A.J. DiCintio
The gasbag problem
By A.J. DiCintio
March 12, 2011

Solving the nation's energy problem requires extraordinary courage, vision, and common sense, a reality that explains why politicians (including presidents from Nixon to Obama) have huffed and puffed energy promises so perverse that if Saudi Arabia goes the way of Libya, we may pay $20 a gallon for gas sooner than we thought — or pay somewhat less if we risk lives and borrow a trillion a decade to have American troops protect a medieval sheikdom's petroleum empire in perpetuity.

Now, a good deal of the reeking hot air about energy has been telling us that increasing efficiency will go a long way to reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

But does empirical data support the concept? No, asserts libertarian John Tierney (NYT), who reports that many economists now believe "the environmental benefits of energy efficiency have been oversold" through the use of card stacking that overlooks two important realities.

First, "the energy rebound effect," which ironically causes more energy consumption. For example, fuel efficient cars not only encourage more driving but also free up money that drivers use to make purchases that increase energy use, such as buying electronic products and "vacation trips on fuel-burning planes."

Second, "backfire" or the Jevons Paradox, "named after the 19th-century British economist who observed that while the steam engine extracted energy more efficiently from coal, it also stimulated so much economic growth that coal consumption increased."

For evidence that rebound and backfire are crucially important to the energy equation, Tierney refers to research done by Britain's UK Energy Research Center and the Breakthrough Institute, "an American research group that studies ways to slow global warming."

However, what is likely to strike folks most dramatically comes from an article published in The Journal of Physics by researchers of Sandia National Laboratories.

According to Tierney, the scientists discovered that because of the ubiquity of our lighting, "we spend the same proportion of our income on light as our much poorer ancestors did in 1700."

Moreover, a co-author of the article points out that even advanced lighting technology doesn't dampen our electrical consumption:

"Many have come to believe that new, highly-efficient solid-state lighting — generally LED technology, like that used on the displays of stereo consoles, microwaves and digital clocks — will result in reduced energy consumption. We find the opposite is true."

So, if efficiency standards fail to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while giving us, according to Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, "once-dependable top-loading washers that no longer wash [and] higher fatalities in cars downsized by fuel-efficiency rules," how do we solve our energy problems?

As stated at the outset of this piece, that question isn't easily answered. However, if we approach it rationally, we can make remarkable progress on some of its aspects, thereby fueling a prosperity that provides us with the best chance for creating a better energy future.

Let's begin the rational approach by being honest about the hoped for future of "green," boundless, inexpensive energy and admit that currently we have not reached the level of scientific advancement that will allow our hopes to be fulfilled.

There are no shiploads of low cost photovoltaic systems to cover the roofs of every home and commercial building in the U.S. (let alone the world) waiting offshore until "the price is right."

Neither has the profoundly vexing problem of controlling nuclear fusion (perhaps the holy grail of energy research) been solved only to be kept secret by a conspiracy that has managed to silence tens of thousands of scientists and entrepreneurs across the globe.

But full speed ahead, we need to create innovative partnerships between government and the private sector to develop such projects because ultimately, they will be essential if human culture as we know it is to survive.

In contrast to that bad news, the prospects for solving our immediate energy problems are infinitely brighter.

But only if the federal government gets off its ideological, lobbyist-driven duff and facilitates the development of our astoundingly enormous reserves of natural gas.

Imagine how much we already would have cut the $700 billion/year foreign countries bill us for oil — not to mention ridding ourselves of the fetidly ironic political arse-kissing that comes with the sovereignty-sucking tab — if Clinton or GW Bush had taken meaningful steps that today would have virtually every city bus, school bus, truck, and taxi that returns "home" daily fueled by cleaner burning compressed natural gas (CNG).

And imagine an energy independent U.S. today if the same presidents had fought fiercely for policies that add energy produced by nuclear, wind, and tide to the gas/domestic oil mix.

It is, of course, correct to say that merely complaining about "could have's" and "should have's" is like crying about water that didn't produce a watt of electricity as it rushed over the dam.

Therefore, imagine how far along we would be in solving our immediate energy problems if, from his first day in office, our current president would have bravely and smartly devoted himself to the development of this nation's huge reserves of natural gas instead of burning every bit of the mental fuel he could muster to develop insidious stratagems aimed at enacting an agenda that permits Washington to suck in ever increasing amounts of oxygen as the people gasp frightfully under an unimaginable incubus of debt.

That kind of imagining makes good sense, indeed; for while we can't do anything about a past presidential gasbag, we can regarding a true son of the Chicago Political Machine who incredibly continues to represent himself as unalterably devoted to change and "the fierce urgency of now."

© A.J. DiCintio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.


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