So, I’m listening to a show on KUOW about peak oil, and you know what bugs me? I’ll tell you.

You often hear a single person make the following two claims:

  • Clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar "just aren’t developed enough" now to meet our energy needs. Just not dense enough in their energy output. Take up too much darn space. "Maybe someday," they say wistfully, "but not today."
  • Although we’re running out of conventional sources of oil, magical new technologies and methods will allow us to extract oil economically from deep water, tar sands, shale, the moon, god knows what. "Never underestimate human ingenuity," they cry, "technology shall save us!"

In other words, the argument against moving from oil to clean energy depends on discussing renewable energy technologies as though they are frozen in time, while at the same time painting a picture of a Jetsons-esque future for oil extraction technologies.

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Me, I love technology, and I have great faith in human ingenuity. But if brainpower and billions of dollars of investment can transform oil extraction technologies, why can’t they make clean energy technologies orders of magnitude smaller, more efficient, and easier to use?

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Keep an eye out for this slight of hand. If current oil technology and current clean energy technology go head to head (and environmental consequences are taken into account), clean energy technology wins. If they go head to head based on the assumption of brilliant new technological advances, clean energy technology wins.

Clean energy technology wins.