Environmental Wackos, Politics

Obama’s Anti-Energy Policy

Robert Samuelson has a great piece on President Obama’s counterproductive bias against domestic oil and gas production in favor of unrealistic “green” jobs:

In 2007, wind and solar generated less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. Even a tenfold expansion will leave their contribution small. By contrast, oil and natural gas now provide two-thirds of Americans’ energy. They will dominate consumption for decades. Any added oil produced here will mostly reduce imports; extra natural gas will mostly displace coal in electricity generation. Neither threatens any anti-global warming program that Congress might adopt.

Encouraging more U.S. production also aids economic recovery, because the promise of “green jobs” is wildly exaggerated. Consider. In 2008, the oil and gas industries employed 1.8 million people. Jobs in the solar and wind industries are reckoned (by their trade associations) to be 35,000 and 85,000, respectively. Now do the arithmetic: A 5 percent rise in oil jobs (90,000) approaches a doubling for wind and solar (120,000). Modest movements, up or down, in oil will swamp “green” jobs.

Samuelson assumes that the White House is interested in common sense—they’re not. What the White House cares about is what all politicians care about—catering to their constituencies. The reason why Obama does not favor more domestic energy is because there’s no political upside to it for him. Obama can’t afford to annoy the environmentalist lobby that plays to American’s worse environmental fears. If he did, he’d risk losing political support.

Even though domestic energy exploration makes sense in terms of energy policy, national security, economics, and even environmentally, none of that means anything. It won’t play well politically, so it is dead on arrival.

That’s the way our government works in the 21st Century. For all the talk about “hope” and “change” the Obama Administration is as nakedly political as any other, and a politically unpopular program will not be enacted no matter how beneficial the results, and a policy that is economically ruinous but politically popular will always win out. It’s Reding’s Second Law of Public Policy—the best policy will always lose out to the most politically popular policy.

President Obama could show real leadership by dramatically increasing domestic energy productions. But “drill baby drill” was the motto of the other side, and with the worldwide recession pushing oil prices down, there won’t be a serious political demand for more domestic energy until the next crisis hits and it’s far too late.

Environmental Wackos

Want To “Save The Earth?” Get Rich

In The New York Times, John Tierney has an excellent column about why getting rich is the best way to improve the environment:

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Once you have lots of high-rises filled with computers operating all the time, the energy delivered has to be very clean and compact,” said Mr. Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. “The long-term trend is toward natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070.”

The best way to “save the environment” is to grow the economy and embrace new technologies. That means stopping our irrational fear of nuclear power. That means working to make solar a reasonable means of producing power. That also means, however, that we can’t just let some government bureaucrat decide what is best—we have to have a competitive marketplace for green technologies in which the best system wins.

It also means that we must stop looking at dangerous and economically unsound policies like “cap and trade”. As this article notes, cap and trade systems do not work and fail to reduce CO2 emissions while simultaneously hurting the economy. That kind of strategy will reduce capital that can be applied to new technologies, raise the price of energy through the roof, and end up raising the cost of living for everyone, disproportionately hurting the worlds’ poor who cannot pay extra for their electricity. Such a program would end up turning into a massive tax increase on America’s vulnerable middle class. Cap and trade is not the right solution.

The right solution is a system that fosters innovation. That means reducing the barriers that keep green technologies off the market, and giving tax incentives to those willing to take the risks of bringing new technologies to market.

Finally, we have to stop believing the cheap energy and green energy are opposed to each other. Basic economics teaches that as supply goes down, costs will go up. If we are running low on fossil fuels, then the prices for those fuels will only rise until the cost of “green” energy is substantially less. At that point, without of hint of government intervention, there will be a green revolution.

But government doesn’t want to wait. By scaring people into seeing an environmental “crisis” they want people to give them unprecedented power and control&madsh;power and control that they can use and abuse. Yes, we need a clean environment. But we don’t need scare tactics. We must take measured and rational steps rather than being frightened into radical and ill-conceived ventures.

200 years ago the streets of every major city were awash in horse manure, water supplies were unsafe, and soot darkened every building. Today, we have made incredible advancements in expanding human quality of life without damaging the environment. Tomorrow, who knows how far we will come if we abandon the politics of environmental fear and embrace the value of human ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Environmental Wackos, International Relations, Nerd-O-Rama

China Invests In Pebble-Bed Technology

Next Big Future reports on a joint Chinese-South African project to advance pebble bed reactor technology. Pebble bed reactors are an advanced type of nuclear reactor design that promises to be significantly safer than conventional designs, for more details see here.

One of the reasons I’ve said that the future may well belong to the East is because the Chinese are willing to invest in this kind of technology while Western governments are too motivated by short-term political pressure to invest in projects such as these. The only way we will be able to meet the energy needs of the future and preserve the environment is to start moving towards nuclear energy. The truth is that wind, solar, geothermal, and other “green” technologies cannot produce enough power to meet our needs. They may be supplements to a nuclear infrastructure, but they will never supplant it.

If President Obama wished to be truly forward-looking, he would commission a similar program in the United States. For all the talk about the “Republican war on science,” the Democrats remain in thrall to an environmental lobby that wants to push for forms of alternative energy that will never be able to meet America’s needs. So instead, we keep our inefficient fossil fuels and push for stopgap solutions like “clean coal” rather than investing in an energy infrastructure that truly meets the needs of the 21st Century.

Pebble bed reactors promise a safer, cleaner, and more plentiful form of energy for America and for the world. If we are to remain a superpower into the 21st Century, we cannot turn our back to advances such as this. We cannot let the stigma of the word “nuclear”—and the irrational fear it engenders—stand in the way of our future.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds for the link.


High Oil Prices Are No Mystery

The Washington Post has an article on how high oil prices are “stumping” the experts. The massive rise in oil prices to $130+/barrel does represent an unprecedented rise in oil costs. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The world is facing a “perfect storm” of factors: China and the rest of Asia are still growing, OPEC is either unwilling or unable to pump more (and the good money is on the latter—the Saudis may have been overstating their own reserved for some time), and countries are subsidizing gas prices—and subsidies invariably distort markets and raise prices.

Of course, the Democrats have their own culprits. Of course, the Democrats are wrong. They blame the oil companies for raising prices. They do look suspicious, given their skyrocketing profits. The problems with that theory is that those profits are not out of line for the amount of oil they sell. The other problem is that they can’t invest in new projects. Normally they would reinvest those profits into expanding their new capacity. But bad public policy prevents them from doing that: most of America’s coastal waters are off-limits to new oil development, and domestic development in places like ANWR are also forbidden.

Congress is once again asking for the impossible, and behaving petulantly when they don’t hear what they want. On one hand, they want the U.S. to limit carbon emissions—but then they demand cheap gas.

The world doesn’t work that way. We’re running out of cheap gas, and it’s a question of whether we hit the peak in 2030, 2050, or some other point. If we want cheap gas, we have to drill in places like ANWR and off-shore, and we’d better accept that we’ll produce more carbon emissions. If we want to keep ANWR into the untouched pestilential wasteland that it is and keep carbon emissions down, then consumers better get ready to have an arm and a leg ready the next time they buy gas for their cars or pay their heating bills.

As always, Congress’ economic illiteracy is hurting American interests. The laws of supply and demand are just that—laws. There is a relatively stagnant supply of oil and more people are using it. That means the costs will go up, and they’ll go up not only to cover the current costs of oil, but also the future costs.

If the goal really is to reduce the price of oil, we can’t sit on our own reserves. A smart public policy would be to open ANWR and offshore sites to development instead of relying on dangerous and unstable places like the Middle East or Venezuela for our oil while simultaneously creating tax credits and awards for developing clean fuel technologies—because sooner or later we will enter a post-oil economy and the longer we can cushion the shocks the better positioned we’ll be.

Our current strategy, however, won’t work. We can’t keep messing around with the market through oil taxes, byzantine requirements for the blending of fuels, and a stubborn insistence on not allowing more infrastructure like refineries.

As they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The problem is that lesson most of us learned in first grade seems to be forgotten the second a politician walks into the halls of Congress.

Economics, Environmental Wackos, Nerd-O-Rama

It’s Time For A 21st Century Energy Economy

Jerry Pournelle has a suggestion for how we can make this country energy independent:

As to whether American ingenuity can use that technology to help win us energy independence, I have to say it again: cheap energy will cause a boom. The only cheap energy I know of is nuclear. Three Hundred Billion bucks in nuclear power will do wonders for the economy. We build 100 1000 MegaWatt nuclear power plants — they will cost no more than 2 billion each and my guess is that the average cost will be closer to 1 billion each (that is the first one costs about 20 billion and the 100th costs about 800 million). The rest of the money goes to prizes and X projects to convert electricity into mobility.

But he ends on a more somber note:

Of course we won’t do that.

Even though some in the environmental movement have embraced nuclear energy as a way of reducing CO2, the kneejerk reactionaries are still numerous enough to prevent any real progress. The fact that the government horrendously mishandled the regulation of nuclear plants and stifled the chance at making the industry viable didn’t help either. We could have been energy independent right now had we done things right in the 60s and 70s.

Meanwhile, France gets 70% of their energy from nuclear sources, reprocesses their waste, and is far less dependent on Saudi shieks or Venezuelan strongmen for their fuel. Their nuclear plants were build around common plans so that there was little duplication of effort, and spare parts could be made in batches rather than having every reactor be a largely unique design.

A smart politician would be pushing for a new Manhattan Project—the United States getting 25% of our electricity from clean nuclear reactors by 2020. A program that offsets the strain on the electrical grid from electric vehicles by building more capacity from nuclear power. A program to speed the development of safe pebble-bed reactors that won’t be capable of spreading radiation and doesn’t pose a threat from the proliferation of nuclear materials.

We can do those things, but all it takes is the political will to push them through. Sadly, it seems like our political leadership is decidedly lacking in will. Glenn Reynolds is right, we do have a lack of faith in our political leadership, and that comes because politicians are too willing to push for burning more of our food stocks than leading us into the 21st Century. We can do better, but we can’t do that if our political class is more interested in jockeying for power than pushing this country forward.

Campaign 2008, Politics

Not Ready For Prime Time

Mike Huckabee says that he wants us to stop consuming energy within a decade. Damn straight it’s time we had a candidate willing to stand up against the laws of thermodynamics!

In all seriousness, even if Huckabee meant that we should switch to all renewable sources within a decade, it’s still a silly argument. Even if you try to make sense of the statement, there’s just no way it doesn’t come off as being silly. We need a President who actually understands basic issues of policy. Mike Huckabee constantly comes off as someone who is clueless about the world around him.

Gaffes like this, and his statements which either sly anti-Mormon innuendos or signs he slept through his comparative theology classes demonstrate why Huckabee isn’t ready for prime time. He will probably win Iowa, but the reality is that Mike Huckabee is not a strong candidate, he’s not a conservative, and if he gets the nomination Hillary Clinton might as well start picking out drapes for the Oval Office. The Democrats have been holding their fire against him for months now because they know damned well that Mike Huckabee is a carbon copy of George W. Bush with all the same faults. He’s the sort of guy you want to have a beer with, but he would be a lousy President and his instincts are dead wrong on key issues.

Huckabee is a rising star, but his star will fall just as fast when Republican voters realize that he’s simply unready for the job. His appeal is understandable, but it’s all skin deep. Sooner or later Huckabee will crash, and when he does it will be a hard crash—in this race, Huckabee is playing the role of Howard Dean, and while he has some strong support, at the end of the day he is not electable and Republican primary voters need a candidate who can stand up to Hillary Clinton. Mike Huckabee is not that candidate.


It’s Time For A Real Energy Policy

Jim Geraghty of NRO’s Campaign Spot blog notes a survey that show that global warming is a major political issue in New Hampshire. While much of the global warming issue is alarmist hype, that hype has sunk in. However, even for global warming skeptics the necessity for a smarter energy policy is clear. We can’t live off of fossil fuels forever, and whether the days of “peak oil” will arrive in one year or 100, it will happen some day.

The usual conservative answer is that the market will decide what technology becomes the fuel of tomorrow. Which is all fine and true, but people want some kind of plan now. We have the problem of needing fuel, yet having key fuel sources being in hands of places that are unstable or hostile. The reality is that our dependence on Middle Eastern, African, and Venezuelan oil is a problem of national security, and the Republicans are not sufficiently serious on how we will deal with this problem.

The next answer is to boost domestic production. That’s all fine and good, but that still isn’t enough. We can expand our percentage of domestic oil, but we can’t insulate ourselves from the world oil market. We can’t produce enough domestic oil to meet our needs, and countries like China and India expand, the demand for oil will keep pushing prices up regardless.

Geraghty suggests a couple of policy stances that will help the GOP on this issue:

I’m a big believer that the Republican candidate ought to have something to say on global warming and carbon emissions beyond “the science isn’t clear” and “the market will take care of this.” Find some deserving target of environmental scorn and pledge to crack down on polluters; turn environmental protection into a law-and-order issue. Mock the Democrats’ hypocrisy on this issue. Promise to build wind turbines off the coast of Ted Kennedy’s Nantucket estate. Point out that the GOP wants to finance innovation while the Democrats want to tax energy.

That last sentence is key. What the GOP needs to do is back a 21st Century energy policy. The best analogy is the stock market: you’d be an idiot to hold all your money in one stock. Right now our portfolio is almost entirely based on oil, with a few alternative holdings. What we need is a diversified energy portfolio. Ethanol is one solution (although it’s economically inefficient, it’s politically popular). Biodiesel is one. Wind power is one. Hydroelectric power is another.

But there’s one issue that could significantly impact America’s energy independence, and that’s nuclear energy. The GOP needs to get behind the policy of removing the governmental roadblocks to safe, clean nuclear energy. It’s fundamentally conservative in that it involves removing governmental barriers to private enterprise. It’s also environmentally conscious in that modern nuclear technologies produce minimal waste and product significant amounts of power. As this excellent book points out, there is a strong case that nuclear energy needs to be a key part of America’s 21st Century energy agenda.

There isn’t a “magic bullet” to fix all of our energy woes. Instead, the GOP needs to be aggressively pushing a package of reforms that includes expanding domestic sources of energy, pushing for more efficiency through tax credits and other incentives, and bolstering several different alternative energy sources and letting the market determine which ones work and which ones don’t.

There’s no reason why one can’t have solid conservative principles and still be environmentally conscious, and there is a real need for a more aggressive stance on environmental and energy issues by Republican candidates. Energy is a national security issue, and while the GOP doesn’t have to charge headlong into the politics of fear surrounding global warming, they do need to have a coherent and competitive energy and environmental agenda.

The “progressives” aren’t progressive on energy—they want more big-government solutions that will slow down the development of real alternatives. But in order to win on this issue, conservatives can’t be afraid to take a stand. Again, the GOP candidate who can get conservatives for conservation on their side will have an edge against those others who no real plan to preserve America’s energy independence and the environment at the same time.