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’.