Last week John Stossel hosted a segment on Earth Day featuring Heartland Senior Fellow James Taylor and Paul Gallay from the Riverkeeper environmentalist organization. Taylor (with some backup from Stossel) crossed swords with Gallay on a number of environmental subjects.
The discussion started on Gallay’s topic of interest, namely clean water, and he, Taylor and Stossel all happily agreed that our nation’s water is getting cleaner, though Gallay argued that it was not happening swiftly enough and that further government action was needed. Taylor deflated this line of reasoning by pointing out that current policies are working out quite well in an incremental fashion and that increasing government spending and power to accelerate the process would be wasteful and dangerous.
The program then turned its attention to alternative energy and the “sustainable future” of green energy lauded by Earth Day supporters and environmentalists the world over. Gallay’s position was that the only sustainable solution to our energy needs was to rely on “smart” energy, in other words green, renewable energy. Taylor rightly pointed out that the current green energy favorites, solar and wind energy, are both energy intensive and often inefficient. Solar energy in particular, he explained, was “very land and water-intensive.” The water-intensiveness is a particular problem, due to the fact that solar farms tend to be built in high-heat, water-scarce environments.
Gallay tried to answer Taylor by saying that non-renewable energy is given more subsidies than is green energy. Taylor would not be trapped, however, answering that if one considers the subsidy per-kilowatt hour of energy produced, then wind and solar receive ten times the subsidies as natural gas, and fifty times that of coal.
What the program really served to highlight was the major flaw in the mainstream environmentalist movement’s attitude, namely its fixation on what it perceives to be the problem at the expense of critically assessing the proposed solutions. Anti-carbon activists sing the praises of solar and wind energy while trying to ignore or obfuscate the issues surrounding those methods’ costs and efficiency. If supporters of green energy hope to win over a reluctant public, they need to be willing to debate the facts, not just feelings.
If an honest, informative debate is going to be had about America’s energy future, then the costs of alternatives must be honestly addressed. The fact is that lavish subsidies (often given as political favors) are the only thing that keeps most alternative energy suppliers in business. If those alternatives are to have a future in the energy sector, they need to stop suckling at the government teat and learn to compete in the real world economy. Then we might consider them a worthwhile addition to American energy production.