One of the advantages of a long-haul flight is the chance to sit down and read. On a recent flight, I picked up a copy of Super Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner, the sequel to their hugely successful Freakonomics. Promoted under the tag-line “A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything”, these books apply the techniques of statistics and economics to a range of human behaviours, sometimes in a very quirky way indeed.
Super Freakonomics, for example, shows why a suicide bomber should take out life insurance. And why the EU’s decision to raise the age below which children must use a car booster seat is pointless and irrational (but what did they expect from the EU?).
There’s an excellent chapter on global warming. Sadly the authors buy into the underlying proposition of climate alarmism — that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and just might cause dangerous climate change. There I (and UKIP) disagree with them. But they also look at our current policies to “fight climate change”, and conclude, rightly, that they are both futile and wasteful. Bang on the button, guys. Al Gore, the EU and the IPCC are making the most expensive gesture in the whole history of gesture politics — and of the human race.
The authors make another rather less general point, which I have heard made before, but bears repeating. The government, through the electricity utilities, has been offering eye-watering subsidies on solar PV. Eagle-eyed readers of this blog (with long memories) will recall that I have written several times about my own domestic solar PV system, which pays me, as a subsidy, on every unit of electricity generated, many times the cost of generating the same unit of electricity in a proper power station.
Levitt and Dubner point out that solar panels are black, and black objects absorb radiation rather well. But the panels turn only about 12% of the incident energy into heat. What happens to the rest, ask Levitt & Dubner? Why it heats the panel and is radiated into the atmosphere. (To be fair, the panels are also shiny, and some of the incident sunlight is probably reflected — but the panels do get warm). It is quite possible that rather than mitigating climate change (on the orthodox theory), solar panels are adding to it! If you believe the IPCC theory, you’d probably do more for the planet by painting your roof white than by putting solar panels on it.
But then, no one will offer you a subsidy for painting your roof white.