This started as a response to Michael Tobis in this thread, but seemed worthy of moving to its own post.

Capturing the solar budget. Photo: pcesarperez via flickr

Michael said: "I started by defending sequestration on the grounds of the conventional wisdom that renewables do not seem adequate for the whole energy picture …" This is a common refrain. You frequently hear people say that we "have to" continue using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future because we "can’t" meet our energy needs with renewables. Naturally, if that’s true, the debate is over. Can’t is can’t; impossible is impossible. Or is it?

What’s known as our "solar budget" — the currently circulating flows of wind, sunlight, tides, the heat inside the earth — is orders of magnitude larger than our current or projected energy demand. It’s more than we could ever realistically use.

We already have the technology to put these renewable sources of energy to work for us (and to do so more efficiently). New, ingenious ways of capturing renewable energy are being developed every day.

We also have the money to shift to renewables. It’s easy to forget in all the quibbles over relatively small dollar amounts, but the U.S. is almost unfathomably rich, with an economy north of $13 trillion in 2006. When all is said and done, we’re going to spend about $1 trillion on the Iraq War, and while it’s a spectacular waste, it hasn’t noticeably damaged our economy. If we collectively decided to devote, say, $5 trillion over five years to build out renewables and efficiency (R&E), you better believe we could make them "adequate for the whole energy picture."

So: we have the renewable energy, we have the technology to capture it, and we have the money to build out the technology. That is to say:

The argument over renewables isn’t about can or can’t, it’s about should or shouldn’t.

If people want to argue that we shouldn’t aggressively switch to renewables — that it’s too expensive, or too politically difficult — let them. But quit with the "can’t" cant.