Friday, September 06, 2019

More information essential to evaluate the renewable energy idea

What we hear about almost ceaselessly is the impending environmental catastrophe facing the world. Despite the tremendous progress the U.S. has made in reducing its carbon emissions, which we are told is what is causing, or hastening, the crisis, more must be done.

We must spend trillions of dollars and turn our lifestyles upside down to make a very fast transition from traditional fossil fuel production of energy through coal, oil and natural gas to so-called “green” renewable energy sources.

We hear repeatedly how bad fossil fuels are as primary energy sources, and how wind and solar power are our salvation. However, much needed detail about this transition is left out.

So much of what those on the left offer regarding climate change, and their proposed solutions to the problem, is what economist and columnist Thomas Sowell calls “Stage One Thinking.” This involves identifying a problem and proposing a solution that sounds effective and satisfying, but doing so without thoughtfully looking at what happens after that initial action – Stage One – is taken.

Mark P. Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has gone beyond Stage One to look into what is involved in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources in his column “If You Want ‘Renewable Energy,’ Get Ready to Dig.”

“’Renewable energy’ is a misnomer,” he wrote. “Wind and solar machines and batteries are built from nonrenewable materials. And they wear out. Old equipment must be decommissioned, generating millions of tons of waste. The International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that solar goals for 2050 consistent with the Paris Accords will result in old-panel disposal constituting more than double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste.”

Mills’ excellent article appeared in The Wall Street Journalin July. He helps us understand the enormous amount of raw materials needed for electric vehicles, and where we will get them. For example, “A single electric-car battery weighs about 1,000 pounds. Fabricating one requires digging up, moving and processing more than 500,000 pounds of raw materials somewhere on the planet,” he explained. “The alternative? Use gasoline and extract one-tenth as much total tonnage to deliver the same number of vehicle-miles over the battery’s seven-year life.”

Wind and solar power involve similar problems: “Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic. Solar power requires even more cement, steel and glass—not to mention other metals. Global silver and indium mining will jump 250 percent and 1,200 percent respectively over the next couple of decades to provide the materials necessary to build the number of solar panels the International Energy Agency forecasts. World demand for rare-earth elements—which aren’t rare but are rarely mined in America—will rise 300 percent to 1,000 percent by 2050 to meet the Paris green goals. If electric vehicles replace conventional cars, demand for cobalt and lithium, will rise more than 20-fold. That doesn’t count batteries to back up wind and solar grids.”

And, what the greenies do not want you to know is that so much of the production of renewable energy devices requires the burning of fossil fuels. “What’s more, mining and fabrication require the consumption of hydrocarbons,” Mills explains. “Building enough wind turbines to supply half the world’s electricity would require nearly two billion tons of coal to produce the concrete and steel, along with two billion barrels of oil to make the composite blades. More than 90 percent of the world’s solar panels are built in Asia on coal-heavy electric grids.”

Mills referenced a Dutch government-sponsored study that concluded “that the Netherlands’ green ambitions alone would consume a major share of global minerals. ‘Exponential growth in [global] renewable energy production capacity is not possible with present-day technologies and annual metal production,’ it concluded.”

He adds that Europe and the U.S. will not be able to produce the minerals needed for this gargantuan undertaking. “Instead, much of the mining will take place in nations with oppressive labor practices. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces 70 percent of the world’s raw cobalt, and China controls 90 percent of cobalt refining. The Sydney-based Institute for a Sustainable Future cautions that a global ‘gold’ rush for minerals could take miners into ‘some remote wilderness areas [that] have maintained high biodiversity because they haven’t yet been disturbed.’”

And his coup de gras: “Engineers joke about discovering ‘unobtanium,’ a magical energy-producing element that appears out of nowhere, requires no land, weighs nothing, and emits nothing. Absent the realization of that impossible dream, hydrocarbons remain a far better alternative than today’s green dreams.”

So much of what the increasingly socialist left proposes sounds good, but fails the pragmatism test. Its ideas: are ridiculously expensive; increase government control; impinge on constitutionally guaranteed freedoms; or all of the above.

These solutions are sold to the people through fear of impending catastrophe, such as that climate change is caused by or made worse by human activities. Scientists who produce contrary scientific evidence, and those who believe them, are “science deniers,” which is somewhat the same as being a “deplorable.”

Resistance to this dogma is essential if America is to survive intact.