The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Smart Green Thinking On Display


All that EU spending to subsidize green energy hasn’t much moved the needle on green energy use, says Bjorn Lomborg in today’s FT.

The EU’s climate policy is estimated to cost $250 billion per year. Germany alone has already spent $130 billion on solar subsidies, he writes. Spain spends almost 1% of its GDP on subsidizing green projects. Yet carbon-free energy uptake has remained absolutely flat over the past two decades, with minor gains in solar being offset by a retreat from nuclear.

The solution, Lomborg concludes, is one that should sound familiar to regular VM readers: invest most of that money in R&D instead:

The analogy here is the computer in the 1950s. We did not get better computers by mass-producing subsidised vacuum tubes or taxing typewriters. The breakthroughs were achieved through a dramatic increase in R&D, leading to innovations such as the transistor and the integrated circuit, which enabled companies such as IBM and Apple to produce computers that consumers wanted.

This is what the US has done with fracking. It has spent about $10bn in subsidies over the past three decades on innovation, opening up huge resources of previously inaccessible gas. Despite some legitimate concerns about safety, it is hard to overstate the benefits: US consumers are saving $125bn annually on cheaper gas, and a switch from coal to gas has reduced US emissions by twice as much as the EU and the rest of the world have managed.

It’s good to see the FT opening up its opinion pages to the likes of smart greens like Bjorn Lomborg. And even the ever-green Guardian is getting in on the act, lashing green activists for being dogmatically anti-science. With green policies failing left and right, environmentalism is in need of a serious injection of common sense and critical thinking.

[Photo of Bjorn Lomborg courtesy of Getty Images.]

Published on July 30, 2013 3:06 pm
  • Kavanna

    Actually, most of the money should just be returned to taxpayers or bondholders. A proper basic research program in this area would cost a fraction of the current subsidies. The risks, rewards, and losses of applied research, commercialization, and marketing should be left to private actors.

    If adjustment to “naked” market prices are needed to offset polluting energy sources, just impose taxes on the offending activity. Most of this stuff is not hard and doesn’t require the overthinking and army of special interests that inevitably emerge with interventionist approaches.

    Nice to see even al-Guardian bashing environmentalists for being hostile to science. The movement is one of the main forces today attracting the public away from scientific thinking.

    (Say hi to Bjorn for me.)