If the Obama administration’s investments in green energy proved anything, it’s that investments in ‘green’ energy sources and economic growth are opposing forces. Based on more recent studies, we now know this to be true.
According to which metrics you choose to cite, the Obama administration invested as much as $150 billion into businesses purporting to specialize in renewable and green energy production. Yet, the returns on these massive investments have been difficult to decipher, and therefore are widely considered as underwhelming, at best.
Despite the president pledging to have 1 million electric cars on the road, at a price tag for electric car subsidies that was estimated to cost nearly $8 billion over ten years, that dream is still far from being realized. At last count, there were roughly 750,000 electric cars navigating American roadways. But the core of the issue is that such large investments in green and renewable technologies also failed to stimulate the economy. Couple with what was characterized by even left-leaning Time Magazine as Obama’s ‘War on Coal’, the Obama-era economy was marked by stagnation…except for the top 1% of earners, who were the only segment of their population to see their incomes grow during the first three years of the ‘recovery’.
Despite a wide-ranging slot of ineffective and misguided economy policies, Obama’s wanton injection of federal funds into renewable energies, at the expense of more proven energies such as coal, played a large part in the glacial pace of recovery. In elaborating on Obama’s plan to limit the use of fossil fuels, the Time article reveals what we know to be true: investment in renewable energies and economic growth are diametrically opposed prospects.
‘Obamaworld likes to portray its efforts to clean up power plants as a war on pollution in general, not a war on coal in particular, but it just so happens that coal spews most of the pollution from power plants. It’s America’s leading contributor to global warming, producing three-fourths of our carbon emissions from electricity, even though it generates just over one third of our electricity.’ (TIME)
TIME’s Michael Grunwald is right. Coal is the major pollutant that plagues nations like China and Russia, and metropole like Los Angeles and Riyadh. He’s also right in noting that coal is responsible for generating over one-third of our electricity. And, to go a step further, that it is electricity that is the primary driver of economic ascension. While some have refuted this assertion, those who support renewable energy push for solar power as a means to provide better lives for the world’s poor, the implication seemingly being that electricity does, in fact, improve quality of life.
But, again, electricity as we now know how to best produce it, is not good for the environment. Ipso facto, growth and green can’t both progress with the technologies we currently have on hand.
The question arising from this conundrum is, ‘so, what do we do?’. Depending on your views regarding climate change, its direct impact, and the impact it will have for future generations, you will embrace different conclusions. Certain questions must be considered to answer in a thoughtful way; questions like, is a family’s hunger and poverty today more real than the consequences that climate changes will impart on families yet to be born? Or, does a human life have more or less inherent value than the environment?
Some answer these sort of questions in a clear-cut manner. They say, cap resources, sacrifice jobs and earnings today for the benefit of the unknown future.
‘Study after study shows the same thing. Scientists are beginning to realize that there are physical limits to how efficiently we can use resources. Sure, we might be able to produce cars and iPhones and skyscrapers more efficiently, but we can’t produce them out of thin air…
These problems throw the entire concept of green growth into doubt and necessitate some radical rethinking…High taxes and technological innovation will help, but they’re not going to be enough. The only realistic shot humanity has at averting ecological collapse is to impose hard caps on resource use…’ (Jason Hickel, Foreign Policy)
Critics to this point of view might posit, ‘how can we justify sacrificing the quality of life of strangers today for the sake of our unborn children?’. They might ask, ‘what if a meteor strikes the Earth down tomorrow?’ And they’d point to the sheer economics of it all; the human toll of the crackdown on coal being Exhibit A. There were the 83,000 jobs in the coal sector lost, the 400 mines closed, and 215,000 people in the energy sector out of work after a cold shoulder was turned toward the traditional energy sources under the Obama administration. These are people, many with families, left without an income due to largely intangible concerns.
Fair questions and concerns, but a retort is also easy to form: ‘The sacrifice wouldn’t just be for my children, but everyone’s children,’ and ‘what if a meteor doesn’t obliterate the Earth in the next hundred-plus years?’
These are not questions with straightforward answers. They are polarizing questions. But they are questions that must be asked. Until they are at least considered thoughtfully, the debate over capitalism today versus a cleaner, less polluted world tomorrow cannot be had honestly. And, even if these debates can be had with both sides putting their cards on the table, opinions are unlikely to be changed. Yet, with an honest assessment of the facts, both sides should be able to come to at least one shared conclusion: as much as it hurts, growth and green energy aren’t currently mutually viable solutions.
It’s one or the other, make your choice wisely.