The Land of Oz: The Absurd Cost of Clean Energy

So, clean energy and green jobs are the future. We can save the world by revolutionizing the way we produce electricity.  So what would it take for the world to achieve the high goals of people like NASA’s James Hansen? A Wired Magazine blogger recently sat through a lecture that crunches the numbers:

[T]he land area dedicated to renewable energy (“Renewistan”) would occupy a space about the size of Australia to keep the carbon dioxide level at 450 ppm.  To get to Hanson’s (sic) goal of 350 ppm of carbon dioxide, fossil fuel burning would have to be cut to ZERO, which means another 3 terawatts would have to come from renewables, expanding the size of Renewistan further by 26 percent.

The blog post devles further into the math but effectively you are putting solar panels, windmills, and geothermal plants in pretty much every place they could possibly fit. Considering how much land is currently protected habitat (or within sight of Sen. Kennedy’s summer home) this does’t seem at all feasible. So what would all of this cost:

Griffeth said it’s not like the Manhattan Project, it’s like the whole of World War II, only with all the antagonists on the same side this time.  It’s damn near impossible, but it is necessary.  And the world has to decide to do it.

You could probably write a book about how inapt this analogy is. I guess he’s imagining the mandatory conscription of millions of men all financed with tens of trillions of dollars of new debt. This is probably the sort of thing that drives Bjorn Lomborg mad. Even if you believe all the bad things about global warming are going to happen, why not deal with the effects on an ad hoc basis? A city is sinking–move the people to higher ground or build levees. There’s drought in one area of the world–ship them food from areas where global warming has a net positive effect (longer growing periods in Canada, Russia, and Northern Europe.)

Instead we are supposed to totally revamp the world’s economy to finance massive infrastructure changes–and we have to do it immediately or we’re all toast. With trillion dollar deficits lasting for at least the next few years we have to ask where the financing is going to come from? The Chinese are already skittish about buying up more American debt and there is now serious discussion about bankruptcy in the UK.

So after hearing this grim prognosis for the problem of climate change, wouldn’t most people want to discuss sensible alternatives to building Renewistan? Not the attendees of this lecture: “Griffith’s audience was strangely exhilerated by the prospect.”