Romney’s unforced, perhaps fatal error

From the moment he conceded to John McCain three years ago, Mitt Romney has devoted his entire existence to doing better in 2012 and becoming the Republican nominee. Why then did he marry himself to global warming, a formerly respectable view that has been shattered over the last two or three years and is seen as anathema among conservatives and Republicans? It doesn’t make sense, especially given the fact that Romney is not a man of deep convictions but adjusts his views to his audience. Who does he think his audience is? Democrats and independents? Could he feel so sure of winning the nomination that he’s already positioning himself as a centrist for the general election?

But still, he has to win the nomination, right? And how does he win it after receiving the kiss of death from Al Gore, who wrote at his blog on June 15: “Good for Mitt Romney. While other Republicans are running from the truth [about global warming], he is sticking to his guns in the face of the anti-science wing of the Republican Party.”

Now that Romney has been approved by the insane global warmist Gore for stating the “truth” about global warming, perhaps he’ll soon be praised by the insane Islam apologist Karen Armstrong for stating the “truth” about Islam—that it has absolutely nothing to do with jihadism.

See discussion at Ruth King’s blog, Ruthfully Yours: “Wave bye-bye to climateer Mitt Romney.”

—end of initial entry—

June 19

Alex Zarkov writes:

Not only has Romney voiced support for global warming, he recently reaffirmed his support for ethanol subsidies. Even Al Gore is back peddling on ethanol. Last Tuesday the Senate reversed itself and ended a tax credit for corn ethanol. Many Democrats, including Diane Feinstein of California, voted to end this boondoggle. Romney also says he “loves” solar and wind (power). He shouldn’t. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind power is about 50 percent more expensive than using natural gas to generate electricity, and solar thermal is almost five times more expensive. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is three times as expensive (see Table 1). I calculate that we would need the land area of the state of Colorado to shift half our coal generating capacity over to wind turbines. Does Romney want to run on the Greenpeace ticket?

Jeffrey Lord, writing in The American Spectator asks, “Is Mitt Romney the new Nelson Rockefeller?” According to Lord, Romney tries hard to “sound like Ronald Reagan,” but “thinks like Nelson Rockefeller.” I think Lord is on to something. I well remember “The Rock” from the days I lived in New York City. I remember his penchant for excessive and expensive construction projects, and his all too liberal way of governing. He was the original RINO. Now we see Nelson seemingly reincarnated as Mitt Romney. How can this man possibly energize the conservative Republican base? How can he appeal to the Tea Party people? He might try for ideological balance by running with Michele Bachmann, but is that enough? In my opinion the answer is no. I think he’s already crashed and burned with conservatives.

Ken Hechtman writes:

You wrote:

Could [Romney] feel so sure of winning the GOP nomination that he’s already positioning himself as a centrist for the general election?

Could the Republican base feel so sure of losing the general election they’re already defining crossover appeal as a negative? Under normal circumstances, one of the qualities you want in a nominee is the ability to win the general election. When the Democrats ignore this, they nominate a McGovern. When the Republicans ignore it, they nominate a Goldwater.

Movement conservatives might not believe in global warming but swing voters do. For a lot of people, it’s become a litmus-test issue. The same way they won’t vote for a young earth creationist, they won’t vote for a climate denier.

Specific to Alexis Zarkov’s points:

You’re looking at an energy-price snapshot. There’s some useful information in the long-term trends as well. When I started tracking renewable energy prices twenty-odd years ago, wind power was four times the price of fossil fuels. Solar PV was ten times the price.

Let me ask you this: When renewable power does become cheaper than fossil fuels, will you support it then? And as far as the land requirements go, do you know anybody with a better use for the southwestern desert?

Roland D. writes:

“Global warming” has never been respectable.

These same people (and/or their antecedents) were predicting a new Ice Age in the 1970s, if you’ll recall.

“Global warming” is the greatest hoax since the Donation of Constantine.

LA replies:

I thought someone might challenge me on that word.

I used “respectable” in the sense of something broadly accepted. It is simply a fact that global warming was broadly accepted by the leading organs of opinion, and agreement with it was required in “respectable” circles at the cost of being considered a sub-rational idiot, until the scandals at the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit came out in fall 2009 (amazing that it’s only a year and a half since that happened), and then other problems with global warming emerged as well, resulting in a vast shift of opinion on the subject.

Ferg writes:

Ken Hechtman writes: “And as far as the land requirements go, do you know anybody with a better use for the southwestern desert?”

We have to be careful with this kind of thinking. I lived for a year in Palm Springs California. There is (or was) a very large wind farm on the ridge line just inside and to the north of Banning pass. In the years it had been there it had changed the wind pattern over the ridge and was causing large amounts of erosion downwind from it. Some of these so-called solutions cause more problems than they solve. Particularly as they generate very little power for the investment. There is no shortage of gas, coal, and oil on this continent and on the off shore shelf. Nor will there be.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Ken Hechtman makes a comment that brought a rueful smile to my face. For a succinct illustration of the difference between left and right on matters of basic economics, it would be hard to do much better than this: “Let me ask you this: When renewable power does become cheaper than fossil fuels, will you support it then?”

Let me make this perfectly clear for Mr. Hechtman: The day renewable power no longer needs political support just to be remotely viable, then it will have the earnest endorsement of conservatives like me. He speaks as if the oil and gas industry is something conservatives “support” in a way different from the way they “support” the manufacture of artificial fabrics. If renewable power were at least as efficient as fossil fuels—in other words, if they did not require job-killing, wealth destroying, generally impoverishing economic authoritarianism just in order to exist—conservatives wouldn’t give a second thought to them, just as they don’t give any special consideration to artificial fabrics as opposed to cotton. If somebody were forcing me to use artificial fabric; and if those fabrics were more expensive than cotton; and if it gave me painful rashes; and if those same policies were creating artificial shortages of all kinds; then I suppose someone might smugly ask whether I would support such fabrics in a different world in which none of those things obtained. But it would be an exceedingly obtuse question, wouldn’t it? I mean, absent all those policies and conditions, it wouldn’t be a political question in the first place.

I have no special reason to prefer getting my electricity from one source over another, assuming all other things were equal. What conservatives don’t support is impractical “green” boondoggles that force people to pay more for energy than they would otherwise have to, and that create more problems than they solve—for example, burning half the American breadbasket’s production of corn, leading to increased global hunger and attendant Third World food riots, while destroying our car engines at a prodigious rate. It’s as if he thinks that it is conservatives who have shown ideological prejudice against certain kinds of power, as liberals have done with nuclear power for decades. It’s as if he thinks conservatives would really be torn over whether they would prefer a perfectly non-pollutant energy source that was cheaper than oil and produced no serious economic dislocation.

Here’s the bottom line: When that magical “green” energy source comes along, it won’t NEED political support. Its profitability and general economic viability will take care of that all on its own.

Paul Nachman writes:

Ferg wrote:

“There is no shortage of gas, coal, and oil on this continent and on the off shore shelf. Nor will there be.”

The “Nor will there be” is a manifestly silly statement. Does its silliness need explication, beyond pointing it out?

Alexis Zarkov writes:

Mr. Hechtman writes,

“When I started tracking renewable energy prices twenty-odd years ago, wind power was four times the price of fossil fuels. Solar PV was ten times the price.”

I hear this all the time from renewal energy advocates. They advise us to wait for that magical time in the future when research and development reduces the cost of generating electricity below that of fossil fuel. First off, I don’t know how that “wind power was four times the price” was calculated. The figures I provided used the method of levelized cost. Mr. Hechtman’s numbers from twenty-odd years ago would need to have been done in a similar way to make them comparable. Moreover I find it hard to see how the cost of wind power is going to come down significantly in the future. Wind turbines already operate pretty near the theoretical maximum efficiency as dictated by the Betz Limit. To get more energy out of the wind we would need to make the turbine blades much larger, and that requires new lost-cost stronger materials. But let’s say that for the sake of argument we bring the levelized costs in line with (say) natural-gas-fired electric power plants. Wind and solar generated electricity would still remain non-dispatchable because the sun doesn’t shine at night (or very much in cloudy weather), and the wind blows intermittently. As such wind and solar require energy storage facilities or backup power from gas-fired boilers. All that pushes the price beyond the levelized cost calculation.

In response to my land use calculation, Mr. Hechtman goes on to write, “And as far as the land requirements go, do you know anybody with a better use for the southwestern desert?” Well T. Boone Pickens also thought that the southwestern desert was ripe for wind power development, but his wind farm project got clobbered by falling natural gas prices and a bitter dose of economic reality. Natural gas prices will stay low indefinitely because new technology for extracting natural gas from shale has changed everything. Gas is the future, not wind or solar.

I have also heard people argue that the price of wind and solar will almost certainly drop in the future because technology seems to always get cheaper. They will give examples like flat screen televisions. These devices were once extremely expensive, but are now well within the range of the average consumer. Such a belief reflects a profound misunderstanding of the fundamental science that underlies technological development. The laws that govern how many transistors or diodes we can cram onto a small surface are very different than the laws that govern energy flows and energy transformations. The science of thermodynamics provides us with the basic limitations of what we can and cannot do economically in the energy industry. In other words, information flows using tiny currents are very different from the big energy flows found in the power industry.

The so-called “green energy” technology pushed by environmentalists and the Obama administration seeks to replace chemical energy flows with electrical energy flows. Therein lies the basic problem. Chemical energy is far denser than electrical energy. For example, in a mere two minutes I can fill the seventeen-gallon tank in my Honda Accord with enough fuel to take my car more than 450 miles. In this case, chemical energy transfers (as gasoline flowing in a hose) at a rate of 16 million watts. I cannot possibly “charge up” an electric car at that rate because electricity flowing in a wire (even a big wire) can’t compete with that in a practical system. Even if I had (as yet non-existent) super battery that could store as much energy as I have in my gas tank. Of course the electric car is another absurd “green” technology, which will never be more than a niche product. Yet Obama continues to lavish support on electric car technology with billion dollar loans to Nissan, Ford and Tesla along with tax credits for purchasers. Lest anything think I’m overly harsh on the electric car, I am happy to engage on this.

In my opinion, Romney seems to be tossing away valuable energy issues he could use against Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign. Why? He’s not going to get the environmentalist vote any way. All he does in alienate potential conservative support. Romney is not only on the wrong side of history, he’s on the wrong side of physics.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 18, 2011 11:09 AM | Send

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