Why Renewables Won’t Save Us

  • James Wanliss Cornwall Alliance
  • Updated Feb 12, 2016
Why Renewables Won’t Save Us

Energy is an absolute necessity for any successful country. It is the ‘Master Resource,’ which is what Julian Simon (1932–1998), the former University of Maryland Professor, called it because “energy enables us to convert one material into another.” It is this energy intensive conversion process that turns raw materials into something useful to the prosperity and flourishing of human life.

The ancients used oil and tar to waterproof boats, or as adhesives for roads and buildings. They seemed to have little use in energy production. But that changed on August 27, 1859, when the first commercial oil well began production in the United States. Ready access to energy transformed the world in the last century as the subsequent petroleum bounty enabled and defined modern civilization. What looked like useless goop one day was transformed the next as human ingenuity discovered new ways to utilize the resources of our planet.

The most common sources of energy are from hydrocarbon fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. A recent Greenpeace analysis of the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide highlights the frenetic pace at which the People’s Republic of China is building coal-fired power plants. Just in the first nine months of 2015 China’s central and provincial governments handed out environmental approvals to 155 coal-fired power plants. That works out to be four per week. This astounding number, though large, is still quite a drop from a peak in the mid-2000s, when the Chinese built and fired up six coal-fired power plants each month.

While the Chinese turn to coal, the US and much of Europe has formally rejected coal. President Obama famously promised to use his power to bankrupt anyone who tried to build a new coal-fired power plant. The President’s stand against coal ossified after his election and Daniel Schrag, the White House “climate change” advisor explained why, “The one thing the President really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. …a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

Under the burden of Obama regulations and EPA mandates the coal industry, currently employing nearly 1 million Americans, is rapidly closing its doors. For many it is not a moment too soon.

The mechanism is blizzards of government red tape and regulations that raise energy costs that bury business. Energy is typically one of the top three expenses for businesses, representing an average of 19% of total expenses and accounting for 75% of a company's carbon footprint. That is why at least 32 American mostly coal-fired power plants, serving over 22 million households, will close in the immediate future.

So where will we get energy if hydrocarbon-based sources are deemed politically incorrect?

As hydrocarbon fuels are shelved we need something on the same scale to replace them. Will the hydrogen economy save us? Will bio- or synfuels, tidal, wind, or solar? The answer is none of the above since, in spite of massive government induced growth, each of these sources makes only a tiny contribution to the total world energy budget and none appears scalable to preserve the standard of living we presently enjoy. The numbers just don’t work.

This is the message of James Hansen, the father of global warming. He recently wrote, “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

This rather strong language from Hansen probably traumatized not a few children. He argues for a reality check for those who urge ‘wars’ and such on coal and other conventional energy forms. Economist Timothy Terrell explains, “While well-intentioned ‘green energy’ advocates seek government favors for alternative energy sources, the economics and even the basic physics of energy sources are against them.”

In other words the drive in Europe and the US away from conventional fuels and toward ‘renewables’ suffers a dangerous deficit in honesty.

James Wanliss, Ph.D., is Professor of Physics at Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC. He is a Senior Fellow and Contributing Writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and author of  Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed physics articles, has held the NSF CAREER award, and does research in space science and nonlinear dynamical systems under grants from NASA and NSF.

Publication date: February 12, 2016