Solar panels are fine for elites, just like organic food is - but like with organic food we shouldn't manipulate data to match our belief system.
Unlike organic food, solar employment would collapse the minute the government-mandated cushion dries up, just like ethanol or wind, and the new administration is looking at money as money, not as ideology. When it comes to money as money, coal still generates it with 20 percent fewer employees while solar is a big drain and almost all of the employees would need to be fired if not for taxpayer handouts. But not everyone thinks of money as money, academia is the home of people who believe that NIH earns twice as much as it costs, while California activists claim so much in profit from regulations I asked them to manage the US Treasury - because they could cure the national deficit in just two months by adding more regulations. Academics have taken to using virtual lives, and therefore virtual money, to make solar look more politically attractive when it so clearly fails Economics 101.
But if the public is going to make informed decisions about health and science policy, we have to look at real numbers, and how they were derived. This is not only important for the present, but for the future. I have long maintained that solar is the future - but that subsidizing solar panel corporations rather than funding basic research is a huge mistake. Poor people being forced to pay higher conventional utility rates so residents of Malibu can get rebates on panels and electricity is a travesty.
Photo: Andrew Glaser
Yet that is a political issue, and therefore debatable as opinion. What can be debatable as fact is when academics try to legitimize their beliefs using hard numbers. A new paper claims 51,999 premature deaths a year are caused each year in America from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal, and that the health care system could save as much as $2.5 million for each life saved. They did this by comparing US deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar.
There is one big problem; there are zero air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal in the United States, they instead take as fact the hand-picked epidemiology studies that EPA used in order to rationalize the Obama administrations desire to make its enormous subsidies for solar look good - by making fossil fuels too expensive. The authors of the new paper didn't really look at any of the primary literature, they looked at EPA statements and reviews in Environmental Health Perspectives, which is essentially a predatory journal for people who want to publish woo.
There is a big reason, and it is a legitimate reason, that some sections of EPA have been under fire. A federal judge had to order EPA to stop blaming fracking for earthquakes without actually doing any research, and even though America has some of the cleanest air in the world, EPA chose a new target for regulatory control - PM 2.5 - and began correlating it to lots of health effects and even deaths. Government-funded academics unsurprisingly rushed to chime in, but politically neutral analyses of data showed that in the entire existence of EPA not a single death has been caused by PM 2.5. And that is the only thing left to attack about coal and deaths.
Drs. Stan Young and Jim Enstrom at the American Council on Science and Health have long stood up against these health claims, and they have proved that more deaths have been caused by technicians installing solar panels than have been caused by the particulate matter that the Obama administration's EPA insisted must be curtailed.
The EPA may believe grilling your hamburger is causing pollution deaths, but data show it isn't.
And the sources the authors use in the paper can't show any differently. The sources they use talk about global air pollution deaths - and those are real, if you are burning dung inside your home, you are creating a real pollution problem for your family - but they conflate those data with EPA's desire to regulate PM 2.5, which causes none. Certainly China is polluted, as the world's biggest polluter they should be in Paris getting yelled at for their emissions, but the pollution that harms people in China and elsewhere is PM 10. That risk is basically non-existent in the U.S.
Coal has been in decline, replaced by cleaner-burning natural gas, which was endorsed by environmental groups as an alternative for years. There is no need to manufacture claims which will only serve to install fear and doubt among the public about what is science and what is politicization of science. We need a lot less of the latter.
Hank Campbell is the President of the American Council on Science and Health. This article appeared in slightly edited form there.