Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's not-so-green wartime mobilization plan

Reason's got an article about president-elect Obama's green energy plans, and takes it to task for being overly optimistic with the cost projections, as well as making the mistake of thinking that wartime-like mobilization is a good thing for the economy. But something they don't touch on is that when you mandate technologies, there's a good chance that some of them simply won't work. Among technologies that Obama's touted (and would presumably subsidize) that have recently fallen on their face are ethanol, clean coal, and certain types of windmills. Ethanol has shown itself to be an unmitigated disaster, being both energetically inefficient and driving up food prices for the world's poor. Clean coal was never that clean to begin with, and his pandering reminds me of this Onion video where Obama promises to keep America's "shitty jobs" at home. And then there's wind, which the NYT has found is highly inefficient in urban settings – and it's not hard to imagine an Obama energy plan that subsidizes small turbines, regardless of whether or not they generate more energy than it took to build them.

Now, we can hope that all of this rhetoric was just election-season pandering. With clean coal and ethanol (which he's quietly stepped back from) I'd guess that's the case. But given that his green energy goals seem more about creating jobs with Keynesian countercyclical government spending than genuinely addressing climate change, I wouldn't count on the subsidized industries he supports being very green.

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