Supporters of the precautionary principle argue that even if it is uncertain that we will face a global warming catastrophe from producing CO2, we should insure against it by abating CO2 just in case. "You buy insurance on your house, don’t you," they often ask. Sure, I answer, except when the cost of the insurance is more than the cost of the house.
In a speech yesterday here in Washington, Al Gore challenged the United States to "produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun, and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years. This goal is achievable, affordable, and transformative." (Well, the goal is at least one of those things.) Gore compared the zero-carbon effort to the Apollo program. And the comparison would be economically apt if, rather than putting a man on the moon—which costs about $100 billion in today’s dollars—President Kennedy’s goal had been to build a massive lunar colony, complete with a casino where the Rat Pack could perform.
Gore’s fantastic—in the truest sense of the word—proposal is almost unfathomably pricey and makes sense only if you think that not doing so almost immediately would result in an uninhabitable planet. …
This isn’t the first time Gore has made a proposal with jaw-dropping economic consequences. Environmental economist William Nordhaus ran the numbers on Gore’s idea to reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050. Nordhaus found that while such a plan would indeed reduce the maximum increase in global temperatures to between 1.3 and 1.6 degrees Celsius, it did so "at very high cost" of between $17 trillion and $22 trillion over the long term, as opposed to doing nothing. (Again, just for comparative purposes, the entire global economy is about $50 trillion.)
I think everyone’s numbers are low, because they don’t include the cost of storage (technology unknown) or alternative capacity when it is a) dark and/or b) not windy.
A while back I took on Gore’s suggestion that all of America’s electricity needs could be met with current Solar technology with a 90 mile x 90 mile tract of solar. Forgetting the fact that Al’s environmental friends would never allow us to cover 8100 square miles of the desert in silicon, I got a total installation cost of $21 trillion dollars. And that did not include the electrical distribution systems necessary for the whole country to take power from this one spot, nor any kind of storage technology for using electricity at night (it was hard to cost one out when no technology exist for storing America’s total energy needs for 12 hours). Suffice it to say that a full solution with storage and distribution would easily cost north of $30 trillion dollars.