Saturday, 20 August 2011

How much would you pay to save your bacon?

Unfortunately there is is a lot of propaganda around that alternative or renewable energy sources are not economic or efficient, compared with conventional sources.  Such distorted thinking seeks to persuade people that conventional energy sources, such as coal, are a lot cheaper than wind, tidal, solar energy etc.
We heard a local voice, Mr Derek Bernard, express such propaganda during the question session that followed Sir David King’s recent (July) address at Durrell about the effects that climate change can have in store for small islands. Mr Bernard had the nerve to claim that the figures on the performance of wind energy etc just did not add up. Professor Sir David King mildly commented that he can’t have been looking at the same figures that he had seen…

This article (click link) from sketches out the fundamentally misleading nature of such propaganda, which rarely compares apples with apples because, in the evaluation of economic and environmental costs, an awful lot is left out of the accounting procedures used.

An extract follows:

“Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal unearths some rather alarming truths about the “externalities” associated with the extraction, transportation, processing and combustion of coal for the production of electricity in this country. When these externalized costs, which include health, environmental and economic impacts, are factored in, this doubles or even triples the cost of coal-powered electricity, making it more expensive than solar, wind, and other alternative sources”

Another aspect of the “conventional” view weighing heavily on our prospects for getting a more sustainable civilisation any time soon is the amount of money invested in it compared with general items of expenditure.

Here's a link to an article about the continuing campaign by the Daily Mail to muddy the waters and steer people away from all things alternative energy related.

Diverging slightly, here’s a great graphic.

This reminds me of a frequent cry during the late 60s and early 70’s about the American space programme.  Some pointed to the amount spent on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes and said we shouldn’t carry on with them because all that money could go to relieving world poverty instead. Others pointed out that the expenditure on the space programme was dwarfed by the amount that the Yanks spent on cosmetics and toothpaste which defused the argument a bit.



Kevthefarmer said...

Economic costs are in any case, a spurious argument. Distorted as they are by the vestiges of a disappearing paradigm where inputs are equated "at monetary cost" rather than an "energy cost".

A fundamental of sustainable thinking is that nature only recognises thermodynamic efficiency. "Economic efficiency" is a human artifice and has no place in a forward-thinking world.

Nick Palmer said...

How come someone who describes himself as "thefarmer" gets it whereas highly paid and qualified conventional economists don't?

You wrote:
Economic costs are in any case, a spurious argument

Conventionally, yes because mainstream economics has some seriously dubious assumptions underpinning its theorising. The two main ones are:

1)They assume that the "environment" is a subsystem of the economy whereas, as any bright five year old knows, and Herman Daly (the ecological economist) said:

"I think the most basic thing to understand about our global economic system is that it’s a subsystem. The larger system is the biosphere, and the subsystem is the economy

2) They claim we cannot run out of resources because of "infinite substitutability" which states that as any resource starts to become less available, whether because the price has gone up or it starts to run out, there will always be a substitute resource waiting in the wings to fill the gap.

No doubt if an economist told you you could carry on farming, after your top soil had eroded away and the rains had failed for 15 years in a row, because you could substitute them with something else you could tell him exactly how smart he was?!