Wednesday morning as I was getting ready to conclude my participation in the Renewable Energy Finance Forum, I had a thought I wanted to share. It had been two-days of nitty-gritty financial talk — extremely precise language of tax lawyers and investment bankers, which left me more than ready to resume a discussion of the “broad side of the barn.” As important as all these issues of cost of capital, production tax credits, and Senate bills addressing master limited partnerships may be, this really had been, to some degree, an exercise in missing the forest for the trees.
Here are a few points that have received very little play here:
• We’ve begun to see how our on-going dependence on fossil fuels is ruining the planet, taking more lives, and destroying the health of more people each year.
• The degree to which we need renewables today can be debated, with cheap natural gas and a recession that has lessened demand for energy. But since these are temporary conditions, it’s shameful for us to be actively reducing our commitment to clean energy.
• The traditional energy industry spends tens of millions of dollars a year to convince those who don’t know any better that renewable energy is an unholy mixture of crony capitalism and socialism, that it’s based on bad science, and that it exists only as the product of a bloated and incompetent government. When you bust the myths, you see through this immediately, but who exactly has the resources to communicate the truth to the electorate?
The whole enterprise of clean energy and sustainability more generally comes down to morality. If you really don’t care about the health and safety of the people and other life forms who share the planet, now and in the future, you feel perfectly justified in using the absolute cheapest and dirtiest form of energy, i.e., burning coal, and then using that energy with grand extravagance. If, on the other hand, you have some level of feeling for the world around you (which, fortunately, the vast majority of people share), you look for a solution, and you make certain sacrifices to get there.
If Wall Street gets even richer in the process, that’s fine by me. In fact, I join many readers here when I say that I intend to be a part of that success. But the imperative to replace fossil fuels with renewables goes far beyond the fattening of our wallets.