Bonfire of the Subsidies
|July 23, 2013||Posted by Staff under Environmental|
Is It Vanity, the Interference of Politicians?
Unlike wind and solar generators, biomass burners must buy fuel. This is already putting pressure on prices for other wood users, such as builders, cabinet-makers and, we should admit, magazines that are still printed on paper. It also increases reliance on imports—one of the things that renewables are often claimed to reduce.
Biomass claims to be a “carbon neutral” way of generating power: although burning wood puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, growing replacement wood sucks that carbon dioxide back out. But the ideal of a biomass plantation that is harvested only at the rate at which it grows back is not always met. Even when it is, such plantations displace other ecosystems that would themselves have sucked down carbon. Processing and transporting the wood to the place where it is burned requires energy that may well come from non-renewable sources. Some biomass programmes could end up emitting more carbon than the fossil fuels they are being subsidised to replace.
Moving to an ever-lower-carbon economy at a deliberate pace is a good idea. The best way to do it is to set a carbon tax and let the market decide the cheapest, cleanest answer while researching future alternatives. Some renewable technologies would play a big role in that.
JJS: Abolishing subsides is one (1) needed step of four. The other three are to (2) axe taxes on our efforts, (3) use fees and dues to recover the socially-generated rental values of land and resources, and, crucially, (4) disburse the surplus to citizens as a dividend. Taking all four steps will solve the dirty energy problem. No subsidies for fossil fuels. No taxes on workers who weatherize buildings, and none on profits from new inventions. Plus an extra income so people can work flexibly, putting an end to rush hour, one of our most wasteful social bad habits. But first, people must think big picture and become familiar with geonomics.