Don’t Know Much About Science

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein were on NPR’s Morning Edition promoting their new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Their thesis is that the problems in government, and especially the Congress, are caused by the Republicans.

One of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Karl over at Hot Air has been debunking the political side of Mann and Ornstein’s argument. I’d like to have a go at the science.

Most of the “green” technology/jobs legislation/spending has been pushed by the Democrats. Their ecological dreams are now running smack into the wall of the Laws of Thermodynamics–There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch! Photovoltaic arrays are made up of semiconductors that are doped with heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium. The hazardous waste left behind by Solyndra is just financial. Large wind farms not only kill huge numbers of birds, they may remove enough energy from the environment to cause local climate change. Liquid hydrocarbon fuels provide superior energy density to electric batteries, and burning gasoline or diesel fuel in the vehicle being moved has fewer losses than burning coal in a power plant hundreds of miles away, transmitting the energy, charging a battery, and then turning the motor to move the vehicle.

The science behind all that is settled. It’s the sort of stuff that had made it into the undergraduate curriculum by the time I was studying engineering in the ’60s. Wishful thinking by a former VP who made a D in Natural Science won’t change these principles.

All this doesn’t mean that the Republicans aren’t part of the problem. They are just as apt to try to legislate without regard to the Laws of Nature. But Mann and Ornstein are off base when they lay the problem mostly at the Republican’s feet