China Is Unaware That the Government Is Powerless to Promote Clean Energy

Today’s Los Angeles Times op-ed page brings a piece by Michael Smith, of Cynthiana, Kentucky, explaining that carbon taxation and similar coercive measures will do nothing to force the development of cleaner energy :

“If they can put a man on the moon, they can find something to replace oil.”

This trope has been around since Mideast oil producers delivered their first ransom note to the West in the 1970s. It implies that the fuel of the future is perfectly ordinary stuff — like the ingredients of Coca Cola — and we could have it tomorrow if not for shadowy corporate interests that jealously guard the formula.

Such folk wisdom has no currency among those who actually work on alternative energy, who know too well the challenges they face and understand that a breakthrough may be decades away.

That’s a weird gloss on the man-on-the-moon thing: who believes corporations were conspiring to keep people from exploring space? To most folks, the moon mission is just a handy example of an intensive, non-market-based government development project. Others include high-speed interstate highways and the atomic bomb.

But Smith’s argument is that nobody has come up with better energy sources than oil because oil is really fantastically great, a natural concentrated energy source that puts human creations to shame:

Nature needed countless millennia to pack it into your $40 fill-up. Is it any wonder we have a tough time matching her? To date, the only thing that comes close is nuclear fission.

(Hey, how did we come up with nuclear fission, again?)

Anyway, the libertarian-Panglossian message is, there’s no way to force the energy industry into cleaner alternatives. If clean energy were possible, it would have already happened by now. Meanwhile, today’s New York Times has a story from China

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology quietly published a list late Sunday of 2,087 steel mills, cement works and other energy-intensive factories required to close by Sept. 30. 


[T]he ministry said in a statement on its Web site that the factories on its list would be barred from obtaining bank loans, export credits, business licenses and land. The ministry even warned that their electricity would be shut off, if necessary.


The announcement was the latest in a series of Chinese moves to increase energy efficiency. The National Development and Reform Commission, which is the government’s most powerful economic planning agency, announced last Friday that it had forced 22 provinces to halt their practice of providing electricity at discounted prices to energy-hungry industries like aluminum production.

Silly China! Eliminating subsidies and shutting down dirty facilities is big-government meddling at its most foolhardy . Why can’t China learn to live with reality ?