Solar panels: an environmentalist luxury


Author:  Damien M. Schiff

This month's Wired Magazine has an interesting interview with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.  Gates is asked about his views on renewable energy and technology.  He observes that the problem with, for example, solar panels is that they have become more a symbol for a policy position than an adequate energy generating replacement.  Referring to solar panels on one's home rooftop, Gates quips:  "It's cute, you know, it's nice.  But the economics are so, so far from making sense."  When asked whether the Gates residence has solar panels, Gates responds:  "Oh, we like to be cute like everyone.  For rich people, this is OK.  Rich people can do whatever they want."

I for one certainly appreciate Gates' candidness that so much of the mega-millionaire sanctimonious do-good-ism we hear about is simply because the super-rich can conform their conduct to any standard of green living, no matter how uneconomical.  That is not the case with the vast majority of humanity.  One can see a similar dynamic in the global warming debate, where developed nations seek to restrain the greenhouse gas emissions of undeveloped and developing countries, even though the developed nations have already reaped the economic success that comes from having availed themselves of fossil fuels for two centuries.  One sees the same dynamic in the popularity of laws like the Endangered Species Act, which seemingly produces no costs for urban dwellers but the mandates of which fall heavily on people living where those species are to be found.

Thus, a truly balanced approach to environmental regulation would acknowledge that environmental regulation does come with a steep price, and that those who pontificate environmental righteousness to others are often folks who themselves (or their ancestors) have already enjoyed the benefits of environmental "harm," benefits that they would now seek to deny to others.