Well, he is going to be right eventually. Though we supposedly hit Peak Oil in 1992, yet still haven't, the math says they can't be wrong forever. To make his case that fossil fuels are doomed sooner rather than later, he invokes the popular standby of people who want to sound science-y: the brain.
"Brain scientists tell us we have a very worrying collective tendency for blindness to the kind of risks that can crash economies, and imperil civilizations," his statement reads. "The financial crisis suggests they are right. Now we need to worry that the energy industries are about to repeat the behavior traits of the financial sector, and on multiple fronts."
How exactly? By cost-effectively knocking CO2 emissions from energy back to early 1990s levels, and dirty coal back to early 1980s, all while the White House spent $72 billion trying to pick winners and losers in the corporate world by showering money on solar power competition? That doesn't sound like a negative behavior trait, even in the hands of a trained geologist who has migrated into psychology.
This doesn't sound like solar power is making anything collapse soon. It sounds like we have been bilked by advocates.
But reality doesn't sell books to true believers, so he insists that shale is a myth and a carbon bubble is about to burst. If that sounds like a rehash of Paul Erdman's "The Crash Of '79", you are as old as me. Erdman got wealthy writing financial fiction, even when it was in economics journals, so that part of the business plan for Leggett is sound.
He also says the solar power headache is not due to governments abandoning subsidies because the reality has not met the hype, nor a hangover among the public because they got sold an expensive solar system they were assured would pay for itself in 5 years, but instead that evil Big Oil is engaged in a public relations campaign against solar. Basically, people are stupid and his deficit-thinking approach will fix it right up.
In the real world, it's instead that there haven't been meaningful improvements in solar in 50 years - Energy Secretary Steven Chu's belief that if Americans threw enough money at the problem it would get better was just plain old science nationalism. Meanwhile, the Chinese focused on making the solar technology that already exists cheap so that they could sell it to western governments rolling out subsidies rather than investing in magic rocks.
But not buying magic rocks is instead energy industry collective blindness, Leggett says - and that may make sense, if you are one of the people selling magic rocks.
Obviously solar power is the future and there are important solar power basic research issues that will be solved and science will make it happen. But paying off more solar power installation companies with taxpayer dollars does not advance science in the least.
Leggett had a press briefing this morning at the Exco Press Centre of The World Energy Congress.