That the federal government wastes money isn’t news. Expenditures from the Iraq War have been estimated at $3 trillion or more by the Washington Post. It bears repeating that the Iraq War wasn’t even necessary to begin with, and it has cost many lives. Politicians who are attacking the Solyndra federal loan as an indication that solar energy is not worth subsidizing, are wrong, and are simply trying to make partisan hay from a single mistake. Some of them seem to have very conveniently forgotten that Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Agriculture all receive federal subsidies amounting to a great deal of money, year after year.
The oil industry receives about four billion dollars a year in tax breaks from the U.S. government. Robert Kennedy Jr. said in an interview that oil and coal each receive about one trillion dollars a year in subsidies both directly and indirectly. Also, corn farming in the United States received $77 billion in subsidies from 1995-2010. These are just several examples of industries receiving support from the federal government.
Renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal and wave power also require support, especially as they are emerging technologies subject to volatile changes in the market and haven’t found solid footing in mainstream culture. They need help because when they mature they mean cleaner air for Americans, and far less dependence on foreign oil, which is a waste of an enormous amount of money, and is geo-politically troublesome to say the least. About $25 billion dollars a year from America goes for Persian Gulf oil. Much more goes to Canada, though fortunately they are a stable democratic nation.
The coal industry receives subsidies even though burning coal to make electricity has been linked to deadly air pollution. One report says 13,000 premature deaths a year result from coal burning. Another study says there are potentially an extra 60,000 cancer cases a year due to coal mining via mountaintop removal. This explosive practice has also destroyed ten of thousands of acres of once pristine natural forests and polluted countless water sources both for wildlife and people.
Solar power plants don’t produce deadly air pollution. They don’t even produce sickness-inducing air pollution. Neither do wind turbines, geothermal power, or wave energy. Clean energy doesn’t kill or sicken as many people or wildlife as fossil fuel-based energy does.
In the long run we could save a large portion of the money we spend on foreign oil by investing in renewable energy sources now. If we don’t do it now, we probably will eventually later simply because it is the way the whole world is going, because it is necessary given climate change problems, and pollution problems due to fossil fuel use. Most of the world’s power may be solar-based by the year 2060.
The faster we develop our own clean energy sources, the better change we have to be leaders in this field, rather than followers. As leaders we stand some chance at licensing and selling our clean energy technology to other countries and making money. As followers we might end up paying more, and having little chance of pursuing international business opportunities. In information technology we are leaders with companies like Google, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft and so on. There is no reason we can’t also be leaders in clean energy, but we need our politicians to understand clean energy vs. dirty energy, public health, climate change, and long-term economic trends. We don’t need more petty infighting and finger-pointing over relatively small mistakes. Moving an entire nation to new sources of energy isn’t going to be a perfectly smooth transition.
Image Credit: Public Domain