It was interesting while it lasted. But it looks as if the “green revolution” has entered the long slide into “What was all that about?”
In January, the Spanish government ended absurdly lavish subsidies for its renewable-energy industry, and the renewable-energy industry all but imploded. You could say it was never a renewable-energy industry at all. It was a government-subsidy industry where in exchange for creating conscience-soothing but otherwise inefficient windmills and solar panels, the government gave the makers piles of cash consumers never would have.
“They destroyed the Spanish market overnight with the moratorium [on subsidies],” European Wind Energy Association CEO Christian Kjaer told Bloomberg News.
The reason the Spanish example is so important is that it demonstrates how the whole green-energy “revolution” was really an ideologically driven green boondoggle from the start.
At the beginning of his administration, President Obama insisted that if we didn’t follow their lead, we would surrender the hugely profitable renewable-energy sector to those sagacious Spaniards. In 2009, researchers at King Juan Carlos University found that Spain had destroyed 2.2 jobs in other industries for every green job it had created. The researchers also calculated that the Spanish government had spent more than half a million euros for each green job created since 2000, and wind-industry jobs cost more than 1 million euros apiece.
When asked about the study, then–White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded that he hadn’t read it, but “it seems weird that we’re importing wind-turbine parts from Spain in order to build — to meet renewable-energy demand here if that were even remotely the case.”
Let’s cut Gibbs & Co. some slack. These were the days before the White House learned there were no shovel-ready jobs, before it discovered that its “investments” in companies like Solyndra were little better than shoveling taxpayer dollars into an industrial mulcher. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Gibbs would find it “weird” that our own domestic phylum of subsidy-seeking suckerfish might want to buy Spain’s artificially cheap products in a scheme to feed off domestic subsidies here at home.
The evidence that this administration put cronyism and ideology ahead of reality is all around us. “Since 2009,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “the Obama administration has awarded more than $1 billion to American companies to make advanced batteries for electric vehicles. Halfway to a six-year goal of producing one million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, auto makers are barely at 50,000 cars.” Well, that leaves just 950,000 cars to go.
Obama believed he was smart enough to start whole new industries simply by sluicing taxpayer dollars into the right maws. Any suggestion that the transition to inefficient energy sources might come at a cost to taxpayers or economic growth was derided as a “false choice.”
It seems as if Obama at least understands the tough choices he faces. In 2009, the president’s Earth Day message was stridently dedicated to climate change. In 2012, it didn’t even mention the word “climate.” The administration wants everyone to believe it supports “fracking” and natural-gas development. When Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he prefers high gasoline prices, the administration all but defenestrated the guy. Much to the chagrin of the green lobby, Obama will not be attending this year’s Earth Summit. Heck, the current picture on the White House’s energy and environment page even shows Obama happily walking past a stack of oil pipes. Subtle.
Yes, Obama threw a bone to the greens on the Keystone pipeline, but he more quietly opened up the Alaskan Arctic to new oil development, granting Shell permits to drill offshore.
“We never would have expected a Democratic president — let alone one seeking to be ‘transformative’ — to open up the Arctic Ocean for drilling,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the New York Times.
Now, I have no doubt that Obama’s course correction is entirely political. For instance, if he hadn’t approved the Arctic drilling, Shell almost surely would have sued the administration for the billions it has spent developing its Arctic leases. That’s not the kind of lawsuit Obama would want in an election year.
But saying Obama has caved to political reality doesn’t change the fact that political reality is largely a function of economic reality. In Europe and America alike, voters increasingly recognize that the benefits of the green revolution aren’t worth the costs, particularly when the revolutionaries don’t have a clue what they’re doing. The only question for voters is whether Obama has really learned his lesson, or whether he plans on reverting to type if reelected.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services