005 degrees centigrade, and a year-2100 averted warming of .009.)

Never mind that the proposal flunks any sort of a cost/benefit comparison. And what about the Rule’s ‘government failure’ costs–the costs of devising, implementing, revising, and lobbying even if it were done by angels?

Back To Lovins?

The master of deceit and misdirection brings to mind the wonderful road of ‘soft energy” by the father of today’s conjure, Amory Lovins. Some 37 years ago, he presented his case in romantic, something-for-everyone packaging.

As he told a congressional subcommittee in 1977: [Read more →]

June 4, 2014   2 Comments

California: Climate Policy Postmodernism (all-pain, no-gain for feel-good elitism)

“There is a vast difference between doing the right thing and doing the thing right. In this case, CARB is implementing AB32 in ways that ignore current realities and that likely make matters worse…. It is time for a major reset of the underlying law and its regulatory implementation.” – T. Tanton

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is all-in, damn-the-torpedoes relating to AB 32, the state’s 2006 anti-global warming law, even while acknowledging that it will drive up the cost of energy. CARB chair Mary Nichols confirmed the start of a statewide cap-and-trade auction system November 14 under which industrial firms will buy and sell emission rights for pollutants–despite receiving unrebutted testimony from manufacturers and business owners about the very onerous, and even devastating, impact of moving forward with the auction.


When the California’s Global Warming Solutions Act was enacted in 2006, things were quite different. Electricity prices were being pushed down by the early expansion of natural gas plenty. Other states and nations were considering similar climate change programs, and, in fact, the Western Climate Initiative set up by Western Governors looked to increase trade in emission allowances. Unemployment in the State was at about 7 percent, and the foreclosure debacle hadn’t yet hit (which would drive many cities to the brink of bankruptcy).

The prospect of “leakage” was known, but not the extent. Too much faith was held in the Hobson’s choice of cap-and-trade as opposed to the more draconian option of command-and-control regulation. And finally, national cap-and-trade seemed to be coming.

My how things have changed—except for the commitment to economy destroying state policies. The most notable change is that, nationwide, greenhouse gas emissions have already dropped to 1992 levels, without interventionist policies. California’s carbon intensity has improved 21 percent since the turn of the century. Compare this to AB32′s goal of reaching 1990 statewide emissions by 2020. [Read more →]

October 4, 2012   7 Comments

Think, Want Competitive Renewables: Travis Bradford gets Spacy at THE ECONOMIST

Travis Bradford, founder and president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, joins the postmodern crusade for the affirmative motion over at The Economist magazine: “This house believes that subsidising renewable energy is a good way to wean the world off fossil fuels.” (Voting is in its last day.)

Let’s assume (not debate) that fossil fuels are unsustainable, he says. And let’s just believe that a lot of government this-or-that can make the dilute dense and the intermittent firm. Build it, and they will come … or coerce and it will all work out.

Bradford asserts at the beginning:

In an effort to refocus the debate on whether subsidies are a good way to wean the world off of fossil fuels, it might be useful to frame the alternatives instead of rehashing the same old arguments about whether we should. As the moderator says, we absolutely should—full stop. Now on to more earthly concerns.

Space Cadet?

Sadly, energy commentary is dominated by general writing filled with vague assertions and assumptions, apple and orange (or apple seed and apple orchard) and inappropriate analogies. A careful reading of Travis Bradford’s piece reveals a number of shortcomings. [Read more →]

November 17, 2011   3 Comments