Michael Shellenberger: Like a lot of people, I used to think that subsidies to promote the switch from fossil fuels to solar and wind would be a one-time thing. Once a solar or wind farm was built, I thought, it would produce electricity forever, without further subsidy, because sunlight and wind are free. Renewables would thus allow a “sustainable” and even “circular” economy without waste or mining because everything would be recycled. But it turns out that only nuclear can produce sufficient clean energy to power a circular economy. That’s partly because nuclear plants have seen their efficiency increase dramatically. Nuclear plants used to operate for just 50% of the year. Now, thanks to greater experience in operations and maintenance, they operate 93%of the year.
Environmentalists have for decades argued that energy is too cheap and must be made more expensive in order to protect the environment. Greens viewed energy as the source of humankind’s destruction of the natural world and sought to restrict energy supplies in order to slow and eventually reverse the destruction. Indeed, the reason environmentalists turned against nuclear energy in the 1960s was that it was cheap and effectively infinite.
Greens got the relationship between energy and the environment backward. As people consume higher levels of energy the overall environmental impact is overwhelmingly positive, not negative. As we consume greater amounts of energy we can live in cities, stop using wood as fuel, and afford to have fewer children. And as humans use more energy for agriculture in the form of tractors and fertilizers, we are able to grow more food on less land, allowing marginal lands to return to grasslands, forests, and wildlife.
Unlike the original New Deal, a Green New Deal would thus result in what Greens call “de-growth,” not growth.
Wind and solar do not eliminate the need for traditional power plants. This is the most disappointing problem of all. Because of intermittency, a backup system must always be on standby, ready to seamlessly take over the full load the instant the wind stops or the sun sets. The dominant source of that backup in the United States is natural gas (methane)—an improvement over coal but still a carbon-generating fossil fuel. Perhaps that is why so many fossil fuel companies strongly support renewables even as ExxonMobil and other fossil companies are budgeting billions over the next decade to expand their fossil fuel production. They seem to believe that wind and solar are, far from being a threat, a way to ensure a continuing need for their fossil fuels.
The Green New Deal would cause “significant environmental damage” and require “massive land use,” according to a new report. "There is the wildlife destruction caused by the production of renewable power,” reads the new report.
“There is the heavy-metal pollution created by the production process for wind turbines,” Zycher wrote in his report, which was released Wednesday.“There are the noise and flicker effects of wind turbines. There are the large problems of solar panel waste and toxic metals,” Zycher wrote.