Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

September 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GREENS AND THEIR HAIR SHIRTS....UN head honcho Ban Ki-moon today endorsed immediate action on climate change. Me too! I'm glad the SecGen and I are on the same page.

And while we're on the subject, did you read Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger's latest environmental contrarianism in the New Republic last week? Basically, they argue that we liberals should stop droning on and on about regulation because (a) it won't work and (b) it's a bummer:

Environmental lobbyists in Washington today are overwhelmingly focused on addressing global warming through two overlapping strategies. First, they want to establish a cap on greenhouse gases that decreases over time. Second, they want to make clean-energy sources cost-competitive by increasing the cost of dirty energy.

....[But] the challenge is simply too large....Even if economies were to become much more efficient, the total terawatts needed to bring all of humankind out of poverty would still need to roughly double by 2050 and triple by century's end.

....In promoting the inconvenient truth that humans must limit their consumption and sacrifice their way of life to prevent the world from ending, environmentalists are not only promoting a solution that won't work, they've discouraged Americans from seeing the big solutions at all. For Americans to be future-oriented, generous, and expansive in their thinking, they must feel secure, wealthy, and strong.

Up to a point, I agree. Gloom and doom isn't a big seller, and energy use will almost certainly increase whether we like it or not. So N&S propose that environmentalists should take off their hair shirts and instead start pushing for a technological revolution that slashes the cost of green-friendly energy sources. What's needed are "disruptive clean-energy technologies that achieve non-incremental breakthroughs in both price and performance."

Fine. But then they start to lose me:

The kind of technological revolution called for by energy experts typically does not occur via regulatory fiat. We did not invent the Internet by taxing telegraphs nor the personal computer by limiting typewriters. Nor did the transition to the petroleum economy occur because we taxed, regulated, or ran out of whale oil. Those revolutions happened because we invented alternatives that were vastly superior to what they replaced and, in remarkably short order, became a good deal cheaper.

And, contrary to conventional wisdom, private firms rarely initiate technological revolutions. Indeed, government has always been at the center of technological innovation, and most of America's largest industries have benefited from strategic government investments in their development....Big, long-term investments in new technologies are made only by governments and are almost always motivated by concerns about national security or economic competitiveness, from the threat of the Soviet Union in the 1950s to OPEC in the '70s.

Now, I'm a big fat liberal and I just love me some big fat government spending on worthy social projects. But even I think N&S are pretty wildly overstating the effect of government spending on technological progress. Sure, the feds can jump start things with cheap land for railroad barons or big contracts for microchips, but neither enterprise would have gone anywhere without dreams of private sector riches driving things as well. Synfuels, for example, were a boondoggle even though we tossed plenty of money at it, and one of the reasons was that oil was too cheap to convince anyone that there was any way to make money out of a replacement. So entrepreneurs just grapped the federal dough and ran.

I'm all for disruptive green technology, and N&S are probably right to say that environmentalists should focus on it more. But a big part of a successful federal green initiative involves not just promoting R&D, but creating a regulatory structure that provides long-term incentives for corporations to do more than go through the motions. Seed money is useful, but the businesses doing the R&D will turn the whole thing into a backwater unless they're convinced there's a huge market down the road for their disruptive wares — and that means a credible belief that the cost of dirty energy technologies are going to stay high. A well-conceived regulatory structure can help that happen, and also helps promote evolutionary technologies while we wait for the big breakthrough. Why not support both?

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Those revolutions happened because we invented alternatives that were vastly superior to what they replaced and, in remarkably short order, became a good deal cheaper.

Morons. We didn't invent diddly. We found and used dirt-cheap energy. It's running out now, and no amount of putative American brainpower is going to miraculously find cheap energy again.

Posted by: Tim on September 24, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Amen. And does it seem to anyone else that these two are blaming "environmentalists" for the undeniable fact that Congress, the White House, and the American people over the last thirty years have shown little interest in actually spending money on alternative energy? Was it environmentalists who defeated the very modest BTU/carbon tax the Clinton/Gore administration proposed? I don't think so...

Posted by: Kit Stolz on September 24, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

It's way too late.

The ice caps are melting, the siberian permafrost is melting (releasing vast quantities of methane, hundreds of times more potent than CO2).

Basically, we're fucked. The ONLY thing that's going to solve global warming, is after about 5.5 Billion people kill eachother over the last barrel of oil to run their air conditioners, and the last half a million left alive figure out how to adapt on what's left of this planet.

And the fact is, no matter what laws we propose, and no matter what we finagle and deal to get them passed, there will always be schmucks who will ignore the laws, and who will profit from that, and since money=power, they will leverage that profit to make sure they can continue to ignore the laws. This is the one problem that all our science, technology, and wisdom can't solve. Respecting human freedom, and keeping people from doing stupid self-destructive shit.

Some people would rather die that be told what to do. And they will take the rest of us with them.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 24, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

There's another reason to support a carefully designed, market-friendly regulatory structure, and that is to ease the pain of transition.

An unregulated market is very good at reallocating capital when necessary, and at "creative destruction," but the former can easily happen too quickly (as in panics), and the latter can be a lot more widespread than necessary.

A well-designed regulatory structure can create temporary, artificial incentives that serve as a "ramp" to a forseeable change in market conditions, something like a temporary asphalt ramp eases the transition up on to a new concrete structure so cars don't destroy their alignment -- or their whole undercarriage -- as they drive up onto it.

Posted by: bleh on September 24, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Just so much more "let's invent our way out of this big fat mess we created for ourselves" naivete...

--
Howard

Posted by: Howard on September 24, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Why must it be either-or?

Posted by: Dan on September 24, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Big long-term government spending, sending money to the "energy" (oil) companies who want to own whatever replaces oil.

Technically, we can EASILY cut our consumption. The issues are entirely social/political -- people don't want to give up their big cars or ride bicycles, people don't want to reduce the amount of beef (among other things) in their diet. Big companies that sell them this stuff will spend a lot of money trying to keep things from changing, too.

Posted by: dr2chase on September 24, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

It sounds like they want magic to solve the problem. People have been working on cheap, clean energy for a very very very long time - just look at all of the perpetual motion patents on file. It's not that there aren't plenty of ideas, but nothing has worked yet. Maybe there is the magical solution out there, but it doesn't seem like we have the luxury of time to wait for it to be invented.

Posted by: American Citizen on September 24, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Gloom and doom isn't a big seller..."

Unless, of course, the point is that there's a terrorist under your bed. Private concerns like Halliburton, KBR, & Blackwater have no problem capitalizing on the gloom & doom scenarios giddily trotted out by the administration. Of this stuff, beautiful public-private partnerships are made.

Posted by: junebug on September 24, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

N&S seem to suffer from a common weakness among those who advocate better framing of progressive causes -- they are horrendously bad at actual policy.

Which is fine. I actually like a lot of what they have to say in their piece and in their earlier essay on the "death" of environmentalism. But their actual thoughts on what to do about global warming are just a confused mash.

Posted by: Adam on September 24, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding GW: it's either a massive investment in nuclear -- yesterday or sooner -- or a contraction in economic horizons. There's not enough energy in renewable sources.

If we don't want the downside to nukes, then we'll embrace a foreshortened economic universe. If the environmental impact of GW is mild, the consequences of not going with less carbon will be mild as well. If the consequences of GW is bitter, we'll have a catastrophe on our hand. The sudden, unexpected melting of the Arctic ice this summer and the pockmarking of the Arctic with methane-bubbling thermokarst lakes suggests that whatever the environmental consequences of GW, they're going to get here sooner than expected.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on September 24, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Long ago, I used to subscribe to The New Republic. Now, I don't remember why I ever did. Since 2000, the good folks at TNR have been rather relentless -- if increasingly two-dimensional -- defenders of a crumbling status quo, apparently finding it far easier to criticize the efforts of others than to offer practical solutions of their own.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 24, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, such items as the jet engine, the atomic bomb and the programmable computer, to name only a few were conjured up pretty much by government fiat. The English, Germans and Americans wanted faster airplanes and simply ordered the engineers to come up with workable jet engines, and fast. It took about five years to get the planes in combat. Stalin managed without the help of a market of any kind.

The British wanted to break an "unbreakable" German code and cipher machine and essentially ordered the invention of the programable computer, the Turing "bombe."

The atomic bomb was entirely theoretical in 1939, when the first chain reactions were suddenly achieved, even though Leo Szilard had dreamed it up one day in 1931, while crossing a street in London (and H.G. Welles had mentioned them in a story pubished before the First World War).

Roosevelt spake, and it was done.

Possibly the free market would have come up with this stuff, although Watson of IBM once estimated that the global market for computers was less than a dozen. They were then being developed for the 1950 Census -- another government contract.

Arthus C. Clarke invented the communications satellite in 1945, but the private sector passed. It took NASA and its budget to get them into space.

Posted by: Edward Furey on September 24, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

It seems like there's a hole in the argument. People switch from typewriters to computers to directly benefit themselves. People don't switch from dirty fuels to clean fuels to directly benefit themselves--it benefits the future of the planet and it inhabitants, and the impact of one person switching is very small. That's why the government needs to step in.

Why is it that when Liberals say improving the environment will cost money and save lives, then it's boring and unpopular, while when Conservatives say starting a war will cost money and end lives, it's exciting and popular? Why is TNR always on the wrong side of these issues?

Posted by: reino on September 24, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, such items as the jet engine, the atomic bomb and the programmable computer, to name only a few were conjured up pretty much by government fiat.
Posted by: Edward Furey on September 24, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Sure Ed, only brainwashed invisible-hand jerk-offs dispute these facts.

The problem is, all our government fiat just got flushed down the toilet in Iraq. What the fuck do we do now?

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 24, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK


Let me repeat, we can generate twice the electricity we now use in the US by covering less than 1/2% of our territory with solar-thermal collectors like the Solar One Project in California or other large scale projects now being built in the Southwest.

We must use what fossil energy we now have to build this system. Solar does not pollute or contribute greenhouse gases. The sun will shine and the wind will blow long after we run out of coal, oil, gas and uranium.

Biofuels, now heavily subsidized, take more energy to process than they produce. Yes, I'm sure the Brazilians can cut down the rain forests using impoverished peasants to grow and cut cane for a small elete fleet of alchohol powered cars.

The big picture is to convert sunlight into electricity for use in an all-electric, non-polluting society available to everyone.

Posted by: deejaayss on September 24, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

A big fat carbon tax will spur a whole lot of innovation. It'll make the wrong kind of energy expensive, and all the alternatives cheaper. And no big business handouts (like the ethanol subsidy).

I too am I former TNR subscriber.

Posted by: chris on September 24, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

If peak oil is already upon us (and I think it is), the growing demand of the developing world for what remains of easy to get hydrocarbons is going to push prices up so high so quick, there will not be any need for carbon taxes, cap and trade, etc. What government will then need to do at that point is to cut demand through rationing/efficiency requirements and steer investment into alternatives. We won't have any choice if you want people to continue to live and work in a half-assed functioning economy. If you just let the "market take care of it" there will simply be a few wealthy people that can afford the prices while everybody else goes without and the economy just shrinks away into oblivion.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 24, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Makes about as much sense as having lots of kids because one of them will solve the population problem.

Posted by: natural cynic on September 24, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I am no economist but seems to me that the problem with global warming is that it is an external cost of carbon fuels. It is the role of government to make those external costs internal in order to force the search for alternatives.

Posted by: jb on September 24, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that Tang is another government-mandated product.

Look, the real history of American businesses isn't that they're just dying to innovate and would if only government ukases didn't shackle them, it's that they're risk-averse. Fundamentally they want to develop a technology, stop everybody else from getting it, and watch the money roll in. That's what they call a "franchise" these days. It's been the history of American business since the first high-capital enterprises.

And in a certain sense I sympathize. Farmers have always wanted the same thing too-- they've historically gone with what they know works, because there's just too much at stake for them to try the untried.

Car safety rules forced manufacturers to give up drum brakes after decades of foot-dragging (visual pun intended) and despite all the sunk investment in tooling, and they and we are all better off for it. Ditto cleaner exhaust.

On the other hand, cars have a big market. So there's something to the market side of this.

Business here will never be happy about regulation no matter how badly everybody needs it. They accept it less grudgingly when everybody has to bear the same burden.

But I also agree that their risk-aversiveness means government investment is the only way to get some innovations out there.

The private sector didn't build the Erie Canal, it ridiculed it. Sometimes business is just too important to be left to business people.

Posted by: Altoid on September 24, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Got yer evolutionary technology right here.

This is actually a viable technology, with huge potential. (And the article quotes a friend of mine who is imminently respectable, btw.)

And it's the private sector building it.

Posted by: KathyF on September 24, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that Tang is another government-mandated product.. . .Posted by: Altoid on September 24, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, and don't forget, Crack Cocaine is another government-mandated product. So is Crystal Meth. If it weren't for the War On Drugs, people would be smoking pot. But because of the market pressures caused by prohibition, druggies had to invent Crack Cocaine and Crystal Meth to work-around the effects of interdiction efforts.

Maybe we should make renewable energy illegal.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 24, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Geez, Kevin, you're pretty much batting zero today.

Can't believe you are giving credence to this Nordhaus and Shellenberger straw man. It's wrong, as well as silly, to say that favoring environmental regulations means one is somehow against technological advances.

I know that I, and many other environmentalists, have hailed advances such as the hybrid drive.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on September 24, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Possibly the free market would have come up with this stuff, although Watson of IBM once estimated that the global market for computers was less than a dozen. They were then being developed for the 1950 Census -- another government contract.

Hell, IBM wouldn't have existed at all were it not for the government. The guy that founded it had got his start coming up with a device to quickly tabulate what I believe was the 1890 census.

And let's not forget that the internet was created by a combination of government and (both public and private) universities.

People aren't going to give up their gas guzzlers without government intervention. The benefits are too small, too abstract. Gas isn't priced yet high enough, and one person getting rid of their gas guzzler isn't going to do squat for the environment. To use a probably bad example, there was rationing during WW2 to have more raw materials for the war effort. But if rationing was voluntary, most would have chosen not to (because rationing sucks), and those who did choose wouldn't have saved that much materials.

Posted by: Joshua on September 24, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I think the ancient Babylonians figured this shit out 4000 years ago; that the only way they'd be able to control the seasonal floods of the Tigris and Euphrates would be if they all pitched in together and worked on it in the off season. The result? The most reliable and fertile farmland of the ancient world. The first written language in history. The first human civilization.(eventually destroyed by climate change, and now, the site of our War for Oil).

And we can't figure this shit out today? We're not any smarter?

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 24, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

KathyF,

Intereting article except they kinda glossed over the HUGE problem of electrical storage.

If they actually had a method to store huge amounts of electrical power then a whole bunch of alternatives become plausible on a large scale. Wind power, for example.

Posted by: Tripp on September 24, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

OBF,

We're not any smarter?

When I first heard about things like the Dodo birds being hunted to extinction I used to think "How could that happen? How could people let that happen?"

Now I am living through just one of those times. People let it happen because they don't really care about that kind of stuff. Not until it is too late.

Posted by: Tripp on September 24, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, these comments are great for washing that stale, bitter Libertarian slime out of your mouth.

I mean, I haven't seen such a flurry of good sense about business and innovation... ever.

Has all that corpo-Libertarian invisible hand crap finally run it's course?

God, I hope so.

"It's running out now, and no amount of putative American brainpower is going to miraculously find cheap energy again."

Betcha yer wrong. Fusion *will* happen.

Environmentalism at it's best is about *smart* decisions, not some purist notion of a pristine earth. We've been making messes of all kinds since coming down from the trees, and the earth has quite a few all-natural nasty toxic zones of it's own.

If we need to dump some toxic DDT to reduce even more toxic Malaria, then let's do it smartly.

Same for nuclear power.


Posted by: Joey Giraud on September 24, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

How do you bimbos talk about environmental destruction without talking about rapid population growth. The population of the earth tripled between 1930 and 2000 for christ's sake, that's the source of our problem. Is this political correctness gone wild? Cognitive dissonance of the "We sold out for a hundred million dollars" Sierra Club club style. The earth's population is still growing by 75 million a year. These environmental problems are just a symptom of the population growth problem.

Posted by: rick brown on September 24, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

The ONLY thing that's going to solve global warming, is after about 5.5 Billion people kill each other over the last barrel of oil to run their air conditioners, and the last half a million left alive figure out how to adapt on what's left of this planet.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 24, 2007 at 1:35 PM

Echoing on OBF's point, I would like to seek support for my Securing America From Everybody Act (SAFE Act). The Act would make it US foreign policy to achieve the total elimination of all non-Americans from the planet within the next five years.

This would have many benefits. Chief among them would be the huge environmental benefits that would result from stopping all human-caused destruction to the planet's delicate biosphere that is currently being done by non-Americans. Another major benefit would be the great increase in the availability of natural resources that currently are being used by non-Americans, which would go a long way towards easing human caused climate changes. Think of how much longer commodities, not only oil, but things like drinking water and arable farmland would last if 500 million Americans were the only consumers instead of the other 5.5 billion non-Americans who are currently living on this planet.

Moreover, unlike other policies that are favored by environmentalists, this one might actually have some measure of support among the electorate. I mean if billions have to die, I'm guessing Americans would support making sure its non-Americans who die first rather than them.

In addition to the environmental benefits, the elimination of all non-Americans would tilt the political field strongly in favor of the Democrats. Historically, the weakest issues for Democrats are foreign policy and defense issues. Well, with no more foreigners, there's no need to have a foreign policy. The same goes for defense issues. With no military threats to worry about, think how much money could be cut from the defense budget to fund critical government investments in education, health care, infrastructure, et al. Every election henceforth will be about the economy, stupid.

So come on guys, let's work real hard to make America SAFE in 2008. ;-)

Posted by: Chicounsel on September 24, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody said:

We can generate twice the electricity we now use in the US by covering less than 1/2% of our territory with solar-thermal collectors like the Solar One Project in California or other large scale projects now being built in the Southwest...

That's about 17,700 square miles. Let me rephrase the above statement:

We can generate twice the energy we now use in the US by covering AN AREA MORE THAN TWICE THE SIZE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY (8,700 square miles) with solar-thermal collectors...

or

We can generate twice the energy we now use in the US by covering MORE THAN ONE-TENTH OF THE ENTIRE STATE OF CALIFORNIA (163,700 square miles)with solar-thermal collectors...

The "cover it over" option is going to to be a lot harder to put over when stated in those terms. And opponents will do just that. Not to mention, who -- especially what private company -- can afford to spend the money it will cost?

As far as federal subsidies improving technology, the principle is that private industry, which is bound more and more to the need to show high short-term profits doesn't have the capital or the nerve to try the sort of high risk projects that new technology often requires. The 19th century railroads, for example, could never have afforded to buy all the land needed to set up a transcontinental system.

Subsidies can be money available for basic research or, as has often been the case, it can be the creation of a market. Another example, besides the microchip, was the U.S. government's encouragement of long range aircraft by guaranteeing that it would pay for the rapid delivery of the mail by such aircraft.

For that matter, a lot of the Internet came into being so that government scientists and the military could talk to eat other.

We have to find alternatives to oil, natural gas, and coal not just because we burn them. We and most of the world eat them (oil-based fertilizers are a key to the agrarian revolution) and build things with them. What do you think they make plastic from?

Posted by: Lew Wolkoff on September 24, 2007 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, we are largely on the same page. A near certainty that using dirty methods will soon become, and always thereafter will be expensive would clearly incentivise a lot of innovation. Past threats by the Saudis, to simply pump enough oil, to bankrupt corporations working on alternatives have worked in the past, but now oil demand seems unlikely to allow that to continue.

Of course, new tech is the main way we are going to get out of this mess, if we get out at all. That doesn't mean that a bit of good old fashioned non-profigracy won't buy us some needed time for the solutions to be developed/deployed. And of course the pultry government research support for alternatives has delayed their development, that needs to be reversed.

The real problem as I see it is that it was/is dirt cheap to dig/pump crap out of the ground and burn it. If we had never had fossil fuels available, our technological development would have been slower, as the brute force approach to advancement would have been precluded, but we would have been inventing alt energy solutions all along the way. That can still happen, its just that the cost of the former has to become plain to all.

Posted by: b on September 24, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Lew,

We don't need oil to create more plastic. We've been wisely warehousing all the plastic we'll ever need out in the Pacific ocean: http://www.bestlifeonline.com/cms/publish/travel-leisure/Our_oceans_are_turning_into_plastic_are_we.shtml

Posted by: Tripp on September 24, 2007 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to seek support for my Securing America From Everybody Act (SAFE Act). The Act would make it US foreign policy to achieve the total elimination of all non-Americans from the planet within the next five years.

Chicounsel, somebody has already beat you to it. You're not one damn bit funny.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on September 24, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

Y'know, I should close my tags once in a while. Preview is my friend...

Posted by: dr sardonicus on September 24, 2007 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

If they actually had a method to store huge amounts of electrical power then a whole bunch of alternatives become plausible on a large scale. Wind power, for example.
Posted by: Tripp on September 24, 2007 at 3:50 PM
---

Tripp, if plug-in hybrids and battery/electric cars become more prevalent they will be consuming most of their power for re-charging off peak. You can get the same effect by balancing load. Also, you can use nuclear and wind power at night to make hydrogen.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 24, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

sardonicus, I thought Chicounsel's post was pretty funny, until you posted that link to PNAC.

killjoy.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on September 24, 2007 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

Doc,

Huh? If we have no solar power at night why in the world would we try to recharge car batteries at that time? I think you've got things backwards.

And there are two problems with Nukes. First it will take about 350 to replace the energy use we currently have and second we've got maybe a 50 year supply of fuel worldwide, so it is no longterm solution.

If you talk breeder reactor you are sacrificing security for power. Breeder reactors are a terrorists dream.

Unfortunately there is nothing that can replace what we have. Even a huge combination of everything will not be enough.

Posted by: Tripp on September 24, 2007 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp, I meant to highlight the efficiency of the load-carrying capacity of the electrical grid being improved by the use of plug-in hybrids and battery/electric cars. If you switch from a conventional car to a plug-in hybrid or battery/electric car you will reduce the amount of portable hydrocarbon fuel being required to get you around, but it will *increase* your demand for electrical power while you are charging it primarily during off-peak demand hours. The result on average is a flatter demand curve for the total electric power you consume. That makes it easier/cheaper to use the existing grid capacity. That was my main idea.

Renewable electricity sources which are available day or night such as wind/tidal/geothermal could always be tapped. Obviously solar would only be available during sunlit hours, but those are peak demand hours, so that works out great too.

People worry about the batteries. I suppose you could generate hydrogen for a fuel cell at night from the electric grid instead.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 24, 2007 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel--
is that bill subtitled "The Randy Newman Political Science Act of 2007"?

Posted by: pbg on September 25, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

Gosh, 17,700 square miles sounds like a lot.

Death Valley -- 3,000 square miles.
Mojave Desert -- 22,000 square miles.
Sonoran Desert -- 120,000 square miles.
Colorado Plateau -- 130,000 square miles.
Chihuahuan Desert -- 140,000 square miles.
Great Basin Desert -- 200,000 square miles.

Can't find 2.9% of that to turn over to solar power farms? Double the current pathetic conversion efficiency and cut it to 1.45%. That's before covering every skyscraper in NoAm with photoelectric wrap.

Posted by: Forrest on September 25, 2007 at 5:56 AM | PERMALINK

"But even I think N&S are pretty wildly overstating the effect of government spending on technological progress."
This is the core of argument, and Kevin is right to bring it up, but wrong on his conclusion.
As a long-time resident of the Bay Area, I have observed the mythology of the private sector super-hero ala Packard, Steve Jobs, et al. creating Silicon Valley, the Internet, etc.
The role of the Defense Dept., Stanford, and UC Berkeley is hardly ever mentioned; the large public investments made to enable the private success is hardly discussed. It almost certain that as long as this American mythology continues (and gets reinforced by good progressives like Kevin), that real investment along the scale argued for by N&S will be difficult to enact politically. So, yes, Kevin. It's all your fault.

Posted by: Tom Riley on September 25, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly