George Will, the masterful voice of intellectual conservatism (and almost libertarianism), turned to energy in a recent Washington Post column. In Ringing in a Conservative Year (December 30), Will considered the underlying economic reality that will help shape 2012 politics. Obama or not, Will sees technological/economic trends as powerful if not controlling.
Will’s essay draws upon a startling fact: “In 2011, for the first time in 62 years, America was a net exporter of petroleum products.”
He continues with a play off of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto:
For the indefinite future, a specter is haunting progressivism, the specter of abundance. Because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people and because progressives believe that only government’s energy should flow unimpeded, they crave energy scarcities as an excuse for rationing — by them — that produces ever-more-minute government supervision of Americans’ behavior.
Rationing: the government did just that during World War II with tickets for petroleum products, almost did the same during the Jimmy Carter era, and proposed CO2 cap-and-trade auctions for all carbon-based energies (oil, gas, and coal) just two years ago. California is mimicking Europe and starting a CO2 cap-and-trade program. Whether by ticket or by taxation, it meant/means less energy that the unregulated free-market would produce.
Will continues by reporting on the fossil energy boom:
Imagine what a horror 2011 was for progressives as Americans began to comprehend their stunning abundance of fossil fuels — beyond their two centuries’ supply of coal. Progressives responded with attempts to impede development of the vast, proven reserves of natural gas and oil here and in Canada. They bent the willowy Obama to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canadian tar sands; they raised environmental objections to new techniques for extracting gas and “tight” oil from shale formations.
And that left one wearisome, problematic rationale for energy planning:
An all-purpose rationale for rationing in its many permutations has been the progressives’ preferred apocalypse, the fear of climate change. But environmentalism as the thin end of an enormous wedge of regulation and redistribution is a spent force. How many Americans noticed that the latest United Nations climate change confabulation occurred in December in Durban, South Africa?
A sea change, perhaps?
The futility of this nullity signaled the end — probably for decades, if not forever — of a trivial pursuit that began 14 years ago with the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. Senate would not even bring to a vote. The pursuit was for a 194-nation consensus obligating a few nations to transfer enormous wealth to many other nations’ governments, to be politically distributed by them, with the supposed effect of ending global warming, if such proves to be.
But 2011 was more: the failure of so-called ‘green’ technologies from solar panels to electric cars:
Meanwhile, back in the nation that probably would have ponied up the largest portion of this money, sales of the electric-powered Chevrolet Volt were falling short of General Motors’ goals even before reports about fire hazards in crash tests. And a Wall Street Journal headline proclaimed: “Americans Embrace SUVs Again.”
Because of the Energy Department’s myriad scandals and other misadventures as a venture capital firm (Solyndra, Beacon Power Corp., etc.), it is probable that 2011 will be remembered as the high-water mark of industrial policy. This is another way in which events are draining the Obama presidency of some of its power for mischief. If in November Republicans capture the Senate, which must confirm many senior officials of the executive branch and agencies, only weakness of Republican will can prevent, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board from being unconstrained instruments of presidential decrees.
Obama might be able to eke out reelection, Will concludes. But the future belongs to the party of free markets (energy and otherwise) and not the party of government.
Let’s hope so.
NOTE: On major trends abating energy and climate alarmism, also see Kenneth Green, Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism Continues (A Year Later), May 4, 2011.