Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Europe Gets The Energy Issue While America Dithers On Climate Change

With little notice by the American media, the European Union is taking a major step of moving towards its goal of requiring that, by 2020, fully 20% of its energy come from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, they left in biofuels, which are a distraction rather than a solution. The question isn't whether a resource is renewable; it is whether the energy puts more carbon into the atmosphere. Agribusiness doesn’t like it when people mention that the biofuel refining process requires more polluting energy than it produces clean fuel. So, biofuels make no sense from a “green” point of view. We need to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, not slow the rate at which we increase the amount.

By the same token, solar and wind don't add carbon to the atmosphere.

Still, Europe is a big chunk of the industrialized world. If it can make the true costs of fossil fuels apparent by leveling the playing field in favor of wind and solar, that will have a tremendous impact on innovation. There is a big danger that this new policy will give European solar firms a further leg up and leave the United States way behind, captive to Big Oil and Big Coal, with solar firms hobbled by Congress's hidden subsidies to the oil, coal and gas industry.

This is a sure-fire recipe for the US to end up a third world, pariah, country.

Solar is the more important part of the mix, since there is demonstrably enormous energy to be had from the sun if it could be captured efficiently, stored and distributed. But there is only so much wind power in the world although the US and Canada are blessed with an enormous “wind canal” stretching from Texas up through the Great Plains and into the Canadian prairies. As T. Boone Pickens points out repeatedly, it may be the easiest stretch of geography in the world to convert wind into energy.

At least the Europeans are not talking foolishly about “clean coal” as an environmental improvement, unlike in the US. Clean coal is as much of a myth as the unicorn. Nor are Europeans chanting "Drill now! Drill here!" and demanding poisonous oil be brought out of the tundra to create climate catastrophe.

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