Bobo haz a sad. Bobo is sorrowful. Bobo has a question. In “A Sad Green Story” he asks what happened to the golden days of green technology? It’s a tale of disappointed hopes. I’m sure that the name “Solyndra” has never crossed Bobo’s lips, and he’s never carried water for the oil bidness. Oh, and Al Gore is fat and has a big house… Prof. Krugman addresses a “Snow Job on Jobs” and says Mitt Romney says he has a plan that would create millions of jobs. It’s a five-point plan to nowhere. Shocked. I’m SHOCKED that Money Boo Boo would mislead the American people. Here’s Bobo, grieving for green:
The period around 2003 was the golden spring of green technology. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill to curb global warming. I got my first ride in a Prius from a conservative foreign policy hawk who said that these new technologies were going to help us end our dependence on Middle Eastern despots. You’d go to Silicon Valley and all the venture capitalists, it seemed, were rushing into clean tech.
From that date on the story begins to get a little sadder.
Al Gore released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. The global warming issue became associated with the highly partisan former vice president. Gore mobilized liberals, but, once he became the global warming spokesman, no Republican could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and survive. Any slim chance of building a bipartisan national consensus was gone.
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama seized upon green technology and decided to make it the centerpiece of his jobs program. During his presidential campaign he promised to create five million green tech jobs. Renewable energy has many virtues, but it is not a jobs program. Obama’s stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.
Federal subsidies also created a network of green tech corporations hoping to benefit from taxpayer dollars. One of the players in this network was, again, Al Gore. As Carol Leonnig reported in The Washington Post last week, Gore left public office in 2001 worth less than $2 million. Today his wealth is estimated to be around $100 million.
Leonnig reports that 14 green tech firms that Gore invested in received or directly benefited from more than $2.5 billion in federal loans, grants and tax breaks. Suddenly, green tech looks less like a gleaming beacon of virtue and more like corporate welfare, further enriching already affluent investors.
The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.
The U.S. government wasn’t the only one investing in renewables. Governments around the world were also doing it, and the result has been gigantic oversupply, a green tech bubble. Keith Bradsher of The Times reported earlier this month that China’s biggest solar panel makers are suffering losses of up to $1 for every $3 in sales. Panel prices have fallen by three-fourths since 2008. Manufacturers will need huge subsidies far into the future — as Bradsher writes, “a looming financial disaster.” The U.S. share of the global market, meanwhile, has fallen from 7 percent to 3 percent since 2008.
The biggest blow to green tech has come from the marketplace itself. Fossil fuel technology has advanced more quickly than renewables technology. People used to worry that the world would soon run out of oil, but few worry about that now. Shale gas, meanwhile, has become the current hot, revolutionary fuel of the future.
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Daniel Yergin projects that in 2030 the worldwide fuel mix will not be too different than what it is today. That is, there will be more solar and wind power generated, but these sources will still account for a small fraction of total supply. Fossil fuels will still be the default fuel for decades ahead.
The Financial Post in Canada recently surveyed the gloom across the clean energy sector. “Revenues from renewable and alternative energy fell a little more than 12%” in 2011, the paper reported. Research and development spending on renewables is set to decline next year, according to United Nations figures, while the oil and gas sector is investing a whopping $490 billion a year in exploration.
All in all, the once bright green future is looking grimmer. Green tech is decidedly less glamorous, tarnished by political and technological disappointments.
The shifting mood was certainly evident in the presidential debate this week. Global warming was off the radar. Meanwhile, President Obama and Mitt Romney competed to see who could most ardently support coal and new pipelines. Obama is running radio ads in Ohio touting his record as a coal champion.
This is not where we thought we’d be back in 2003.
Global warming is still real. Green technology is still important. Personally, I’d support a carbon tax to give it a boost. But he who lives by the subsidy dies by the subsidy. Government planners should not be betting on what technologies will develop fastest. They should certainly not be betting on individual companies.
This is a story of overreach, misjudgments and disappointment.
It’s also a story of a lunatic fringe in a lunatic party howling against scientific fact. You’re going to have to bite down on that inconvenient truth, you sanctimonious asshole. Also, the idea of yoking McCain and Lieberman together and using the word “bipartisan” is enough to make a cat laugh. Here’s Prof. Krugman:
Mitt Romney talks a lot about jobs. But does he have a plan to create any?
You can defend President Obama’s jobs record — recovery from a severe financial crisis is always difficult, and especially so when the opposition party does its best to block every policy initiative you propose. And things have definitely improved over the past year. Still, unemployment remains high after all these years, and a candidate with a real plan to make things better could make a strong case for his election.
But Mr. Romney, it turns out, doesn’t have a plan; he’s just faking it. In saying that, I don’t mean that I disagree with his economic philosophy; I do, but that’s a separate point. I mean, instead, that Mr. Romney’s campaign is telling lies: claiming that its numbers add up when they don’t, claiming that independent studies support its position when those studies do no such thing.
Before I get there, however, let me take a minute to talk about Mr. Romney’s claim that he knows how to fix the economy because he’s been a successful businessman. That would be a dubious claim even if he were honestly representing his business career, because the skills needed to run a business and those needed to manage economic policy are very different. In any case, however, his portrait of his own experience is so misleading that it takes your breath away.
For Mr. Romney, who started as a business consultant and then moved into the heady world of private equity, insists on portraying himself as a plucky small businessman.
I am not making this up. In Tuesday’s debate, he declared, “I came through small business. I understand how hard it is to start a small business.” In his speech at the Republican convention, he declared, “When I was 37, I helped start a small company.”
Ahem. It’s true that when Bain Capital started, it had only a handful of employees. But it had $37 million in funds, raised from sources that included wealthy Europeans investing through Panamanian shell companies and Central American oligarchs living in Miami while death squads associated with their families ravaged their home nations. Hey, doesn’t every plucky little start-up have access to that kind of financing?
But back to the Romney jobs plan. As many people have noted, the plan has five points but contains no specifics. Loosely speaking, however, it calls for a return to Bushonomics: tax cuts for the wealthy plus weaker environmental protection. And Mr. Romney says that the plan would create 12 million jobs over the next four years.
Where does that number come from? When pressed, the campaign cited three studies that it claimed supported its assertions. In fact, however, those studies did no such thing.
Just for the record, one study concluded that America might gain two million jobs if China stopped infringing on U.S. patents and other intellectual property; this would be nice, but Mr. Romney hasn’t proposed anything that would bring about that outcome. Another study suggested that growth in the energy sector might add three million jobs in the next few years — but these were predicted gains under current policy, that is, they would happen no matter who wins the election, not as a consequence of the Romney plan.
Finally, a third study examined the effects of the Romney tax plan and argued (implausibly, but that’s another issue) that it would lead to a large increase in the number of Americans who want to work. But how does that help cure a situation in which there are already millions more Americans seeking work than there are jobs available? It’s irrelevant to Mr. Romney’s claims.
So when the campaign says that these three studies support its claims about jobs, it is, to use the technical term, lying — just as it is when it says that six independent studies support its claims about taxes (they don’t).
What do Mr. Romney’s economic advisers actually believe? As best as I can tell, they’re placing their faith in the confidence fairy, in the belief that their candidate’s victory would inspire an employment boom without the need for any real change in policy. In fact, in his infamous Boca Raton “47 percent” remarks, Mr. Romney himself asserted that he would give a big boost to the economy simply by being elected, “without actually doing anything.” And what about the overwhelming evidence that our weak economy isn’t about confidence, it’s about the hangover from a terrible financial crisis? Never mind.
To summarize, then, the true Romney plan is to create an economic boom through the sheer power of Mr. Romney’s personal awesomeness. But the campaign doesn’t dare say that, for fear that voters would (rightly) consider it ridiculous. So what we’re getting instead is an attempt to brazen it out with nakedly false claims. There’s no jobs plan; just a plan for a snow job on the American people.