Sunday, June 20, 2010

Energy Fixers and Policy Wonks

Energy writers can be classified as either fixers, or policy wonks. Fixers focus on technological issues. Many, but by no means all fixers agree with the policy wonks, that Anthropogenic Global Warming is the big problem. The fixer is more interested in identifying the technological fix, and suggesting possible paths to facilitate the solution. Fixers do not denie the need for some policy decisions, but typically the decisions are much simpler, and approaches to accomplishing goals more flexible than those advocated by the wonks.

The fixers also emphasize comparative outcome studies. For example, fixres ask, how much does producing a given amount of energy cost with nuclear power and wind. Fixers are more attune to energy reliability problems than policy wonks. Fixers are more likely to be trained as scientists and engineers, while policy wonks are more likely to be trained in the humanities, social sciences, or as journalists. Fixers are system oriented. They are more inclined to ask how does an energy solution work, and how a proposed energy solution would impact energy and other human systems. At least some policy wonks are interested in changing not only the energy systems, but other majoy human systems as well. Such policy wonks may argue that the human systems that produce the the standard of living found in the United States and other advanced nations, is unsustainable.

Policy wonks tend to advocate a lot of social engineering, while fixers are more concerned about technological engineering. Self styled "environmentalists," tend to be policy wonks who want to view social engineering as being the main route to the resolution of energy problems. Policy wonks favor non-nuclear, renewable technology solutions, but believe that energy problems cannot be solved, without government interventions including mandating renewable technologies, government subsidies for the construction renewable energy sources, and subsidies for the production of renewable energy. Policy wonks put great store in the in the idea that energy use can be limited by efficiency, even though there is a considerable body of economic literature that suggests that improved efficiency leads to greater energy production.

Policy wonks tend to oppose nuclear power, repeating slogans drawn from 1970s' bumper stickers to justify their opposition. Fixers tend to concentrate on nuclear solutions as being both rational ans viable, and point out reasons why quoting 1970s's bumper stickers is not a rational approach to the solution of current energy problems.

While policy wonks claim a unique attachment to the environment, they often ignore adverce environmental consequences of the solutions they advocate. Fixers tend in practice to be just at least as committed to environmental values as policy wonks, and point to positive environmental outcomes in justifying fixes. Policy wonk tend to discount fixers environmentalism, while fixers view Policy Wonks environmentalism as superficial and inconsistent.

Policy wonks pay little attention to actual energy costs. They uniformly believe that nuclear costs are way too expensive and will become higher with time at an exponential rate, but that the cost of renewable energy sources are cheep and if subsidized will get much, much cheaper. Fixers are looking for way to lower nuclear cost, and point out that the cost of wind projects is more expensive than nuclear per unit of electricity generated. They also note that the cost of electricity per unit generated from solar is several times higher than electricity generated by nuclear. Policy Wonks say the actual cost of electricity generatyed by renewables is unimportant and increases reflect a failure to offer big enough subsidies.

Fixers point out that renewables fail to deliver energy on demand. Policy Wonks believe in teaching people how to take advantage of energy when it is avaliable. Fixers want lots of energy, Policy Wonks want to teach people to do more with less or to learn to do without, and think that air conditioning in Dallas, Texas is an unneeded luxury.

Among Internet energy writers, Policy Wonks include Amory Lovins, Joe Romm and Mark Z. Jacobson. Among Internet energy writers, Fixers include, Rod Adams, Barry Brook, and Kirk Sorensen.


Meredith Angwin said...

Charles. I have a darker view of the Wonks than you do. I see them as people who believe that most people are bad and need to be controlled. Most people shouldn't use so much energy. Most people aren't running their lives right. Most people...

And the Wonks have the fix.

When the man from BP talked about the Little People, he was talking like one of the Wonks.

Duncan said...

Great post, summarizing an amazing amount of material.

I love the new site banner, too!


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