The propaganda against the green energy revolution contains all the same predictable elements as the propaganda against anti-slavery movements or later against anti-tobacco findings.
We are told that everything is determined by markets, which are the most efficient way to make decisions. So when the markets want green energy we’ll have it.
But markets are an arena of decision-making that is shaped by public values, by politics and government policy, and by awareness of hidden costs (externalities). These things don’t distort markets, they are part of what a market is. Take premises. If you begin with a conviction that it is all right to buy and sell human beings, then markets will be happy to create a slave trade. Slavers then argue that you don’t have a right to interfere in their practice of free enterprise. Likewise, if you believe it is all right to sell people a product that has a high likelihood of killing them, like tobacco, then the market will be happy to assign stock prices to tobacco companies and put the product in the futures market like any other commodity. The same things would happen if we decided it is all right to poison people with arsenic (not very different from selling them cigarettes, which are coated with extra nicotine to addict them, except that the product takes effect more quickly).
Purely economic markets are amoral. They don’t care if we are destroying our children’s and grandchildren’s world. They can’t decide, or can’t decide quickly enough, about climate change.
Second, markets in modern capitalist countries are often a function of coporate influence, not just prices. Ohio environmental protection head, George Elmaraghy, has just been forced out, allegedly because of pressure on a Republican governor from Big Coal. Oil also has a very effective lobby that causes government often to favor hydrocarbons even when that is irrational. Prices are set in part by government policy, and its premises, not just by abstract markets. The government decisions include matters of infrastructure. Redoing the electrical grid would help green energy; government, i.e. the people, would have to decide to do that, as Portugal did.
Even good public policy, such as San Francisco’s push for green energy, can be stymied by vested interests such as utilities companies.
If giving the utilities a new business model is necessary to get them on the side of green energy, then let us make that public policy. But let us not pretend that wind and solar are being impeded in San Francisco by their supposedly high cost compared to toxic, catastophically expensive hydrocarbons.
Markets can’t decide about climate change because they operate in a governmental space that has been occupied by Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Coal.
Third, economists and policy-makers refuse to count externalities in their market calculations. Coal-fired power plants generate ‘cheap’ electricity, but they emit mercury and other toxins, pollute with coal ash, and are going to submerge New Orleans and Miami in this century. So that’s cheap?
Wind, solar and geothermal are at grid parity with hydrocarbons in many markets even if we don’t count externalities. If we do, they are amazingly cheap, insofar as they don’t destroy, like, the planet.
Germany’s Energiewende or Energy Turn is so badmouthed by Big Oil trolls precisely because it is so successful. Germany set a new record for its solar electricity generation in July, of 5.1 terawatt hours, a little more than it got from wind energy last January. Germany’s governmental policies, including a feed-in tariff, have offset installation and other start-up costs and made Germany a leader in solar energy generation, with 400 megawatts per million persons, compared to the US at 20 Megawatts per million persons. In the US, subsidies & infrastructure from the government distort the market toward hydrocarbons. Germany is what the real world looks like, in all its complexity, where consumers are choosing green energy and deploying state policy to shape the premises of the market. They think reducing CO2 emissions is a public good, just as fighting human trafficking and reducing cigarette use are.
Another piece of common trolling is to point out that wind and solar are still a tiny piece of the energy pie. But Japan has just put in enough renewable energy to replace two of the 6 reactors at Fukushima. The statistics tell us about the past, not the immediate future. Two-thirds of all photovoltaic cells in existence were installed in the past 2.5 years, and they will double every two years for the foreseeable future.