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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.”

    -  John Holdren, “Coal in Context: Its Role in the National Energy Future,” University of Houston Law Review, July 1978, p. 1089.

“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.”

     -  John Holdren, “Memorandum to the President: The Energy-Climate Challenge,” in Donald Kennedy and John Riggs, eds., U.S. Policy and the Global Environment: Memos to the President (Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 2000), p. 21.

“Affordable energy in ample quantities is the lifeblood of the industrial societies and a prerequisite for the economic development of the others.”

                -  John Holdren, “Meeting the Energy Challenge,” Science, February 9, 2001, p. 945.

Judging from the above, John Holdren is a candidate to join the master resource club. Now, can he come around to view energy and climate in non-alarmist terms so that government does not pick winners and losers at the expense of taxpayers, ratepayers, and consumers?

5 comments

1 Chris { 12.31.09 at 1:27 pm }

When will you guys learn that this has nothing to do with facts regarding material resources, etc, but everything to do with redistributing wealth, consolidating power in Washington, and enriching core constituencies of the democrats (so they continue to vote for them)? Seriously, unless this is cathartic for you guys, you are wasting your time focusing solely on dispensing the facts. To dems, energy is a business that enriches corporations, not the working poor (ignoring the fact that low cost energy makes the economy better for everyone). So, the goal of the dems is to use whatever means necessary (regulation, cap and trade, etc.) to manage the energy business for the purposes of redistributing wealth. Does this hurt the country and the ecomony? Of course it does, but it helps the dems in washington.

2 Marlo Lewis { 01.01.10 at 4:43 pm }

Chris, refuting error is not a waste of time. Legal plunder has been at the core of political life from time immemorial. However, in nations like ours, which are founded on principles of impartial justice, the predatory impulses of political ambition and special interest come wrapped in public interest rationales. This is necessary not only to hoodwink the public.

The political predators themselves need these ideological banners and baubles in order to look themselves in the mirror. In all my years in D.C., I’ve never met an interventionist who confessed that his beliefs were a sham calculated to increase his — or his party’s — wealth and power. Most people are just not that cynical, not even the most jaded politicians. Most interventionists believe the ideas they profess, not only because their consciences would bother them otherwise, but also because they assume that any belief system so central to the flourishing of their careers must be true!

Thus, refuting their errors is critical. It helps inoculate the public against their propaganda. It can also temper their zeal by inducing cognitive dissonance and doubt. It may even facilitate conversion from statism to views more congenial to liberty, especially if conversion opens up new career opportunities, which usually is the case.

3 Robert Bradley Jr. { 01.01.10 at 6:41 pm }

Marlo’s comment raises the question that I spend a lot of time with: how can our strong intellectual case change the minds of those who are well-intentioned but are on the other side.

Democrats, for instance, are supposed to be for the little guy and gal, so our case for lower energy prices and eradicating global energy poverty should have appeal. It does not, however.

A related question is why the alarmists seem to want to be alarmed (look at how Joe Romm plays up all the bad stuff and ignores the optimistic side of climate change). If they really believed in their scary prose, they should cry themselves to sleep and be taking a lot of anti-depressants. But is this the case? Are the alarmists only alarmed during working hours only?

In all the Climategate emails, for example, I wonder if there is a single example of angst and sadness about the “deteriorating” climate or the coming climate problem. Something like: “You know, Phil, we really have to be brave and support each other in our sad work about the troubles ahead.” Or, “how should we explain the predicament to our children?” or something like that.

Perhaps a professional psychologist could examine the email trove and render an opinion about whether they seem to be the work of opportunists (with a Malthusian and/or chip-on-their-shoulder-against-capitalism slant) or true believers.

4 Jon Boone { 01.01.10 at 9:08 pm }

Ideas that animate and justify political–or religious–action are typically memes that can not only withstand but also encourage a sense of ambiguity, if not paradox. Particularly in the era of ubiquitous mass communication, contending interests often develop contemporary strategic visions aligned with ancient human tropes, inventing and adjusting tactics along the way that often seem antithetical to the ends sought, if they are not outright contradictory to them.

The climate change memes are not so much different, in terms of the basic eschatology involved, from those used in the seventeenth century, where Protestant sectarian differences about the true path to salvation, Gomarists versus Armenians, had significant political consequence. From all accounts, the principals in this were quite sincere about their beliefs, and acted upon them fervently, even if their actions violated other, equally important beliefs. By their lights, putting heretics to death was not at all incompatible with “Thou shalt not kill.”

Orwell was keenly aware of this phenomenon and described it frequently in his essays and novels. Doublespeak figures heavily in religious rhetoric. Modern totalitarian regimes were quick to make use of it, aware that it works well when the populace has a tilted knowledge of history–and that it works best with an absolute ignorance of history.

Shifting to the present, consider today’s Sierra Club, with its checkered history of energy politics. From the beginning it opposed hydro dams, then ardently supported nuclear, then stopped supporting nuclear, followed by actively supporting coal, now vehemently denouncing coal and touting a combination of wind and natural gas. Ignorant of its own history, the current leadership opposes the only two electricity sources of power that provide sufficient capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions–with no sense of irony at all. And yet, the organization is given a major place at the national political table….

What to do? I suggest a heavy duty sense of ridicule harnessed to a savvy public relations firm. In this, care should be taken not to put such a campaign in service to any partisan cause. It should not be seen as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, socialist or capitalist libertarian. It should not care about political ends or ideological reinforcement.

Rather, it should focus upon the utter implausibility of the science involved and the bizarre means/ends disconnections. And it should be repeated over and over again, like a commercial jingle designed to infect one’s subconscious.

5 Chris { 01.05.10 at 3:01 pm }

Marlo,

Thanks for those good points. Maybe it’s like home/computer security, i.e., put up enough barriers so that the thieves move on to less-suspecting victims.

Jon,

Orwell came to mind as well as I read the responses. Here’s a guy who saw this behaviour first hand in Spain (and lived to write about it).

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