Why Environmentalism is Irrelevant

By Keith Kloor | April 27, 2012 12:29 pm

I recently wrote that environmentalism was fading fast as a meaningful movement, and argued that only green modernists could resurrect it. The piece got bounced around a lot on twitter and elicited both praise and barbs. Discover magazine asked if I would do my promised follow-up for them.

Here’s a teaser from the opening:

If you were cryogenically frozen in the early 1970s, like Woody Allen was in Sleeper, and brought back to life today, you would obviously find much changed about the world.

Except environmentalism and its underlying precepts. That would be a familiar and quaint relic. You would wake up from your Rip Van Winkle period and everything around you would be different, except the green movement. It’s still anti-nuclear, anti-technology, anti-industrial civilization. It still talks in mushy metaphors from the Aquarius age, cooing over Mother Earth and the Balance of Nature. And most of all, environmentalists are still acting like Old Testament prophets, warning of a plague of environmental ills about to rain down on humanity.

Read the whole piece over at Discover.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: environmentalism
MORE ABOUT: environmentalism
  • MarkB

    Some of us have been ‘green modernists’ since the 1970s – we just got shouted down by the romantic kooks. People like Lynas, on the other hand, are reformed (to some small degree) kooks. The Lynas/Revkin line seems more a strategic than an ideological turn. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the kooks – they just want to gain the same ends with different (more pragmatic) means. If the only reason you favor nuclear power is the fear of CO2, then you’re less a ‘modernist’ than a retrencher. Nuclear power is, and has been, a good technology, although the dramatic drop in natural gas prices (thank you, fracking!) makes it far less so. Monbiot (that old anti-science, anti-tech troll) and Lynas now favor nuclear only because global warming put a gun to their heads and made them choose between their children – not because they came to their ‘modernist’ senses.

  • jeffn

    Great article. Excellent quote from Goodall: “A rich economy with technological advances is needed for radical decarbonisation.”

    To comply with the new lower carbon ethos, I will have to buy a whole lot of stuff and my vendors (power company) will too. That takes money.

    I think our Rip Van Winkle would be astonished and amused that the environmental movement is getting away with blaming conservatives and Republicans for our present-day reliance on coal and oil. In the 70s, there was a big effort to move to a clean, green alternative and it was loudly, and publicly killed by…. the environmental movement.

  • huxley

    KK or others: Any estimates of Green Modernists vs. Traditionalists? My sense is that Modernists are a tiny part of the picture thus far, but I could be wrong.

  • huxley

    I’ve mostly moved on from blog commenting on climate because  my impression too is that “Environmentalism is Irrelevant.”

  • Andy

    What about old-fashioned conservationists in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt?

  • Ms. Scape

    KK:  Where do individual efforts fit in with this? Should I still chastise you for polluting our children with high fructose corn syrup and depending upon the convenience of on the go non-decomposable fruit pouches? Don’t say I didn’t warn you for a public outing ; )  

  • Keith Kloor

    I have no idea who #6 is. 

    Just for the record: I only just found out that those particular juice pouches contained miniscule harmless traces of high fructose corn syrup.

    But whoever #6 is, she better be nice to me, or I’m not doing the laundry this weekend or getting up at the crack of dawn when our littlest human alarm clock wakes up.

  • Jarmo

    Here in Europe most Green parties are notably left-leaning and have managed to gain support from former communist party voters. Social justice, citizen salary (everybody gets a lump sum of money from the government) etc. are as important as the environment. 

    I would not call them irrelevant.

  • huxley

    Jarmo: Right you are. The same day that Obama appeared as a backup performer on the Jimmy Fallon Show as the “Preezy of the United Steezy,” Obama’s Rolling Stone interview came out in which he doubled down on climate change as a campaign issue. I’m sure he can milk a few votes from the Traditionalists, so environmentalism is not entirely irrelevant.

  • BBD

    Keith

    Very supportive of the argument that ecopragmatism is the way forward, but… one small point of concern: there is a grave danger of false equivalence slipping in through the cat flap. Climate science is not environmentalism (from your Discover piece):

    [Goodall:] I do wish scientists would stop using their hatred of capitalism as an argument for cutting consumption.

    [Keith:] my post was written on a large canvass, with environmentalism’s representative voices””the leading writers, scientists, and big NGO’s””in mind.

  • Mary

    Ah, see, the secret’s out: KK is merely a shill for the HFCS industry, and soothing his conscience by claiming pragmatism is the way forward….

    Heh.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    What is an environmentalist? Is there a survey I can fill out to find out if I’m one? If I believe that market externalities are intrinsically bad and clean water and clean air are good, does that make me pragmatic environmentalist or a unpragmatic ‘traditionalist’? Can I be against growth for growth’s sake and still be a humanist? How we grow is more important than how much we grow isn’t it?

  • NewYorkJ

    KK: It’s still anti-nuclear, anti-technology, anti-industrial civilization. It still talks in mushy metaphors from the Aquarius age, cooing over Mother Earth and the Balance of Nature. And most of all, environmentalists are still acting like Old Testament prophets, warning of a plague of environmental ills about to rain down on humanity.Very cute, but I can’t think of many who fit this definition.  Many who consider themselves environmentalists and warn of environmental problems support nuclear power (Lynas, Monbiot).  Others, like Greenpeace, tend to not, but are pro-technology.  Instead of resisting advances in renewable energy like hardcore fossil-fuel advocates do, they embrace it as a way forward.  The last sentence is wishy-washy.  Are we to ignore the consequences of the burning of fossil fuels because Keith thinks people don’t want to hear it, or does he write this to mean extreme alarmism, in which case we’re back to mostly building strawmen, fighting a boogeyman?

  • Howard

    If Rip Van Winkle woke up in the US, he would be astonished by the radical improvements in water quality, air quality and forests.  These wonderful holistic improvements are brought to you by professional (not academic and not activists) environmental engineers and scientists working quietly in a free-market in response to regulation.

  • Howard

    Keithyou should stop, look and listen to UCSF’s Robert Lustig “truth about sugar” lecture.  Fruit juice and HFCS drinks are equally bad…  “Alcohol without the buzz”

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Congratulations for your gig at Discover, Keith: I do hope it makes Ms. Scape happy!

  • huxley

    Prediction: As BBD, NewYorkJ and Marlowe demonstrate, the Mod vs Trad distinction KK wishes to make will be too mushy to be useful. We will see the same equivocations from the orthodox as we have seen over “The science is/is not settled” and “Climate change will be/won’t be catastrophic” depending on whatever seems advantageous at the time.

    As Billy Joel once sang at the onset of Punk and New Wave, “It’s still rock’n'roll to me.”

  • Keith Kloor

    Willard (16)

    It’s not a gig–just one piece. 

    Howard (15)

    I suppose you’re going to agree with her about the powdered donuts and fruit loops, too? 

    NewYorkJ (13)

    So you know a few pro-technology, pro-nuclear greens. Great. I know a few, too. I’ve even cited them recently. But the argument I put forth at Discover includes examples from mainstream, representative voices/leaders of environmentalism. I could have spent another 5,000 words showing plenty more examples. That would have been redundant.

    You got an actual rebuttal, make it–preferably over there. 

  • NewYorkJ

    A few, Keith?  Most of the environmental groups I’m familiar with are clearly not anti-technology or anti-industry, even if they oppose nukes.

    http://www.sierraclub.org/energy/renewables/

    Maybe you’re not talking about them either.

  • Howard

    19 NYJ…  You are right, the Sierra Club is not anti-industry as long as they get their “taste”.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/science/earth/after-disclosure-of-sierra-clubs-gifts-from-gas-driller-a-roiling-debate.html

  • BillZ

    > “¦ nuclear power and genetically modified crops,
    two technologies that experts say will be necessary to expand if the
    worst of climate change is to be avoided”¦
    All experts, Mr Kloor? Or just a few that share your ideological
    beliefs, and who are often in the pay of nuclear and GMO corporations?
    What about the many experts who say we do not need nukes or GMO crops?
    How about the International Energy Agency report released a few days
    ago that said we need to rapidly deploy renewables but said nothing
    about nukes? Is the IEA now just a bunch of day-dreaming hippies? Or how
    about Germany abandoning nukes and going 100% renewable? Do you think
    the Germans are a bunch of anti-technology tree huggers?
    And how about the evidence that shows GMO crops repeatedly fail to
    deliver on promises of higher yields? If the product is so good why did
    Monsanto need to bribe government officials in Indonesia, or lie in
    their adverts in France?
    Rather than environmentalists being blindly opposed to certain
    technologies, it’s the “˜free market’, pro-corporate,
    pro-consumption-at-all-costs gang that are blindly pushing technologies
    that will not help to reign in the environment-destroying capitalism
    that is at the root of all the looming crises that face humanity and
    most life on the planet.
    P.S. If the best people you can use to prop up your argument is
    Lynas, Gooddall and Brand then it’s a testament to how weak your
    argument is.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Or just a few that share your ideological beliefs, and who are often in the pay of nuclear and GMO corporations?”

    I don’t and I’m not. So what about me?

    “What about the many experts who say we do not need nukes or GMO crops?”

    What’s their evidence?

    “Do you think the Germans are a bunch of anti-technology tree huggers?”

    Yes.

    “And how about the evidence that shows GMO crops repeatedly fail to deliver on promises of higher yields?”

    Then like any product that quantifiably doesn’t work, people will stop buying it. You only need to campaign against it if it does actually work and is popular with farmers. Nobody makes them buy the stuff.

    “it’s the “˜free market’, pro-corporate…”

    Free market isn’t pro-corporate. Believers in free markets are as opposed to corporate protectionism as they are that of socialists.

    “…to reign in the environment-destroying capitalism that is at the root of all the looming crises that face humanity and most life on the planet.”

    Poverty is at the root of all our crises, and capitalism is the only cure.

  • Matt B

    @ BillZ 21: it’s the “˜free market’, pro-corporate, pro-consumption-at-all-costs gang that are blindly pushing technologies that will not help to reign in the environment-destroying capitalism that is at the root of all the looming crises that face humanity and most life on the planet.

    Hey, I agree that there are plenty of “capitalists” who will happily line their pockets with cash at the expense of the environment; I’ve worked for a couple. But, there’s plenty of “non-capitalist” examples of brutally toxifying the environment, here’s one that I know, one of the infamous Soviet “closed cities”:

    http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/42

    Getting rid of the capitalists may not solve your problem; you may need to rid the world of greed……and whenever the solution to your problem requires the eradication of one of the seven deadly sins, well that is a tall order…….

  • Marlowe Johnson

    the tension that keith describes between two schools of environmentalist thought is one of the central themes in Kim Stanley Robinson’s' Red Mars trilogy, with the ‘reds’ representing the anti-capitalist conservationists and the ‘greens’ representing the pro-tech ‘pragmatic’ faction. well worth the read.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “Believers in free markets are as opposed to corporate protectionism as they are that of socialists.”

    evidence?

  • Matt B

    @25 Marlowe – from the 2010 Libertarian Party Platform:

    2.6    Monopolies and Corporations – We defend the right of individuals to form corporations, cooperatives
    and other types of companies based on voluntary association. We seek to
    divest government of all functions that can be provided by
    non-governmental organizations or private individuals. We oppose
    government subsidies to business, labor, or any other special interest.
    Industries should be governed by free markets.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @26remind me again who ‘libertarians’ vote for overwhelmingly in western democracies?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #25,

    Protectionism is the erection of barriers to trade designed to protect an agent in business from competition, thus inducing an artificial scarcity that they can profit from. Corporations commonly lobby for legislative, regulatory, or financial barriers to competition, preferential subsidies and licences for themselves. Adam Smith said “When manufacturers meet it may be expected that a conspiracy will be planned against the pockets of the public.” and Bastiat, an early populariser of free market thinking, repeated it approvingly.

    “To tell the truth, my good people, they are robbing you. It is harsh, but it is true.”

    “Still, let the monopolists reassure themselves. These robberies, by means of bounties or tariffs, even if they do violate equity as much as robbery, do not break the law; on the contrary, they are perpetrated through the law. They are all the worse for this, but they have nothing to do with criminal justice.”

    By far the larger part of Bastiat’s Sophisms inveighs against the bad behaviour of businesses, and against governments for obliging them.

    Believers in free markets are defined as those who oppose protectionism. As corporations are guilty of a lot of protectionist behaviour, they come in for heavy criticism too. It has to be said, not everyone on the right is a believer in free markets.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #27,“In 2000 George Bush won 72% of the libertarian vote, to Al Gore’s 20%,
    by repeating the mantra “My opponent trusts government. I trust you.”
    But in 2004, after Mr Bush increased the size of government and
    curtailed some civil liberties as part of the war on terror, his margin
    dropped to 59%-38%. The swing was as sharp in congressional races, too.
    Going back further, libertarians backed George Bush senior by 74%-26% in
    1988. But when he sought re-election in 1992, they split evenly between
    him, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.”
    http://www.economist.com/node/8058247

  • Matt B

    @ 27 Marlowe – they typically vote for “conservative” candidates in the foolish hope that these parties will actually practice the smaller government/low tax/minimal spending policies that they preach…..but, in the States, if you believe the Repubs stand for “free markets” then I have 1,248,000,000 shares of AIG stock to sell you……

    In the States neither the Repubs (as a group) or the Dems (as a group) stand for anything other than getting themselves re-elected. The Republicans (as a whole) are far from Libertarian, but since they occasionally venture near the  Libertarian neighborhood they will usually get the Libertarian vote (with gritted teeth)…..it’s the same crappy position Progressives find themselves in with the Democrats…… 

  • Matt B

    @ 29 NIV – both times crazy old Perot ran he got a lot of Libertarian votes (even though he was clearly, well crazy), just like Nader could always get a decent % of Progressive votes when he ran; neither camp likes their “representative” party & will bolt whenever a candidate, however flawed, offers up a alternative ……our current “2 parties for all” system leads to a lot of nose holding when voting…….. 

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @30agreed. i hope you comment more. IMO the problem with the typical libertarian position is that it starts from ‘tabula rasa’ and in that sense is every bit as idealistic and opportunistic as those ‘un-pragmatic reds’. critique is good (e.g. Marx). viable alternatives (e.g. Keynes) are harder.

    but then of course there is the overton problem.

  • BBD

    Matt B

    our current “2 parties for all” system leads to a lot of nose holding when voting”¦”¦..

    Much the same here in the UK. And we have three parties, and a coalition government at present  :-)

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @31 &33

    Indeed, one of the things that never seems to get addressed in blogs like these is the political ramifications of the anachronistic electoral system (i.e. first past the post) that the U.S., U.K., and Canada cling to, against all evidence of success in every other democracy.Old habits die, really, really hard it seems.

  • Menth

    The post at Discovery has really brought out some interesting folk. My favourite quote from the comments I’ve read so far: “…it’s very easy to be dismissive, but only masochists (or the 1%?) would
    argue that industrial capitalism is working out very well
    .” Yes. Exactly. It’s only the top hats and monocles that have gained anything from industrial capitalism. You know what I’m in the mood for? 16 hour days of hard farm labour 7 days a week and then dying of cholera at 34. This whole industrial capitalism thing has been a swindle!

  • Matt B

    @ 35 Menth,Yeah, no shortage of snide smug commentators over at Discover….. but I do want to thank them, I never realized until now that KK is an”arrogant” “pro-business” “cornicopian”…..take that KK!

  • kdk33

    Environmentaslims isn’t irrelevant; it’s a luxury item. 

    Wnat to kill environmentalism, damage the economy.  Want to damange the economy, force decarbonization.

    Decarbonization will never work as environmentalism.  It will only work as self-preservation.  The case for self preservation isn’t close to having been made.

    All you smart guys can connect the dots from there.

  • kdk33

    @34,  I’m glad you’re Canadian.

  • Howard

    That’s right Marlowe, every other democracy that just happens to exist in spite of the totalitarian onslaught because of the free-market wealth, democratic leadership and brave sons of Great Britain, Canada and the US.  If you don’t like your government, get involved.  Join a local board or commission, become a campaign worker.  Do something other than whine.

  • Howard

    In that vein Marlowe, if you care about the environment, go out and fix it with your actions.  Put your life’s work where your mouth is.  That is the path away from the boring pathetic impotent dilettante.

  • Mark

    KK – I think you are on the right path here but I must admit, the pragmatist approach is so full of compromise that it doesn’t fit our public discourse very well.Extreme positions get coverage, donations etc. Nuanced and moderate positions don’t.We have organized the US as competing or “balancing” ideologies. It seems we prefer our progress to be like the tacking of a sailboat, back and forth between the extremes and making progress in the process rather than motoring a straight line between two points. (It makes one appreciate the more direct motoring of the Chinese.)My theory is that it’s our preference to have it this way and that’s why humans love sports. We can wrap our heads around red and blue states and thus “live with” the obvious “extremes” of our “team”.Traditional Environmentalism is just another team that benefits from the extreme position in hopes we will tack more in their direction.

  • BBD

    Ruffled a few feathers there, Marlowe.
    :-)

  • Marlowe Johnson

    In that vein Marlowe, if you care about the environment, go out and fix it with your actions.  Put your life’s work where your mouth is

    Not a bad idea ;-)

  • steven mosher

    funny to watch the curve of this conversation. all in all, Keith’s points seemed too thorny a nettle to grasp. And we descend into discussions of electoral systems and marlowe’s life.

  • BillZ

    ‘Nullius in Verba’ believes that Germany is populated and governed by “a bunch of anti-technology tree huggers”. I’m going to guess that this person has not travelled further than their local mall.>> Free market isn’t pro-corporate.That’s what the billionaires who own the corporations who own and control the rightwing media want you to believe.Here’s a simple fact: infinite consumption on a finite planet will not end well.That’s what ‘free market’ (it’s actually massively rigged in favor of the 1%) capitalism is producing: infinite consumption. If you support this system and you’re not a billionaire + sociopath then you are simply a turkey voting for Christmas.

  • jeffn

    BillZ, thanks for making Keith’s point for him.

    Germany is replacing nuclear with… nuclear.
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,786048,00.html

    Oh, and coal.
    http://tinyurl.com/d5o8u4z

    But not to worry, they’re also talking about higher prices thanks to an attempt to use more renewables. Ask BBD if that lowers your reliance on gas when the weather’s cold.

    Once again, greens say one thing, do another. Mostly because they never thought out the consequences of their “bold” decisions.

  • Keith Kloor

    As many of you are probably aware, my Discover essay has generated a sizable response, both pro and con. Like the first piece, this one too has been bounced around a lot on twitter. There have been lively comment threads at the Discover site, Andy Revkin’s Dot earth blog, and here.

    Various bloggers have weighed in, as well, such as Romm

    I’ll have a response to the critiques of my critique up sometime later.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    look forward to your response Keith. Hopefully, you’ll provide some evidence to support your claims.

  • BillZ

    @ 46. jeffnYou need to check facts with credible sources, not tabloid media and some dodgy think tank. Here ya go:>> German greenhouse gas emissions down 2.1% in 2011. http://www.pointcarbon.com/news/1.1825972>> Germany exported 6 TWh more electricity than it imported in 2011. http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/0,1518,829171,00.htmlIf you also actually looked at real facts you’d discover that renewable energy is driving down the cost of electricity for consumers in Germany, Denmark, Spain and everywhere it is being deployed at a significant level.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #45,

    “I’m going to guess that this person has not travelled further than their local mall.”

    You guessed wrong! Bad luck!

    If you ask a silly, simplistic question, sometimes you get a simplistic answer. Obviously not all Germans are tree-huggers. But the ones who raised the public protest that led to the Germans shutting down nuclear power stations were clearly people with the same tenuous grasp on reality as homeopathists and fruit-washers.

    There is absolutely no reason to think nuclear power is any less safe than many other practices we routinely ignore. Nuclear power is safer than peanut butter sandwiches. And that’s still true whether you’re in Germany or my local mall.

    “That’s what the billionaires who own the corporations who own and control the rightwing media want you to believe.”

    That’s what Marxist 1917-throwbacks want you to believe. Journalists in the mainstream media mainly vote to the left.

    “infinite consumption on a finite planet will not end well”

    If you walk far enough on a finite continent, you’ll eventually fall into the ocean and drown. Therefore we must all stop walking, yes?

    I’ve come across this neo-Malthusian mantra numerous times, and I’ve no idea what’s in people’s heads when they say it. We don’t require or expect it to go on forever, but the fact the sun is going to expand into a red giant and fry the planet in about 5 billion years time does not figure prominently in our day-to-day resourcing decisions. It’s not like we’re running out of planet – there’s just as much of it now as there was a billion years ago. Ending consumption obviously leads to the same result, only a lot earlier.

    I think it may be a misunderstanding of the term ‘infinite’. The word means ‘without end’, but that can be ‘without end’ like an infinity, or it can be ‘without end’ like a circle.

    In response to Malthus, the American economist Henry George said: “Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens, but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens.” Chickens are a resource. Are the chickens infinite?

    Or will we one day have eaten them all?

    As a rule, we tend to produce more resources than we consume, which is why we’re richer and why resources are cheaper now than they’ve ever been. And historically, we have never gone in the straight lines these projections generally assume. Population growth isn’t a constant. Technology finds alternatives and substitutes and better ways of doing things. We solve problems as they arise. We move on.

    Humans are problem-solvers. It’s the secret of our success. Our current way of doing things never has to last forever; only until we invent the next step to something different.

    “you are simply a turkey voting for Christmas.”

    If you banned Christmas, all the turkeys would soon enough be dead. No farmer is going to come along and feed them without it. Thanks to Christmas, they get fed, watered, housed, warmed, protected from predators, cared for by vets, and their end is quick and merciful, which is more than can be said for most wildlife.

    Still, turkeys are stupid birds, with little foresight. Nor any understanding of the vast machinery that supports their daily comforts. Possibly, a sufficiently slow and dim turkey could be found, that could be persuaded getting rid of the farmer was a good idea. Although it’s hard to imagine.

    Yes, indeed – humans voting against capitalism is very much like turkeys voting against Christmas. Capitalism undoubtedly has its costs; but life in the state of nature would indeed be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short without it.

  • BillZ

    @48.  Marlowe Johnson> “look forward to your response Keith. Hopefully, you’ll provide some evidence to support your claims.”It would be nice but we know the basis of his argument is a strawman so there is no evidence to produce.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #49,

    German coal powered electricity $83/kWh

    German onshore wind generation $124/kWh

    German offshore wind generation $207/kWh

    German solar power $268/kWh

    “renewable energy is driving down the cost of electricity for consumers in Germany…”

    How?

  • jeffn

    #52- NiV. Do we have one o’ them “true believers” on the hook here or someone who’s just mouthing the platitudes because it’s expected?
    Two things amaze me with comments like the baldly false assertion that “renewable energy is driving down the cost”:
    1. The expectation that in today’s media environment, they’ll simply get away with it. There is nobody willing to really question the orthodoxy, so when they find a reporter who does they are flabbergasted.
    2. The total blindness to consequences. You get the impression that BillZ really would mandate a switch to renewables, without any clue or care what the consequences would be in terms of lack of energy or price of energy. Afterall, when the inevitable price hike happens, he’d just find somebody else to blame- sure, sure, we can require that they build Chevy’s out of 24karat gold, but if the price goes up it’s only because of greedy carmakers, has nothing to do with our fine regulatory regime.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #53,

    True believer.

    Everyone is subject to confirmation bias. Most people lack the training and experience to recognise it. And the neo-Malthusian paradigm has been a widely-accepted dogma in certain political circles for more than half a century. (Some would say since before Malthus himself.) It’s not surprising to find people who believe it implicitly. The interesting thing is to see how they react to meeting someone with a different worldview, after a lifetime of assuming everyone in the world had the same worldview. Some respond to the novelty better than others.

    I’m afraid I was a bit ruder (although I hope with good humour) than I usually am, since I’d just been reading about this bit of neo-Malthusianism that I had thought had been knocked on the head 35 years ago. Sadly, it still seems to be going on. Contemplating the more practical consequences for people of this sort of worldview makes me angry; so I was perhaps a little less patient with this nonsense than I might have been.

    But it’s been around for a long time, and no doubt will be with us for a long time to come. A better response would be to try to educate people, to help them see why it isn’t true. Maybe later.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    NiV

    If you think $83/kWh is a steal I’ve got some Florida real estate to show you….

    some might suggest that getting your cost estimates off by a few orders of magnitude is a credibility killer ;-)

  • Jeffn

    54, Thanks for the link. I knew eugenics was still lurking in liberal veins but didn’t know it was still practiced so overtly.
    It makes me think of the ones who attempt, feebly, to argue that AGW is a “security” issue. Well, yeah, inform a billion Indians that the cash-poor Brits are killing or sterilizing their women and, if you’re Brit you damn well better get some security!

  • harrywr2

    #49 German greenhouse gas emissions down 2.1% in 2011Please show something more robust then a simple ‘year on year’ comparison…a mild summer of winter can account for a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.  I can find numbers where Australian Greenhouse gas emissions dropped 10% in a single year. The rose 10% in the following year due to a single ‘weather’ event.I’m actually visiting in Germany today. Yesterdays ‘dead tree’ newspaper had an article about 80,000 Germans without power because they can’t afford to pay their bills. How much of that 2% drop is the result of  ‘turning off the power’ to 80,000 people.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #55,

    Sorry, yes you’re right. Should be MWh.

  • BBD

    @ 49

    The Eurozone recession might be the major factor in reducing German emissions. You need to show the underlying causes. I *very* much doubt renewables are responsible, but you can persuade with detailed references.

  • BillZ

    @49 Nullius in VerbaSo, having lost the argument about CO2 + net balance of electricity you make evidence-free claims about cost of generation.Look up ‘merit order effect’ to understand why renewables drive down costs, CO2 and other pollutants for consumers.

  • BillZ

    Why does this comment system keep eating my line breaks?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    NiV, horses for courses.There are places in the U.S. and other countries where solar power is already cost competitive without subsidy with other forms of power. They are bubbles on a map. As solar gets cheaper, those bubbles will grow. I personally believe that those bubbles will encompass about half the U.S. population by 2015. Does solar make good economic sense in Alaska? Probably not. Does it make sense in California? Definitely.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #60,

    Interesting! I’m always pleased to learn something new.

    I’ll need to think about it a bit more, but I don’t think it will work. The problem is that the calculations assume that the price of peaker generation will stay the same, but to the extent that lower bidders reduce the time peakers need to supply power, they have to spread their costs over a shorter base and so the price goes up. And since wind is more expensive (and more variable), it has to go up to more than it was previously.

    It looks like a classic case of That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen. Looking at just a part of the picture it seems advantageous, but only because the knock-on effects elsewhere are not seen or accounted for.

    #61,

    The old one had security vulnerabilities, so Keith got a new one that doesn’t play nicely with all browsers, or something.

    Type your comment, switch to html view, and hit Enter twice after every </p>

    #62,

    I’ve got nothing against solar if it can survive without subsidies and protectionist regulation. When people quote the price per kWh and solar comes out cheaper, I’ll cheer it on. Same goes for nuclear, or geothermal, or whatever people can make work at a profit. I don’t like windfarms for environmental reasons, but that’s a different topic.

    But there’s no magic by which you can make the same goods by a more expensive method and not have to pay more. It’s not always clear by what route the money gets there, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And I’m highly suspicious of people trying to sell one to me.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Well, NiV, the modest subsidies that solar has received have led to dramatic price reductions and increases in efficiency. Even if we had to put up with things like Solyndra, I would argue that it has not been a waste of public support.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #64,

    I think I shall merely raise my eyebrows at that and say no more.
    :-)

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Then I guess the relevant question is are your eyebrows perpetually elevated?

  • Brian Leach

    As an employee in the energy production/distribution industry, I can tell you that ALL forms of energy production receive HUGE subsidies. Never the less, natural gas is the least expensive by far, followed by wind, followed by solar in a distant third.What is often not talked about, is that wind and solar require backup sources for when the wind is not blowing or the sky is cloudy. Of course solar doesn’t work at all at night, unless you have some sort of expensive energy storage system.There have been enormous advances in solar efficiency in recent years, but it is still much more expensive than the alternatives. Large scale solar plants can have a very negative consequence for the environments in which they are located.As for environmental soundness, wind doesn’t produce the CO2, but it has other serious consequences. Wind generators are very good at interrupting migratory foul. The environmental cost of the steel for the towers is tremendous Think of the natural resources spent building 20 1.5-3 MW generators instead of a single 30 or 50 MW generator. Not to mention the footprint of all those towers versus a single generation facility.I hope that we someday are able to generate all of our energy in a cheap, low impact manner. We aren’t there yet. 

  • BillZ

    Nullius in Verba:>> “I’m always pleased to learn something new.”Merit order effect is Energy 101 – perhaps you should consider learning the basics before asserting opinions?>> “I don’t think it will work.”It has already been proven. It is *fact*.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »