It’s REPLACING fossil fuels, not eliminating fossil fuels


Think: “Eliminate fossil fuels”. What do you see? Shivering in the winter and sweating in the summer? Cars with 100 mile range? Wind-up airplanes? we’re back to the stone age?

Now think: “Replace fossil fuels”. If you’re like me, you see glistening solar panels, streets with quiet cars and trucks, clean air, and low utility bills because the energy is coming from the sun, rather than a Saudi prince (nothing against the Saudis by the way).

The brain is a prediction machine, and when you hear the beginning of the story, the brain automatically guesses how the story will end. Think about a news story–when I hear the beginning of a story on NPR I can’t stop myself from predicting how the story will end. That’s just what the brain is designed to do. So when the story starts, “Eliminate fossil fuels…”, the end of the story is pretty predictable. When it starts “Replace fossil fuels…” we see a very different story, although the intent was the same. And the actions that come from that mental picture are very different.

The cost of replacing all the fossil fuel energy consumption in the US with an equal amount of solar and wind is something like $17 trillion, according to Prof. Mark Jacobson of Stanford. To put that in perspective, that’s $2800 per person each year for the 20 years we’d probably want to spend doing the transition. In fact, electricity is about 2x more efficient for almost everything than burning fossil fuels. Electric cars, for example run on 3 cents per mile of electricity (Chevy Volt), compared to 14 cents per mile of gasoline (for my 30 mpg Camry).  So make that $1400 per person. That’s 1/5 what we pay on average for health care.

Can we afford to replace fossil fuels? YES!
Do we want to eliminate them? Just ask if we want to replace them. Don’t ask us to eliminate them.

It’s brain science.