Environmental Radicalism: All Pain But No Gain

Published on 22nd May 2007

Paul Driessen is the author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death, a senior policy advisor to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. He writes and speaks frequently on energy and environmental policy. Driessen was interviewed on March 26 by Wesley Irwin of the LaRouche Youth Movement. This interview also appeared in the  Executive Intelligence Review.

EIR: Al Gore has called for banning the incandescent light bulb and lowering carbon emissions overall by 90 percent.  He seems to be proposing that we cut down a lot of power lines, and put solar panels on every house.

Driessen: On one level, I'm in favor of little things that people might want to do. If they want to switch light bulbs, that's fine. It's not going to make a lot of difference, but it can help. If they want to put a solar panel on their house, more power to them, even if it means they might some day have to battle neighbors who have trees that could grow tall enough to block the solar panel.

Where I have a problem is when the government mandates them. Not only does that destroy personal freedom and put bureaucrats and radical green activists in charge of all our energy and economic decisions. It also means government picks the energy and economic winners and losers, subsidizes certain politically favored sectors, often against politically disfavored sectors—or just companies that are less adept at lobbying and currying political favors. It means your lobbyist becomes more important than your R&D department.

Moreover, and here's where the rubber meets the road: 80 percent of our energy right now comes from fossil fuels; about 53 percent of our electricity is generated by burning coal. How Al Gore thinks we're going to cut our CO2 emissions over the next 30 or 40 years by 90%—without destroying our economy and impoverishing families—I sure don't know. And even if we do, it's not going to cause the rest of the world's emissions to go down. It's a lose-lose proposition. All pain for no gain.

Just look around you. What's going to happen as the population increases, and demand goes up? What's going to happen to your electricity bill, if demand soars and we can't build new coal-fired power plants? I haven't heard Gore say, "I think we need to build 50, or 100, or 200 nuclear power plants." I haven't heard him say, "We're going to stop burning coal, but we're going to drill for oil and natural gas." He wants to force us to switch to wind and solar, which brings us right back to this energy sufficiency, affordability, and reliability issue. The wind stops blowing, the Sun stops shining, and you get blackouts. It's tough enough to run a hut with a couple light bulbs off a solar panel and a wind turbine. How do you run a modern nation this way?

When you look at the amount of electricity we use in this country, to improve living standards, improve people's health, increase life spans, power wondrous new technologies—enjoy a standard of living that Al Gore is certainly not going to give up! Nor are these environmentalists ready to give all this up. How do you power a modern society with wind turbines—even with a million or 50 million—blanketing an area, slicing and dicing birds and bats by the millions, destroying beautiful scenic vistas, and making unbelievable noise ... to provide expensive intermittent electricity?

And how many of these clever, environmentally conscious but economically and energy-illiterate politicians have figured out that—if you want a forest of wind turbines and an ocean of solar panels—you need gas-fired power plants for backup, because they're the only thing that can kick in instantaneously when the wind stops blowing, or the Sun stops shining. And that means you've got to drill for natural gas, which they absolutely oppose.

EIR: Isn't it also true that you couldn't actually manufacture a windmill or a solar panel with the amount of power produced by a solar panel or a windmill? That it actually takes nuclear or fossil fuel power to generate enough energy to even create a solar panel.

Driessen: Yes, it does take a lot of energy. And this is where these guys just don't think things through. Many of them—the politicians, activists, and journalists—would fail miserably trying to run a company, especially a utility or manufacturing company. But they want to be in charge of the people who are in charge of those companies.

Go back a second to my point about gas-fired power plants. If you mandate wind power, you need gas-fired power plants and natural gas to operate those plants. Who in the Democratic Party or the environmental movement is now going to support drilling for natural gas, so that they can get this utopian wind-energy system they keep dreaming about? Which Senator is going to run his or her office solely off wind or solar power? Which one is going to be the first to volunteer for open heart surgery run entirely off a solar panel or wind turbine?

Your point about the energy needed to manufacture wind and solar systems is extremely well taken: The energy level required to make these alternative energy systems is far higher than they can put out. Right now, you take one 50-megawatt power plant in California, a gas-fired power plant: It's putting out more electricity in the course of a year, than all 13,000 of California's first-generation wind turbines. The gas-fired power plant is on about 20 acres; the wind turbines are on 106,000 acres. Those are significant environmental impacts—and then you have to add in the bird and bat kills, and transmission lines to carry electricity hundreds of miles from the wind farm to the major city.

So, again, there is no free lunch. There is an environmental cost to all of this, a human cost to all of this, a huge economic cost to all of it. Don't let us get conned by Al Gore, who's first talking about catastrophes that simply are not happening, and no rational scientist says they are on the horizon; who's offering costly, unworkable solutions that are not going to solve anything; who's not going to make any personal sacrifices to save the planet; whose bogus solutions are going to place most of the burdens squarely on the shoulders of the poorest families in our country; and whose proposed bans on fossil fuels and other electricity-generating systems are going to keep the poorest people on the planet impoverished, diseased, destitute, without jobs, without a functioning, modern economy, and dying many years before their time for another century.

It's simply unconscionable. If you want to talk about the morality of climate change, that's the morality of climate change. It's the immorality of telling people they can't have energy, they can't take their rightful places among the Earth's healthy and prosperous people. We must not, and need not, go down that route. We have the time, technology, creativity, and humanitarian instincts to think this through, determine whether we really have a climate problem—another natural cycle or something else—and then take the wise steps to address the problem or adapt to it.

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