By BJ Bjornson
There is much to like about Paul Krugman�s article regarding the increasing affordability of solar power, not the least of which is his indictment of fracking and its supporters.
Speaking of propaganda: Before I get to solar, let�s talk briefly about hydraulic fracturing, a k a fracking.
Fracking � injecting high-pressure fluid into rocks deep underground, inducing the release of fossil fuels � is an impressive technology. But it�s also a technology that imposes large costs on the public. We know that it produces toxic (and radioactive) wastewater that contaminates drinking water; there is reason to suspect, despite industry denials, that it also contaminates groundwater; and the heavy trucking required for fracking inflicts major damage on roads.
Economics 101 tells us that an industry imposing large costs on third parties should be required to �internalize� those costs � that is, to pay for the damage it inflicts, treating that damage as a cost of production. Fracking might still be worth doing given those costs. But no industry should be held harmless from its impacts on the environment and the nation�s infrastructure.
Yet what the industry and its defenders demand is, of course, precisely that it be let off the hook for the damage it causes. Why? Because we need that energy! For example, the industry-backed organization energyfromshale.org declares that �there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don�t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all.�
So it�s worth pointing out that special treatment for fracking makes a mockery of free-market principles. Pro-fracking politicians claim to be against subsidies, yet letting an industry impose costs without paying compensation is in effect a huge subsidy. They say they oppose having the government �pick winners,� yet they demand special treatment for this industry precisely because they claim it will be a winner.
Now, I happen to think Krugman is quite optimistic regarding solar�s near-term future, not just because of the energy trap, but because, as even he notes, the entire GOP has made investment into renewable energy alternatives that might threaten the fossil fuel industry into part of their endless �culture war�; something to be opposed as a matter of litmus-test identification. This story from Grist provides a good example of that fact.
So you'd think this would be a home run, right? At a time when jobs are at the top of every politician's mind, surely a bit of low-cost economic stimulus that doesn't increase the deficit and leverages tons of private capital and creates tens of thousands of jobs can serve as the rare locus of bipartisan cooperation. Right?
Except the industry in question is the solar industry. And because this industry involves clean energy rather than, I dunno, tractor parts, it has been sucked into conservatives' endless culture war. Rather than lining up to support the recession's rare economic success story, Republicans are trying to use the failure of a single company -- Solyndra -- as a wedge to crush support for the whole industry
This is highly unfortunate, because regardless what any of the propaganda may tell you, we�re heading for a world with diminishing fossil fuel supplies. Tom Murphy at the Do the Math blog has a good post on the facts underpinning the peak oil phenomena, complete with multiple informative charts, the most striking of which I found to be this one.
This goes very much to what Ron posted a few days ago. Those �big� discoveries you keep hearing about are only big in relation to the meagerness of discoveries overall in the last several decades. There is simply no way to look at that chart and believe that we're going to have all the oil we need for very much longer.
The sun may be coming out, but it seems unlikely that it will be bright enough to save us from our mostly self-inflicted fossil-fuel withdrawal pain.