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According to my ‘favourite’ newspaper…

Bill Clinton: cutting use of natural resources would help US economy

Former president says US would recover faster from financial crises if more effort was made to use resources sustainably

Clinton was speaking to the Re|Source conference in Oxford, and features a line-up of individuals with international profiles. Fiona Harvey of the Guardian was there, and had this to say about Clinton’s recipe for America’s recovery:

“We can grow even faster if we use less energy,” said Clinton in a conversation with the Guardian at the Resource 2012 conference in Oxford on Friday evening. “We have studies that show this. All that we need to do is find ways to finance this.”

He said the current financial system favoured the building of major projects such as coal-fired power stations, despite their energy intensity, because the value of energy efficiency was underrated.
Big financial backers are used to weighing up the finances of major infrastructure works, because they have long developed the financial models to work out the payback on their investment over the project’s lifetime.

But financing efficiency projects is more complex, and has received much less attention from investors, because the payback is spread more diffusely – among thousands of companies and individuals.

“This is the problem with going aggressively for efficiency, as we need to,” Clinton said. “If I want to finance efficiency savings, I need to go to lots of people and add all those savings together. But if I want to build a new coal-fired power station, I go to a few [backers] and I’ve done it.”

“We can grow even faster if we use less energy”… Has Clinton discovered some new principle which contradicts all existing scientific knowledge? Have the laws of thermodynamics changed? Does this hold true for any amount of ‘less energy’ used? Could we use less and less energy indefinitely, and ‘grow’ indefinitely? Is less, really, and in fact, more?

Of course not. And dear old Bill is confused about the difference between ‘using less’ and ‘efficiency’. He believes that somehow, inefficiencies are built into some kind of ‘system’. He believes you can change the system by ‘financing efficiency projects’. And this will somehow made it possible to ‘grow faster’.

This is nonsense, of course, unless you’re facing a shortage of the resource in the first place. We’re not. There are plenty of resources. But they are expensive at the moment. So it could be argued that making processes more energy efficient might lower the total cost of energy, leaving more money for other things. But this would depend in the first place on the ‘efficiency project’ being worthwhile. You could install a $million worth of things that improve efficiency, but only realise $100,000 worth of fuel savings a year. And then you’d have to decide whether you’d get a better return on the $million spent on efficiency, or some other thing.

Clinton wants to make efficiency an end in itself. This is a reinvention of the concept of ‘efficiency’. And as discussed in a recent post here, this reinvention of ‘efficiency’ in environmental terms, cannot produce growth, except in the twisted logic of environmentalism. Making this reinvented ‘efficiency’ the end of policy and of the production of energy means precisely the opposite of ‘growth’.

Nobody ever needed to tell the designers and financiers of of power stations to be ‘efficient’. If a team of designers could not produce increasingly efficient generator designs, they would quickly find themselves working in other fields. (Perhaps they might find themselves either working on the Guardian, or advising former presidents). And if financiers did not put emphasis on efficiency in their briefs to designers, they would soon find their stock falling. Designers being able to produce something more efficiently than existing systems is what makes financiers get their chequebooks out. And it’s not as if there is no incentive, what with oil prices being what they are.

But environmentalism holds that there is only one form of ‘efficiency’. And it’s not for anyone else to determine what the measure of ‘efficiency’ is — i.e. to make calculations of something’s efficiency in the terms that are of interest to them. Environmentalists believe they have invented — rather than reinvented — ‘efficiency’, and that nobody had ever heard of it.

And it’s an interesting rhetorical trick, a bit like the invention of the concept of ‘sustainability’. To be critical of ‘sustainability’ would sound like being critical of something that common sense tells you is right. Who is for ‘unsustainability’? It’s only when we look at the endless stream of nonsense that is produced by advocates of ‘sustainability’ that we discover that the common sense understanding of ‘sustainable’ is not the principle operating within the agenda. They’re talking about ‘sustainability’ in terms strictly narrowed by environmentalism. Nobody is against efficiency.

‘Efficiency’, says Clinton… And the room gives him a standing ovation, as though, for centuries, it had been the missing part of liberte, egalite, fraternite.

What does Clinton know about ‘efficiency’? What is the reason he was invited to the Re|Source conference? For sure, he might be able to shed some light on what happened in politics during his reign. But what does he really know about how much CO2 a power station produces? As much as Al Gore? He’s a celebrity, of course, and that’s why he turned up. He was briefed on what to say by his researchers. He’s just an actor. This was just a performance.

And the performance is extended onto the pages of the Guardian, where another actor, playing the part of a journalist called Fiona Harvey, penned the article. It looks like journalism. It looks like an article in a newspaper. But a vital component is missing from the scene, making it it impossible to suspend disbelief, and to find the performance convincing. The journalist has suspended disbelief. She believes the play she is in. And she forgets to notice that Clinton is talking unmitigated bullshit.

As the article points out, David Miliband and Peter Mandelson were also in attendance.

Earlier in the conference, Miliband warned of the destructive effects of resource overuse and scarcity, and Mandelson called for an end to subsidies that encouraged the overuse of fossil fuels and an increase in support mechanisms for clean energy, such as sun and wind power.

Mandelson said: “Some kinds of subsidies are key to opening up the new world but on the other hand there are some kinds which are the biggest obstacles to making progress.

Isn’t it odd that when politicians say ‘environment’, journalists’ brains switch off. It’s as if there were no reason to be sceptical of these politicians’ words. No need to check the facts, or to scrutinise the logic… when the politicians are talking about climate change in the right way.

Climate Resistance, 13 July 2012