What a Guardian Leader!

Rare is the good news story on the environment; rarer still does it come from the private sector.

It is to giggle, isn\’t it? Good news on the environment has been bombarding us from every side for centuries, almost all of it coming from the private sector. Farming becomes ever more productive, reducing the amount of wild land being ploughed up. Energy is used ever more efficiently reducing both fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions needed to create a certain level of wealth. Wealth itself, lifespans, increase, leading to falling fertility rates.

Good news about the environment from the private sector is rare?

So today\’s report in the Guardian of a possible breakthrough in solar power is to be celebrated. If all comes good, it will mean photovoltaic (PV) cells can be produced nearly as easily and quickly as on a printing press – and rather than being confined to the roofs of smart homes, PV cells could eventually be put on a variety of small surfaces.

This is indeed good news and to be welcomed. However:

To get there, however, will require a lot more government support.

Err, no.

Nanosolar, the company making today\’s announcement, had among its financiers the US government. That\’s right: Kyoto-busting President Bush is funding this green innovation.

Yes, this is true.

The UK government has a subsidy for renewable energy – but it is clearly not set high enough, because alternative-energy use in the UK is way behind target.

And this simply shows that the UK government aimed its subsidy in the wrong direction. Spending the cash on basic science, something which is a public good, rather than on subsidising Jeremy Leggett, which is not a public good, turns out to have been more effective. Really, who would have thought it?

By successfully fostering green technologies, the UK could become a centre in this fast-developing business. But doing that means spurring companies on with subsidies and firm targets.

Again, no. There\’s two possibilities here. One is that this new technology does not work as advertised. Thus the argument for subsidy fails, as we don\’t have an example of its being successful. The second is that it does work, in which case we can stop subsidies altogether. For we now have a technology which makes solar cheaper than coal, which was our aim. OK, so we\’ve done it. No more cash subventions needed.

We do have  phrase which describes the stupidity of continuing such spending after we\’ve succeeded. For who bothers to reinvent the wheel?

3 comments on “What a Guardian Leader!

  1. Interesting that the writer believes that Bush had/has anything to do with ‘Kyoto’. That error alone cast severe doubt on his ability to separate fact from fantasy. That, and his apparent belief that ‘private sector=”bad”‘, mostly.

    So far as I can tell, the prescription is merely to toss subsidies at various ‘alternative power generation technologies’. If the technology happens not to work, who cares? At least it APPEARS as though politicians are ‘doing something’, even if in fact they are merely wasting bucketloads of our hard-earned money.

    Just look at the entirely useless scams that are ‘windfarms’.

  2. To follow up on Eric’s point, The Guardian can’t lift a pen without attacking Bush’s environmental record. The irony is of course that the USA’s record on emissions over the last 10 years is better than most Kyoto signatories. Not to mention that the USA is a massive absorber of CO2, returning substantial acreages to forest every year and leaves vast oil and gas reserves untapped for environmental reasons. Notice how when America was the biggest polluter it was routinely vilified by the envoronmentalists as no 1 enemy of the planet, but China avoids the same opprobrium since overtaking the USA earlier this year. With environmentalism, the ideological tail wags the scientific dog.

  3. This Guardian Leader is very revealing – I think it demonstrates the common left-ish view that that state should subsidize things that are ‘good’ (and tax/ regulate things that are ‘evil’).

    This flows from a generally moralizing style of politics by which people want to promote good and suppress evil, and want governments to do this on their behalf.

    Of course, none of this has anything to do with economics. And – if followed – it would lead to totalitarianism. But hey – it makes people feel virtuous!

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