I recently wrote a post critical of radical environmentalists who take rigid positions and refuse to make the tough choices that confront us all in the real world. In particular, I stand in disagreement with people’s unwillingness to exile the tortoises from 4613 acres (about five square miles) in the California desert that would have been used for a gigawatt of solar photovoltaics, an almost exact replacement for a full coal-fired power plant.
Frequent commenter Larry Lemmert (who’s normally pretty much in my face) writes:
Craig, you are a reasonable man. I say that not because I agree with you about the desert tortoises vs. the PV panels but because you understand that trade-offs must be made to secure green energy for replacement of retiring fossil fuel sources. So many so-called environmentalists want a free energy lunch. It doesn’t exist.
Ah, a red-letter day; Larry and I agree on something. And he’s even used my favorite “no free lunch” metaphor…
Seriously, this idea of trade-offs and no free lunch is all-important; in fact, it lies at the base of my series of videos and infographics on renewable energy for young people and other newcomers to the subject. But regardless of one’s level of sophistication with the subject, it’s not an easy issue. In brief, we need to choose between:
• Continuing with business as usual, and subjecting the natural environment to the ever-increasing ravages of climate change, ocean acidification, etc. The U.S. is the only major country on the planet that considers the status quo a viable option; we are actually working against a progressive climate policy.
• Do nuclear in a big way and run significant health and safety risks. Many of the world’s people have recently cast their votes against nuclear. Here’s a summary of this discussion.
• Aggressively cut back on our per-capita use of energy and move back in the direction of an agrarian economy. (How likely is that?)
• Fund the advancement of renewables, energy efficiency and conservation, by pulling money away from other things we think we need.
Regular readers know that I believe this last option is our only credible one, but I do freely admit that it comes with a cost. In particular, I’m a big fan of education, especially of females in developing countries. But how important are most of these things that we think we need? Tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to the oil companies? Trillions of dollars for waging wars whose primary missions are securing access to oil? I’m not a believer.
No, there is no free lunch; everything comes at a cost. Which is why our choices really do mean something. May we make the right ones.