Brandon Minster

Instead of watching television, which I can’t afford, I watch online clip shows that recap the socially important parts of the television programs that matter. That’s how I can have believable conversations where I say things like, “I can’t believe Kim sang ‘Don’t Be Tardy for the Party’ on The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” even though I don’t know anything about the show, Kim or the song. I’m also aware of the current status of Dancing With the Stars, thus satisfying Thomas Jefferson’s desire for a well-informed citizenry to manage the republic.

Recently, as I was catching up on missed television shows, I saw Al Gore on The Daily Show, where he said, “Let’s take solar energy, just for starters. More sunlight falls on the surface of the earth in one hour than is necessary to provide the energy for the entire world for a full year.”

A talking point like that is formulated to get the “that’s a crying shame” reaction. The idea is to make it seem like such a negligible suggestion that only heartless Satanists and Republicans (but wait, I already covered them with the Satanists, right?) can oppose it.

I paused my browser and started doing some computations. There are 8,760 hours in a year, so its reciprocal (0.000114155) would be the portion of the earth we’d have to cover in solar panels to get that much energy in a year.

And all left-winged Americans are outraged. “That’s a hundreth of a percent!” they say. “Those oil-loving fascists!” While Gore’s talking point has done its job, here comes Debbie Downer with more than just one inconvenient truth.

First, it would have to be twice that area, since every spot on earth averages 12 hours of sunlight per day over an entire year.

Second, the earth is pretty big. How big? About 510,072,000 square kilometers big. (I know, I’m a total Commie for using kilometers, but that was what the Reds over at Wikipedia were using). Now, only half of that is lit up at any given hour, but that half is always changing. Stationary panels would only be productive for half the time, but we would need 58,227 square kilometers of solar panels in activity all the time. To assure that amount was in sunlight, we would have to have twice that area in existence. That’s an area larger than Hungary, Cuba or South Korea.

Third, the earth’s population density is 13.1 people per square kilometer. That many solar panels, if laid out on a solar farm that didn’t allow for underlying development, could displace over 1.5 million people.
“Oh, but we’d put the solar panels where nobody lives!” Then we’d have a bunch of solar energy where nobody uses it. Because energy is typically used in high-density areas, the incentive will be to place the panels as close to high-density areas as possible.

Fourth, what’s with an environmentalist advocating covering up 116,454 square kilometers of land with giant black tarps? An average American Walmart covers 173,000 square feet (weighing the averages for 2,705 supercenters of 197,000 square feet and 883 regular stores of 102,000 square feet). This means the solar panels would be larger than 7,221,057 Walmarts. I wonder what Al Gore would think of a plan to build seven million additional Walmarts.

Now, not all solar panels would have to be on vacant land; buildings are routinely fit with solar equipment on their roofs. But if most buildings currently don’t have them (and most currently don’t), there must be an economic reason for it. What would be the cost of a kilowatt of energy derived entirely from Al Gore’s seven million solar paneled Walmarts? If some of these panels are placed in high-yield areas, like Arizona and New Mexico, what would be the environmental impact of huge areas of pristine desert becoming energy plants?

Finally, few advocate energy independence plans for their national security implications. If we think the Arab world dislikes us now when we buy their friendship with trillions of dollars of oil money every year, how much will they like us when we turn off the dollar spigot? However much of a half-way job oil-exporting nations do in keeping their nationals from car-jacking airplanes to crash into our buildings (last count: 19), at least they’re doing a half-way job. How much will they do when no one needs oil? Nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s $600 billion GDP comes from oil. Energy independence without national security advances puts our nation at greater risk.

In the end, Al Gore went on The Daily Show and said, “I’ve got a plan to built seven million new Walmarts and antagonize the financial backers of militant Islam.” And the average viewer ended up thinking, Man, that guy’s smart. If only he had been more successful undermining state election laws in 2000, we’d be less secure today.