By Dr. Daniel Farb
July 2, 2017
Of course all of us who are involved in the world ecosystem in some way, myself in renewable energy technology, would be happier if there were an international accord on climate change. However, let’s think, without any hysteria, about how significant it is.
The first point to make is that the Paris accord is mostly symbolic. There were no specific targets with specific penalties. There certainly is value in most of the world agreeing on objectives, as that is a good step towards doing something, but it doesn’t change facts on the ground without more work.
To some extent, it’s a rerun of the old American debate about government involvement versus private enterprise. In general, private enterprise does better, but a government that makes intelligent decisions, like Germany did about renewable energy, gets the benefit of both worlds. Obama said the right things about renewable energy, but is responsible for Solyndra. So there has to be the right combination of government and private enterprise to get things done.
Second, let’s try to understand what is motivating President Trump. I submit that he inherited an America badly damaged by Obama’s run-up of trillions more in debt and by policies that fostered loss of jobs. Trump is going to do what he can on both counts, and right now he needs to take advantage of oil and coal production that reduces debt and creates jobs. I also suspect that ecology is not something much in his background or experience; the solution is not personal attacks but rather education and having our representative organizations show him and the administration that the future is with sustainable jobs. We cannot expect a president, or anyone else for that matter, to be educated in every area. The job of lobbyists and professional associations is to bring facts to the attention of policy makers in Washington. One useful approach is to show job growth in the wind industry as an example. (This is a better example than solar because many turbine parts are manufactured in the US, as opposed to solar where the panels are imported.)
I listened to a video of Trump speaking about his energy policy. He wants to unleash the productive power of the United States in all areas of energy, and he believes that since we once thought our resources are limited, but fracking technology disproved that, that we shouldn’t limit ourselves. There are a few fallacies there. 1. It is likely that fracking is a one-time breakthrough that just delays peak oil. 2. Not addressing the issue of climate change is a ticking time bomb. 3. OK, so he doesn’t believe in climate change, but what about pollution? 4. The future of the world economy is with sustainability, and we need to use the current uptick in availability of fossil fuels to enable the transition.
I believe that hydrocarbons are so important in many areas of our lives that it is a shame to burn them. If their price goes up due to lack of availability, where will our medicines, catheters, and so many other things come from?
I’d like to get back to the subject of Paris. It’s great to be for it because it does very little except generate a good feeling, and throws the responsibility for climate change on the governments of this world. I’d like to ask some of the readers of this column to think what you can do on your own. I have lots of great projects to improve the efficiency of renewable energy. (If you are interested, contact me as I plan to do crowd funding soon with a low minimum.) Have you installed LEDs in your house or insulated it to reduce energy use? Do you walk up stairs or take elevators? Do you carry your own bags to the supermarket? Did you oppose wind or hydro energy projects because of exaggerated concern about bats or eels?
One of the ironies of the current situation is seen in the following example. There is a location on Long Island, NY, where the town engineer and my underwater turbine company wanted to make a small 25-kilowatt tidal energy project. The NY State Environmental Protection Agency gladly ordered us to perform studies costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure every contingency of fish and eels was looked at (even though there was already an eel ladder a hundred feet away that the eels were used to). So we just walked away from the project. So who is the real guilty party here? Donald Trump or the people who claim to watch over the environment?
The point is that we shouldn’t let the government take all the actions but take the initiative ourselves. Of course, a committed leadership would be ideal. I believe that what we need more than Paris is for every city, state, and branch of the Federal government (and the same in other countries) to think seriously about how the regulatory environment needs to be made more climate-friendly, and how the tax situation for renewables needs to be friendly and stable in the long term. Then individuals and the for-profit market can take care of the rest by themselves.
In future blogs, I’d like to make some proposals of specific laws that would give incentives for sustainability.