Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reality and Math

The "Elites" and Facts

Many years ago, political scientists came up with a theory that elites lead public opinion. And on some issues, they clearly do. But on some issues, they don't. Two examples of the latter phenomenon are conspicuous at a time when Barack Obama enjoys the approval of more than 60 percent of Americans and Democrats have won thumping majorities in two elections in a row. One is global warming. The other is gun control. On both issues, the elites of academe, the media and big business have been solidly on one side for years. But on both, the American public has been moving in the other direction.

And why has the public drifted away from the elites on these issues?

Some of these shifts in opinion may be responses to events that liberal elites have not deigned to notice. Forty of the 50 states now have concealed weapons laws that allow law-abiding citizens to get permits to carry guns. Gun controllers predicted these would result in traffic shootouts and general mayhem. They haven't. It turns out that criminals are deterred from attacks less by gun-control laws than by the possibility that their intended victims may be armed. As for global warming, many Americans may have noticed that temperatures actually haven't been rising over the past decade, as global warming alarmists predicted. The elites are able to hire armed security guards and jet off on private jets, so they are less likely to notice these things.

Simply put, reality does it.

The elites are insulated from having "inconvenient truths" correcting their cherished views, while "regular Joes" have to face reality.

I think there's something else at work here. For liberal elites, belief in gun control and global warming has taken on the character of religious faith. We have sinned (by hoarding guns or driving SUVs); we must atone (by turning in our guns or recycling); we must repent (by supporting gun control or cap and trade schemes). You may notice that the "we" in question is usually the great mass of ordinary American citizens.

Speaking of those pesky reality based facts...

We need to introduce simple arithmetic into our discussions of energy.

We need to understand how much energy our chosen lifestyles consume, we need to decide where we want that energy to come from, and we need to get on with building energy systems of sufficient size to match our desired consumption.

Our failure to talk straight about the numbers is allowing people to persist in wishful thinking, inspired by inane sayings such as "every little bit helps."

Trisksy Math!

As a thought-experiment, let's imagine that technology switches and lifestyle changes manage to halve American energy consumption to 125 kWh per day per person. How big would the solar, wind and nuclear facilities need to be to supply this halved consumption? For simplicity, let's imagine getting one-third of the energy supply from each.

To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 80 square meters per person of solar panels.

To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the United States would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.

To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today's levels.

Remember this when someone tries to tell you how simple "Green Energy" is.

As always look at the math.

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