The glorious future is always just over the next mountain. The older you get, the taller that next mountain becomes and the further away it seems. It is this realization, this understanding, that young people often mistake for cynicism. They think their elders, poo-pooing their excitement for some new innovation, are just cranky old people unable to appreciate the dawning of the new age and unwilling to adapt to it. In reality those grumpy geezers are tired of sitting through the same film, never getting to the end.
I often feel that way about energy policy. Every decade we have a re-run of the same film, but never get to the end. Instead, everyone gets bored and walks out before the final scene where the utopian dreamer is fed into the woodchipper by a couple snaggletooth rednecks from coal country. Instead, the movie is cut short so it can be retooled for a new audience a decade later with the promise that this time, there is a new and improved ending. That is the catchphrase of every new plan to replace fossil fuels. “This time, things will be different.”
Here is a quote from Jerry Ford’s 1975 State of the Union speech, in which he laid out his energy plan: “I have a very deep belief in America’s capabilities. Within the next 10 years, my program envisions: 200 major nuclear power plants; 250 major new coal mines; 150 major coal-fired power plants; thirty major new [oil] refineries; twenty major new synthetic fuel plants; the drilling of many thousands of new oil wells; the insulation of eighteen million homes; and the manufacturing and the sale of millions of new automobiles, trucks and buses that use much less fuel…”
The only thing he got right was that cars use less fuel per mile, but that had nothing to do with the big dreams of the energy futurists. Fuel economy has steadily improved since the mass marketing of cars back in the stone age. That is due to better engineering. The cars not only get better fuel economy today, but they also ride better, they are of better quality, they use better components. A new car off the lot in the 1950’s suffered from rattles, wind noise, poor fitting components and it needed constant maintenance. In other words, fuel efficiency is mostly just a byproduct of better engineering of cars in general.
The rest of Ford’s agenda never happened. Later, Carter got on the solar bandwagon. In the late 70’s, everyone new that in the future, cars would be electric and be charged by solar panels. Every house would have a rooftop solar generator. Fossil fuels would go away entirely. The fact that none of this happened did not stop the dreamers from dusting off the solar fantasy again in the 2000’s. I am not sure, but I think the last big solar panel plant in the US shut down last year. If I eat right and exercise, I will live to see it re-opened again under another government free energy scheme.
What brought this on is this story in Scientific American last month. You would think that a publication with “science” in its name would be less inclined to fights of fancy, but that’s not how it works. It’s not how anything works these days.
The United States, Mexico and Canada will make a joint pledge tomorrow to draw half the continent’s power from non-emitting sources by 2025.
President Obama, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will announce the ambitious target at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, which will also address security issues and other concerns to the continent’s three governments.
White House climate adviser Brian Deese described the pact as a sign of the growing bonds between the nations on climate and energy policies. He told reporters yesterday that the trio are cooperating more on those issues now than at any time in recent history.
“We find ourselves now at a moment where the alignment in terms of policy goals and focus on clean energy between our three countries is stronger than it has been in decades,” he said.
None of this will happen. The big non-carbon power generation facilities are nuclear and hydro. We are not building those anymore. The people who swear Gaia is vexed with us because of our cars are the people that killed off nuclear and hydro decades ago. Then as now, the problem is Gaia. She did not like nuclear energy and she did not like us blocking fish from swimming downstream. According to the Gaia worshipers, she is not happy with solar or wind either so the odds of those technologies getting anywhere are close to zero, even before you get to the science problems of both.
That is the irony of the green energy movement. Even if the significant scientific hurdles can be overcome for things like solar and wind, the greens will scuttle the projects anyway. The same people banging their tom-toms over coal and oil are out blocking the so-called green alternatives. Nuclear, which has the most promise in terms of “clean” energy, has been stalled for generations now. Gen-IV reactors are extremely safe and productive. If not for the greens, we could have all our electric from nuclear, but that will never happen.
No one reading this will live to see the day when America is getting the bulk of its electric from nuclear. Your children and grandchildren will not live to see it. The most optimistic estimate puts the window for the change to nuclear well past mid-century. The most optimistic window for wind and solar is somewhere around the time we discover the warp drive. Instead, every decade or so we will have another round of nonsense about how some new green energy will finally ween us off of oil and coal. Billions will be squandered on it; the dogs will bark and the caravan will move on.