Wednesday, October 17, 2007

what's wrong with renewables?

Just read this article on the GOP candidates' response to climate change, and I noticed something new: several of the candidates were willing to admit that global warming is real, and several even laid out "comprehensive" solutions, but none included current renewable energy technology (wind/solar/tidal/geothermal) in their grand solutions to stop climate change. Not one.

Why is that? What is it about renewable energy that is so offensive to conservatives?

I have a theory: because they're actual solutions. Notice the other things McCain and Romney and the others mention to stop climate change: clean coal, nuclear power, drilling in ANWR, more refineries, ethanol. ANWR and more refineries don't do anything to solve climate change (those are energy independence fixes). Nuclear power and ethanol are boondoggles, as ethanol barely produces more energy than it takes to produce it (and, apparently, drives up the price of corn), and nuclear power is enormously expensive-- moreso than anything but photovoltaics-- when you include all the hidden costs. There's a reason why power companies that invest in nuclear often have to ask the government for handouts a couple of years later to recoup their "stranded costs."

And, of course, there is no such thing as clean coal. Clean coal with carbon capture and sequestration (coal burning that doesn't contribute to climate change) is still in the "experimental phase." Like hydrogen fuel cells (yet another popular GOP chimera), time travel, and establishing colonies on Mars.

They did also mention conservation, but Republican lawmakers will often say they want conservation, but when pushed they admit that they only mean making a public service announcement asking people to "turn off their lights when they leave the house."

Renewable energy, on the other hand, is real, it is viable right now, and in some forms, it's even cheap! It can be established, at least to a degree, on an individual basis; any shmoe can put a wind turbine in his backyard or a solar panel on his roof. Farmers and ranchers can use it to supplement their income, becoming small-time energy producers in their own right. It creates jobs (someone has to build the things, right?). And, most importantly, it produces no CO2, nor any pollution of any kind (only the generators themselves are left over).

Pushing renewables, however, means cutting into the profit margins of oil, gas, coal, and electric companies. It means making some real change in the fabric of our country that doesn't involve the reversion to some utopian caricature of the 1950's. It means admitting that liberals were right on the environment--and the worst kind of liberal: the hippies. It means admitting that what's best for big business is not always what's best for America.

Thinking about it, this is merely another aspect of e. coli conservatism, the willingness to sacrifice the health and safety of your own constituents to protect the profit margins of big business. Sometimes it's the natural consequence of the doctrinaire, free market fundamentalist belief that deregulation is always good. To these people, the unfettered market is like Divine Providence on X, giddily weaving its way around the room touching all the worthy people. Other times it's merely because the politician in question is a wholly bought-and-owned susidiary of the companies that lobby him/her. Whether it's meat infested with bacteria, lead-painted toys, or climate change-causing coal, these conservatives are more than happy to subject you to it all day long if it means shares of ExxonMobil or Conagra gain $.40.

Do you really want one of these characters in the White House? Correction: do you really want another one of these characters in the White House?

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