Paul Krugman wrote a very upbeat column on Monday, Wind, Sun, and Fire. And he’s right to be rosy. The truth is that the cost of clean energy has been plummeting for years. He quotes one standard estimate that solar power generation has decreased 82% since Obama took office (with almost as steep a decline in wind energy). I want to add a few random thoughts.
I’m so tired of hearing conservatives say that doing anything about global warming will hurt our economy. To start with, this is a typical trick of only looking at one side of the ledger. I see this all the time with the deficit. They claim to care about the deficit, yet apparently, it is only possible to balance a budget by reducing costs; there’s just no way you could increase revenue. (Well, except by cutting taxes, which they wrongly claim will increase revenue.)
And with global warming, the costs of mitigating are allegedly included, but never the costs of not mitigating. This position is always proffered by the “reasonable” conservative who will at least admit that global warming is a real thing. But if you admit that it is a real thing but refuse to look at the damage that it is doing, you don’t really believe in it. You just don’t like the moniker “global warming denier.” But you are one nonetheless.
But ever since 2008, I’ve heard people — even liberals — claim that we should not invest in infrastructure and clean energy in a depressed economy. This is exactly wrong. The more the economy improves, the most costly it gets to fix our power plants. We’ve gone through periods of the last seven years when investors were paying the federal government to hold onto their money. And what were we doing? Fighting over the deficit! That was the time to spend, spend, spend! And if we had, we’d have a better cleaner infrastructure, and a better economy today.
I keep think back to Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent. In it, the DA wants the prosecuting attorney to also be able to testify, because the defendant, Rusty, allegedly admitted to his guilt. (In fact, he said it sarcastically.) The judge says that if the DA wants to use that prosecutor as a witness, he must have a different prosecutor try the case. The DA doesn’t want to do that, so the situation is dropped. Until…
The case completely falls apart. Then the DA rushes to the judge, pleading to let them put the prosecuting attorney on the stand. The judge doesn’t buy it, but then, the judge is a very liberal man and doesn’t think the prosecution should get special dispensation, just because its case fell apart — especially given that it by then looks like a setup.
This is what I imagine happening in a few years. When solar and wind energy and battery technology make coal and gas very uncompetitive, I imagine the fossil fuel industry running to Congress pleading for special subsidies. (They already get plenty.) They’ll have all kinds of reasons that they deserve this — reasons I’m sure they already have well worked out. They will shed crocodile tears for all the people that will be put out of work. Remember: these are the same people who have been dead set against subsidies for emerging clean technologies. And these are the same people who have been firing workers with glee for decades.
But if things stay the same in Congress — if we have the same kind of people in Congress — they will get those subsidies. Every argument that conservatives make today will be turned on its head to protect their rich benefactors.
Afterword: Clean Energy Reversal
Note that it doesn’t work the same way for liberals. It makes sense to invest in new technologies that are better. It makes no sense to invest in old technologies that are worse. So it is perfectly reasonable to be for subsidizing clean energy today and against subsidizing dirty energy tomorrow. It is perverse to be against subsidizing clean energy today and for subsidizing dirty energy tomorrow.