For the next two months the urgent need for our governing bodies to deal with the upcoming “fiscal cliff” will overshadow almost all energy issues. There are some easily achievable goals such as approval of at least the lower portion of the Keystone Pipeline. That may actually have a positive economic impact to the extent it begins to arbitrage out the current price disparity between Brent crude and WTI. Otherwise, there will be little or no effort, much less progress toward an energy policy.
This provides the opportunity in the interim for both “sides” of the energy argument to consider how they each may move away from hardened ideological positions. As in so many other national problems, such a “softening” appears to be sine qua non if we want to make any progress. I’d like to propose a list of crucial “Get Over Its” for each side. Just for purposes of discussion, with no intent to ascribe “good” or “bad” to either (and far less desire to initiate an argument regarding taxonomy), let’s call the two sides “GREEN” and “BLACK”. There follow lists of ideas each group needs to transcend, i.e., “Get Over It!”
Get Over It “GREENS”
1. We simply will not move immediately to a hydrocarbon-free energy supply. You seriously underestimate the time, materials and investment required to do so. Further, the recent surplus of natural gas has done more to reduce carbon emissions than conservation and renewable energy generation combined. Stop making your ideal the enemy of all our good.
2. Burning coal has always been a bad idea. Those who don’t agree should research air pollution in London during the Age of Coal. On the other hand, it’s far too valuable an asset to simply discard. Don’t “war” against coal, just against its combustion. We need to find another way to capture that energy that would reduce its carbon footprint and promote energy security. At current oil and natural gas prices we should be able to convert it to liquid hydrocarbons economically, either through a Fischer-Tropsch process, or better, a newer, more efficient technology. We could research and develop the latter at no additional cost if we’d just stop throwing money at carbon sequestration, a 21st Century snipe hunt of multi-billion dollar proportions.
3. Try to cultivate some understanding of economics. The concept that things get done more efficiently when the profit motive is involved is one with which you must become more comfortable if you hope to be widely effective.
4. Suppress your desire to punish those whose energy behavior fails what you believe to be a moral test. Your urge to punish betrays a totalitarian part of your collective personality that’s off-putting to the American public. It severely reduces the likelihood you’ll ever attain the popular support you desire. It’s not only inappropriate; it’s counter-productive and dysfunctional as well.
Get Over It “BLACKS”
1. Environmental pollution is the tragedy of the commons writ large. Your desire to make more money is simply not a justification for your business having a negative impact on the health and well being of the general populace. I say this to the coal industry in particular. Your product has been recognized as deleterious to public health for decades. Those in that industry should read #2 above and note that you are doing the most to allow “GREENS” to get away with #4.
2. Get your heads out of the sand – or wherever else they may be – in re anthropogenic global warming. That ship has sailed in the minds of the public, with the possible exception of chronic Fox News addicts. Your denial isn’t going to do anything but damage your credibility. Further, it’s absolutely undeniable that we live in a large but finite “box” that is rapidly filling up with humanity and its effluents. Quite transparently, we’re straining the global “air conditioning”. Stop talking your book and get a grip on the obvious.
3. Stop fighting your regulators. The BP Macondo blowout proved for all time that a hands-off regulatory strategy a la the Bush-43 administration is a recipe for disaster. If the “GREENS” ever ameliorate their desire to punish you guys, perhaps we could move toward the form of regulation that we need. One that has the expertise to assure a high level of confidence in the safety of the people directly involved and in protection of the environment, but is otherwise facilitatory of energy development.
4. Be more forthcoming. Yes, it is your business, which you have every right to keep to yourselves. On the other hand, there’s really not that much difference between formulas for hydraulic frac thickening agents or injection sequences, with little or no actual proprietary information to reveal. Enduring that kind of heat in the name of the principle just cited is pointless intransigence.
Get Over It “WE THE PEOPLE”
1. It’s going to cost you something to mitigate energy’s impact on the environment. For longer than human history, we’ve been throwing our effluvia out the window or into unpopulated areas to rid ourselves of it cheaply and easily. Now the world is close to being filled with people. What’s more, in the last few hundred years we’ve come to recognize that a large number of ills – from cholera to global warming – result from the practice. While it does save us time and money, what goes ’round comes ’round (most particularly air pollution). Improving our collective energy act is going to cost all of us. The only possible debate is one regarding the nature of the payments.
2. Our national infrastructure is falling apart, including our energy infrastructure. In repairing/replacing it, someone’s ox will be gored, someone’s back yard will be used for construction. NIMBY has become a cultural malignancy. Somehow we must get past it.
3. Stop being driven by fear-mongering propaganda. Hydraulic fracturing will not destroy the Oglalla Aquifer. The relative scales of the two make it a fatuous concern, much like worrying that a guy with a single stick of dynamite might bring down Pike’s Peak. Yes, nuclear power has risks, but they can be managed successfully, even if TEPCO screwed up the response to the Fukushima disaster horribly. France has reached 75% of its electric power provided by nuclear plants without issue.
Get Over It “ALL STAKEHOLDERS”
Can we just stop hyperventilating and actually discuss these critically important issues rationally?
Naaah, that’s probably too much to ask.
Image: Election 2012 via Shutterstock