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Category — Philosophy/Methodology

Blow for Energy Postmodernism: FERC Nominee Binz Bows Out

“It’s policy, it’s regulation, it’s industry structure and it’s incentives . . . It’s not physics, it’s not chemistry, it’s not even the electric grid. It’s what we decide we want.” – Ron Binz

“Postmodernism … can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.” - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

A small victory for consumers and free-market energy policy came yesterday when energy statist Ron Binz withdrew as a nominee to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington, D.C.

Binz put the blame on others rather than his own postmodern energy philosophy and coercive energy-policy views, which he unsuccessfully tried to hide before Congress. “I think it’s a cautionary tale because you don’t want agencies like the FERC to be subjected to this kind of political blood sport, which is what it became,” he complained. “There was a very large coalition of right-wing groups who coalesced to oppose me.” [1]

The president of the American Energy Alliance, Tom Pyle, offered a different view: [Read more →]

October 2, 2013   5 Comments

Anti-Oil Sands: Perverse Ethics in the Name of the Environment

[Ed. note: An important front in the energy-policy debate concerns the moral case for rich, dense, plentiful, reliable energy that is handmaiden to industrial society. In addition to the post below, see the contributions of Alex Epstein at this site.]

The duplicity and hypocrisy of environmental pressure groups seem to be matched only by their consummate skill at manipulating public opinion, amassing political power, securing taxpayer-funded government grants, and persuading people to send them money and invest in “ethical” stock funds.

In the annals of “green” campaigns, those against biotechnology, DDT and Alar are especially prominent. To those we should now add the well-orchestrated campaigns against Canadian oil sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Background

Oil has been seeping out of Northern Alberta soils and river banks for millennia. Native Americans used the bitumen to waterproof canoes, early explorers smelled and wrote about it, and “entrepreneurs” used it in “mineral waters” and “medicinal elixirs.”

Today, increasingly high-tech operations are extracting the precious hydrocarbons to fuel modern living standards in Canada and the United States. Enormous excavator/loading shovels and trucks used in open pits during the early years are giving way to drilling rigs, steam injection, electric heaters, pipes and other technologies to penetrate, liquefy and extract the petroleum.

The new techniques impact far less land surface, use and recycle brackish water, and emit fewer air pollutants and (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide every year. Water use for Alberta oil extraction is a tiny fraction of what’s needed to grow corn and convert it into ethanol that gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline. [Read more →]

October 22, 2012   3 Comments

Teach the Children Well: Six Thinkers for a New Generation

“Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue … the prospects of freedom are indeed dark.”

- F. A. Hayek (1949), Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967).

MasterResource is a free market energy blog covering green jobs, climate-change policies, mineral-resource availability, and other political economy issues. Much of our analysis gets back to a realistic view of consumer-driven markets versus  government intervention (and business cronyism behind much government intervention). And that gets to critical thinkers whose timeless contributions have shaped modern arguments about freedom versus coercion.

World views and critical thinking skills are formed early. Thus it is incumbent upon our high schools–public and private–to fairly present competing ideas so that students can appreciate contrast and better understand the “middle” of the debate.

Once students get the fundamentals of major societal issues and policy debates, they can go off to college and see through the tenured professors who too often are not scholars but closed-minded, arrogant intellectuals. (Guaranteed jobs for life can do that, but educational reform is coming….)

Intellectual Diversity

I had the good fortune to guest-teach at Houston’s Kinkaid School where I graduated (class of ’73) from. My three-week Interim Term course (2006–2010) introduced a group of students each year to the science of liberty, in distinction to the Progressive view that slants their curriculum in U.S. History, Government, and Economics.

Elite high schools, like colleges, have a diversity problem–but not in the area that one might think. The wise George Will said it well: [Read more →]

October 5, 2012   14 Comments

Three Philosophical Questions About Energy (Interview)

[Editor Note: This interview of Alex Epstein was conducted by Jordan McGillis, a graduate student at Seton Hall University. Mr. Epstein, a philosopher, has expanded the energy debate in recent years by adding a moral and interpretive dimension to classical energy-policy debates.]

1. It’s been objectively demonstrated that practices such as frac’ing produce abundant, affordable, and reliable energy, and yet, they are virulently resisted by much of the public. Why, despite the evidence of frac’ing’s value, is it, along with other productive practices, so loathed? Are there some underlying political or philosophical ideas at work here?

I think it’s important to make a distinction between the opposition of environmentalist leaders and the opposition of those duped by their claims. The vast majority of Americans would certainly embrace hydraulic fracturing if they understood what it did, how it works, and what the (remarkably small) risks are vs. the risks of not hydraulically fracturing.

Consider: this is a technology that literally cures hunger–through natural-gas-produced fertilizers, through oil-powered agricultural machinery. It cures disease–through insecticides synthesized from oil and gas, and through pharmaceuticals, also synthesized through oil and gas. And it “cures” unemployment, both from the productive opportunities it generates within the field of energy production, and the lower energy costs it bequeaths on every other American industry.

The alleged risk is groundwater contamination, which has nothing to do with frac’ing, which occurs thousands of feet of impermeable rock below the water table. It’s just a standard, relatively minor and eminently manageable risk. Unlike the risk of not frac’ing, which guarantees unnecessary suffering and death.

When I frame the issue in this way, I have yet to meet a person who objects to frac’ing outside of committed anti-industrialists/”environmentalists”–that is, those who explicitly place the non-human environment over the human environment. [Read more →]

September 7, 2012   4 Comments

Postmodern Climatology: Paltridge Weighs In

“It’s not a coincidence that activist climate scientists don’t simply stop at defining the climate system and offering up even-handed, philosophically diverse thoughts…. They virtually invariably come to the very same policy proposals that are deeply left-leaning and are basically a carbon-repacking of a dozen other pre-existing, left-liberal policy dreams.”

A guest essay at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. by Garth Paltridge, Science Held Hostage in Climate Debate, zeros in on the problems plaguing climate science. I’ve made similar points over the years (see here and here), but Paltridge brings them together nicely. His post has attracted 500 comments to date, becoming a very hot topic among practitioners and laypersons alike in the blogosphere.

A retired Australian atmospheric physicist, Paltridge argues that the physical climate sytem is non-ergodic and inherently impossible to really understand fully. Given this, social pressures take over where the utility of climate change becomes an excuse to push pre-existing policies. The result? The climate-science community goes far out of the realm of “normal” science and into the realm of extreme, postmodern science.

Paltridge explains:

To the extent that there is such a thing as normal science, it relies upon accurate observations to verify its theories. Accurate is the operative word here. Climate research has to rely on spectacularly inaccurate data from information on Earth’s past climate.

Even though there are vast amounts of atmospheric and oceanographic data to play with, together with lots of proxy information from tree rings and ice cores and corals and so on, abstracting a coherent story from it all is something of a statistical nightmare. It gives a whole new meaning to the old saying “lies, damn lies and statistics.” [Read more →]

June 25, 2012   2 Comments

Kerry–Lieberman: A “Simple” 987-page Bill? (Enron postmodernism in a Senator’s voice)

“We’re trying to minimize the package,” [Sen. John] Kerry said yesterday of the 987-page bill. “We’re trying to keep it simple. We’re trying to keep it transparent and open and understandable for why something took place.”

- Darren Samuelsohn, “Kerry-Lieberman Bill Uses ‘Fewer Buckets’ in Giving Out Highly Prized Allowances,” E&E News, May 14, 2010.

“One often speaks without seeing, without knowing, without meaning what one says.”

- Jacques Derrida, quoted in Mitchell Stephens, “Deconstructing Jacques Derrida; The Most Reviled Professor in the World Defends His Diabolically Difficult Theory,” Los Angeles Times Magazine, July 21, 1991.

The late postmodern philosopher,  Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) would find intellectual kinship in the political debates about climate and energy coming from the party in power. If alive today, Derrida would nod approvingly at Senator John Kerry’s above I-say-it, it-is-true inversion of reality. It ranks right up there with Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling telling the world after the Enron collapse that Enron was a great company.

Donway Unmasks Enron’s Inner Philosophy

Roger Donway was the first person to identify Enron as a postmodern company. In “The Collapse of a Postmodern Corporation,” he wrote:

But if Enron’s executives were neither incompetent nor crooked, what brought Enron down? I believe it was a culture of corporate values rooted in postmodernism. These were not your grandfather’s businessmen.

He explained: [Read more →]

May 19, 2010   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

A War on CO2? Civil Libertarians, Beware!

“It seems clear that the first major penalty man will have to pay for his rapid consumption of the earth’s nonrenewable resources will be that of having to live in a world where his thoughts and actions are ever more strongly limited, where social organization has become all pervasive, complex, and inflexible, and where the state completely dominates the actions of the individual.”

- Harrison Brown (1954), quoted in Anne Ehrlich, Paul Ehrlich, and John Holdren, Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1973), p. 388.

Free-market writers such as Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman have stressed that it is impossible for a government to restrict economic freedoms while retaining civil or “personal” liberties. For example, even if a democratic yet socialist government assures its citizens they have “freedom of the press,” that assurance is hollow because the government owns all the newspapers and radio stations. It’s also naive to say that citizens have the right to protest the government, if that same government has the power to reassign workers to Siberia (because they deem it best to maximize national “economic output”).

Because of these realities, people who call themselves progressives should rethink their commitment to more government control over energy markets. It’s not simply a matter of abstract property rights and fairness for shareholders of oil companies. If the government can’t be trusted to snoop on our phone conversations or emails–and I wholeheartedly agreed with the progressives who were alarmed at the erosion of civil liberties under the Bush Administration–then by the same token, how can that same government be trusted to fairly administer energy markets with only the fate of the planet in mind?

This is not a vague “right-wing scare story” that I’m cooking up here. For example, in a recent Spiegel Online interview, “Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the German government’s climate protection advisor, [proposed] the creation of a CO2 budget for every person on the planet…”

In another example of climate concern bumping up against personal liberties, a new report issued by the London School of Economics concludes that “family planning should be seen as one of the primary methods of emissions reductions.” Relying on a UN estimate that 40 percent of all pregnancies are unintended, the report calculates that “[i]f these basic family planning needs were met, 34 gigatons (billion tonnes) of CO2 would be saved–equivalent to nearly 6 times the annual emissions of the US and almost 60 times the UK’s annual total.” (Note that the quotations come from the news article, not the report itself.) [Read more →]

September 14, 2009   6 Comments

On the Fall of Enron and Ken Lay: 'Philosophical Fraud' at an Errant Energy Company (and cap-and-trade, renewables forerunner)

 [Editor note: This interview with Rob Bradley from the April 2006 issue of The New Individualist, published by The Atlas Society, is reproduced for two reasons: 1) the role of Lay and Enron in launching the global warming debate within the energy industry in the late 1980s and 1990s; 2) the role of Bradley during his 16 years at the company brought up by critics of the Institute for Energy Research/American Energy Alliance.]

TNI: Why should Objectivists, libertarians, and individualists take an interest in the collapse of Enron and particularly in the fall of Ken Lay?

Bradley: Enron will prove to be one of the most important episodes in the history of American business, and its story, from beginning to end, is inseparable from Ken Lay, its founder and long-time chairman. Thus, what people make of Enron—and what lessons they draw from it—will depend to a considerable degree on how they understand Lay.

As I’m sure you know, Enron has to date been blamed largely on free-market politicians, heartless corporate managers, and an egoistic chairman. In fact, as my book will show, Enron relied heavily on government favors, was run by postmodernist managers, and had as its chairman the kind of person Ayn Rand would have called “a second-hander.”

TNI: You have a long chapter near the beginning of your book that shows how Ayn Rand’s philosophy applies to Enron. Where did this germinate?

Bradley: Funny you should ask, Roger [Donway]! It was your piece [in Navigator] that confirmed for me the value of Objectivism in analyzing Enron. When Enron was sinking and Great Man Ken Lay was melting, I thought, “Wow! This is right out of an Ayn Rand novel!” I was not familiar with The Objectivist Center at the time. But several months after the bankruptcy, I did a Google search and came across your article on Enron as a postmodern corporation. The article opened my eyes to the fact that the causes of Enron’s financial bankruptcy were at root philosophical.

Since that time, I have plunged into the Objectivist literature as it relates to business and developed the theme that whatever may or may not be prosecutable fraud, Enron’s leaders were certainly engaged in massive philosophical fraud—an attempt to cheat reality itself.

TNI: Could you please tell our readers something about your personal involvement with Enron and Ken Lay?

Bradley: I was at Enron for just over sixteen years. I arrived about six months after Ken Lay did. And my last day was December 2, 2001, which was when the company declared bankruptcy and about 4,000 of us were laid off. [Read more →]

September 10, 2009   2 Comments

150,000 and Counting –Thank You Viewers!

MasterResource, the world’s premier free-market energy blog, began the day after Christmas and is seven months old. Views of 50,000 in our first quarter have been followed by 100,000 in the second quarter. Viewership near one thousand per day is not bad for a scholarly start-up–and much growth potential remains.

Our Model

We are a group blog on the very important and wide topic of energy, including climate change, which is all about energy. Our bloggers come from a variety of institutions, nonprofit and for-profit. We have backgrounds in political economy, economics, environmental studies, philosophy, and engineering. We are thinker-doers who are open-minded and part of a challenge culture. No smartest-guys-in-the-room problem here.

In the increasingly crowded blogosphere, there will be a flight to quality to group blogs that have a clear theme. [Read more →]

July 25, 2009   1 Comment