Topic: Energy and Environment

The Grey Lady Strikes Again

Did Al Gore really deserve that Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth”?  The Left says yes - only the ideologically disabled or intellectually dishonest deny that the four horsemen of the environmental apocalypse (drought, disease, sea rise, and hurricanes) will soon devastate our fair planet.  Reporter William Broad in the New York Times today, however, says not so fast - a backlash is brewing among REAL scientists who are getting sick and tired of bed-wetting hysteria surrounding climate change.

The gist of their concern is this: while most (but not all) scientists are willing to accept that industrial emissions are an important driver in the planetary warming we’ve experienced since the late 1970s, they aren’t anywhere near so eager to embrace politically inspired warnings from non-scientists about how “the end is near.”  Al Gore, according to many of the scientists interviewed by William Broad, is too shrill and too apocalyptic given the scientific evidence. 

Case in point: Al Gore warns in his documentary that sea levels will rise over 20 feet if warming continues.  Yeah, well maybe in a thousand years or so if trends continue indefinitely, but the former Vice President leaves that little bit of perspective out of the movie.  What might happen during our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren?  A sea rise of 23 inches, max, according to the new report just out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  That’s hardly going to flood Manhattan, but acknowledging that would spoil the wonderful special effects visuals offered in the slideshow, now wouldn’t it? 

Gore’s scientific advisors, friends, and admirers defend the documentary and the book that followed by conceding that he may be a bit dodgy here and there, but that he gets the big picture right.  That’s ridiculous.  The fact that the planet is warming and that industrial emissions might well have something to do with it is not what this debate is ultimately about.  This debate is whether we should or should not care.  And if the former, how much should we be willing to sacrifice to do something about it? 

To say that Al Gore is to some extent out to lunch on the “should we care” argument but relatively sound on the question about whether we’re warming the planet (at least, if we measure these things by that most holy of metrics, the “scientific consensus” as defined by the IPCC) is akin to saying that the fellow proclaiming that a wrathful God is about to incinerate the planet is contributing to social welfare by usefully pointing out to the unbelievers that there is a God.  That bit about God being particularly angry or plotting to destroy the world - Well, that’s a bunch of nonsense, but hey, he got the big picture right.

One of the scientists interviewed in the article - Roger Pielke, Jr. - wrote an essay recently for our own Regulation magazine pointing out that science is inevitably corrupted when politicians decide to effectively delegate policymaking power to those who wear white frocks.  So if you want to know why scientists aid and abet this kind of thing, go there.

Environmentalism as Religion

Following his remarks at the Cato Institute on Friday, podcast producer Anastasia Uglova sat down with the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus to discuss his views on global climate change. During the interview, the President reiterated his belief that environmentalism is more religion than science, calling it “a very illiberal ideology practically attacking our freedom.” President Klaus’ speech comes a month after calling global warming a “myth” in a Czech newspaper.

Listen to the full interview.

The Gray Lady Deflates “Peak Oil” Fears

An excellent article by reporter Jad Mouawad in today’s New York Times knocks the stuffing out of those warning for the nth time that we’re about to run out of oil. What the doomsayers overlook is that existing fields typically deliver about 35% of their oil to the market. Until recently, the rest had been deemed unrecoverable for economic reasons.

But as technology improves and oil prices go up, what was once deemed unrecoverable becomes, well, recoverable. And that has a big impact on supply. Oil analyst Leonardo Maugeri has estimated that if recovery rates (which hovered around only 10% a few decades ago) were to move from 35% to 40%, that would be akin to adding a new Saudi Arabia to the global crude oil market. Maugeri’s recent essay in Newsweek covers a lot of the same ground.

Mouawad’s piece well demonstrates this dynamic at work in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, California. First discovered in 1899, the field has been producing for about a century and is still going strong despite numerous predictions over the years that the field was on its last legs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the New York Times does a better job reporting business news, industrial trends, and microeconomic developments than any other newspaper — and perhaps magazine — in the world. Today’s piece is an excellent example of why serious people need to read that newspaper.

Paternalism Runs Out of Gas

I was filling up the minivan on Saturday when a woman at a nearby pump approached me and said, “Can you do me a favor? I don’t know how to pump my own gas.”

My first reaction was puzzlement. She was probably in her 30s, driving an SUV with what looked to be one or two kids inside. How could she be driving a car all these years and still not have figured out how to pump her own gas? Then she said something that instantly made it all clear.

“I’m from New Jersey.”

New Jersey, of course, is just about the only state left that requires that all gas stations within the state be full-service. Defenders of the ban on self-service pumps claim it is safer and more convenient for motorists and that it does not cause higher prices. None of those arguments hold water against the decades of successful experience with self-service pumps across the country. If a gas station attendant could pump your gas more safely and conveniently and at the same price, why do so few stations offer full-service anymore?

On top of its economic inefficiencies, the New Jersey ban on self-service is an insult to the good people of New Jersey. Their own state government is telling the world that its citizens are not smart enough or responsible enough to be trusted to handle a gasoline pump. When it comes to the routine task of filling up our vehicles, the paternalistic government of New Jersey treats its citizens as though they are children.

As I witnessed first-hand over the weekend, that paternalism can leave its citizens overly reliant on the kindness of strangers whenever they venture away from home.

Gore the Glutton

After learning of Al Gore’s huge appetite for electricity at his Nashville home, I dug out my past electricity bills for comparison. 

Gore has a huge mansion to power, but he also consumes four times more electricity per square foot than my family. Is the inventor of the Internet running a computer server farm out of his home?

According to news accounts, Gore’s home is 10,000 square feet and he consumes 221,000 kwh of electricity per year.

My family’s home is 3,200 square feet and we consume 18,000 kwh per year.

Gore’s home is about three times larger than ours, but he consumes 12 times more power. Thus, adjusting for home size, Gore is plowing through four times the electricity. 

Our house has drafty doors and cathedral ceilings causing our electric heat pump to work overtime–it is not a model green home by a long shot. Thus, how Mr. Gore and family manage to vastly out-consume us per square foot is a big mystery. 

Pots & Kettles at the RNC

Somehow, I’ve found myself on an email distribution list for the Republican National Committee’s opposition research team.  Every couple of days or so, I get something documenting how the Democrat of the moment is out to lunch on this or that issue, speaking or acting hypocritically about some matter, or is an all-around crook or ne’er-do-well.  These packaged emails - intended primarily for the press - are the equivalent of political drive-by shootings with footnotes.

Today’s edition, however, is exquisite.  Titled “Hillary’s Kerryaoke on Energy,” it purports to document Hillary Clinton’s crazy statements and votes on energy policy.  Here’s what we learn:

  • Hillary Clinton is a big proponent of energy independence and calls for a big Manhattan-style project to get us there.  “ ‘If we landed a man on the moon and brought him back safely to Earth within a decade as President Kennedy had promised in 1961, we know we can do this,’ said Clinton to the AP the other day in the course of promoting her $50 billion program to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.  The RNC’s complaint?  She sounds just like John Kerry did in 2004.  My complaint?  She sounds just like President Bush, who proposes to spend at least that much to jack-up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve - and that’s before we even begin tallying up the costs associated with his ethanol madness, his clean coal, nuclear power, and renewable energy subsidies, and a plethora of related costly interventions.  
  • Hillary Clinton wants to impose special taxes on oil company profits to help fund this $50 billion initiative of hers.  Can’t complain with the RNC attack here.  But someone ought to remind these young operatives that George Bush is likewise happy to levy special taxes on oil companies to fatten government coffers.
  • Hillary Clinton voted 17 times against ethanol subsidies and even once dared to cast a procedural vote against an energy bill containing clean coal subsidies.  The RNC is outraged - OUTRAGED! - that the New York Senator would eschew federal attempts to rig energy markets and intervene in private investment decisions.
  • Hillary Clinton has voted eight times to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  I’m not sure that the “free market” position is to drill, but I am pretty sure that drilling there would have no appreciable impact on U.S. energy security.

You’ll probably hear some echoes of this RNC hit-piece on right-wing talk radio shows over the next week or so.  The point the RNC is trying to make is that she TALKS a good game regarding energy independence, but hasn’t always voted that way.  Well, if I have to choose between someone who means the crazy rhetoric he is dishing out and one who really doesn’t, I’ll take the latter.