Demolishing the Myth of Renewable Energy Pt 4

Predictions of imminent environmental disaster have probably been with us since the first H. Habilis preached that everyone was gonna die if they kept eating all the antelopes. Malthus stepped up the game in the 18th century, but the big worry a hundred years later was horse shit. Big metropolises like London and New York were drowning in a sea of brown muck, much like San Francisco today.

Urgent commissions were tabled, experts were consulted, but the problem seemed intractable. But, by the First World War, the problem just disappeared. What happened? The motor-car.

The internal combustion engine didn’t triumph because governments subsidised car production or taxed horses out of existence. Instead, someone invented a better alternative. Similarly, humans won’t stop burning oil because it runs out, or because governments ban coal. When someone invents a better, cheap, reliable alternative, the carbon problem will solve itself.

Investing in green innovation is the best investment. To see why, think back to the 1960s and 70s when the world worried about mass starvation, epitomised by ­recurrent famines. If we had adopted today’s approach to climate, we’d have asked everyone (especially the rich) just to eat less while we sent small amounts of food from rich countries to poor. It didn’t succeed.

No, it’s not a hipster’s b&w Instagram pic of San Francisco. It’s New York drowning in horse poo in the 1800s.

Just as the world failed to drown in horse poo, it likewise failed to starve to death. In fact, the opposite happened, right across the globe.

What did work was the Green Revolution. Through practical innovation — irrigation, fertiliser, pesticides and plant breeding — the Green Revolution increased world grain production by an ­astonishing 250 per cent between 1950 and 1984, raising the calorie intake of the world’s poorest people and reducing the incidence of serious famines.

Instead of tinkering around the edges, innovation tackled the problem head-on. Instead of asking people to do less with less, innovation offered the ability to produce more with less…The best example in climate is the 10-year $US10 billion public investment into shale gas in the US. While it wasn’t intended as ­climate policy, it led the way for a surge in production of cheap gas, which outcompeted a significant part of US coal consumption. Because gas emits about half the CO2 of coal, the US has reduced emissions more than any other country in the past 10 years.

The evidence created by specialist climate economists for Copenhagen Consensus showed that a substantial increase in green R&D could do much more than any carbon-cutting promises.

Lomborg believes that the answer to this is ramping up government investment in R&D. But is it really? The Green Revolution was largely funded by private investment by the likes of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. The ridiculously-maligned Monsanto is leading the new wave of innovation in GMOs. Government bureaucracies are notoriously resistant to change and are stacked with careerists who never have to face up to the consequences for their bad decisions.

Investing dramatically more into green energy R&D means we can start looking for lots of solutions…Craig Venter, the biotechnologist and geneticist who led the first draft sequence of the human ­genome, argues for research into an algae, grown on the ocean surface, that produces oil. Because it simply converts sunlight and CO2 to oil, burning it will be CO2-free. It is far from cost-effective now, but researching this and many other solutions is not only cheap but ­offers our best opportunity to find real breakthrough technologies.

If we could make alternative technologies cheaper than fossil fuels, we wouldn’t have to force (or subsidise) anyone to stop burning coal and oil. Everyone would shift to the cheaper and cleaner alternatives.

Government bureaucracies have a woeful track record of backing wrong horses and sinking billions of taxpayer dollars into duds like Solyndra.

Nobody can predict with certainty whether the breakthrough technology will be algae, solar and batteries, fusion or something else altogether. Finding the solution could take a decade or it could take four. But we do know that we ­certainly won’t solve climate change with the current approach of making big promises and investing in inefficiency.

Not to mention throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at the hobby-horses of bureaucrats and loudmouth celebrities.

Those who claim we already have a solution to climate change are right in only one sense: ­humanity has no shortage of ­capacity for innovation. It needs to be unleashed.