There’s always something to howl about

“If wind and solar power were practical, entrepreneurs would invest in it. There would be no need for government to take money from taxpayers and give it to people pushing green products.”

John Stossel on the phractured physics of “green” energy:

Maybe the electric car is the next big thing?

“Electric cars are the next big thing, and they always will be.”

There have been impressive headlines about electric cars from my brilliant colleagues in the media. The Washington Post said, “Prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they’re within reach of the average family.”

That was in 1915.

In 1959, The New York Times said, “Electric is the car of the tomorrow.”

In 1979, The Washington Post said, “GM has an electric car breakthrough in batteries, now makes them commercially practical.”

I’m still waiting.

“The problem is very simple,” Bryce said. “It’s not political will. It’s simple physics. Gasoline has 80 times the energy density of the best lithium ion batteries. There’s no conspiracy here of big oil or big auto. It’s a conspiracy of physics.”

Yes, Stossel is pop-science. You can only go so far with him. But this may be the only article you will see that explains why so many of the highly-touted environmentaloid “solutions” are pipe-dreams, based in wishful thinking and a math education that foundered on the shoals of Algebra. Read the whole thing.


9 Comments so far

  1. Sean Purcell May 29th, 2010 2:29 pm

    Stossel is an interesting character: a self-professed libertarian who is rarely capable of explaining the libertarian line of thinking. I’d call him libertarian-lite, which is probably why he’s main stream media’s go-to guy when they think they want a “libertarian” comment…

  2. Valerie Crowell May 30th, 2010 7:32 am

    It’s about physics alright. Power. My brother drives thousands of miles in a Toyota Camry hybrid. He averages around 45mpg. It’s not the holy grail but it’s a start. The problem is as Americans we think we deserve the lion’s share of the oil in the world. So we’re mired in a war in the Middle East and we’re trying to cap a 200,000 gallon a day whole in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe we don’t need to shove our foot into it to get off the line at a red light like we’re John Force. Maybe it isn’t about a bullying my way or the highway kind of power. Maybe it’s time we quit spilling blood so we can go faster and started allowing our best minds to work unfettered. There is a better way.

  3. Sean Purcell May 30th, 2010 9:08 am

    Valerie, with all due respect, I think you miss the point. Our best minds do work unfettered… or at least they’ve generally been allowed to throughout most of the 20th Century. I suppose our best minds are being more and more fettered as the screaming lunatics of the religious movement known simply as “Green” continue to push for their redistributive philosophies, but that’s also off point. If electric cars made economic sense then we’d see a lot more electric cars. (Of course, given current technology – or lack thereof – if we saw more electric cars we’d see more pollution owing to the source of electrical power, but that’s one of those logic exercises so antithetical to the green movement.)

    The real point is this: if your brother wants to drive a hybrid, he should drive a hybrid. If I want to drive a pick-up, I should drive a pick-up. If someone else wants to put their foot into it off the line, they should put their foot into it off the line. Let everyone make their own decisions based on their own cost / benefit analysis.

  4. jeffrey gordn May 30th, 2010 4:59 pm

    Greg, with all due respect for your intellectual efforts with which I find much common ground and agreement, I suggest that one of the biggest problems with arguing against alternative energy based on tax incentives etc., leaves out a lot in the math department. I only wish it was so simple!

    First, off as a former Big Eight Accountant, I would suggest that we currently do a really poor job of matching up all the direct and indirect costs associated with the use of petroleum vs alternative energy sources.

    Tax breaks, special financing etc. are probably only a part of the confusion. I would argue that the long term indirect costs of using petroleum to make plastics and and heat things are not being accounted for when we compare the lower cost of petroleum fuels to alternative fuels–I will extend oil/gas/natural gas etc by adding in coal and modified coal sluuries etc.–they are dirty multi million year old deposits of organic material that don’t burn clean and thus foul our skies and our waters, care to make a guess of what the pollution adds to the cost of using them?

    In my mind petroleum makes the most sense for cars and airplanes, where light weight and responsiveness warrant using the most powerful fuel source per pound.

    But heating buildings, homes, running trains and ships, buses and trucks, there are clearly alternatives that would allow us to conserve the most powerful fuel for the uses that really need it.

    I have no clue about how much petroleum is used in packaging, fertilizer, and other non transportation uses, but I suspect it is significant. It is my understanding that there are viable alternatives in the packaging arena and as a small organic farmer i can only sympathize with the large scale farmers who grow genetically modified crops in over worked fields that require huge inputs of nitrogen etc to maintain higher yields of crops that tend to taste like wet newsprint but have a high yield per acre–I have much doubt about the sustainability of large scale ag when it comes to water supply and field productivity.

    I don’t see this revolution as one based only in redistribution concepts, rather I am quite optimistic that the progression of research and development is going to continue in the next 30 years as it has in the last 100 and that we will see an exponential growth in knowledge and new developments that will revolutionize our lives–not that science gets it all right, but in the long run it has brought us from huddling in caves to flying to the moon and at an ever increasing rate of change.

    Too much of the world economy is being judged by accounting/trade flow systems that are out of date and do not reflect the reality of today’s economic world.

    Read Andy Kessler’s work (Wall Street Meat, etc.) on the fallacy of assuming that making Iphones in china/Taiwan etc. is a losing proposition for the US Economy just because the importation of the units in the US shows up in trades stats as a negative for the US. The reality of the situation is that Apple and the Chip/Chip Set patent holders are making a huge profit (note apples Market Cap) while the Chinese Manufacturers are more than likely to be selling at a very small profit or even more likely at a loss–yet it still shows up as a net trade deficit because our trade accounting is so inadequate.

    To me, investing in alternative energy is a smart move and given the known indirect costs (can you say global warming/Gulf Coast etc.?) the feds providing some tax/investment incentives to encourage the development of energy which comes from cleaner sources is the least we can do.

    I would agree let each do as they may, I only ask that each of us pay the full cost of our actions for both short and long term, direct and indirect consequences.

    If I was King for a day I would make the following edicts?

    1. Increase the federal tax on all petroleum products at the retail level by $.25/year for the next 10 years
    with all of this revenue to be used for a new tax credit
    for research on alternative sources to replace the use of petroleum in heating, packaging, fertilizer and large vehicle–train/ship/truck.

    2. Encourage the focus on alternative energy sources at the individual level vs larger concentrated levels–i.e. residential solar systems, small windmills, commerical building solar systems, electric car grid systems. Large systems are likely targets and lack redundancy etc.

    3. Build a national network of high speed 200+mph trains serving coast to coast as an alternative to jet travel. This project alone would put thousands of folks to work in this country and take tremendous pressure off of the National Air Travel

    4. Redesign and rebuild the national Power Grid to connect the current and future energy sources together with the users in a state of the art system that is intelligent and efficient–I already have committed to allowing the doubling in size of the right of way that crosses my ranch–this alone will require all of us to work together to get this update done on a timely basis as a state of the art energy solution requires an up to date system connected to the sources and users and able to be defended from terrorists etc.

    5. Create a significant tax credit for the construction of new energy efficient homes, especially in smaller homes of universal design, a similar incentive should be created for the remodel of existing structures, it is time to encourage efficient house designs and a big part of that will be multi-generational and smaller SF.

    I have some more, but will call it a day and go get some things for the grill–it is a nice day here in DC and time to chill in the shade!

    jeffrey gordon

  5. Don Reedy May 30th, 2010 6:57 pm

    I watched the TV show with Stossel talking about this, and as you indicate, Greg, aside from the science that is admittedly interesting to me, it is apparent that the real Achilles heel in this is in fact the government is choosing sides.

    They have extended their reach to making decisions about what energy partnerships and technology are appropriate, and then have extended their power grab to how much “foot we’re allowed to put into it.”

    It’s not about physics. It truly is about politics. The inherent right of individuals to bargain, debate and then select their own energy sources based on the free market now gives way to those rights being confiscated by the government. It’s absurd, Ioneso like, to believe that Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi or any group of lawyers (i.e. Congress at large) can or should be making decisions related to the efficacy of energy.

    Stossel is tasking us to actually educate ourselves, an antithesis to the politico. And if we decide not to educate ourselves, then we will become rhinoceroses.

    Bérenger and Daisy agree to resist rhinoceritis and marry to restore the human race. Soon afterwards, however, Daisy refuses to “save the world” and follows the rhinos, suddenly finding them beautiful, as she admires their enthusiasm and energy. After much hesitation, Bérenger decides not to surrender: “I am the last man, I will stay till the end! I do not give up!” He ends up weeping because now he cannot become a rhinoceros even if he wanted to.

  6. Jim Klein May 30th, 2010 9:05 pm

    Hi, Jeffrey. I’m just wondering if you see the clear contradiction in the following two sentences…

    I would agree let each do as they may, I only ask that each of us pay the full cost of our actions for both short and long term, direct and indirect consequences.


    1. Increase the federal tax on all petroleum products at the retail level by $.25/year for the next 10 years
    with all of this revenue to be used for a new tax credit
    for research on alternative sources to replace the use of petroleum in heating, packaging, fertilizer and large vehicle–train/ship/truck.

    You can have one or the other, but not both.

    As an aside and being from the Motor City, I can assure you that if there were a way to profitably make electric cars currently, they’d be made. As it is, we Michiganders are taxed and regulated to the hilt, while endless “incentives” and direct subsidies go to those who are developing battery technology.

    Don’t get me wrong…battery technology is a wonderful thing, just like all technologies. But when it’s subsidized at the expense of millions of other chumps, it amounts to nothing but slavery. As you might guess, I prefer your first option above!

  7. jay seville May 31st, 2010 6:52 am

    Before Valerie or other enviros get too upset and take a high moral position on the tragic oil spill there are a couple truths to consider:

    1) drilling on land is infinitely more safe than drilling in deep seas.

    –for example the literal frozen wasteland of ANWR would be perfect that represents..what? 1% of the entire area?

    –greenies block safe oil drilling on land at any cost no matter what generally with promises and romanticized thinking of what could be accoplished with “green” energy

    –the irony of green energy is that is often polluting or very inefficient when examined more in depth such as the land necessary and costs associated with it or the ancillary pollution it causes

    2. drilling in shallow seas is infinitely more safe and less risky than the deep ocean drilling

    3. enviros and greenies have played a major role forcing companies to go into the deep oceans for the more risky drilling

    I thank the romanticized but under intellectualized green believers–it is religion to so many of them since God forbid they actually submit instead to the Creator instead of the creation (no offense to the atheists here–for playing a huge role in BP drilling in deep water oceans in the first place.

    Pushing oil companies to drill in most dangerous places reaps consequences. The costly ethanol fiasco is a good example of unintended consequences.

    On another note this article was interesting on some serious variables at play that could lead to serious cooling. I hope it doesn’t happen. I’d rather be warm than cold anyday….Not to mention warming has some positive benefits.

  8. jay seville May 31st, 2010 6:54 am

    Excuse the typos above….

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