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Renewable Energy vs. Fossil Fuels: Politics and the cost of being small

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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-04-11 03:04 PM
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Renewable Energy vs. Fossil Fuels: Politics and the cost of being small
Since I first did the arithmetic almost ten years ago, I've been deeply skeptical about the ability of wind and solar power to eject fossil fuels and nuclear power from the global energy marketplace.

At first I thought technical and logistical problems would forever restrict alternative energy to minor markets. While I still have major reservations about those issues, in a sense that's neither here nor there - those issues could be resolved for better or worse by the marketplace itself. Unfortunately, the biggest problem the alternative energy industry faces - the one that renders all other challenges moot - is not technical at all.

The biggest problem that alternative energy faces in its uphill battle against the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries is the collision between politicians and huge stacks of cash.

A large number of politicians in nations large and small have been purchased by the nuclear and fossil fuel industries - either bought outright with cash, acquired indirectly through campaign donations, or enlisted at arm's length through offers of post-political directorships. These tame politicians are in a position to throw massive economic and regulatory roadblocks in the path of alternatives. In fact they are already doing that, by jiggering Feed-In-Tariffs, subsidies and insurance frameworks.

Without countervailing anti-nuclear, anti-FF politicians, the expansion of renewable energy could be stopped dead in its tracks if it ever shows real promise of threatening the business model of the entrenched (and hugely profitable) nuclear and (especially) fossil fuel industries. Those suborned politicians of every stripe, in every country, are going to require a lot of coin to buy out their allegiance. The only money available to do that has to come from the infant alternative energy industry, whose pockets are anything but deep where this kind of baksheesh is concerned.

Unless the problem of purchased politicians can be overcome, the technical and economic superiority of may never be demonstrated. So to me the question seems to be, "If we want to let technical and ecological merit decide the outcome, how do we reduce the political opposition to it?" Are we limited to moral suasion? Can we come up with offsetting dollars? Can we change the funding formulas for political campaigns and reduce the power of corporate lobbying? And since this is a global issue, how much of a problem is this going to be in places like Europe and Eurasia, let alone the vastly different economic and social climates of China, India and Africa?

The industry is seriously behind the 8-ball. Not only is penetration still relatively low and a number of major infrastructure issues remain to be dealt with, but solving the political question requires the renewable industry to either buy back the opposing politicians or to convince them somehow to vote against their own pocketbooks. The nuclear and fossil fuel industries (aka "The Merchants of the New Black Death") enjoy revenues of more than $5 trillion per year, while one estimate of the renewable energy industry I found gave it a turnover of just $0.2 trillion per year.

The political challenge is going to be enormous in the face of that 25:1 disparity in cashflow, not to mention the fact that most of the money is being used for legitimate capital investment and operations, leaving little excess profit available for bribery.

The arrival of Peak Oil could even make the situation worse, as the oil industry tries to shore up its faltering revenue stream by buying politicians rather than drilling rights. Unless and until the political issue is resolved, I expect the renewable industry to continue to struggle for the foreseeable future, regardless of the progress that is made in solar cell efficiency or wind turbine design.

This assessment reinforces my conviction that politicians should not be considered part of the solution to the coming problems. They will by and large react only after difficulties stemming from Climate Change, Peak Oil and natural gas "fracking" have made their impact on the people, animals and plants that share the planetary biosphere.

It goes without saying that we must work to repair the damage done by the collision of politics and money I mentioned above. However, for the millions of us who don't have the skills, access or interest to fight in the political arena, there are thousands of other opportunities available right around us. Right this instant we can choose to join the tens of millions of people already working around the globe on local ecological, environmental and social justice issues, and become one of "Gaia's antibodies".

We should not wait for our political leaders to catch up to reality - it's far more likely that reality will catch up to them first. As citizens, members of the human community and equal participants in the web of life, we must take the initiative ourselves. In the words of the Hopi Elders, "We are the ones we have been waiting for."
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FarCenter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-04-11 04:30 PM
Response to Original message
1. There is analysis that says alternatives do not scale so as to replace fossil and nuclear
Fake firemen - why are we cheating ourselves on energy?

On June 15, 2010, when U.S. President Obama responded to the dramatic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during his Oval Office speech, he not only included the list of things the government wants to do about the imminent problem, but also urged the country to "transition away from fossil fuels" and to "jump start the clean energy industry". His pledge is in line with many of his predecessors, and with other leaders around the world, who for years now have supported renewable energy technologies. This is particularly true in Europe, where installed capacity for renewables has grown significantly during the past ten years. And even the U.S. - while slow in introducing renewable electricity technologies - to date has produced a significant amount of alternative fuels primarily through the mandatory addition of ethanol to gasoline.

For many people hoping for a future with less greenhouse gases and less environmental damage this focus on renewable energies might sound like a step in the right direction; for those who want low cost energy, maybe less so. But what both sides of the discussion forget is something quite simple: an energy future without fossil fuels will eventually arrive, and there is no way to extend current energy usage patterns and delivery systems into the future. In a nutshell: our current plans will fail. Let's explore why that is.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-04-11 05:08 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Yes, I tend to agree with that analysis.
Edited on Sun Sep-04-11 05:09 PM by GliderGuider
Humanity uses a metric ass-load of energy every day.

I don't think will scale appropriately, or fill all the energy niches that need to be addressed world-wide. If that is true, then industrial civilization as we know it really is screwed.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-04-11 05:19 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. Cutting waste
Imagine cities with fraction of current light pollution, no neon light commercial attention grabbers. Many people will see the stars for the first time. :)

Thanks for your post, feeling it.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-04-11 06:20 PM
Response to Original message
4. We are the ones we have been waiting for
I like that. I like that very much. Sounds like a battle cry. For warrior spirit, community organizing, getting together, getting done what needs to be done.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-04-11 07:05 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. It comes from a Hopi Elder's message:
Edited on Sun Sep-04-11 07:06 PM by GliderGuider
You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you
must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are
things to be considered. . . .

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said,
"This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the one wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

Yes, it is a rallying cry. This is indeed the Hour.
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