Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Alternative Energy: Hard Choices for Hominids

You hominids have a deadlock in the politics of power generation. In the USA, at least, activism has stopped nuclear plant construction. This turns out to have been the energy equivalent of Norquist's "starve the beast," and it has worked about as well. You have ended up relying heavily on coal for electric power generation and oil for transportation, which, in the amounts used, are as or more harmful as nuclear power.    

There is much talk about sustainable energy production, and there have been some substantial successes in those technologies, but you are not ready to convert your whole economy to sustainable energy production. Partly, this is because sustainable energy has to be gathered, whereas fossil fuel and nuclear fuel contain energy which need only be released: without a "carbon tax" or some similar regulation, sustainable energy sources will always be more expensive. Partly, though, the conservatives in Congress have been successful in preventing the research necessary to widespread deployment of sustainable energy production. Your economic models do not, yet, embrace sustainability.    

So you are faced with hard choices. To stop using coal, oil, or nuclear power immediately would mean great hardship. Without international agreements to prevent further development of such systems, action in an single country might in any event be futile except perhaps as an example. And yet if human civilization is to survive, this must be undertaken in the long term.

One thing that could be done in the short term in the United States would be to abandon the tax subsidies for resource extraction. They started as World War I production subsidies, and ever since, conservatives have been defending them. This might be an excellent time to attack these. They could be attacked on libertarian grounds as government subsidies. It might just work.

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