Some 1970s-era liberals and old-school enviros think massive government spending is the only way to achieve the clean energy transition. They could not be more wrong, as a particularly uninformed post by the otherwise cutting-edge Grist online magazine makes clear.
As a climate bill, Waxman-Markey is at best a B-, but as a clean energy bill, it is a solid A — though both sides of the bill should be improved. Together with Obama’s other climate and clean energy efforts, it would, as I’ll explain, very quickly bring U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries close to the record-smashing levels now being set by the stimulus bill, nearly $100 billion a year.
I have spent two decades trying to accelerate the clean energy transformation of the US (and global) economy, since that is our only hope for averting catastrophic global warming impacts, Hell and High Water. For a number of years in the mid-1990s, I helped run DOE’s billion-dollar Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the largest program in the world (at the time) for working with businesses to develop and deploy the core clean energy technologies.
Over the years, the work of the office has been crucial in maintaining and expanding US leadership in key areas of clean energy. In fact, its investments have the highest documented rate of return of any federal program. The success of the office and its analytic work, especially the 5-Lab study that I initiated, oversaw, and publicized, played a key role in convincing the White House to engage positively in the Kyoto negotations in the face of strong opposition by Clinton’s entire economic team (see “The history of the ‘safety valve’ debate“). You can read an account by Art Rosenfeld [the first article, his autobio] now California Energy Commissioner “” then science adviser to the assistant secretary of EERE. Kyoto was not ratified here, of course, but it has ultimately driven many tens of billions of dollars in clean energy investment in Europe and Asia.
What I came to learn in the federal government was that no matter how much money the federal government spent — money that would always be constrained by moderates and conservatives in Congress and the vagaries of presidential elections — it would always pale in comparison to what the private sector must spend in any genuine clean energy transition, by at least a factor of ten or more. Indeed, in the 5-lab study we specifically needed to model a modest CO2 price just to return to 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 2010 — otherwise, all of the energy efficiency that we were driving the private sector to adopt mainly squeezed out new renewables and high-efficiency gas plants, not the least efficient coal plants.
GRIST FOR THOUGHT — NOT
So I was shocked, needless to say, when Grist magazine published an anachronistic (and falsehood-filled) piece yesterday, “Joe Romm’s strategy to lose the clean energy race.” The amazingly flawed premise of this article is that the only way to win the clean energy race is massive government spending — spending of a kind that is not merely politically infeasible, but suicidal from the perspective of the human race. Indeed, the article actually asserts that because I would like to pass a strengthened version of Waxman-Markey, I am embracing a strategy that would lose the clean energy race.
Who would write such old-school drivel? Let’s call them The Big-government Institute (TBI) or The Bad Idea (TBI). But I’m far less interested taking on the authors, who are stuck in the 1970s, or even Grist, who bizarrely published it, then in addressing the old-think at the core of their argument.