WELCOME BACK, CARTER: The ‘Renewable’ Fallacy and Why I Blame Jimmy Carter.

Ask almost anyone what we should do to make our economy greener and they’ll tell you we need more “renewable energy.” Renewable energy—that’s the goal behind myriad state and federal policies; it is the justification for massive subsidies to certain types of energy production and the rationale for penalizing others. It’s the reason some states (and even some countries) have spent billions on new energy infrastructure, burdened their consumers with sky-high energy costs, and yet made only modest progress bringing down carbon dioxide emissions.

That’s because we’ve been asking the wrong question. The key issue with energy technology is not whether it is renewable—that is, can it be endlessly replenished from natural sources such as sun, wind, and water—but rather whether the technology is clean and whether that clean tech can be deployed at a reasonable price. If we are serious about making our economy cleaner, we should be choosing technologies that deliver the biggest environmental benefit at the lowest possible cost. Too often, in pursuit of the renewable rainbow, we’ve done just the opposite. We burden our energy economy with high prices and complex regulations, all for fairly meager improvements in our environmental footprint.

To understand how we got on the wrong track, we need to go back to those gloomy days of the 1970s. Inflation was raging and optimism tanking. The Population Bomb was a bestseller, while environmentalists stressed “limits to growth.” Many experts believed that the U.S. had already hit “Peak Oil”—that our energy supply had nowhere to go but down. Then came the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, and with it the “Energy Crisis.” Americans faced gas lines, rationing, and fears that they wouldn’t be able to heat their homes. It seemed our very way of life was at the mercy of a handful of Arab petro-states.

In fact, the OPEC embargo played only a small role in the crisis.

Read the whole thing.

Related: Green bubbles threaten to pop stock markets.