Countries around the world are embracing subsidies to expand the production of renewables, and environmentalists claim that we’re on the cusp of a tech-driven energy revolution that will make oil and gas obsolete. Are they right?
Not likely. According to Meigs and Mills, improvements in wind and solar technology are reaching their theoretical limits. It would be virtually impossible to generate the amount of wind and solar power necessaryto replace the world’s oil and gas consumption. And yet, renewables enjoy strong political support, while nuclear technology, our best source of clean, reliable, and—yes—safe electricity, faces intense political opposition.
This video is part of a special collaboration with John Stossel and City Journal contributors.
Sen. Sanders: This to me is an existential crisis.
Sen. Markey: The green generation has risen up.
Anderson Cooper: You're talking about zero carbon emissions, no use of fossil fuels.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: That is the goal.
James Meigs: That's a goal you could only imagine possible if you have no idea how the energy economy works or how energy is produced in this country.
John Stossel: James Meigs, former editor of Popular Mechanics says the Green New Deal is just not feasible.
James Meigs: Renewable is especially hard because it's so inconsistent...
John Stossel: Because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine.
James Meigs: You can't just put in wind turbines and solar panels. You also have to build all this infrastructure to connect them with energy consumers possibly very far away and you always need some kind of backup power.
John Stossel: That means many more transmission lines and bigger batteries to store more energy.
James Meigs: You have to mine all of these materials for the batteries and those mines are environmentally hazardous. Disposing of batteries is hazardous.
Mark Mills: Batteries are a lousy way to store energy.
John Stossel: Physicist Mark Mills says the ingredients to green energy like battery packs or anything but green.
Mark Mills: You have to consume a hundred barrels of oil is worth of energy in China to make that battery pack, but I have to dig up a thousand pounds of stuff and process it. Digging-up is done with oil, by the way, big machines. So we're consuming energy, to quote "save energy," it's not a good path to go.
John Stossel: He calls the so-called "new energy economy," "magical thinking." Wind and solar and batteries now are 10 times better than they were.
Mark Mills: And then they stop getting better cause they hit physics limits. You have to believe in the kind of magical materials to get 10 times better again. In comic books we have that. Tony Stark has that magic power source can do things that are unimaginable today, but we know that the physics make it impossible to make solar 10 times better again.
James Meigs: We should also make sure we're spending money on stuff that really works and right now we're doubling down on technologies like wind and solar, that have their place, but they're not going to get the job done by themselves. But that's where all the money's going.
Newscast: Solyndra was granted a 34 point $5 million subsidy...
John Stossel: Billions in subsidies, but solar is still makes up less than 1% of America's energy and wind just 2%. And none of that energy is really clean.
Mark Mills: We use billions of tons of hydrocarbons to make the number of windmills that are already in the world and we've only just begun to make them at the level people claim they would like to have them built. If you pursue a path of wind, solar, and batteries, we increase how much we dig up and move by a hundred- to a thousand-fold. There's a magical thinking that there's some how a free-lunch. "If I pick this energy source, it doesn't do anything. It doesn't emit anything. It doesn't consume anything." This isn't comic-book land. Every energy source of energy, every kind uses land uses materials to make the technology and always uses hydrocarbon along the way.
John Stossel: Of course, we don't see that, when we look at say, wind turbines. They're beautiful, the gleaming blades...
James Meigs: They take enormous amounts of land. You got to clear cut the forest. These machines kill a lot of birds. I agree that we should bring down our carbon emissions. There's the global warming. There's also the risk that the oceans become more acidic, started killing off the plankton, but we should also make sure we're spending money on stuff that really works.
Elon Musk: Why are we making electric cars?
John Stossel: Are electric cars what really works?
Newscast: Electric cars are great for the environment.
John Stossel: If we just switched to electric cars, we'd use less fossil fuels.
Mark Mills: How do you make electricity?
John Stossel: Coal and natural gas. Fossil fuel.
Mark Mills: Exactly.
John Stossel: Many electric car buyers don't realize that most of America's electricity comes from coal and natural gas. People think they're doing something wonderful, buying a Prius.
Mark Mills: They're basically burning coal and natural gas from the shale fields...
John Stossel: But electric cars will get a lot better.
Mark Mills: Sure they will. I'll make the windmills a little better and they'll get cheaper. Solar arrays will get cheaper. The problem isn't that it'll get a little better. A little better is not enough. They can never get 10-times better.
John Stossel: But there is one energy source that produces lots of power with no carbon emissions: Nuclear power.
James Meigs: Nuclear is the best answer we have right now. These plants have been around since the 1960s they work well. They're safe.
Newscast: There has been an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plants.
John Stossel: Safe?
James Meigs: Fukashima helps prove how safe nuclear power really is. No one was killed.
John Stossel: People were killed during the evacuation.
James Meigs: The fear of radiation is what killed people. They evacuate a lot of older people out of nursing homes and apartments that really didn't need to go.
Newscast: One of the atomic reactors at the Chernobyl atomic power plant in the city of Kiev was damaged.
Speaker 1: Chernobyl was worse.
Newscast: We don't truly know exactly how many people died from radiation. As a result of Chernobyl.
James Meigs: The plant design was idiotically bad.
John Stossel: Reporters said thousands of people living near Chernobyl would die.
Newscast: It is not considered fit for human habitation.
Newscast: Thousands of cancer deaths.
James Meigs: She's wrong about that. The rates of thyroid cancer did go up, but nothing, not even remotely in the range of what was forecast. Those radiation limits are set extremely conservatively...
John Stossel: But the word "nuclear" frightens politicians...
Newscast: There are just 50 people standing between Japan and nuclear catastrophe.
James Meigs: All this talk about "nuclear catastrophe" reveals that people don't really understand how these plants work. They're not bombs.
Mark Mills: A dam breaks and hundreds of thousands of people would probably die. Nuclear plants, they're safety ironically, is actually evident in their accidents.
James Meigs: More people have died falling off roofs installing solar panels than in the entire history of nuclear power in the U.S.
John Stossel: And yet from these accidents, countries all over the world are shutting down nuclear plants.
James Meigs: People aren't stupid, but they are vulnerable to fear.
Newscast: Germany says it will give up nuclear energy within a decade.
James Meigs: Germany, foolishly, shut down a lot of their nuclear plants. So what did they wind up doing instead? They wound up burning more coal. France on the other hand, gets more than 70% of its power from nuclear energy. They pay some of the lowest electricity rates in Europe and their emissions are excellent.
John Stossel: But now in America, many people demand that nuclear plants be shut down.
James Meigs: In Bernie Sanders' home state of Vermont, they shut down their one nuclear plant. Guess what happened? Their carbon emissions went up. So this supposedly green state, ultra-liberal Vermont actually went backwards.
Mark Mills: These efforts at great expense buy literally nothing.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: We have to get 100% renewable energy in 10 years.
Mark Mills: They want to impoverish all of humanity today to solve a putative problem in the future. I think that's immoral.
John Stossel: If the green new dealers win, Who's hurt the most?
Mark Mills: Poor people having energy and food costs more means it's a higher percentage of the household budget. That's who we hurt. We're charging more for people who can't afford it, and we give money to wealthy people in the form of subsidies to buy $100,000 cars. They put expensive solar arrays on their roof, or to be investors in wind farms. So we have upside down Robin Hood going on in our country, to the tune of tens and hundreds of billions of dollars. That's a bad deal.
John Stossel: So the Green New Deal, even if it were scientifically possible, would hurt the poor, costs everyone more, and make energy less reliable. And it's popular.
Newscast: A majority of Americans support the idea.
Newscast: That 64% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats.
John Stossel: Polls show majority of Americans support the idea.
James Meigs: People support all kinds of things that sound good. I mean, I would support free apple pie for everyone, but whatever policies we put in place to protect the planet, your first responsibility is to make sure they work.