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Posts from — December 2009

Dear John Holdren: Where is our "Indispensable," "Reliable," "Affordable" Energy?

[Editor note: A previous iteration of this post was published on January 14th. Given the inaction of the Obama Administration on offshore drilling in the last year, part of a pervasive strategy to discourage carbon-based energy production and usage, this post, this question needs to be raised anew.]

From time to time, John Holdren has acknowledged that plentiful, affordable, reliable energy is vital to human well being. Indeed, there is no going back to an energy-poor world. (Remember: caveman energy was 100% renewable.)

America–and the world–need more carbon-based energy, not less. Wind and solar are inferior energies compared to the real thing that consumers choose and want more of–oil, gas, and coal.

Holdren on the Importance of Energy

When Holdren or Obama advocates policies that risk making energy artificially scarce or less reliable, these words can be used to argue for nonregulatory approaches to energy policy:

“Virtually all of the benefits that now seem necessary to the ‘American way’ have required vast amounts of energy. Energy, in short, has been our ultimate raw material, for our commitment to economic growth has also been a commitment to the use of steadily increasing amounts of energy necessary to the production of goods and services.”

   -  John Holdren and Philip Herrera, Energy (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1971), p. 10.

“When energy is scarce or expensive, people can suffer material deprivation and economic hardship.”

    -  John Holdren, “Population and the Energy Problem,” Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Spring 1991, p. 231.

“Energy is an indispensable ingredient of material prosperity. . . . Where and when energy is in short supply or too expensive, people suffer from lack of direct energy services (such as cooking, heating, lighting, and transport) and from inflation, unemployment, and reduced economic output.”

    -  John Holdren, Population and the Energy Problem,” Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Spring 1991, p. 232.

“Supplying energy to the economy contributes to the production of a stream of economic goods and services generally supportive of well-being.” [Read more →]

December 31, 2009   5 Comments

Classical Energy Thinking: Right on Renewables (intermittency), Not-so-Right on Fossil Fuels (coming exhaustion)

“The winds, turning more mills than ever before, pump water, grind grain, churn, and do a score of little tasks for a surviving domestic industry; but they list not to blow with enough regularity or violence to keep wheels spinning and mills going.”

- Walton Hamilton and Helen Wright, The Case of Bituminous Coal (New York: Institute of Economics/Macmillan, 1926), p. 3.

William Stanley Jevons’s The Coal Question (1865), the book that founded mineral economics, got it right on the limits of renewables for the machine age and the godsend of coal as a superabundant utilitarian energy source.

Previous posts at MasterResource have summarized Jevons’s 19th century wisdom on the primacy of coal (carbon-based energy); the limits of windpower; the limits of hydropower, biomass, and geothermal; and the paradox of energy efficiency.

Obama energy policy–and all of his smartest-guys-in-the-room energy advisors–would benefit from the insights contained in this 144-year-old book.

But Jevons was too pessimistic on the future of coal and petroleum, as detailed in chapter 7 of my book Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy. And Jevons scarcely knew about the other foundational fuel of the carbon-based energy age: natural gas.

The Case of Bituminous Coal (Hamilton and Wright)

The 1926 book published by the Institute of Economics by Macmillan, The Case of Bituminous Coal, by Walton Hamilton and Helen Wright, offers an interesting update of the Jevons worldview of energy. Like Jevons, they got it right on the limitations of renewables and primacy of fossil fuels, but they got it wrong on a coming depletion of oil and gas in particular.

For the record, here is an excerpt from pages 2–5 of the book: [Read more →]

December 30, 2009   1 Comment

Industrial Wind Power: An Old, Tried Failure (the intermittency curse then and now)

Best of MasterResource: 2009
This post orginally appeared (with comments)
on March 4th

The disadvantage of windpower as a primary energy source has been long recognized. This 1838 textbook described the competitive situation of wind as follows:


 William Stanley Jevons also detailed the problems of windpower in his 1865 classic, The Coal Question, [Read more →]

December 29, 2009   7 Comments

MasterResource’s 1st Anniversary: 300,000 Views; A Top ‘Green Blog’

Master Resource turned one year old on December 26th. We have gone from a few hundred daily views to more than a thousand per day on average, and the quality and variety of our energy-related fare continues to improve.

Of the 4,100 ‘green blogs’ listed by Technorati, MasterResource consistently ranks in the top 50 and has broken into the top twenty. MasterResource is the top free-market energy blog with an All-Star list of nine principals and distinguished guest bloggers, including Robert Bryce, Indur Goklany, Mary Hutzler, Jim Manzi, Randall O’Toole, and Vaclav Smil.

Suffice it to say that we have exceeded expectations, and 2010 should see continued high quality and expanded reach and influence. We hope to increase our international presence and invite new voices into the energy and energy-related climate debates.


MasterResource has documented the superior intellectual and practical case for free energy markets, which rests on these foundations:

  1. Energy, the master resource, is indispensable for modern society. Abundance, affordability, and reliability are necessary for the developed world to advance and paramount for the developing world to develop and prosper.
  2. The master resource depends on the ultimate resource of human ingenuity, which thrives under conditions of economic and political freedom. [Read more →]

December 28, 2009   6 Comments

WSJ’s "Heard on the Street": Political Energy Down, Market Energy Up Post-Copenhagen (Remembering the risks of Enron’s political capitalism model)

Matthew Curtin’s Heard on the Street in the December 22nd Wall Street Journal, Green Investments Are Being Clouded by Copenhagen, caught my eye. Copenhagen not so much failed as energy reality won. The 19th century British economist W. S. Jevons would have smiled as neo-Malthusian politics fell victim to old fashioned consumerism, economic growth, free trade, and energy economics 101.

Copenhagen also brings into review the risky political capitalism model where profit-making is tied to special political favor rather than underlying consumer demand. Enron’s core business model was tied to rent-seeking, part of the problems that brought down the company in spectacular fashion.

Here is what Mr. Curtin wrote:

The Copenhagen climate summit will do little to spur further investment in environmental technologies.

That is hardly surprising given the fundamental flaw at the heart of the process: Negotiations to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions were premised on how much of the gas nations produce, rather than what they consume.

Industrializing countries feared the emissions curbs being demanded of them were a protectionist ruse by the developed world. One country’s production cuts, if achieved by reducing local CO2 emissions by relying on imports, is another country’s production increase, with no gain for the world’s climate.

The nonbinding accord cooked up by the world’s biggest industrial nations looks like the lowest common denominator you would expect from countries skeptical of each others’ motives and increasingly mistrustful of the science that predicts global warming.

For investors and business leaders, there is no extra clarity on an international regulatory framework that might help them predict the cost of CO2. [Read more →]

December 26, 2009   5 Comments

Three Cheers for Holiday Lights!

Environmentalists critical of electrified America must have mixed emotions this time of the year. It may be the season of good cheer and goodwill toward all, but it is also the time of the most conspicuous of energy consumption. America the Beautiful is at her best in December when billions of tiny stringed light bulbs turn the mundane or darkness itself into magnificent beauty and celebration. Holiday lighting is a great social offering—a positive externality in the jargon of economics—given by many to all.

While energy doomsayers such as Paul Ehrlich have railed against “garish commercial Christmas displays,” today’s headline grabbers (Grist, Climate Progress, where are you?) have not engaged a public debate over the issue. [At least one enviro blogger has, however, as have SANTA (Sustainability Action Network and Toy Alliance) and the Energy Justice Network)].

Yet holiday lighting is a glaring exception to their goal of reducing discretionary energy usage to help save the world. If holiday energy guzzling is forgiven, why not excuse outdoor heating and cooling, one-switch centralized lighting, and instant-on appliances that “leak” electricity, not to mention SUVs? Prancing around to turn on individual lights or waiting for the paper copier to warm up wastes the scarcest and one truly depleting resource: a person’s time. Surely extra energy use for comfort and convenience has priority over purely celebratory uses of energy.

What about the holiday humbug that celebratory electricity depletes future fossil-fuel supplies, fouls the air, and destabilizes the climate? Good tidings abound! [Read more →]

December 25, 2009   6 Comments

Countering Sen. Kerry’s Catastrophic Climate Claims (Part 2)

Editor note: On November 10, 2009, Mr. Green testifedbefore the Senate Committee on Finance about global warming. During the course of his testimony, an obviously agitated Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) challenged Ken on different aspects of the climate debate. His responses are printed here. [Part I of this series ran yesterday.]

1. Peer-Reviewed Publishing Revisited

Kerry seemed to think it somehow damning that I do not choose to publish in the peer-reviewed climate literature. First—as I pointed out when I introduced myself—while I am an environmental scientist by training, I have chosen to work on policy analysis, which I believe is as important as, or more important than, the science.

However, I would challenge his very premise, which is that peer review is a meaningful indicator of trustworthiness. Plenty of research suggests that peer review is deeply flawed, biased in favor of both extreme and “positive” claims, resistant to nonconfirmation studies, and highly incestuous, because review committees regularly screen out divergent viewpoints and consist of peers who coauthor work with each other. While most research on problems with peer review involves medical literature, there is every reason to believe the same problems plague climate research.

As Drummond Rennie, M.D., deputy editor (West) of the Journal of the American Medical Association writes, “There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.” Peer review determines where rather than whether a paper should be published, Rennie says. However, from time to time, “shoddy science” ends up even in the most prestigious journals.

Examining peer review in the context of genetically modified food, Robert Horton, editor of the medical Journal Lancet has observed that “the mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability—not the validity—of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.”

For additional information on the limitations of peer review, I point you to the following papers: [Read more →]

December 24, 2009   4 Comments

Countering Sen. Kerry’s Catastrophic Climate Claims (Part 1 of 2)

Editor note: On November 10, 2009 Mr. Green testifedbefore the Senate Committee on Finance about global warming. During the course of his testimony, an obviously agitated Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) challenged Ken on different aspects of the climate debate. His responses are printed here. [Part II of this series is tomorrow.]

1. Not One Peer-Reviewed Paper Contradicts the “Consensus” View of the Climate Crisis
Sen. Kerry asserted that not one peer-reviewed paper contradicts the “consensus” view that greenhouse gas emissions will cause devastating consequences, and that we must limit their emissions radically to avoid the maximum “consensus” value of two degrees Celsius, which Kerry claimed was the point at which catastrophic damage would occur to the Earth’s climate. I offered to provide several.

Perhaps the central issue in climate science involves estimates of the sensitivity of the climate to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Sensitivity refers to just how much warming results from an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The following papers demonstrate that the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is considerably lower than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims—so much lower, in fact, that the warming we would expect from doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be quite modest (well below two degrees Celsius) and offer very little risk. Do these papers truly reflect the reality of how the climate works? Perhaps they do, perhaps they do not, but it cannot be argued that they do not exist.

In a recently published article, Richard S. Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi use data from NASA’s Earth Radiation Budget Experiment to assess the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases. In this article, they demonstrate empirically that the climate sensitivity to a doubling of greenhouse gases is only about 0.5 degrees Celsius, one-sixth of the IPCC estimate of 3 degrees Celsius.

Another study by Roy W. Spencer and William D. Braswell also examines the data from NASA’s CERES satellites. [Read more →]

December 23, 2009   4 Comments

Inferior Holiday Lighting: Another Cost of the Futile Climate Crusade? (Malthusianism is gloomy in practice, not only theory)

“[LEDs are] not the same. They’re weird-looking. They’re sized different and have these unusual ripples. If you have those interspersed with your traditional lights, they’re going to look dumb.”

- Interviewed consumer, AP Piece, December 21, 2009

An AP piece yesterday by by Sean Murphy, Many Take Dim View of New-Fangled Christmas Lights, is another example of some of the problems that occur when an (inferior) product is forced on consumers in the name of “energy sustainability” (aka, the futile climate crusade).

Small, unsafe, high-insurance-premium micro cars are bad enough (do these things work on the highway?). But also troubling is the assault on quality lighting–and more lighting per se–that hinder those whose mood is elevated by brightness and the many who have trouble coping with the dark. (Of course some can go too far with holiday lighting, as with any pleasurable activity.) But many need all of the high quality lighting they can get to neuter their Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) syndrome.

And so this holiday season–the time of year when many turn the winter blues into a winter wonderland–consumers are finding themselves increasingly stuck with LED lighting. Some wonder how ‘green’ the ecolights are compared to what is in your attic. Others have tried and given up on solar LED as the ‘green’ way.

Reprinted below is Mr. Murphy’s essay on consumer angst with LED lighting. (And it does not sound like energy savings if buyers are racing from store to store to find the lighting they want and need, does it?) [Read more →]

December 22, 2009   7 Comments

China Secures Oil and Gas Resources: U.S. Fiddles with ‘Green’ Energy

Around the world, China is investing in oil and gas resources to fuel its booming manufacturing industries and transportation sector to continue its sky-rocketing economic growth. China is not endowed with very much oil and gas resources of its own. Thus, it needs to partner with countries around the world to ensure availability of future supplies of oil and natural gas that it will need to keep up its current pace of economic growth.

The U.S., which does have oil and gas resources, is not following China’s lead in investing in these resources. Instead, the U.S. is looking toward wind and solar technologies to fuel its economy. However, wind and solar power are generating technologies and will not help where oil is needed in the transportation and industrial sectors.

Further, wind and solar power have capacity factors that cannot compete with those of fossil fuel generating technologies, and they can create instability issues with the electrical grid. They are also more expensive technologies and must have government support through tax credits to compete at all with fossil-fuel generating technologies.

China’s Investment in Oil and Gas

China has seized on the global recession to gain access to oil and gas resources and supplies. The atmosphere is ripe for Chinese firms to invest in these resources because:[i]

  • Acquisitions are now more favorable than they were in early 2008, due to lower oil prices and, hence, lower asset prices.
  • China is less constrained than many of its international counterparts in terms of where they can invest (e.g. Iran).
  • Financing is not a problem, because Chinese banks are willing and able to provide needed funds.
  • Competition for these assets in some areas has lessened.

Not only is China investing in places like Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Argentina, but it is in the U.S.’s backyard, looking towards usurping the U.S. supply of Canadian oil sands.  China is a good customer for Canada, as Canada fears that the U.S. may introduce a low carbon fuel standard[ii] or other legislation that would restrict our purchases of oil sands from Canada[iii].  China is also looking at a possible purchase of leases in the Gulf of Mexico where Devon Energy is looking to sell its U.S. leases.[iv] The sale of these offshore leases requires the approval of the Mineral Management Service in the U.S. Department of Interior. China is willing and able to be at the forefront of any misstep other countries make to gain a foothold and secure oil and gas supplies, and the U.S. seems to be giving it elbow room.

China is also investing in oil and natural gas pipelines to ensure access to its investments and to divert some of its oil imports from the Middle East away from the Straits of Malacca. [Read more →]

December 21, 2009   2 Comments