Sunday, March 8, 2009

False Choices: WSJ's self indulgent crap continues

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page has become as predictably shallow as Rachel Ray, without the useful side effect of dinner.

This week's victim: the energy crisis.

In "Let's Get Real About Renewable Energy" Robert Bryce pulls off two equally disingenuous tricks: 1) He uncritically complements W's energy policy, and 2) pans Obama's efforts to "double, then double again" our output from alternative sources.

Naturally, I have a couple of quick comments that will have to suffice for a more thorough dressing down.

By promising to double our supply of renewables, Mr. Obama is only trying to keep pace with his predecessor. Yes, that's right: From 2005 to 2007, the former Texas oil man oversaw a near-doubling of the electrical output from solar and wind power. And between 2007 and 2008, output from those sources grew by another 30%.
Whatever W did to support this growth a) had little to do with that growth, as industry is more clear-eyed about the future of oil than our Republican colleagues are, and b) was motivated by a transparent desire to "greenwash" his permissive approach to extractive industries including so-called "clean" coal and his liberal expansion of pro-pollution policies both direct (the roll-back of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act) and indirect (appointing pro-pollution directors to the EPA with instructions to collude with industry in its efforts to dodge the true cost of production and foist it on the living things -- like you -- that enjoy breathing and drinking clean water).

Next, Bryce focuses on the output of our current "renewables" industry against the total energy usage of the USA. Of course, it's paltry.
The latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total solar and wind output for 2008 will likely be about 45,493,000 megawatt-hours. That sounds significant until you consider this number: 4,118,198,000 megawatt-hours. That's the total amount of electricity generated during the rolling 12-month period that ended last November. Solar and wind, in other words, produce about 1.1% of America's total electricity consumption.

Of course, you might respond that renewables need to start somewhere. True enough -- and to be clear, I'm not opposed to renewables. I have solar panels on the roof of my house here in Texas that generate 3,200 watts. And those panels (which were heavily subsidized by Austin Energy, the city-owned utility) provide about one-third of the electricity my family of five consumes.
Here's another way to consider the 76,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day that come from solar and wind: It's approximately equal to the raw energy output of one average-sized coal mine.
Sure, Mr. Obama can double the output from solar and wind. And then double it again. And again. And again. But getting from 76,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to something close to the 47.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day needed to keep the U.S. economy running is going to take a long, long time. It would be refreshing if the president or perhaps a few of the Democrats on Capitol Hill would admit that fact.
That's enough for the sense of it. Read the (very brief) editorial for all his calculations.

I absolutely include Democrats in my indictment of this editorial, by the way. Our entire government is colluding with the energy industry in preventing us from truly addressing the problem.

And it's a huge fucking problem. The most important thing that Bryce totally ignores is this: Oil -- hydrocarbons -- will, absolutely, incontrovertibly, without doubt, run out. Whether we need them or not, they will be exhausted if we keep using them.

"[H]ydrocarbons just won't go away." Um, Bryce? Yes. Yes, they will.

But there is a part of Bryce's essay with which I actually agree.

The happy fiction we allow ourselves (and our politicians permit us) is that we can invent and innovate our way to a future where we do exactly what we do now, but with different sources of energy. Clearly, that's the future Bryce is imagining: one where his family of 5 is still permitted to use 9,600 watts of energy per day (holy shit, by the way). Energy "independence" may also be a fiction, but there's no reason to assume that we can't eliminate our use of hydrocarbons, or our reliance on and exploitation of barbaric, repressive societies in unstable and impoverished countries.

The fairy tale is that we can do that and still drive our Texas-sized cars Texas-sized distances to our Texas-sized homes, where we sit down to Texas-sized meals of factory-raised food in front of Texas-sized televisions and bask in the cool breeze from our Texas-sized swamp cooler before tucking our Texas-sized family into their Texas-sized beds made in China, and expect that the subsidized solar panels on our roofs will do the trick.

I'm sorry to say that in the future (apocalyptic collapse after we exhaust the supply of hydrocarbons or transition to alternative sources of energy), this popular picture of the American Dream is dead as dinosaurs.

Bryce would do better to help solve that problem.

Instead, he'd rather play "gotcha journalism" with an intentionally shallow and one-sided examination of the new administration's energy policy.

In the words of David St. Hubbins, "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever." Bryce? You're not being clever.

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