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Appreciating the Master Resource (Part II: Energy Foes Agree!)

[Editor note: Part I in this two-part series examined quotations on the primacy of energy for human betterment from friends of conventional energy and from neutral analysts.]

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

-  John Holdren, 1991 (full citation below)

“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, 2000 (full citation below)

Free-market energy proponents gain the high ground when they stress the utilitarian nature of affordable, plentiful, reliable energy. Energy statists must play defense when their opponents stress the need to keep energy affordable for the less financially able and those billion-plus world citizens who do not have access to modern forms of energy.

Increased energy affordability is not bad but good. Yet cheap energy is the enemy to the other side (although the Obama greens will not publicly admit it). Julian Simon noticed as much when he wrote during the BTU tax debate in 1993, titled The Cheaper the Energy the Better:

Some people simply believe that it is ipso facto a good thing to use less energy and have less economic growth. As Paul Ehrlich put it, “Giving society cheap abundant energy is . . . like giving an idiot child a machine gun.” Other backers of the [BTU tax] bill seek not only to preserve the supply of energy but also to return to a “simpler life” (for others, of course, not for themselves) because it will make us better human beings. As Amory Lovins puts it, “If nuclear power were clean, safe, economic, assured of ample fuel . . . it would still be unattractive.”

This presents a quandary for the energy interventionists (aka forced energy transformationists) given that prominent voices in moments of candor have  expounded on the importance of affordable, plentiful, reliable energy for humankind.

The following sampling of quotations documents this point. We start with John Holdren,  President Obama’s science advisor, and continue with Paul Ehrlich, Amory Lovins, and some prominent left-of-center environmental and energy/environmental groups.

 John Holdren on Energy Primacy

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

Paul Ehrlich

“Seemingly abundant and cheap sources of energy permitted large-scale replacement of human labor in both manufacturing and agricultural production. . . . The availability of ‘cheap’ energy also made possible the development of powerful farm machinery, and abundant oil and gas allowed development of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other products to boost crop yields (production per acre) considerably above those achieved with traditional methods. Similarly, we can thank fossil energy for facilitating the production of many useful goods and for stimulating unprecedented rapid expansion of economies and of food production. In effect, fossil energy facilitated the population explosion of the twentieth century.”

- Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 27.

Amory Lovins

“As medical science, by deferring death, has allowed many more people to live on the earth, so the energy of fossil fuels, by deferring physical scarcity, has kept those people alive.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 3.

 Worldwatch Institute

“Energy is the lifeblood of the world’s economy, the underlying means by which modern societies function. Oil, coal, natural gas, and electricity are needed for virtually every important function in industrial societies—from growing and cooking food, to manufacturing, heating and cooling buildings, and moving people and goods. The interruption of supplies by storms, earthquakes, wars, or other events quickly demonstrates how totally dependent we have become on the energy-consuming machines.”

- James MacKenzie, “Oil as a Finite Resource: When is Global Production Likely to Peak?” World Resources Institute, March 1996, p. 2.

World Commission on Environment and Development

“Energy is necessary for daily survival. Future development crucially depends on its long-term availability in increasing quantities from sources that are dependable, safe, and environmentally sound.”

- The World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 168.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

“Natural resources are the foundation for human life and underpin sustainable development. They provide the raw materials for meeting basic human needs: food and water, clothing and shelter, medicine, tools, energy and communication. They also provide recreational and other non-consumptive services for increasing numbers of people. Beyond these human needs, natural resources play an important role in providing the food, habitat, and reproductive bases for virtually all living resources, and in meeting ecosystem functions like carbon and nitrogen fixation, water catchment and temperature buffering.”

- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Sustainable Development: Critical Issues (Paris: OECD, 2001), p. 273.

World Energy Council

“Reliable and affordable access to modern energy services is an indicator of sustainable development, for without it basic needs cannot be satisfied.”

- World Energy Council, Living in One World (London: World Energy Council, 2001), p. 74.

Other Quotations

“After 1820 the world’s economy became increasingly based on work done by nonmuscular energy. By 1950 any society that did not deploy copious energy was doomed to poverty.”

- J. R. McNeil, Something New Under the Sun (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), p. 298.

“The great forward steps of civilization are at least connected in part to breakthroughs on the energy front. The discovery of fire gave primitive man security and comfort on the ground; the domestication of animals added their greater muscle capacity to his. Later on, the waterwheel opened up a new source of energy to exploitation, greatly increasing the power available to his tasks. Then, in the nineteenth century the industrial revolution was fueled by coal.”

- John Fowler, Energy and the Environment (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), p. 296.

“Technology and change follow the liberation of energy. The lifestyle of contemporary America was destined by the development of fossil fuels in this seminal era.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 45.

2 comments

1 Jon Boone { 06.20.11 at 10:47 am }

Such admission by these folks is a “Yes, but…” affair. Functional discourse about more enlightened energy policy will be highly nuanced because it must engage complex variables, both within and about the natural world and within a range pragmatic philosophical propositions. Are there places, for example, where excavation for oil should be off-limits?

In any event, the issue is not about energy, which is omnipresent because it is the essence of our cosmos at the most basic level. The issue is about converting energy into modern power to surmount obstacles of time and distance. (Isn’t this what the IPad and the Porsche Roadster really represent?) All living things are at root machines engaged in this process.

In terms of economic efficiency and improved ecosystems–which is largely what the “but” redounds around– producing the most power in the smallest space at a scale affordable by all is what present and future enterprise should ensure.

2 Cheap abundant energy is a societal good – which is why misanthropists want to deny it to you | JunkScience Sidebar { 06.21.11 at 2:00 am }

[...] Appreciating the Master Resource (Part II: Energy Foes Agree!) Robert Bradley Jr. [Editor note: Part I in this two-part series examined quotations on the primacy of energy for human betterment from friends of conventional energy and from neutral analysts.] [...]

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