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Monday, February 06, 2006

The Envelope, Please XI

On February 1, announced the winner of its "best ideas" contest. Recall the goals of the contest:

  • Grow the economy
  • Create good-paying jobs that allow people to raise a family, afford health insurance, pay for their childrenÂ?s college education, get additional training and save for retirement
  • Encourage existing companies to expand and entrepreneurs to start new ones.

The winner is Peter Skidmore, for offering this:

Globalization of labor, production, and ideas and an industrial economy based on subsidized fossil fuels have set the stage for economic and social instability, continued outsourcing of jobs, and marginalized quality of life. We can create a new economy based on environmentally benign industries and energy.

Impose a "resource tax" on pollution, development, and fossil fuel to pay for development of renewable energy and environmental restoration. Promoting sustainable localized energy industries (solar, wind, hydro, tidal, biofuels) will provide reliable, clean homegrown energy, exportable technologies, and bring energy jobs home. Funding widespread environmental restoration will expand existing industries (farming, recreation, tourism, and commercial fisheries) that are dependent on ecological services and will foster research, design and technology industries.

Working families will benefit from a stable economy and millions of new economy jobs. These solutions are inherently local Â? they create decentralized resources and require skilled local labor, forever. They pay for themselves and provide capital for entrepreneurs to develop industries and exportable technologies. And they foster community and collaboration essential to surviving in a global economy.

This proposal is rife with problems:

  • Skidmore does not demonstrate that today's oil industry hampers growth of farming, recreation, tourism, and commercial fisheries.
  • Presumably, alternate fuels would create job growth because all the jobs are domestic. The energy industry involves two processes: production and refining. Oil is produced abroad and at home, and most if not all is refined in the US. Under solar, wind, hydro, and tidal energy, humans are not involved in the production process; overseas producers would lose jobs not to Americans but to forces of nature: the sun, weather, gravity (pulling the water into the hydroelectric plumbing), and tides, respectively.
  • Of the alternate energy sources listed, all but one are what I call "supplemental" sources - they are impractical for primary sources of power. Wind and solar require vast amounts of acreage. Tidal is still experimental. Hydro may be practical for certain parts of the country, but for one small detail...
  • ...Pleistocene Liberation Organization environmentalists will never stand for more hydro plants. (They'll object to blanketing the Mojave with solar cells, too.)
  • The primary (sole?) biofuel - ethanol - is impractical.
  • Skidmore mentions highly experimental tidal energy, but doesn't include highly experimental geothermal - which, according to this article, is another environmentalist no-no.
  • Note the protectionist hypocrisy in the statement about "exportable technologies" - it's okay for people to outsource their technological R&D to us, but it's intolerable for the US to outsource some oil well jobs to Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
  • Skidmore hawks something as wildly speculative as tidal energy, but does not aim his crystal ball toward yet-undiscovered technologies that may allow oil to burn more cleanly and more efficiently, or known technologies that allow nuclear waste recycling.
  • If alternate energies are so profitable, then investors will be jumping over themselves to enter those industries, with or without a bleeding tax on the petro competition. That ain't happening, so what does that tell us?

Update: A commenter to this January post at Early Riser notes irregularities surrounding the contest, prompting at least one lawsuit.

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