The history of renewable energy spans the history of man. From the Stone Age until recent times, the market share of renewables was virtually 100 percent. The preindustrial inanimate energies were woody matter, falling water, and rudimentary capture of wind and solar.
The modern energy era, dating from the Industrial Revolution, replaced renewables with vastly superior mineral energies. The age of coal began in the 18th century. Oil came of age in the second half of the 19th century with major U.S. discoveries. And natural gas joined in the 20th century as manufactured (coal) gas was replaced by piped methane. Bitumen (trademarked as Orimulsion), with reserves rivaling that of crude oil itself, became the fourth fossil fuel in the last half of the last century (Bradley 1999).
Most recently, the “shale revolution” has redefined and expanded oil and gas with profound implications for a fossil-fueled 21st century (Moore and White, ch. 2). Among other things, natural-gas superabundance is creating a global market for liquified natural gas (LNG). And most recently, compressed gas liquid (CGL) is competing against LNG as a globally shipped fuel (Darbonne 2017).
Modern energy is the story of innovation and expansion within the fossil-fuel family, far less outside of it where government intervention has only made the uneconomic and unsuitable less so. The fossil-fuel revolution is the story of incremental improvement (Smil 2014) via human ingenuity, what Julian Simon called the ultimate resource (Simon 1981; 1996). Nowhere has this been more obvious than at the well- head, where resourceship has continually expanded the supply of so-called nonrenewable minerals (Bradley 2012).
Solar and wind power made a comeback in the energy-crisis 1970s. Politicians, experts, and leading oil and gas executives were convinced that mineral energies were inexorably depleting, leaving the U.S. with a national security problem of increasing oil imports (Bradley 2009, chapter 10).
Despite a four-decade effort, wind power, solar power, and ethanol are still not competitive against conventional carbon- based energy. Electric vehicles are also uneconomic on a stand-alone basis compared to the internal combustion engine. But government intervention via tax credits, ratepayer subsidies, and mandates has turned back the energy clock, as it were. A free-market, consumer-driven, taxpayer-neutral playing field will virtually eliminate the wind power industry, reduce solar power to its off-grid niche, and reduce ethanol’s blend in motor fuel to its oxygenate-only level. Electric vehicles would be a specialty item rather than a mass-produced alternative.
The wealth transfer from taxpayers and consumers to favored corporations, the result of political work by the involved firms and supportive environmental pressure groups, has increased energy costs and compromised the reliability of the electricity grid. Corporate rent-seeking and Bootleggers-and-Baptists lobbying for intervention is the subject of this paper.
The keep-it-in-the-ground anti-fossil-fuel crusade, a quarter-century old, has become a global affront to eco- nomic freedom, consumer welfare, and even modernity. Along the way, the depletion argument against fossil fuels was replaced by another: the human influence on climate, anthropogenic climate change, what was originally called global warming (Bradley 2009, 305–6).
Environmental regulation to mitigate greenhouse gas emis- sions, stated Al Gore (269), must be the “central organizing principle for civilization.” Global government control of industry, agriculture, and land-use in the name of stabilizing climate is the new central planning, one never envisioned by earlier critics of the government planned economy.