Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Conventional wisdom, Conventional Energy?

After reading Thomas Friedman's NY Times op-ed "A Quick Fix for the Gas Addicts" I find myself once again amazed and disturbed at "business as usual" in my home country. The fact that General Motors would offer to subsidize cheap gasoline to keep inefficient cars on the road in America is bad enough. That they would spin their market distorting behavior by engaging in Orwellian newspeak, making the offer seem "doubleplusgood" by claiming that their initiative was intended to "give consumers an opportunity to experience the highly fuel-efficient vehicles G.M. has to offer in the mid-size segment" when in fact the subsidy goes to drivers of Humvees and other low performance doubleplusungood vehicles concerns me even more , not so much because this kind of greenwashing hasn't been endemic for decades, but because it seems the doublethink is now affecting policy makers too. And policy makers should know better.
Offering to make conventional fuels cheap -- providing them at below market price -- is exactly the kind of intervention that causes market failure. And it is exactly the kind of intervention we were led to believe the Republican party was against.

Look, I'm non-partisan. I don't vote "Republican" or "Democrat" or "Green". I never have. I've always voted the issues. But I'm inherently conservative, and inherently free-market in my beliefs and I find economic theory (corrected and improved since its origins by attention to full cost accounting) to be a reasonable approach to understanding reality and predicting outcomes. (See Robert Nadeau's Brother Can You Spare Me A Planet: Mainstream Economics and the Environmental Crisis, in Scientific American, for an excellent analysis of how neo-classical economic theory, based on flawed models of physics used by Hermann-Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, never caught up with or incorporated the improved modles that emerged soon after, keeping much of "the science of economics" in the dark ages until today!)

As fellow worshippers on the altar of economics, I thought that the Republican Party of the United States at least shared with me a belief that we should let the free market operate so that we can reach the kind of near-equilibria that let the invisible hand (occasional nudged by Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, of course!) do its munificent work.

So what does it mean when the proposed "solutions" to our crises, coming out of the people and industries who support Republican politics, start openly messing with the free market, and use obvious lies to support these policies?

Since I don't want to believe that people affiliate with political parties in the same way they affiliate with religions (unthinkingly, by accident of birth), will we now finally see sensible people turn away from supporting buffoons and criminals who have lost the essence of what their party once stood for but who continue to parade about in the party's clothes? Can a majority of Americans who call themselves "Republicans" even see the wolf in the sheep's clothing?

If I had party affiliations, and I called myself a Republican, I would be outraged by the hijacking of my party's symbolic value by "suit- and- tie-terrorists" who are, in essence, flying the party on a collision course with the very fundamentals for which it stands. In the same way that I feel Muslim's should be outraged with what the oil-sheik supported Wahabbis have done to Islam, I think true Republicans should be outraged with what the "oil-chic" supported Bushis have done to the Republican party.

Personally I would throw the book at them.

An Economics Textbook.

Their other "bible".

And I would throw the real Bible at them too.

Neither book is being honored by their behavior. They are not operating from real "conventional wisdom" -- not by conventions agreed upon by Christianity and most other world religions, and not by conventions agreed upon by economists all over the world. They are merely operating in accordance of the conventions of conventional fuels.

Friedman is right to call them (and us) "gas addicts" -- our views have become so distorted by our hunger for cheap oil that we can't seem to see how we are betraying our principles.

Even President Bush himself betrayed the insidiousness of his agenda when he spoke to NATO back in 2005. Our Wadi Environmental Science Center Board of Directors listened to his IngSoc rationalizations incredulously on a television set in the restaurant in Cairo where we were having our board meeting, thinking, "wow, the problem with this doublethink administration ("war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is power") is that he is disarming real conservatives by making it seem as though everything has been thought through and, gee shucks, we're learning from our mistakes, so don't get all upset, keep going with us on this one, we're making progress..."

Bush's NATO speech was intended to make those of us who are conservative think, "well then, as his dad used to say, let's just 'stay the course' because somebody up there knows what they are doing..." Because when you are conservative, you know, you like to conserve your time and energy.

Bush said (and this is taken from the transcript from February 22, 2005)

"The policy in the past used to be, let's just accept tyranny and for the sake of... you know, my cheap oil or whatever it may be, and just hope everything would be okay. Well, that changed on September 11th for our nation. Everything wasn't okay. Beneath what appeared to be a placid surface lurked an ideology based upon hatred. And the way to defeat that ideology is to spread freedom and democracy. That's what NATO understands. That's one of the reasons why... NATO's one of the reasons why Europe is whole and free and at peace, because democracies defeat hatred and suspicion."

If you re-read this three years later you see what it really says (read their lips):

"The new policy is, let's just accept tyranny for the sake of my cheap oil or whatever it maybe, and know that everything isn't going to be okay. Accept that. The way to defeat ideologies based on hatred is to spread freedom and democracy. We know that. But we aren't going to do it. We aren't going to defeat hatred and suspicion, because we aren't really the republicans you thought we were when you elected us. We are hijackers who have commandered your economy and will crash it into your own edifices and institutions. And all for the sake of... YOU KNOW... for my cheap oil or whatever..."

It is like an evil doctor telling you you are going to die because you smoke, then offerring you more cigarettes and saying "just accept it." The only thing that happened on September 11th, as far as this regime seems concerned, is that now we can openly admit that everything isn't going to be okay, but we still have to live with that fact. Market distortions caused by bad policy will cause immeasurable suffering, but, in the Darwinian struggle of life, a few will profit handsomely from all this chaos. Just hope you can claw your way up to the top of the garbage heap. We are no different now than we were when Edward Bellamy wrote his "Parable of the Coach" in Looking Backward, describing a humanity,

"driven by hunger [that] forces brothers and sisters to claw against one another in a vain attempt to gain a seat atop a social transport careening toward disaster."

This is conventional wisdom as defined by conventional energy.

What is the alternative?

Obviously I favor "Alternative Energy" as the way back to true conventional wisdom and conservative values -- the wisdom that says "love thy neighbor as thyself" and honors the inherent conservativism that is within the family. Conservatives should be good conservationists. We should want to conserve our environment. Conserve our resources. Conserve our energy.

How "conservatives" have turned into "wasters" is something I cannot understand. How "republicans" have turned into "enemies of the republic for which we stand" makes my head spin. It makes as much sense as "Islam" and "Muslim" which derive from the word "Salam" meaning "Peace" being reconceived and presented by these same "neo-cons" as as a religion of war-mongering terrorists.

Truly they are "neo-cons". But not conservatives.


How did we let a few wicked people take the good terms we used to use with pride to define ourselves away from the rest of us?

Steven Harris, the author of Sunshine to Dollars who runs, from whom I have bought many interesting books that have helped me build my own solar panels and make my own hydrogen and alcohol fuels, writes about the power of words as spoilers. He wrote in a recent email to his subscribers,

"Those of you who really know me, know that I DESPISE the words 'renewable energy' 'alternative energy' or 'sustainable energy'. I can't stand them, I don't use them, you won't find them on my site. NOTHING 'Alternative" ever ever becomes mainstream. NO ONE wants an 'alternative', everyone by nature wants the BEST, the quickest, the fastest, the most efficient and the cheapest. No one wants "alternative chocolate" no one wants "alternative transportation' no one wants 'alternative milk' no one wants 'alternative girl friend' no one wants an 'alternative pooper scooper' Pretty much every 'alternative' energy project ever attempted as failed...failed bad. Crashed and burned, in flames. So we refuse to use anything associated with the failures of the past, and that includes their vernacular."

Of course, as I'm sure Steve is aware, "Alternative" music has gone mainstream, but that is besides the point.

Most young people, upset with their elders for letting them down and breaking the covenant to preserve life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, eschew anything with the word "CONVENTIONAL" attached to it. So we work at vernacular cross purposes.

Very few people want to be seen as "conventional". And "Conventional" is a particular turn-off when following the main-stream means you are gliding obliviously down the river styx into an ocean of tears.

Alternative is a turn-off when it means being marginalized and freaky.

Perhaps we should redefine the forms of "renewable energy" or "sustainable energy" that are clean, safe, and, by any accountant's ledger that takes all externalities into consideration, economical. We should call them what they really are: sensible energy. Smart energy. Sapient energy.

The kind of energy anybody with common sense would use and promote.

Instead of offering uneconomical subsidies to people who use stupid energy (wake up GM!) we should be offering Pigouvian subsidies (taken from the deadweight losses of society and from the uninternalized social and environmental costs of stupid energy through Pigouvian taxes) to anybody who buys a truly Smart Car that uses Smart Energy.

Of course, conventional wisdom dictates that to do that, we need not conservative, liberal or alternative people in positions of authority, but some really smart business leaders and smart politicians. Some Homo sapiens, for a change.

Any volunteers?

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