Thursday, May 12, 2016

Why Joe the plumber doesn't want renewable energy

Joe the plumber is a real person, but also an abstraction for the troubled American blue collar worker. 

In a previous post, I argued that a global transition to 100% renewable energy would be very expensive, but possible and that it could also be fast enough to avoid exceeding the emission targets set by the COP21. This opinion triggered the usual flow of negative comments; mainly based on old canards or motivated reasoning. It also generated a discussion in a private forum where it was argued that we could have the transition if we could convince the general public that renewable energy is a good thing. I found myself in partial disagreement with this interpretation and I responded with a comment that I am reproducing here, with minimal edits. 

All polls indicate that the "public" is largely favorable to renewable energy, apart from a minority of diehards who vent their frustrations by commenting the posts they don't like. So, we don't need a big effort to convince Joe the plumber that solar energy is a good idea.

Unfortunately, most likely Joe doesn't have enough money to install solar panels in his backyard. On the contrary, he is probably deep in the red, and if somebody comes up and tells him, "look, your high electricity bill is the result of the subsidies to renewable energy", he is going to believe that. He'll probably keep thinking that solar energy is a good idea, but he won't want to pay any money for it. (nor, in general, for anything related to "sustainability" or "fighting climate change").

In the end, it doesn't matter so much what Joe thinks or does. The point is how to convince that nebulous entity that we call "The Financial System" to funnel large amounts of money into renewable energy before it is too late And with large, I mean LARGE: If the big investors don't move, and fast, we are doomed.

The difficulty of the problem is evident if we consider what happened during the past decade, when the "financial system" poured gigantic amounts of money into the shale gas and oil industry. And we all know the story of the great bubble that's bursting out right now. But it is not just a question of money: it has been an incredible misuse of resources affecting a whole civilization; something that may well have doomed it for good, also in terms of the large quantity of greenhouse gases emitted and that didn't need to be emitted.

And I can't avoid thinking, "what if all that money and resources had been used for renewables, instead?" The world, today, would be completely different. So, who decided to push all that money in the wrong direction?  The Gnomes of Zurich? The Trolls of Budapest? The Goblins of Southampton? The Orcs of Bratislava? Who?

I think this is the crux of the matter. As you can see in my post,  investments in renewable energy seem to have plateaued after 2011.

And that's VERY worrisome. On the other hand, it is also true that we see a trend of increase during the past two years; that may indicate a return of interest of the financial system to renewables. And the impression is that, yes, there is a clear trend in that direction. So, maybe we have a chance, but we must move on.

h/t Adam Siegel


  1. "So, who decided to push all that money in the wrong direction? The Gnomes of Zurich? The Trolls of Budapest? The Goblins of Southampton? The Orcs of Bratislava? Who?"

    The folks who have been in control of the credit system used since the Medici Era. Mainly the Plantaganets in the early years, then the Rothschilds & Rockefellers as you moved through the 18th & 19th century. Quite a few other families involved of course, the Kuhns, Loebs, Astors, Vanderbilts, Roosevelts etc.

    These folks established the connection between energy extraction and money creation, and have run it for a solid 200 years for sure, perhaps 300 if you go back as far as the founding of the Bank of England in 1692 with Isaac Newton as Master of the Mint.

    You don't know this history Ugo? Geez.


    1. My own impression (naturally I could be wrong) is that our friend Ugo does know the basic history (though some or much of it is likely to be revisionist) but that he prefers to relegate such knowledge or understanding to the realm of "conspiracy theories". A good summary analysis of this syndrome is provided in Tragedy and Hope 101. Or in any of Antony Sutton's many books, or in The Creature from Jekkyl Island or in several other books on the website "How the World Really Works". Including also Daniel Estulin's on the Bilderberg Group which looks at things also one level up from the credit system. Why are these books and their evidence and ideas never discussed on this blog?

  2. Dear Ugo,
    could it be that the plateau in investment on RE comes from the fact that most of the technologies developed so far for capturing sunlight and wind have a too little EROEI, or even a negative one?
    If this was the case, only debt would allow to deploy RE capturing systems, so in a financial situation where money is no longer cheap (despite the very low official interest rates) or where lenders are really looking at real predictable returns, the chance to see massive investment in those systems is almost negligible.
    The fact is that transition to a complete new energy procurement system is a strategic topic only feasible by political will by public authorities, and by a convinced society. Private initiative will only follow if Governments set the path.

  3. Hello,

    I see as main problem that for most investors,ROI should be positive in 2-3 years excepted for strategical matters, and this is not really possible with renewable energy. I remember saying to my boss who asked me if we really need to repair the cos phy correction in the building, that if we didn't do it, it would be difficult to explain anybody that we did a good job, but that the ROI would not be fast enough to comply with the internal rules of the company. We were able to convince the CEO to do the investment but not with financial arguments.


  4. People tend to not see the whole picture. Actually i, who considers himself pretty interested and informed about climate change matters, did not have those clear numbers given by your (Ugo Bardis) back of envelope calculation in my mind, but only some hand waving "we should do more, do better than we do" concepts.
    Although, one of those concepts is to fucking make the fucking european fucking cap and trade system fucking work, which is so fucking logical and i could get fucking crazy and run up the wall in anger because those fucking #!§X5={\'s don't fucking get it and defend their fucking coal power stations and big cars et cetera et cetera.
    This (the ETS in a working state) would of course implicitly force the investments necessary, but it's Ugo's merit to have given them numbers, and if it is only the order of magnitude.
    As I see here, there's quite a lot of activity going on with carbon pricing ( But how long will it take?
    And how can Joe the plumber or just anyone get a comprehensive, concize picture? From the media not, not even from the environmentalist media, who tend to deliver atomized information like anybody else (dry spell here, forest fire there, coral bleach in Australia, some antarctic glacier flowing some meters per year faster and so on and so forth).

  5. A financial argument for this will always lose. Money is not the answer nor the question. It's solving the 'what's behind the money?' motivation which is the true road to success... and i'm a plumber and no it's not Joe.

  6. Is there a new outtake to this? Has the 2 years since this article changed anything about the costs with renewable energy?



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)