Climate Change

09.17.12

Should Conservatives Embrace Solar Power?

Noah Smith, writing for The Atlantic, would very much like them to consider it.

Conservatives, meanwhile, need to recognize that solar is for real. Modern American conservative ideas were mostly formed in the late 70s and early 80s, when solar really was prohibitively expensive. But things change. At one point, computers were so big that CEOs laughed out loud at the idea of a "personal computer"... but a few years later, Moore's Law had made those dreams into reality.

Similarly, the conservative conventional wisdom - that solar will only ever survive by leaning on the crutch of government subsidies - is an anachronism whose expiration date has arrived. Solar is now so advanced that Germany, although it is cutting subsidies, is installing capacity at a breakneck pace; solar now provides over 4% of the electricity consumed by that cloudy, high-latitude country, and over 10% at peak times. Meanwhile, solar installations in the U.S., though helped by regulation and subsidies, are approximately doubling every year, without causing civilization to collapse. This trend will only make more sense as the exponential cost drop continues.

Smith would also prefer the Western world give away its technological innovations under the guise of fairness.

And here is the next step, the really radical policy idea: We need to give our low-carbon technologies away to other countries, starting with gas extraction technologies. China now burns much of the world's coal, but they have big deposits of frack-able gas. A deliberate technology transfer is thus the fastest way to lower China's emissions. This will mean lower profits for some U.S. companies, but in the long run it will be a boost to our economy too, even without considering the "world doesn't get destroyed" aspect.

And importantly, green tech transfers will seem fair to developing countries. The West developed first, burning coal and oil the whole time. It's only fair that we shell out our own money to save the world from global warming now. Realize that if there is ever to be a global carbon tax, it will require (a) the existence of almost-as-cheap alternatives (like solar), and (b) the perception of fairness on the part of China and India. U.S. government research and free tech transfer kills both birds with one stone.