Thursday, December 15, 2005

Arctic oil driling: Environment, politics, and religion

George Will has an interesting op-ed today about the debate on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress may soon allow. Will is for it (the drilling, not the debate).

Conservatives and Republicans have a reputation for wanting to cut down the forests, kill the spotted owls, use lakes and rivers for toxic waste dumps, and pave over every acre of wilderness for factories and shopping malls. And they've certainly had a number of anti-environment wackos in their ranks (remember James Watt?). Protecting the environment, it seems to me, should be recognized as a legitimate function of the state even by (reasonable) proponents of limited government: it falls pretty clearly under any definition of the "general welfare." We all like to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and surely the vast majority of Americans support the preservation of national parks and wilderness areas as a part of our heritage.

Nonetheless, I think Will makes some good points:

Area 1002 is 1.5 million of the refuge's 19 million acres. In 1980 a Democratically controlled Congress, at the behest of President Jimmy Carter, set area 1002 aside for possible energy exploration. Since then, although there are active oil and gas wells in at least 36 U.S. wildlife refuges, stopping drilling in ANWR has become sacramental for environmentalists who speak about it the way Wordsworth wrote about the Lake Country.

Few opponents of energy development in what they call "pristine" ANWR have visited it. Those who have and who think it is "pristine" must have visited during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There are no trees.

Opponents worry that the caribou will be disconsolate about, and their reproduction disrupted by, this intrusion by man. The same was said 30 years ago by opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which brings heated oil south from Prudhoe Bay. Since the oil began flowing, the caribou have increased from 5,000 to 31,000. Perhaps the pipeline's heat makes them amorous.

Ice roads and helicopter pads, which will melt each spring, will minimize man's footprint, which will be on a 2,000-acre plot about one-fifth the size of Dulles Airport. Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls "a few drops of oil." Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields -- could supply all the oil needs of Kerry's Massachusetts for 75 years.

Flowing at 1 million barrels a day -- equal to 20 percent of today's domestic oil production -- ANWR oil would almost equal America's daily imports from Saudi Arabia. And it would equal the supply loss that Hurricane Katrina temporarily caused...


If there are practical counterpoints to Will's pro-drilling argument, I'll be glad to consider them. But I think Will is also right when he says:

For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing the society's politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.

The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society's balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism -- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives. This is done in the name of equality.

People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.

Therefore, one of the collectivists' tactics is to produce scarcities, particularly of what makes modern society modern -- the energy requisite for social dynamism and individual autonomy. Hence collectivists use environmentalism to advance a collectivizing energy policy.


And there is another, equally important factor as well: environmentalism as a religion (as Michael Crichton put it in a speech a few years ago, "the religion of choice for urban atheists").

I wrote about this in a column a few years ago, dissecting a Nicholas Kristof column about ANWAR:

Kristof writes that, in his view, the danger drilling would pose to wildlife has been exaggerated by environmentalists; he also points out that it would benefit the local Eskimo population. Yet ultimately, he comes down on the anti-drilling side, arguing that development would damage "the land itself and the sense of wilderness"—the sense of "a rare place where humans feel not like landlords or even tenants, but simply guests."

The refuge, in other words, is something like a living temple, which is not to be desecrated.

Some environmental writings have explicit religious overtones. A popular idea among environmentalists is writer James Lovelock's "Gaia hypothesis"—the idea that the Earth is a living entity with a super-consciousness of its own, of which we are all a part. (Gaia was, of course, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth.) Native American religions with their nature worship are popular as well. Some people who turn away from traditional religion and then embark on a spiritual quest in a need to fill the void say that they find that spirituality in environmental activism.

Environmentalist philosophy has a religious dimension other than the fantasy of the Garden of Eden. Its anti-consumerist animus reflects, to some extent, the puritanical notion that material pleasures and comforts are wicked and corrupting, and self-denial is ennobling for the soul.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with religiously or spiritually based beliefs. But perhaps some forms of environmental philosophy and activism should raise questions about introducing religion into public policy—or public schools, where environmental education programs often have elements of Earth worship and moralist condemnation of consumerist sins.

....

The preservation of our natural heritage is undoubtedly a worthy goal. But when seen from the perspective of human benefit, it is one of many competing values that must be balanced—including the need to alleviate our dependence of foreign oil. To treat wilderness as something mystical and sacramental short-circuits the debate as surely as an appeal to biblical principles.

If it can be shown that oil drilling in ANWAR poses a risk of actual damage to the environment (e.g., contribute to climate change with unforeseeable consequences for humans), then by all means, continue the ban. If it's about preserving a living church sanctified by mystical values, I think that, particularly at this point in time, a little separation of church and state is in order.


64 comments:

Anonymous said...

The burning of fossils fuels has already been established as the cause of global warming so drilling in the ANWR, since it is for the purpose of providing more fossil fuels to burn, has already been astablished as harmful.

I don't see why the moral (what you are refering to as religious) aspects of the enviromental debate should be any less valid than the moral aspects of any other issue in public debate such as the death penalty, tax cuts for the rich, etc. Moral judgements are part of public policy decision-making. Have to be.

Pooh said...

As a former and semi-current AK resident, I'm ambivalent on the issue, so I won't say much. I will say that pro-drilling points are all based on oil-company competence in ensuring a 'limited footprint.' Rightly or wrongly, Alaskans remember the Exxon Valdez, not the greatest example of said competence.

There is also the counterpoint to Will, there's a good chance there will be a great deal less oil than estimated.

Revenant said...

The burning of fossils fuels has already been established as the cause of global warming so drilling in the ANWR, since it is for the purpose of providing more fossil fuels to burn, has already been astablished as harmful.

The major flaw in your argument is, of course, that it has not been established that global warming is harmful. It has, on the other hand, been established that high energy prices are harmful.

So what you are arguing is, in essence, that we should accept guaranteed harm to ward off hypothetical harm. That's not a rational way to set policy.

Rightly or wrongly, Alaskans remember the Exxon Valdez, not the greatest example of said competence.

Maybe. But most Alaskans support ANWR drilling.

There is also the counterpoint to Will, there's a good chance there will be a great deal less oil than estimated

And an equally good chance that there will be a great deal more -- 10.3 billion is the value in the center of the bell curve of predictions. Actually, given that extraction technology is constantly improving, the odds are probably better that we'll exceed expectations than that we'll fall short.

Anonymous said...

You state (as if based in fact) "it has not been established that global warming is harmful. It has, on the other hand, been established that high energy prices are harmful." Obviously, you only acknowledge what directly affects your pocketbook. Any potential damage done doesn't affect your pocketbook. Global warming has been proven and the effects of global warming have been shown to be harmful. I contend that the oil companies will never pass along any cost savings to you for drilling in ANWR -- they'll find some way to pretend to squeeze consumers so energy prices will continue to increase and our costs will be higher. The only profiteers will be those invested with oil companies and even that will only be temporary. George Will is short-sighted and paranoid!

Revenant said...

Obviously, you only acknowledge what directly affects your pocketbook. Any potential damage done doesn't affect your pocketbook.

Raising the cost of energy increases poverty. Poverty kills more people than anything else. So before I sign on to an agreement to condemn people to death, I expect proof that I'm saving even more lives by doing so.

So far, no such proof has appeared. So color me unimpressed with your reasoning, which is little distinguishable from the old "we must give burnt offerings to the rain god" reasoning of our primitive ancestors.

I contend that the oil companies will never pass along any cost savings to you for drilling in ANWR

Contend away. It is always interesting to hear why the law of supply and demand will magically suspend itself. My favorite part is where all of the oil companies who *aren't* being allowed to drill in ANWR agree to let those who are sell their oil at full price without doing something wacky like, oh, underselling them in order to reap windfall profits and put the competition out of business.

George Will is short-sighted and paranoid!

Just a suggestion, but if you're going to call other people "paranoid" I'd lay off on theorizing about a global conspiracy of oil companies.

Kenetyw said...

Let's all be cynical! Fight the power! Our government is corrupt and will never let us reap the benefits of what we sow.

No not really. Sure, there is some evidence of global warming. What does that have to do with the ANWAR debate, unless you are making the case that all drilling for oil is evil because oil is evil? Even so, this argument is about the local enviromental impact, not global warming. If ANWAR isn't used, then I'm sure our govenment can spend the extra money on purchasing and importing Saudi oil. That way they don't even have to pretend that they are squeezing consumers! And all the profit will go to our friends the Sheiks.
It's not like we are going to use less oil just because we don't use ANWAR.

James R Ament said...

kenetyw

Exactly. Would we rather continue enriching the Saudis or work our way to self-sufficiency?

Pooh said...

Maybe. But most Alaskans support ANWR drilling.

Getting what amounts to direct payments, yearly, from the oil companies will do that. (Not complaining, I had no debt when I graduated from college because of said oil money.)

And, as a counterpoint most Alaskans support Ted Stevens.

Anon, you don't want to have the 'global warming is bad' debate with Revenant, he's very Missouran on the issue.

Having said that, Rev, what would you consider to be proof that global warming is bad? (And remember destabilization and dislocation are bad for the economy too.)

Cathy Young said...

Revenant: personally, I think that with a phenomenon like global warming it's best to err on the side of caution. However, I don't see any global warming/ANWAR drilling link -- our dependance on fossil fuels isn't going away overnight, we'd just be changing the source of the oil. And if oil companies never passed on their savings to consumers, then gas prices would not fluctuate but would constantly stay high, wouldn't they?

Revenant said...

personally, I think that with a phenomenon like global warming it's best to err on the side of caution.

Locking your doors in a bad neighborhood is erring on the side of caution. I'm not sure that spending many trillions of dollars on what would be the largest government project in human history without being sure we need it really qualifies for that term. :)

James Emerson said...

I didn't know that polar bears could drown, but they can if they're made to swim long distances. Apparently, they have to swim longer distances now-a-days to get to the other side...

Global warming?

"For anyone who has wondered how global warming and reduced sea ice will affect polar bears, the answer is simple -- they die," said Richard Steiner, a marine-biology professor at the University of Alaska.

Of course...they're only bears. It's not like their the four legged equivalent of a coal miner's canary are they?

Link

But as to ANWR, we should fight to keep the oil in the ground as long as possible. Our first, and easiest, priority is to defeat the status quo by raising CAFE standards, and by taxing imported oil to fund a "Manhatten" style project for the development of alternative energies.

That would be the prudent course, but the probable course amounts to "staying the course." That is until we sicken of the endless war that must be fought to dominate the world's fossil fuel reserves...

Revenant said...

Getting what amounts to direct payments, yearly, from the oil companies will do that

Caribou suddenly look less important when a person actually has to personally give something up to protect them. There's a reason why most environmentalists live in urban areas.

Having said that, Rev, what would you consider to be proof that global warming is bad?

I don't think climatology is a mature enough science to be able to offer convincing theoretical proofs at this point. As for what form their proof might ultimately take, well, let's give them some time and see what they come up with. Currently estimates on things like temperature increases and sea level changes vary by a full order of magnitude -- that's not science, that's wild-assed guessing. Civil engineers don't say "well this beam can hold support somewhere between 1 and 10 metric tons" and then expect someone to build the buildings they design. NASA doesn't launch satellites and say "well it should end up in orbit somewhere from 20,000 to 200,000 miles up". But for some reason "we have no idea how much warmer the Earth will get or if the sea will rise enough to matter but we want trillions of dollars of funding anyway." Um, no.

To turn things around, though, what would you consider proof that global warming is good? So far the Earth has gotten 1 degree warmer over the last century. Growing seasons are longer, crop production is better than ever, the weather is not noticably less stable, and the human race (in the developed and undeveloped world alike) is better off than it has ever been. I'm not feeling the urgency here.

Revenant said...

Global warming?

Nobody in this thread is disputing that the Earth is warming. Although it is worth noting that Antarctica is getting colder.

It's not like their the four legged equivalent of a coal miner's canary are they?

Only if coal miners used dead canaries to predict when Greenpeace would be releasing its next ad campaign.

Cathy Young said...

Revenant, I'll pose a counter-question: if there's a 10% risk that global warming will result in making coastal areas uninhabitable and will cause more powerful hurricanes, does that warrant action to reduce it? When we're talking about such dire consequences, what'a an acceptable level of risk?

Anonymous said...

Drilling in the ANWAR is like someone who for health reasons should be on a diet saying, "It doesn't matter if I eat the chocolot now because I can always switch to carrots later." One has to begin as one means to go on. Global warming is real. It is caused by burning fossil fuels. It is logical and reasonable then to decide that we will focus our atttention on making the necessary changes in our economy rather than rationalizing that we don't have to face uncomfortable facts yet.
There is a religious argument in favor of drilling. It's the God-is-created -in the -image -of -man Mammon-worshippping religion of the radical right and the economic conservatives who are unable to value anything which can't be expressed in dollar terms. "We", meaning all Americans, don't need the oil. We need leadership in facing up to the changes global warming will bring. It's the oil companies and the Alaskans who expect to benefit financially from the drilling that "need" the oil. Why should a piece of God's creation that belongs to all of us and future generations be endangered for the shortterm self interests of a few? It's a moral issue on two levels: decsion making for a society should be based on the longterm best intersts of all, not the short term financial benefit of a few, and materialistic values don't lead to good longterm policy decisions.

Brad said...

A quick note on global warming:

"So far, no such proof has appeared."

There is a good reason for this: the earth is a very complex system, and we only get one. We don't have a spare to heat up, just to see what happens. So, we aren't going to get to know the real consequences until warming happens. Instead we have competing models and theories.

"So color me unimpressed with your reasoning, which is little distinguishable from the old "we must give burnt offerings to the rain god" reasoning of our primitive ancestors."

This seems cavalier for such a change. I don't know what will happen; I doubt anyone does. It's plausible that global warming will have lasting, negative consequences, whether volatile weather patterns, a decrease in the amount of habitable area, or even simply regional climate shifting. Moving is expensive, after all. In any case, decrying anyone that is concerned with this as a primitive seems arrogant.

Brad said...

Back to something a little closer to the original piece. When I read this yesterday, it surprised me, and I am surprised again to find you agree:

"For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. ... for them, changing the society's politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.

The primary goal of collectivism -- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives. This is done in the name of equality."


This just doesn't pass muster for me, on two levels.

The first is that it's a sweeping characterization with no evidence. And, since it goes to motive, it can't really be demonstrated except by quoting the people he means (no quotes provided). It's a 'gut-level' assessment on Will's part, enhanced by the clever application of labels.

The second is this: you can attach this criticism [that the real goal is to increase government control] to any legislation. Drunk driving? Anti-discrimination laws? Sure, those could fit (and is there a clearer example of doing something in the name of equality than anti-discrimination laws?). But so too could "conservative" pet causes like restrictions on flag-burning or gay marriage.

I suspect that most of us, liberal and conservative alike, really only want government intervention where we find it warranted, not as a goal unto itself. The disagreements really are on a case-by-case basis: when and how we apply laws to accomplish what we set out to, and whether the goal is even appropriate.

Synova said...

I sort of wonder what the Polar Bears did during the time that that reprobate Eric the Red was promoting his lovely farming colony on the island of Greenland. Granted that old Eric understood marketing, he and those he persuaded did, in fact, establish farms there.

The glaciers extending down over most of Minnesota wasn't a foot note in a Science textbook in grade school for me but the yearly experience of "picking rock" from the fields and walking over the landscape left behind when the glaciers receeded.

What does that have to do with global warming? Nothing at all. What is has to do with is the idea that the world is *supposed* to be in a sort of static balance rather than in constant change. Granted, nature doesn't care the least bit about the Polar Bears. If they all perish she won't shed a tear because Nature, just like Evolution, doesn't give a d*mn.

James Emerson said...

What is has to do with is the idea that the world is *supposed* to be in a sort of static balance rather than in constant change. Granted, nature doesn't care the least bit about the Polar Bears.

This is actually a pretty good point, and one that has been "scientifically" argued extensively since at least the mid 1800s. Back then it was Uniforminatarianism v Catastrophism. Of course, we NOW know that both principles are in play, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes not. At that time though, the mechanisms responsible for producing extended periods of gradual change punctuated by sudden defining events were not well understood.

They still aren't to some degree.

Similarly, global warming is largely perceived to have two root causes. One sourced in the natural world, and the other sourced in the activities of mankind. One, the probable result of ongoing variations within and between the Sun, Earth, and the Moon. The other, the sudden appearance and exponential growth of the ravenous humankind. The relative contribution from each to global warming is, admittedly, not as well understood as it will be when better scientific techniques reveal a better defined picture, but what is understood is that the activities of mankind since the rise of the industrial age have been a contributing factor.

The question is: should we wait until ALL that is knowable is known before we take some remedial action? Which is the faith based route advocated by those who've heavily invested themselves in either the corporate status quo in pursuit of their greedy ends, or those from the "we have to make it totally awful before Jesus returns" crowd in pursuit of their certitude. Or, do we address what we reasonalby understand to be our growing contibution to the problem now, and then change course later if we're wrong?

Unlike the mid 1800s heated debate over the interpretation of the geologic record, the risk of getting global warming wrong could have dire and near termed consequences. At what point of increase does the conversion of fossil fuel deposits into energy plus fossil fuel pollutants push us over the climatic edge? The edge where weather change acclerates beyond our ability to adapt.

What define the tipping point?

Two unprecedented events were recognised this year. One was the horrific hurricane season, the other was the melting of Artic ice. Both are indicative of warming oceans.

We should be concerned.

Revenant said...

Revenant, I'll pose a counter-question: if there's a 10% risk that global warming will result in making coastal areas uninhabitable and will cause more powerful hurricanes, does that warrant action to reduce it?

Not at these prices.

The value of all the real estate in America was $17.2 trillion in 2000. Let's say your scenario destroyed over half the real estate in America -- a $10 trillion loss. A 10% chance of a $10 trillion loss works out to a $1 trillion average loss. Can we prevent global warming for $1 trillion? No, not even close. Nor can we halve the odds for $500 billion, or reduce them to 9% for $100 billion. Even factoring in the cost of housing losses in the undeveloped world (should we hold ourselves responsible for that) it still isn't cost-effective.

Then, of course, you have to factor in the percentage chance of global warming improving growing seasons, reducing hurricane activity, etc. That further reduces the amount it makes sense to spend.

So no, we shouldn't do anything yet -- not until our technology (and scientific understanding) improves enough to make it cost-effective.

Revenant said...

the earth is a very complex system, and we only get one. We don't have a spare to heat up, just to see what happens. So, we aren't going to get to know the real consequences until warming happens. Instead we have competing models and theories.

Yes, that's exactly it. My point is that the models and theories are, at this point, extremely immature. Fossil fuels provide immense benefits that are very real. They provide immense negatives that are purely hypothetical. "It's too complex to know for sure! We should stop!" is not, in my opinion, a rational approach to things.

It is also worth noting that we are not helpless animals. Global warming, should it turn out to be bad, need not be permanent -- we can take carbon back OUT of the atmosphere, after all -- nor will the problems it causes be insurmountable. Many global warming advocates like to act like the world will be destroyed if we don't act quickly. In reality, if we don't act and things go bad, we'll just have to live through a period of unpleasantness while we fix things again.

In any case, decrying anyone that is concerned with this as a primitive seems arrogant.

Yes, that was intemperate of me. I apologize. But in my defense, there is a strong "we must make sacrifices to atone for our sins" theme in the attitudes of environmentalist groups, as well as a propensity for making catastrophic predictions that never come true.

William R. Barker said...

Refresh me... how exactly was James Watt an environmental wacko? All that comes to mind is his upsetting Nancy (and thus Ronald) Reagan one year by trying to ban the Beach Boys from giving a (Fourth of July?) Concert on the Mall in Washington DC.

In any case... moving from the 1980's to the current day...

(*GRIN*)

George Will is right. Anyone who is familiar with the situation knows this. Of course it's "permissible" (*SMILE*) to still oppose drilling in ANWR, but an intellectually honest debate must include the facts Will brings to bear.

Oh... and as for Michael Crichton... I read his book "State of Fear" over the summer and it should be assigned reading for American high school students. Folks might want to check out www.crichton-official.com

Revenant said...

those from the "we have to make it totally awful before Jesus returns" crowd in pursuit of their certitude

I'm sorry to spam the comments, but I wanted to point out that the people referred to above don't actually exist. There is no sect of Christianity that believes in an obligation to make things on Earth bad, with the possible exception of some fringe cult or two living in a bunker somewhere in the Midwest.

The Powerline blog had a good post about this (and about James Watt) here.

rick said...

I'm not sure that spending many trillions of dollars on what would be the largest government project in human history without being sure we need it really qualifies for that term. :)


This is a simple straw man fallacy. You are assuming that any government program that slows down global warming is going to cost "many trillions of dollars on what would be the largest government project in human history". But that is simply not true. You can only make that assessment if we were talkign about a specific policy being proposed. That is not the case. Certainly, some sort of market based buying and selling of pollution "shares" wouldn't cost "many trillions of dollars on what would be the largest government project in human history". But it would slow down global warming.

William R. Barker said...

Uhmm... Anonymous... the burning of fossil fuels has NOT already been established as "the" cause of global warming. Nor... just for your information... does everyone believe that global warming (whether a natural, man-made, or mixed phenomenon) is on the whole necessarily a "harmful" phenomenon.

Pooh... from what I recall reading about the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster (and yes... I believe it was an environmental disaster)... nature and man working together have basically repaired the initial damage and presently the waters teem with more sealife than prior to the tanker spill. I could be wrong... anyone with info, I urge you to post.

Revenant... I'm with you! High energy prices are BAD!!! Bad for me... bad for you... bad for America... bad for the world. Civilization rises on the back of cheap and abundant energy.

Cathy... just as a logical statement it's certainly NOT always best to err on the side of caution. What makes sense is to examine the cost/benefit analysis.

James Emerson... would you mind paying my share of the increased taxes you're calling for? (*GRIN*)

Brad... from what I've read, global warming will lengthen growing seasons and thus lead to higher crop yields and lower food prices worldwide.

Synova... thanks for pointing out that the earth's climate has been constantly changing since... well... since there's been an earth.

ANYWAY... on to the next thread!

(*GRIN*)

James Aach said...

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"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog.

I'm not sure what our energy future should be, but I believe we'll do a better job of deciding if we understand our energy present. I hope you'll take the opportunity to look at Rad Decision. (And if you like what you see, please pass the word about this independent project.)

Revenant said...

This is a simple straw man fallacy. You are assuming that any government program that slows down global warming

Now that's funny -- you accuse me of attacking straw men and then immediately do the same thing. I was writing about preventing global warming, not "slowing it down". Slowing down global warming would be cheaper -- for example, the net cost of Kyoto (which would slow down global warming, although by a trivial amount) runs a little under half a trillion for the United States according to optimistic estimates.

Of course, left unexplained is why I should spend my money so that my great-great-great-grandkids get stuck with the higher temperatures that would otherwise be inflicted on my great-great-grandkids. If there IS a serious problem, slowing it down is dippy; stopping it is the acceptable solution. And stopping it will indeed cost many trillions of dollars.

Anonymous said...

If there IS a serious problem, slowing it down is dippy; stopping it is the acceptable solution.

What?
This doesn't make any sense!

So if X is a serious problem, minimizing the problem is foolish. If a serious problem exists, and it truly is SERIOUS, the only acceptable solution is to eliminate the problem. Minimizing the problem is worthless.

THAT is your reasoning. And that reasoning its pretty bad reasoning.

Pooh said...

And of course, slowing it down gives you more time to stop it...

Revenant said...

So if X is a serious problem, minimizing the problem is foolish. If a serious problem exists, and it truly is SERIOUS, the only acceptable solution is to eliminate the problem. Minimizing the problem is worthless.

How does slowing the rate of global warming minimize any problems at all? It isn't the warming that's the problem -- it's the "being warm". The alleged problem is that we'll reach critical threshold temperatures at which bad things will happen. Slowing the rate of warming doesn't minimize those problems -- it just punts on them and inflicts them on a later generation. See also "Social Security and Medicare".

If we know enough to know that a problem is coming -- and we don't -- then the rational thing is to prevent the problem, not blow some cash so that generation N+1 gets stuck with it instead of generation N.

Cathy Young said...

Rev: I think that slowing the problem definitely makes sense.

In a generation or two we may well discover fossil fuel substitutes that won't cause temperatures to rise.

Revenant said...

In a generation or two we may well discover fossil fuel substitutes that won't cause temperatures to rise

It seems to me that we already have valid substitutes for fossil fuels.

Pooh said...

I'll repeat, slowing it down gives you more time to stop it. To make a simple mechanics analogy, if a body is moving in one direction, it has to slow down before it stops and moves in the other direction.

If you think that the cost-benefit ratio is not there for intervening right now, that's fine, make that argument. I'll accept your "we don't know enough" argument to a point but suggest that, for whatever reason, you have different risk preferences then many.

James Emerson said...

The "slowing down" meme does have merit, but consider the atmosphere as a vast repository of differing chemical compounds, some of natural origin, some manmade.

Two points to be made here.

One, there is enertia present within the atmosphere that would disallow us to "stop it" on a dime, or even on a trillion dollar bill. If Jesus came back and took all humankind off to wonderland, the Earth would require decades (at best) for its atmosphere to resume its pre-anthropoetic nature. Yes...time heals almost all wounds, but a simple abrasion heals faster than than a compound fracture...

Two, the catastrophic scenario I alluded too earlier, defined as atmospheric conditions changing faster than our ability to adapt, may already be at hand or not. We don't know. The melting of vast quantities of Artic ice may very well shut down the oceanic gyres that drive circulation. That would generate a brave new world indeed, and, in effect, not so blithely characterized as just so many agricultural opportunities or new ocean front condos.

Revenant said...

I'll repeat, slowing it down gives you more time to stop it.

Look, "slowing it down" requires that we have a fuel substitute available. Otherwise we can't slow it down, because we have nothing to substitute for oil. But if we have a substitute available, we don't NEED to slow it down, because we already have a solution, and can stop it outright.

Of course, this is all moot, since spending half a trillion dollars to "slow down" a phantom problem is every bit as silly and irrational as spending trillions to stop one. The only thing we're guaranteed to slow down or stop is our rate of economic growth. :)

Anonymous said...

Brad
This just doesn't pass muster for me, on two levels.

The first is that it's a sweeping characterization with no evidence.


So, it's similar to global warming's harm?

The supporters of fighting "global warming" have absolutely no hard evidence on their side. They have notoriously inaccurate climate models (none can predict El Nino systems, which do occur regularly) and theories that they change on the fly.

James


But as to ANWR, we should fight to keep the oil in the ground as long as possible. Our first, and easiest, priority is to defeat the status quo by raising CAFE standards, and by taxing imported oil to fund a "Manhatten" style project for the development of alternative energies.


So, a massive tax on the poor to give money to energy companies is what you propose?

Because, in the end, it'd hit the poor the hardest and the energy companies would be the ones in control of the "alternative" energy sources.

In the end, killing employment, shooting prices through the roof, and increasing misery internationally (though, it should be noted again, Kyoto didn't really seem to apply much to, say, China or India) on a theory with virtually no concrete underpinnings seems to be the apex of folly.

-=Mike

James Emerson said...

Mike, the scenario you describe (massive tax on the poor)does not have to impact the poor as you suggest. There are ways to mitigate the impact. For instance, if we imposed a steep tax per barrel of imported oil, and simultaneously used that tax to replace the payroll tax that mainly affects the poor then you would probably find little opposition from the poor for the tradeoff. If the barrel tax were steep enough, you could both repeal the payroll tax, and throw in universal healthcare.

I think the point I was making (or trying to) was about finding a way to move forward in a world where we begin...in a very big way...to capitalize and industrialize an entire set of industries dedicated to replacing endless war for oil with a domestically produced alternative.

We have reason and evidence to believe, as the economy is now structured, that the first effect from peak oil awareness would be the development of our vast coal resources. Burning coal to replace oil is not a good tradeoff. Coal is far more polluting in terms of moles of CO2 released per erg of energy, and also the release of other nasty contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals which have a severe impact on developing human fetuses.

A world where we've both acclerated climate change and massively increased neurotoxins is NOT a world we want to live in. Especially if we can imagine and work towards a cleaner and more peaceful future.

Wouldn't you agree?

Revenant said...

James,

If we put punitive taxes on oil, that will indeed reduce demand for oil within the United States. We will use less oil. Of course, since the worldwide demand for oil will be sharply reduced by our not using it as much, world oil prices will drop. The rest of the world will use more oil. The net result of your plan will be to screw up the US economy without reducing oil use.

What people often forget is that the religious hysteria surrounding global warming is not shared by much the rest of the world. China and India, for example, will cheerfully keep using oil after we stop, and thank us for helping keep the prices low. Short of waging war against the developing world to force it to use inferior energy sources, there's no way to stop worldwide oil use.

James Emerson said...

revenant,

Read this book!

Or at least read the link. The time for denial is well in the past. There will be no soft landing. The choice is between bumpy and disasterous.

Pooh said...

Revenant, that's certainly a possible scenario, but you need some data to back it up. Reduced demand for oil means less demand at every price. The market price may in fact be lowered by our artificially reduced demand which would increase consumption elsewhere. This 'feedback effect' is almost certainly smaller in magnitude than the initial drop in our consumption.

Revenant said...

Reduced demand for oil means less demand at every price.

That is true, but reduced demand doesn't necessarily mean reduced sales -- not unless demand falls so much that prices cannot be reduced profitably. Remember, there are a lot of people in the world who don't use nearly as much oil as they'd like to, simply because they can't afford it. There's a lot of elbow room in oil prices for prices to drop while keeping oil companies profitable. Besides, the reduction in global demand caused by the exit of the US from the market would be strictly temporary at any rate. Demand for oil increases yearly in pretty much every country in the world.

Oil is, for many purposes, by far the best energy source out there. You are not going to stop people from using it without either (a) using brute force or (b) finding something more cost-effective for them to use.

Anonymous said...

Mike, the scenario you describe (massive tax on the poor)does not have to impact the poor as you suggest. There are ways to mitigate the impact. For instance, if we imposed a steep tax per barrel of imported oil, and simultaneously used that tax to replace the payroll tax that mainly affects the poor then you would probably find little opposition from the poor for the tradeoff.

You're going to cut a tax that the poor get back in full anyway at the end of the year?

I'll assure you that an increase in a gas tax will cause more harm than a cut in payroll tax will alleviate.

If the barrel tax were steep enough, you could both repeal the payroll tax, and throw in universal healthcare.

You'd also be unable to afford gasoline.

A world where we've both acclerated climate change and massively increased neurotoxins is NOT a world we want to live in. Especially if we can imagine and work towards a cleaner and more peaceful future.

Wouldn't you agree?


I don't believe we've done either --- so no, I don't agree.

I will say that evolution scientists are far less definite about the theory of evolution than climatologists are about global warming, and they have significantly more evidence behind their theory.

-=Mike

Mark B. said...

The bulk of available data (Greenland and Anarctic ice cores, etc) suggest that the planet has been warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-19th Century, although this process does seem to have accelerated in the last 30 years. During the Medieval Climatic Optimum that preceded the Little Ice Age, the Greenland coast was temperate enough to support a thriving Norse settlement, and the polar bears appear to have survived just fine.

Global warming is inevitable regardless of what mankind does or doesn't do, although we probably can slow its pace to some degree. Major ecosystems will adjust, just as they have to every preceding climatic cycle. OTOH, rapid changes in climatic conditions will probably most severely impact marginal economies and overstressed biosystems in the developing world.

A rational strategy for addressing global warming must deal with much more than reducing CO2 emissions in the developed world or cutting back on oil usage in those nations. Such a strategy must also present ways to ecourage economic development and improve resource management in developing countries to wean them from destructive practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture, deforestation and desertification, all of which will magnify any adverse climate changes in those regions.

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for the interesting points, everyone!

Brad -- missed your post before.

This just doesn't pass muster for me, on two levels.

The first is that it's a sweeping characterization with no evidence. And, since it goes to motive, it can't really be demonstrated except by quoting the people he means (no quotes provided). It's a 'gut-level' assessment on Will's part, enhanced by the clever application of labels.

The second is this: you can attach this criticism [that the real goal is to increase government control] to any legislation. Drunk driving? Anti-discrimination laws? Sure, those could fit (and is there a clearer example of doing something in the name of equality than anti-discrimination laws?). But so too could "conservative" pet causes like restrictions on flag-burning or gay marriage.

I suspect that most of us, liberal and conservative alike, really only want government intervention where we find it warranted, not as a goal unto itself. The disagreements really are on a case-by-case basis: when and how we apply laws to accomplish what we set out to, and whether the goal is even appropriate.


I think it's obviously a generalization, and obviously not true of all environmentalists, but I do think it's true of some -- an animosity toward the market does exist, and I think that when communism's collapse became obvious, that animosity was channelled by some into radical environmentalism. (Actually, a glasnost-era Russian political commentator, Maksim Sokolov, made that argument years ago.) Just as I think that for some people environmentalism is a vehicle for moralistic condemnation of human pleasure-seeking.

Obviously, that doesn't negate the fact that a great lot of environmentalists are people who are simply concerned about a clean environment (and human survival).

Anonymous said...

Back to the specifics, how much oil is this going to produce? In what I've read so far, it seems like this additional oil is going to have little impact on either domestic supplies or overall world supplies and likewise, little effect on prices. Frame the answer in terms of year(s) of oil use for the entire country. Billions of gallons doesn't mean anything more to any of us than billions of burgers. Also, how much will these operations be subsidized by the US taxpayers in the form of tax breaks for the oil corporations, infrastructure, etc.? If someone wanted to drill on my land, I would be expecting to be getting apporpriately compensated for it. Will this be the case in ANWR? Or will the US again be fleeced?

Pooh said...

Rev, blogger ate my reply, so I'll try again, briefly.

1. You can't assumer both that a U.S. withdrawal/drawdown from the world oil market will both cause prices to drop AND other purchasers consume all that the U.S. no longer is. (The only way this works is with a vertical supply of oil, and that is simply not realistic.)

2. The upward pressure on oil demand over time, while probably correct (even adjusting for inflation) is something of a red herring. You're comparing apples and oranges when you introduce that third variable.

From your post, I'm not sure you understand "supply" and "demand" as terms of art. (Not meant pejoratively, the popular/lay meanings of those terms is different enough from an economist's to cause a great deal of cross-talk and confusion.) If I'm mistaken, please elaborate on your assumptions so I know within what framework we are discussing.

James Emerson said...

A few final points...

Yes...It is obvious that denial isn't a river in Egypt. Seems to me that positions have become polarized over many issues, and that polarization has been "fueled" in part by the funding of groups and individuals who are willing to offer up polar opposite viewpoints to muddy the waters. This is true for global warming, for peak oil, and for evolutionary theory amongst many others.

But if you read the peer reviewed literature from the most prestigious journals, you will discover the vast majority of qualified scientists believe global warming is both real, a potential danger, and a potential danger more easily dealt with now rather than later.

If you take your info from studies funded by the 'Western Fuels Association,' or others of the same ilk (as some on this forum appear to), then be aware.

I also disagree with revenant on his interpretation of the oil market.

There is no free market.

The market, as it exists, is run by a conglomeration of really large corporations which are tightly connected to our governing officaldom, and that "cheap" oil we casually burn in our Hummers requires a massive expenditure (and dislocation) of resources away from domestic growth and into a global war machine. Talk about a steep tax policy.

Before you criticize me about how a massive expenditure of resources into a peaceful domestic Alt-E program might push the poor into deeper poverty, you must defend the status quo, and the billions of dollars and thousands of young American lives that are now spent in pursuit of "cheap" fuel. Also please explain how THAT policy isn't harmful to the nation's impoverished?

...

Factoid #1: In 1964 the world's population reached 3 billion. In that same year discovery of oil also peaked...

Factoid #2: Every year since 1981 we've consumed more oil than we've discovered...

Factioid #3: Consumption demand and discovery curves are bifucating...

Factoid #4: The world's population is now over 6 billion...

As I've stated earlier, it is better to keep ANWR closed to drilling as long as possible for a number of reasons. We should be moving away from extractive energy and towards producing energy alternatively (and domestically) for national security purposes. We should be concerned and address about the causes and effects of global warming. We should recoqnize the pending crisis of growing energy demand v peaking oil production.

And we should not live near a river in Egypt.

I realize that ANWR will eventually be drilled. Hopefully that won't occur until after we'ved sobered up from the many years of bingeing. Then we may at last recognize that cheap energy was always an illusion with a rather large hidden price. Then maybe we can find a landing that is just bumpy and not disasterous.

Revenant said...

You can't assumer both that a U.S. withdrawal/drawdown from the world oil market will both cause prices to drop AND other purchasers consume all that the U.S. no longer is.

You're mistaken on that point. Any market in which demand exceeds supply can see a reduction in both demand and prices while experiencing no decline in actual consumption. The oil market is in exactly that situation, and (as with most natural resources) can't necessarily increase production to keep up with demand.

The upward pressure on oil demand over time, while probably correct (even adjusting for inflation) is something of a red herring.

Nonsense. People are claiming that effectively banning oil use within the United States will lead us to a magical fairy land where excess CO2 is no longer emitted and wars are no longer fought for oil. The fact that the much of the rest of the planet will keep using oil in ever-increasing amounts is entirely relevant to a discussion of that claim.

And James -- coal will not be replacing oil. We're not going to use coal-burning cars and trains. We will continue using coal to generate *electrical* power, but coal is already our primary source for electrical power.

Should "peak oil" predictions hold true we will, indeed, gradually run out of oil over the course of the next few centuries, plateauing for long periods as oil sand and oil shale become cost-effective. During that time prices will rise, pushing people to use other energy technologies. There is no need for the government to screw things up by meddling in the market.

James Emerson said...

revenant

Coal will not substitute directly for oil. It will be used to generate electricity which will be used to produce hydrogen, and it will be hydrogen that COULD be an important fuel for our automotive fleet. It will also be used to generate more electricity because natural gas supplies suffer from Hubbert's peak as does petroleum, and natural gas is used extensively for both home heating and electricity generation..

If we have to rely upon tar sands and oil shales for our energy then we've lost the battle, for both sources REQUIRE massive amounts of energy to produce useable motor fuel. The use of these resources should be considered the economic endgame.

Coal use will increase unless we develop a reasonable domestic alternative to the use of imported oil. It will increase anyway, but as an energy substitute in the motor fuel production cycle its use would acclerate. Coal burns dirty, and the current Bush regulations concerning its use have allowed more pollutants (that is beyond the massive amounts of the global warming CO2 component) into the airshed than necessary, It's almost as if they're allowing the industry to write the regs ;)

Your assessment that we will run out of oil over the course of decades or even centuries is correct, but misses the point. When a well field reaches about half its potential, then energy must be pumped into it to recover the remaining oil. The 'sweet light' crude that is easily converted into motor fuel is the first portion of a field to be withdrawn. As a field matures, pumping becomes more energy intensive. Couple that fact with increasing world demand on existing supplies, and the "steep tax" of doing nothing but allowing fictitious market forces to resolve this problem to our satisfaction is a recipe for a disasterous landing.

It is far easier to take corrective action when the problem first becomes recognized. It is less easy when the problem is identified as a certainty, and it will be nearly impossible to deal with it when it is upon us. But the forces of the status quo have never engaged the public with long termed startegic thinking. I suppose there is a reason for this beyond the greed and hunger for power that seems to drive them, but if there is, I can't find it.

So forgive me for coming off as being rather intemperate. I feel a little like that Clarke fellow who claimed (metaphorically let's hope) he was running around with his hair on fire trying to warn a disbelieving uncaring administration that a terrorist attack was nigh. He was right, and the weight of evidence suggest that the climate scientist are also right, and is Dr. Hubbert...

Revenant said...

If we have to rely upon tar sands and oil shales for our energy then we've lost the battle, for both sources REQUIRE massive amounts of energy to produce useable motor fuel.

With current technology. There is no physical law mandating that that will continue to be the case as oil prices rise (and indeed interesting inroads are being made in oil shale extraction).

When a well field reaches about half its potential, then energy must be pumped into it to recover the remaining oil.

I'm not quite clear on why you find that fact so interesting. Motor fuel is analogous to a battery -- it is an energy storage medium. That it requires energy to produce and refine the fuel is no more shocking than the fact that it requires energy to charge a battery or a fuel cell.

Market forces will solve the "problem". The notion that oil is the one thing in the entire universe that doesn't follow supply and demand is ridiculous. Oil will become gradually more expensive over decades, not days.

And by the way, I'm uninterested in hearing complaints about how Republicans are dirtying the air. The reason we're using coal for our power needs is that the moronic environmentalist Left -- the same people who are now the driving force behind global warming hysteria, ironically -- crippled the domestic nuclear industry. We would be using pollution-free power generation if Greenpeace wasn't wall-to-wall scientific illiterates.

Adrienne said...

Energy produced by nuclear fusion isn't "pollution free" by a long shot. It produces very dangerous radioactive waste products.

Nuclear fission, on the other hand, would be pretty much pollution free. Unfortunately, nobody has managed to figure out how to harness it to generate power for us Earthlings. Yet.

Revenant said...

Energy produced by nuclear fusion isn't "pollution free" by a long shot. It produces very dangerous radioactive waste products.

First of all, you've confused nuclear fission with nuclear fusion. Secondly, the difficulties and dangers involved in dealing with nuclear waste have been severely overhyped. The volume of pollution produced is small and containable, and thus poses no health or environmental threat to the world at large.

Anonymous said...

I want to back Revenant up on this point. The dangers of nuclear waste are way overstated, as are fears about another Chernobyl. In the US, the nuclear industry is very, very heavily regulated and monitored.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of investment in nuclear and other power plants, the stability of the power grid is also quite a bit more tenuous than most people know. Unfortunately, because of the persistant not-in-my-backyard mentality, few plants of any kind are being built to respond to ever increasing demands for power.

The thing is, I think we need to rethink how we address the issue. I wonder if the public money we would spend fighting for a site to build a new plant, building it, and subsidizing operations wouldn't be better spent making it cost effective for businesses, landlords, and homeowners to install mini wind turbines, solar panels, and (when the techonology is viable) hydrogen cells on their property. It isn't that this would replace the need for big power plants. Its just that I believe that adding smaller, more distributed power sources to the grid would allow us to meet increasing demand, and make the power supply more secure and stable.

Just my two cents,

Z

Brad said...

Cathy-
I don't doubt that a few environmentalists are, more or less, frustrated socialists. If you dig deep enough, you can find people that think anything.

Where my "huh?" reflex kicked in was when will moved from what I suspect is a small and marginal group to the idea that:

The primary goal of... contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives.

I think he is conflating the stereotypical socialist-minded fringe with, well, everyone else. The people he's describing are out there... they are the folks I met in college, or in outreach from certain interest groups.

But even these people (mostly kids) weren't looking for some sort of uber-governmental big brother; in fact, they tended to fear that, the way that most people on the outer ends of the political curve do.

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