Great minds think alike

by Russ Roberts on March 21, 2007

in Environment

Here is Al Gore testifying before Congress on the virtues of small-scale energy production:

Gore advised lawmakers to cut
carbon dioxide and other warming gases 90 percent by 2050 to avoid a
crisis. Doing that, he said, will require a ban on any new coal-burning
power plants—a major source of industrial carbon dioxide—that lack
state-of-the-art controls to capture the gases.

He said he
foresees a revolution in small-scale electricity producers for
replacing coal, likening the development to what the Internet has done
for the exchange of information.

Here is Mao on the virtues of small-scale steel production:

In the August 1958 Politburo meetings, it was decided that steel
production would be set to double within the year, most of the increase
coming through backyard steel furnaces. Mao was shown an example of a
backyard furnace in Hefei, Anhui
in September 1958 by provincial first secretary Zeng Xisheng. The unit
was claimed to be manufacturing high quality steel (though in fact the
finished steel had probably been manufactured elsewhere). Mao
encouraged the establishment of small backyard steel furnaces in every
commune and in each urban neighbourhood.

If Al Gore thinks energy can be produced the way information is produced, he either doesn’t understand energy or he doesn’t understand information. Here is the Wikipedia summary of the decentralized experiment of Mao:

Huge efforts on the part of peasants and other workers were made to
produce steel out of scrap metal. To fuel the furnaces the local
environment was denuded of trees and wood taken from the doors and
furniture of peasants’ houses. Pots, pans, and other metal artifacts
were requisitioned to supply the "scrap" for the furnaces so that the
wildly optimistic production targets could be met. Many of the male
agricultural workers were diverted from the harvest to help the iron
production as were the workers at many factories, schools and even
hospitals. As could have been predicted by anyone with any experience
of steel production or basic knowledge of metallurgy, the output consisted of low quality lumps of pig iron which was of negligible economic worth.

Castro had similar failed experiments that impoverished his people.

Giving up the economies of scale we currently use for energy production is going to be very expensive.


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