My undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum at South Dakota State University included requirements for six credits of humanities and nine credits of social sciences. What is this? Who needs this stuff?
Walk on the Slippery Rocks
I actually enjoyed most of these courses, one of which was philosophy. What a flaky class. There was no work. There were no exams. The goofball professor spewed philosophy and moderated discussions of paradoxes and whatnot. One of those discussions was whether South Dakota should be America’s garbage dump, for princely fees of course. Essentially, should we trade self-induced exploitation for money so we can pay less tax?
The same thing is happening in the renewable energy sector. People are pushing back for being run over and exploited by big money. Pushbacks are occurring in Germany, Denmark, Wisconsin, Iowa, New York, Kansas, and maybe every state in the union.
I have no pups in this hunt. I simply find it interesting to see how people react to things. I have written about a thousand times in this blog about the fact that people want carbon-free energy – until price tags and externalities are pinned into the equation.
Externalities of Another Stripe
It is easy to find thousands of articles, papers, or studies about the externalities of conventional thermal power generation, whether it is coal, natural gas, or nuclear. The externalities include emissions, coal ash disposal, desultory impacts of climate change, nuclear waste, and so on. There is a more precise externality of renewable energy: property value.
Where I grew up, farming is king, and if you are not a farmer, you are likely a secondary, tertiary, quaternary, or quinary, beneficiary of the industry. No one is moving to Jackson County to write books, pen poetry, paint, or become a symphonist. In other places being peppered with windmills, they are. Also, property value in Farmville is a function of the land’s productivity, commodity prices, and market forces that bend little based on views of egg beaters on the horizon, or the pulsing lines of red lights at night. Landowners, many of whom live in big cities are paid handsome sums of royalties from developers, while as with the garbage dump, local governments get property tax revenue from the deal.
Meanwhile, the little people have no say, so I can understand why some folks are getting ticked off for feeling like they are being run over by huge companies, many of which are headquartered in Europe. I’ll bet the little people don’t even know this.
The War Industrial Complex
After WWII, Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. Large constituencies believe we are in endless wars like Afghanistan (going on twenty years) so weapons makers and military contractors can make money. Really? Money grubbers put thousands of fine young peoples’ lives at risk so they can make money arming them? I don’t know. Where are the journalists?
Similarly, constituencies warn of the green or climate-industrial complex (the CIC), as written by Bjorn Lomborg in The Wall Street Journal, ten years ago. At least wind turbines and solar panels aren’t weapons and their use doesn’t put lives in danger. Lomborg wrote that Eisenhower said of the MIC, “there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.”
Break to ponder.
There isn’t much of an EIC, or efficiency industrial complex. About the only thing that exists in that arena is performance contracting for federal agencies. The rest of us peons, including me, and most of those reading this post, qualify as “the little people”. Actually, now that I think of it, efficiency often gets rubbed out by the CIC. Oh yeah. Better believe it.
Break to ponder.
This is precisely why when I hear calls for the green new deal, the clean power plan, or anything coming from Washington, I’m not excited, at all. You have to observe history, consider what motivates the forces and how the world works — money rules. Everything else is externalities and residue.
Efficiency Kicked to the Curb
I argue that efficiency is not part of the climate industrial complex. Large companies with lobbyists including big tech and manufacturing kick efficiency to the curb. There are no powerful entities with deep pockets ramming efficiency policy through state or federal governments. When there are bills to curtail or altogether cut renewable and efficiency, if there is a survivor, it’s renewable. Once renewables are spared, the Google, Facebook, Apple, et al. lobbyists go home for their paychecks.
What are the externalities of efficiency? Less of everything people don’t like. This is why it has no support. Now it makes sense.