Goes Green

March 3rd, 2011 at 8:48 am | 7 Comments |

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In Congress, there are glass-half-empty Republicans who cringe that any effort to cut the apron strings of fossil fuel dependence would result in economic disaster.

Outside Congress, glass-half-full Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger is a throwback to an earlier breed of Republican leaders who got big things done for the country without a lot of handwringing.

Like building the Transcontinental Railroad (Lincoln).

And the Panama Canal (Theodore Roosevelt).

And the Interstate Highway System (Eisenhower, who in his previous career smashed the Nazi war machine).

Hell, even in the depths of the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover summoned the nation’s energies to start building the huge Colorado River dam that bears his name.

The glass-half-empty Republicans want to rehash the science of climate change – again and again and again.

Glass-half-full Schwarzenegger, in a barnburner speech Tuesday to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy summit, said there are plenty of reasons to make an energy shift that have nothing to do with climate change. Pointless debates with those who will never accept climate change evidence is no longer a good use of time and resources.

Not when 100,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution linked to fossil fuel burning.

Not when turmoil in a “dried up little country like Libya with a crazy dictator” can set off tremors in the world oil market and threaten America’s shaky economic recovery.

Not when there’s money to be made designing, building, and selling energy technologies that won’t kill people or tie the U.S. economy and national security to the vicissitudes of tinhorn autocrats.

Schwarzenegger threw a few ideas on the table for reframing America’s dysfunctional energy debates and building broad support for supplementing our fossil fuel diet with cleaner, healthier energy choices.

First, however, because the question is bound to arise, why would anyone take cues from California? Its economy is weak and the state’s budget gap is a chasm.

California’s energy initiatives did not inflate the real estate bubble that hammered it and other states, nor did it bring about the ghastly political extremism in Sacramento – on the left and right – that was a big factor in putting the state into a fiscal bind.

Imagine how much worse off California’s households would be if they were spending as much money on wasted energy as households in less energy-efficient states.

So, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Schwarzenegger’s energy advice:

Talk about money. California uses electric power 40 percent more efficiently than the rest of the country. If the U.S. used energy as efficiently as the Golden State, households would save $560 on their power bills every year. Fuel efficiency standards modeled on California policies would save motorists $1,300 per year. Together, the savings could be used for purposes more economically productive than throwing it away on wasted energy.

Talk about jobs. A 33 percent renewable energy standard, similar to California’s, would put capital and people to work building squeaky clean new power plants to replace dirty old ones – like the hundreds of coal-fired power plants that lack pollution controls.

Talk about health. In addition to 100,000 deaths, air pollution results in 6.5 million hospital visits every year by people with respiratory disease. Hospitalizations and lost workdays cost money too.

Finally, talk about American leadership. Glass-half-empty worrywarts say the U.S. shouldn’t do anything about cutting fossil fuel use unless China moves first. Glass-half-full American leaders are not in the habit of deferring to foreign countries.

As Schwarzenegger put it: “When we landed on the moon, we didn’t say to the Russians, ‘Why don’t you try it first?’”

No, we didn’t. As history bears out, whenever we take a glass-half-full view of the world, America gets great things done.

Recent Posts by Jim DiPeso

7 Comments so far ↓

  • Raskolnik

    Theodore Roosevelt was the biggest environmentalist the nation had ever seen. The current GOP opposition to environmentalist initiatives has nothing whatsoever to do with history, tradition, science, reality, facts, or anything else for that matter. It is about one thing, and one thing only: money.

  • drcme

    Excellent article. My favorite part:

    “Pointless debates with those who will never accept climate change evidence is no longer a good use of time and resources.”

  • JimBob

    Milton Friedman is spinning in his grave at what Schwarzenegger has become.

  • Carney

    Not all fossil fuels are the same. Natural gas and coal are abundantly available domestically, and since they are used almost exclusively in centralized electric power generating plants, it’s relatively easy to control their emissions.

    Oil, by dramatic contrast, is rare here (we have only 3% of the world supply compared to OPEC’s 78%), is radically over-priced (thanks to OPEC withholding supply), funds pro-terror extremism, and has caused several economic crashes (1973, 1979, 2008). It’s also a lot harder to deal with millions of tailpipes compared to a handful of smokestacks.

    Climate change, even if it is real, is a long-term problem. Economic damage and terrorism are urgent current issues. As Robert Zubrin has observed, if you are scuba diving and your air supply malfunctions, that is not a time to muse on your retirement portfolio, however important a long-term issue that may be.

    We need to make getting off oil a MUCH higher priority than dealing with natural gas and coal.

    Unfortunately, most “greens” all but ignore oil, or divert anti-oil sentiment into an irrelevant crusade against coal. Hence, we hear nonsense like “let’s get off foreign oil via solar and wind power” – when our electricity generation is already 97% oil-free. Half our electricity comes from coal, 20% each from nuclear and natural gas, and 5% from hydro-electric dams. Only 3% comes from oil and the rest is all the “green” stuff lumped together (solar, wind, etc.)

    By contrast, the vast majority of cars (well over 90%) can only use gasoline (or petroleum diesel), and the vast majority of filling stations only sell oil-derived fuel. Thus, our focus, especially if you want no longer want to, in DiPeso’s words, “tie the U.S. economy and national security to the vicissitudes of tinhorn autocrats,” must be on oil, and in so doing, must be not on alternative sources of electric power, but rather on alternative sources of transportation motive power – in other words, getting cars to move without burning oil-derived fuel.

    Unfortunately, the “Governator”, like George W. Bush, wasted political momentum, years of time, and billions of dollars in enthusiastically embracing as his favored choice, the worst of all possible alternative transportation motive power systems – hydrogen fuel cells.


    Aside from hydrogen which will never work, there are several possible serious alternatives to oil-derived fuel. Some, such as methanol-oxygen (NOT HYDROGEN) fuel cells, have promise at some point in the future but are not ready yet. Others, such as natural gas, are certainly an improvement over the status quo, but are not the best option available given other alternatives.

    Battery electric cars are probably the second best option, and we should continue to support them – in fact I agree that we should double the tax credit for BEVs and plug-in hybrids/extended range electric vehicles (as long as the latter can travel at full speed on pure electric power within say a Chevy Volt like 35-40 mile range, enough for the daily commute of the overwhelming majority of Americans).

    But the best option, in terms of price, ease of transition, speed of deployment, political plausibility in the short term and sustainability over the long haul, and more, is a simple one: to simply mandate that all new gasoline cars sold in America be fully flex-fueled, able to run equally easily on any alcohol fuel (like methanol or ethanol) as on gasoline. The engineering changes are essentially trivial, costing automakers only about $130 per new car at the factory, so we should make it a required standard like seat belts. With every new car from now on – whether big or small, luxury or entry-level – able to move on something other than oil, we break oil’s monopoly on transportation fuel, and make OPEC’s permanent near- monopoly control of the oil supply all but irrelevant in geostrategy. OPEC will no longer be able to charge us monopoly prices; drivers would simply choose cheaper alcohol fuel instead, and gas stations would race each other to offer it to avoid being undercut by neighboring competitors.

    Ethanol can be made in worthwhile quantity from over 17 plants grown worldwide, without risk to the food supply. Even while ethanol corn production rose severalfold, food corn production also rose, 45%, as did production of other staple crops. There’s huge unused slack capacity in our ag sector, with over half our farmland being uncultivated.

    Methanol is even more interesting; made VERY cheaply from natural gas, and also from coal or ANY biomass at all, including crop residues (such as the stems, leaves, and cobs from ethanol corn farms), weeds, trash, even sewage.

    And by the way alcohol fuel burns without soot or smoke, going a long way to solve the smog problem that kills tens of thousands annually.

    This is the “Energy Victory” plan put forward by Dr. Zubrin in his book and website of the same name, and also backed by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, Citizens for Energy Freedom, Set America Free, former CIA Directory James Woolsey, and others. The bill in Congress to watch is the Open Fuel Standards Act.

    • ottovbvs

      Unfortunately it requires vast amounts of natural resources to produce the source materials for alcohol…and at the end of it we’re destroying food (of which there is an increasing shortage and therefore higher prices) to produce gas…so that Americans can continue to avoid reality. Here’s the maize price index:


      • Carney

        Otto, “vast” amounts of natural resources is a meaningless phrase.

        Furthermore, as I said above, Even while ethanol corn production rose severalfold, food corn production also rose, 45%, as did production of other staple crops. There’s huge unused slack capacity in our ag sector, with over half our farmland being uncultivated.

        ALL commodities have experienced price increases, primarily due to increases in the price of oil. If we broke oil’s monopoly status as the sole source of transportation motive power, not only corn but everything else would be less vulnerable to oil-induced price spikes.