A trio of articles published in the last week blow the doors off everything the media has been telling us about alternative energy. The first two are from Bjorn Lomborg, the economist who accepts that global warming is real but rails against top-down economy-crushing solutions (his “Cool It!” documentary is worth a look).
First, the electric car: the salvation to our energy and climate woes. How is that doing? Certainly it must be … oh:
While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.
So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally. And that turns out to be a challenge. Consider the Nissan Leaf. It has only a 73-mile range per charge. Drivers attempting long road trips, as in one BBC test drive, have reported that recharging takes so long that the average speed is close to six miles per hour—a bit faster than your average jogger.
To make matters worse, the batteries in electric cars fade with time, just as they do in a cellphone. Nissan estimates that after five years, the less effective batteries in a typical Leaf bring the range down to 55 miles. As the MIT Technology Review cautioned last year: “Don’t Drive Your Nissan Leaf Too Much.”
For an electric car to have net environmental benefit, you would have to drive it for 90,000 miles between battery changes and get all your electricity from carbon-free sources. Even then, you’ve only cut 24% off the emission of a similar gas-powered car. Frankly, I think engineering more efficient gasoline engines would be a more practical way of cutting emissions. And we’re subsidizing this crap to the tune of thousands of dollars per car.
Well, you say, maybe the electric car isn’t as huge a thing as we thought it would be. But we have to subsidize green tech and put cap-in-trade in place. Look how well it’s working in Europe!
Yeah, about that:
Yesterday, we saw how Great Britain’s much-hyped carbon reductions have simply been exported to China.
The same holds true for the much of the developed world 1990-2008. We see how the US has increased its territorial (domestic) CO2 emissions, but Europe has reduced its emissions, as has the Former Soviet Union (rest of Annex B). The reductions in the FSU are mainly from the collapse in 1991. But the much vaulted EU reduction is exactly the same as the increased CO2 emissions import just from China. Overall, the EU emissions have increased, not as the national accounts seem to indicate, decreased.
This matters because when nations claim to be able to cut CO2, it often simply means that they have exported the CO2 emissions to somewhere else, leaving them feeling better, but obviously with no real environmental benefit.
Actually the evil, capitalist United States is seeing CO2 emissions fall in real terms as we switch from coal power to gas power. And economically, the greenhouse emissions per dollar of GDP has fallen dramatically owing to improvements in the technology of household appliances, computers and lighting — stuff companies are investing in anyway.
So, subsidized tech isn’t saving the planet. But hey! At least it will stimulate the economy. After all, if we don’t go all-in, we’ll stay behind the Chinese in … oh:
So China must hold a massively large trade surplus in clean energy with America, right? Quite the opposite, finds a striking report titled “Advantage America” released on March 6th. The two countries traded about $6.5 billion in solar, wind and smart-grid technology and services in 2011—and America sold $1.63 billion more of such kit to China than it imported from there. The analysis was done by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), an industry publisher, and funded the Pew Charitable Trusts, a charity.
So let’s summarize. Continuing to pressure Americans to use alternative energy and subsidize alternative energy is not cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The European model on which these policies are based is only shifting greenhouse gas emissions. And they really can’t be justified economically as some “green energy boom” because we are already exporting the clean energy technology that is actually useful.
So why do we need to do this? Oh, yeah. Wealthy donors need to have their businesses propped up. And here I was thinking it was about the science.