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Green Weenie Roundup: Lovin’ Lovins

Hard to know how to pick from among the deserving contestants for the coveted Power Line Green Weenie Award this week.  The deep greenies at Grist.com deserve an honorable mention for their speculation about whether the Syrian uprising can be linked to—wait for it—climate change!  (Sigh.)  A deserving nod also goes to the German greens who are opposing a huge offshore wind power installation—proposed to be eight times the size of New York City—because it might harm dolphins.  (And you thought only American Navy sonar did that.)  As I like to say, the only form of energy without any environmental tradeoffs was that bicycle the Perfesser built for Gilligan on the Island.  (And even that required a lot of bananas.  Ultimately large energy comes from hydrocarbons or carbohydrates; take you pick.)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also enters the lists for their interest in inventing a waterless toilet for the developing world, a decent idea in the abstract, though one wonders why this needs to be a philanthropic undertaking rather than an entrepreneurial venture.  What exactly is the market failure here?  What really makes this story fun, though, is the little detail that the Gates Foundation is buying 50 pounds of fake poop made from soybeans to test in various prototype toilets.  I’m sure the legions of disgruntled Windows users could offer lots of suggestions for better fake poop substitutes.

But it’s hard to top our winner from two weeks ago, Thomas Friedman, and Amory Lovins, who attempted a duo act more dated than Hall & Oates in Aspen last week (why is it always Aspen??), with Friedman lamenting that, on the subject of climate change, “Democratic political consultants are advising their candidates not to mention the “losing topic’.”  Hard to believe, but it appears that Democratic political consultants are actually smarter than New York Times columnists, but then it is a very low bar.

But Friedman can’t win again so soon.  Fortunately, he had Lovins, who, for his part in the worn out harmony used the old trick of citing percentage growth figures to suggest that Portugal (current unemployment rate: 15 percent) is ahead of the United States on energy, because Portugal “climbed from 17 percent renewable energy in 2005 to 45 percent in 2010, while the U.S. rose from 9 percent to only 10 percent during that same timeframe.”  It is amazing to me that educated adults still fall for the old percentage trick, which in the case of renewable energy growth is like the person who drowned in the middle of a Minnesota lake that only averaged two feet deep.

How much do you suppose Lovins would be willing to wager that in fact the U.S. added a multiple of total “renewable” energy than Portugal in that same time frame?  Sure enough, a check of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011—the latest I have on my laptop—shows that the U.S. added 81.8 terawatts of renewable electricity from 2005 to 2010, while Portugal added just 8.4 terawatts.  And where does Lovins get his figure of 45 percent of total energy?  According to the BP survey, the correct figure for Portugal is 1.7 percent.  Perhaps this was misreported in the news story, or he means that 45 percent of total energy growth in Portugal came from renewables, but is this really an achievement without knowing how much total energy demand grew?  (Probably not much with Portugal’s economy these days. Seems like they’ve been burning Euros to generate power.)

More interesting might be to ponder what Portugal’s unemployment rate might be if they had something like our fracking natural gas boom.  But to paraphrase Glenn Reynolds, employment is for little people.  And Aspenites have a world to save!

Lovins is another of those perennial posers who deserves a Green Weenie Lifetime Achievement Award (a decade ago he was pushing the line that hydrogen was our energy future within a decade; today, about hydrogen he says “never mind”), but he’ll have to settle for the same weekly installment that graces Friedman’s shelf.

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