A Free-Market Energy Blog

James Hansen Smacks Renewable Energy ("The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy"–and Lovins as dreamer)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 22, 2011

“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.”

Climate and energy alarmists war with reality. And now and again, the incentives line up for a particular alarmist to blow the whistle on some aspect of the governmental ‘cure’ to their problem. The incendiary Joe Romm, for example, trots out free-market-type arguments against carbon sequestration and nuclear (both too expensive).

Hansen on Cap-and-Trade

NASA scientist and uber-climate-alarmist James Hansen informed the climate policy debate in 2009/2010 with his blistering criticism of CO2 cap-and-trade. “The truth is, the climate course set by Waxman-Markey is a disaster course,” he said. “It is an exceedingly inefficient way to get a small reduction of emissions. It is less than worthless….”

Joe Romm complained against Hansen’s “needlessly (and pointlessly) provocative attacks” as being “filled with right-wing and left-wing myths — and very little understanding of the basics of either this bill or cap-and-trade systems.” But California’s rethink of a state-level cap-and-trade program suggests that Hansen’s concerns of a highly political approach to mitigating carbon-dioxide emissions was on the mark.

Regarding international climate-change action, Hansen also called out

The fraudulence of the Copenhagen [Summit] approach – ‘goals’ for emission reductions, ‘offsets’ that render even iron-clad goals almost meaningless, an ineffectual ‘cap-and-trade’ mechanism – must be exposed. We must rebel against such politics-as-usual.

And now Renewables ….

Most recently, Hansen turned his attention to just what wind and solar in particular could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reverse out the human influence on climate.

Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit (Hansen, WG3 and Green Kool-aid) has analyzed Hansen in the context of the IPCC’s amateurish pro-renewables report; I simply reproduce significant parts of the Hansen’s July 29, 2011, critique.

          James Hansen on Renewable Energy

There is a consensus that renewable energies need to be part of the solution to the energy security and climate matters.  But we must be realistic about their contribution.  So now let’s look at the progress of renewable energies after several years of strong government incentives.

Renewable sources [in 2009] provide 10.7% of the electric energy.  But … almost two-thirds of this is hydroelectric.  Wind has grown to almost 17% of  the renewable energy, so it is approaching 1.8% of U.S. electricity.  Solar power is only 0.2% of the renewable portion or 0.02% of electricity.

[Globally] … in 2008 … renewable energies provide 19% of electricity, but most of the renewable energy is hydroelectric.  Wind provides 1% of global electricity and solar energy less than 0.1%….

Renewables may be small, but they are growing rapidly, exponentially, right? [Data] reveals that growth of electricity in the past two decades in the U.S. has been mainly from fossil fuels….

What about the world as a whole?  The global story is similar to that for the U.S., except there has been growth in large hydro.  Hydropower has contributed more to global growth than
all other renewable energies together.  Meanwhile, fossil fuel use has continued to increase.

The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy

The insightful cynic will note: “Now I understand all the fossil fuel ads with windmills and solar panels – fossil fuel moguls know that renewables are no threat to the fossil fuel business.”  The tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.

Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future?  It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway.  But 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.

This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians.  Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up
approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. – maybe even a tar sands pipeline.

Why the inconsistency?

Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan.  They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics.  They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.  Reluctance to be honest might seem strange, given that what is needed to solve the problem actually makes sense and is not harmful to most people….

[Amory Lovins]

Note the failure of U.S. energy to follow the ‘soft’ energy path of [Amory] Lovins. Lovins asserts that we could phase out nuclear power, large hydro, coal, oil and gas. But soft renewables are still nearly invisible after 30 years, providing about one third of the thin renewable slice of total energy.

Yet Amory Lovins is the most popular person that I know and has received uncountable awards. He deserves them. But I believe his popularity is in part because he says everything people want
to hear.  He even says there is no need to have a tax on carbon.  Thus even fossil fuel companies love him. Fossil fuel companies are happy to support energy efficiency, which places the onus on the public and guarantees fossil fuel dominance far into the future (see Yankee Ticket Prices).

When I saw Amory most recently and queried him, he affirmed that no tax was needed. He said that hundred dollar bills are being left on the ground by companies that ignore energy efficiency. Indeed, there is still great potential in energy efficiency.  However, the full potential of energy efficiency to help rapidly phase down fossil fuel CO2 emissions will be achieved only if there is a substantial rising price on carbon emissions. 

As long as fossil fuel energy is cheap, efficiency encourages more energy use.  For example, solid state lighting is much more efficient, but it encourages more extensive lighting.  That would be o.k., if the energy source were carbon-free.

The Real World

Many well-meaning people proceed under the illusion that ‘soft’ renewable energies (1) will replace fossil fuels if the government tries harder and provides more subsidies. Meanwhile, governments
speak greenwash while allowing pursuit of fossil fuels with increasingly destructive technologies (hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, longwall mining, drilling in the deepest ocean, the Arctic
and other pristine environments) and development of unconventional fossil fuels

It will be a tragedy if environmentalists allow the illusion of ‘soft’ energies to postpone demand for real solution of the energy, climate and national security problems. Solar power is just a small part of the solution.  Subsidies yielding even its present tiny contribution may be unsustainable….

Recently I received a mailing on the climate crisis from a large environmental organization.  Their request, letters and e-mails to Congress and the President, mentioned only renewable energies (specifically wind and solar power).

Such a request offends nobody, and it is worthless. Indeed, it is much less than worthless.  If you drink the kool-aid represented in the right part of Fig. 7, you are a big part of the problem.  Sure, I could ignore this and wait for time to make the situation clear to you, but I could say the same thing 10 years ago.  Look at part (a) of Figures 5 and 6; do not be fooled by parts (c), which have a vastly different (smaller) scale.

The problem is that, by drinking the kool-aid, you are also pouring it down the throats of my dear grandchildren and yours.  The tragedy in doing so is much greater than that of Jim Jones’ gullible followers, who forced their children to drink his kool-aid. 

All life will bear the consequences.


(1) Renewable energy such as windmills and commercial scale solar power are not entirely “soft”, in the view of many people, i.e., they have an environmental footprint.  Also, because of their intermittency, they require dispatchable back-up power, which is commonly provided by gas, thus degrading the ability to reduce carbon emissions.


  1. Jon Boone  

    Maybe Hansen is reading Master Resource. Here’s an early quote from Energy Debates in Wonderland, posted last March: “There’s more evidence that the enchanted Easter bunny brings children multi-colored eggs than there is that those renewable-energy darlings wind and solar can put a dent in CO2 emissions despite their massively intrusive industrial presence.”

    As for Unity College and McKibben, the former is an incredibly fey enterprise as it prepares a secular priesthood for a ministry on behalf of Gaia; the latter, a contemporary Jeremiah known for his Sunday School homilies about the evils of worshiping the false idol of fossil fuels, which are creating a hell on earth according to his Gospel of Global Warming (though, for him, it’s not good news).


  2. Breaking Wind – Quick hits from the industry for August 22, 2011 | Allegheny Treasures  

    […] 1-James Hansen Smacks Renewable Energy (“The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy”–and Lovins as dreamer)- Robert Bradley Jr. (MasterResource) […]


  3. john  

    Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein to Face Climate Change Risk Disclosure Shareholder Proposal



    “Goldman Sachs has failed to disclose the significant risks associated with its climate change business strategy. With approximately $3 billion of investments in renewable energy, shareholders have a right to know that changes in the political and scientific landscape can have a significant impact on those investments,” said Tom Borelli.

    “Shareholders should be advised that the profit potential of renewable energy is dependent on government action. Since renewable energy can’t compete head-to-head with fossil fuels, the use of wind turbines and solar panels is reliant on government subsidies and mandates. Accordingly, future budget cuts to address our massive government debt could negatively impact the use of renewable energy,” said Tom Borelli. Goldman Sachs petitioned the SEC to permit it to reject consideration of the proposal, but the SEC ruled in favor of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

    Here is some breaking news that may be related.



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