Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Supply-side environmentalism will fail, because #itsthedemand

Let's say a solar project uses x units of energy. That project is promoted as "saving" x units of fossil fuel. But the x units that were not purchased on the fossil fuel market are now available for purchase for another use. This means that the solar project has either 1. allowed more growth with no change to fossil fuel use, or 2. has freed up x units of fossil fuel energy for use, reducing pressure for price increases.

In either case, nothing was done to reduce demand for energy.

As long as humans believe that growth is good, there will be strong demand for energy, and higher net energy sources will be used first. As long as there is demand, all efficiencies will be consumed per the Jevons principle.

What to do? First let's decide what best reduces demand. Then, let's ask how to get there with the least pain for the 99 percent.

Why free transit?

The current autosprawl system, which is spreading like cancer around the world, is heavily subsidized by deferring costs and externalizing them from corporate balance sheets and passing them to the taxpayer, the biosphere, and the future. This subsidy allows demand to grow. It is false demand.

But this system has an Achilles heel. It depends on a consumer product, the private auto, having critical mass as the mode of human transport. Free buses are the main thing that can break this critical mass. Once broken, cars will lose economy of scale, and the subsidy will be seen as subsidy, and not as necessity.

We can then redirect the resources wasted on autosprawl subsidy to making cities attractive. We can provide more services such as education and health more easily with the economies of urban density. Carfree cities with good education and health services will cause birth rates to drop.

Demand-side environmentalism is the key to the future.