There is famously no free lunch. Rational people don’t expect any form of power to bring only benefits and no costs, unlike some sunny-eyed or windy-eyed proponents of alternative fuels. But it’s still odd to read that the Irish government is facing a significant (€1.7m) EU-imposed fine over a wind farm that killed fish. It’s odd not because favoured firms got favoured treatment or the EU intruded on Irish sovereignty but because fish tend to live in water not air. However construction of the Derrybrien wind farm in south Galway dislodged tonnes of peat into the Owendalulleegh river in October 2003 doing lasting harm to spawning beds. The sort of thing that if an oil spill did it would be considered serious.
In fairness, it was serious, and serves as a reminder that renewables come at a cost. This problem of tradeoffs and opportunity costs keeps popping up when it comes to alternative energy, and is only a surprise because so many proponents of green schemes believe their policies only ever create winners and never losers. As leftist economist Kenneth Boulding lamented years ago, people on the left tend to believe that all utilities can be maximized simultaneously, or in English that all good things go together and all bad ones do, instead of having to choose a mix of good and bad ones.
The real world doesn’t work that way. Hence Tesla’s growing struggle to sell electric cars without subsidies that prompted one analyst to say “Tesla continues to struggle as a ‘real car company’”. And the EU’s difficulty recognizing that meeting its CO2 regulations will cost regular car-makers a fortune now estimated around €7.4bn, falling most heavily on those firms most committed to serving the European market, on the theory that pain-free electric cars were about to spring from every garage. And its rising CO2 emissions as consumers switch back from the dirty diesel cars European governments mistakenly pushed them into buying to cleaner gasoline ones.
To make companies that bet on your market into chumps is to erect a banner at all ports of entry saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” And then wonder why costs and unemployment remain stubbornly high.
This incapacity to recognize tradeoffs or linkages is also visible in the exceptionally silly argument that there’s no need for consumers or voters to feel pain because it’s the oil companies that cause emissions. Or the claim that if we gave up fossil fuels the pain would be limited; such advocates seem to have no idea how much of our way of life depends on petroleum products and no interest in finding out. Or in discovering “clean” alternative fuels often have very dirty footprints, morally and strategically as well as environmentally, if you look closely at the entire lifecycle of the technology.
The problem is not just individual misjudgements, important as they become when you make enough of them. It’s a general attitude that rejects practicality including climate alarmists’ hostility (with some commendable exceptions) to nuclear power, the most reliable low-emissions technology we have by an enormous margin.