Another dream that dies hard is that of abundant alternative energy. As Mark P. Mills writes for the Foundation for Economic Education, “A week doesn’t pass without a mayor, governor, policymaker or pundit joining the rush to demand, or predict, an energy future that is entirely based on wind/solar and batteries, freed from the “burden” of the hydrocarbons that have fueled societies for centuries.” But as he also explains, there are 41 hard science reasons why it won’t happen. As Greta Thunberg once said, “Our enemy is physics.”
Summarizing his report for the Manhattan Institute, Mills explains that the world gets 80% of its energy from hydrocarbons, a figure that over $2 trillion in spending on alternative fuels has reduced by only two percentage points. (And remember, each successive reduction gets harder as the best alternatives have been replacing the worst conventionals; don’t assume another $80 trillion would push it down by another 80 percentage points.) With growing demand in poor countries, these reductions get swamped.
Another problem: increasing the number of electric vehicles a hundred times in the next two decades would only reduce world oil demand by 5%. Replacing all U.S. hydrocarbon electric generation would require a building scheme 14 times as ambitious as at any point in American history and yet would not affect 70% of American hydrocarbon use.
As professional scoffers at excessive claims of precision, we aren’t going to say that 14 number is exact. But it’s a good indication of the order of magnitude. And to steal from Sam Spade about Mills’ 41 reasons, maybe some of them are unimportant. We won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them.
As we’ve said before, if fossil fuels mean the end of life on Earth we must get rid of them. But don’t go telling us it won’t hurt and that you have a herd of unicorns ready to pasture on the disused oil lands and carry us all about in splendid ease. You don’t.