Friday, 16 May 2008

Cue Card Libertarianism: Renewable Energy

Each 'Cue Card Libertarianism' entry forms part of a series intended to introduce newbies to the terms used (or as used) by NZ  libertarians. The series so far can be found archived here, and the Introduction here.

RENEWABLE ENERGY:  To the paltry strength of human muscles and draft animals--which for centuries before the industrial revolution powered the poor production that kept the population in poverty--human beings finally added man-made power to their repertoire, "power far greater than that found ready-made in nature in the form of wind and rushing or falling water."*

And with that discovery and production of industrial strength energy came the industrial production that fuelled the enormous explosion in population, wealth and human fecundity that characterises industrial civilisation.
This man-made power, and the energy released by its use, is the fundamental cause of our higher living standards, and is the result of advances in both theoretical and applied science and in technology. Man-made power is fundamentally human brain power applied to the specific issue of energy production.**
Energy is the very lifeblood of an industrial civilisation.  Hence the hysterical opposition of civilisation's opponents to energy production, and their concomitant support for so called 'renewable energy.'

Renewable energy may be defined as energy produced by means that would be uneconomic without such tax breaks and subsidies.  The distinguishing characteristic of so called 'renewable energy' is not that it is renewable, but that it doesn't produce reliable energy.  For opponents of industrial civilisation, this attribute is not a curse, but a blessing. This largely unspoken argument was voiced by "soft energy" advocate Amory Lovins in a 1977 interview,
If you ask me, it’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won’t give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other[Amory Lovins interviewed in 'The Mother Earth–Plowboy‘ magazine, Nov/Dec 1977, p.22]
This is why, for the most part, the "renewables" so heavily touted just aren't available, and just don't produce enough to keep industrial civilisation going. The fact is, they aren't intended to.

What distinguishes the "new energy" touted by the likes of Amory Lovins, David Parker, Nick Smith & Jeanette Fitzsimplesimons from the "old energy" on which industrial civilisation depends is that while "old energy" is reliable and actually produces energy, so called "new energy" is still experimental, and mostly doesn't.

In other words, it's the modern day equivalent of snake oil.

While "old energy" fuels the world's industry, "new energy" still requires your money to prop it up and barely scratches the surface of the sort of capacity required for a modern industrial nation. Aware of this, former Australian PM John Howard said recently (and accurately):
Let's be realistic. You can only run power stations in a modern Western economy on fossil fuel, or, in time, nuclear power.
Alan Jenkins from NZ's Electricity Networks Association issued a similar warning two years ago which has still been widely undigested, saying
It's very hard to invest in coal [because of Kyoto], nuclear's a sort of four letter word... hydro is suddenly becoming too hard... what's left? ...we can't do everything on windpower.
We can't, can we.

Which puts into context the attacks on coal by global warming zealots like James Hansen, who declares,
The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.
You might now begin to see the reason behind the virulent attacks on real energy.  They are attacks on production and human fecundity itself.

Yet even as they're draining our lifeblood, the anti-industrialists are still taken seriously.

Go figure.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by New Zealand libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. The series so far can be seen down on the right-hand sidebar.

* Andrew Bernstein, The Capitalist Manifesto.
** George Reisman, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics


  1. IMHO, nuclear energy has got to be the ideal option for NZ. As the cost of oil continues to rise, surely it must be one of the most viable considerations. Building a reactor is not going to get any cheaper and uranium is just across the ditch.

  2. Yep. Nuclear should be the base we start a conservation programme from.

    For ideological reasons we have lost control of good words like conservation and made it into a mean thing that looks at little things in response to potentially large problems.

    A straight up look at energy conservation would mean looking at nuclear, looking to the future of cellulose for renewables, using non renewables like coal to boost hydro levels at the right time, ie, conserving hydro for when it's most needed, investing in technology for clean coal, building efficient homes and improving old ones.

    There's by product energy conservation as well, like improving highways that confine heavy traffic to the left line, straightening corners and reducing slopes, increasing truck and trailer lengths to carry 50% more product.


  3. Coal, gas and oil are the three big options for NZ.

    As to nuclear, not a chance. First, it would be run by the govt annointed. Second, that makes it too dangerous (they'd manage to discover a way to muck it up in a major way). Third, where are the skills to build and operate such a plant going to come from? Have you seen how existing plant and machinery is being run around this show presently?


  4. Heard a stat on the BBC the other day, all the solar power generated in the world is equal to one coal power station, which China are building at the rate of 2 a week.

  5. This would be an accurate comment somewhere like England, in fact Professor of Physics David J C MacKay makes this point in a series on power options for the UK.

    But in New Zealand it falls over. Here we have strong winds, plenty of rain falling on very high hills, lots of tidal currents (the renewable power that could be gained from tidal currents through the Cook Straight could probably power the entire country if we could build the underwater windmills required), especially when you look at it in terms of the size of the country.

    Nuclear fission is probably impractical for New Zealand; we would come in below its economy of scale. Some fusion technologies look close to being a reality, though - and none catches my eye more than Focus Fusion, which has excellent anti-proliferation properties, does not rely on a chain reaction so cannot melt down, does not use radioactive fuel nor produce radioactive waste, and down-scales well.

  6. Renewable energy is good as it uses natural resources.


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