I’m interviewing Jerry Taylor, Senior Fellow at the right wing think tank Cato Institute when I’m in Washington D.C. next week, and I’ve spent a good part of the day preparing, checking out a number of Mr. Taylor’s writings and speeches, like the one linked here.
Yikes. This guy is brilliant, and he’s a terrific presenter, but he and I disagree on practically everything. Of course, that’s the point; I selected him specifically because of my duty to maintain balance and fair-mindedness in my writing. I know I’ve interviewed a few economists and social observers whose perspectives are left of center, and I really want to get a few decidedly conservative viewpoints here.
But I can see that Mr. Taylor’s going to give me the whole nine yards of his attack-dog refutation of what we proponents of renewables are trying to do, and so I’m wondering how to play this conversation. I think I’m simply going to take his talking points one by one and just discuss them calmly. Here are a few:
• Renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuels. True. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The reason to go to renewables isn’t because they’re cheap, it’s because it will bring about the cessation of a great deal of horrors, e.g., ecological damage we’re wreaking, and it has the potential to become cheap when scaled. I note that Jerry didn’t mention the environment once in his talk linked above, and I wonder how it’s possible that a man of this stature and intelligence could have missed that point.
• Renewable energy has limitations: it’s intermittent, diffuse, land-intensive, etc. All true. Again, there is no free lunch. You either put a value on human health, the natural environment, the lives of our soldiers, national security – or you don’t. Of course, I’ll find a less insulting way to express this. But because of the way all these different points sum together and create enormous value for the U.S. as a country, I see the support of renewable energy as the single most patriotic act anyone could undertake.
• Renewable energy is only viable with subsidies. That’s true for now, but that doesn’t mean it’s of no value. And let’s not forget that Big Oil gets several times more subsidies than renewables. Can’t we knock this off? Oil is a 90-year-old industry, and by far the most profitable one on the planet. Does it really need the transfer of wealth from U.S. tax-payers to its shareholders to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year? This is another point that goes unmentioned in his speeches.
• Dependence on foreign oil is bad, but we don’t use oil to make electricity. True, but oil represents 98% of the energy we use for transportation, which is about 30% of our total energy consumption, and his arguments against electric transportation are spurious; e.g., the “facts” he presents on battery technology are incorrect.
• We’re not using any of these: renewables, energy storage, synthetic fuels, electric transportation, smart-grid, etc., to any appreciable degree. That is, to be sure, the sad truth, but, though lots of people say this, I’ve never been able to see the relevance. It’s like saying in 1950 that we shouldn’t build the interstate highway system because people aren’t very mobile. It’s the equivalent of saying in 1990 that we shouldn’t build the Internet because there are no users online. We built the highway system, and it created great mobility; then we built the Internet, and it has transformed the lives of billions of people. In both cases, the U.S. government made the right call — though for some reason we can’t conceive of that ever happening again.
• Job creation in renewable energy is overhyped, and tends to overlook all the “brown energy” jobs that will be lost. I haven’t read all the reports on this subject, but this doesn’t really seem true from what I’ve seen. The first interview in my book “Is Renewable Really Doable?” with Dr. Robert Pollin convinces me that there will be a huge net job boom associated with all this – especially energy efficiency.
• For the U.S. to come anywhere close to meeting its renewable energy targets, massive government support will be required, similar to our putting a man on the moon. I actually don’t deny that, but I’m not sure, given the imperative, that it’s such a bad thing.
I’m glad this is the first of my (three) interviews that day. I will remain calm, as I always do, but I’m going with decaf that morning, as it doesn’t appear that I’ll need a chemical stimulant to get my heart started.