High energy costs are a mystery. It seems like no matter how much we prohibit domestic energy production, energy prices just keep going up — and we just keep getting more dependent on foreign sources. There is no law of economics that can explain it, no hypothetical relationship between supply and demand that could predict price. Bill O’Reilly must be right. High prices must be the result of a secret plot by big oil, or perhaps the freemasons.
Well, that’s one explanation. Or we could consider a radical alternative: energy prices are high because Americans object to every possible source of energy known to mankind. Energy, it seems, is icky. Not so icky that we want to use less of it, mind you. But icky enough that we don’t want to make it ourselves. Instead, we fantasize about utopian energy sources of “the future,” and pay through the nose today for limited supplies of foreign energy that originate in the most backward, unstable, and faraway places imaginable.
For example, there is oil off the coast of California, but we will not drill for it for fear of disrupting Barbra Streisand’s Feng Shui. We pretend that it is concern for the environment that stops the drilling, but does anyone really believe that it is more dangerous to transport oil for a few miles from an offshore rig to the coast than it is to transport oil from 10,000 miles away to the same coast?
There is oil off the coast of Florida, but we will not drill for it for fear the occasional tar ball might wash up in the front yard of some environmentalist’s million dollar fantasy home, built atop the eroding sands of a once grassy shore. Also, there is a small chance that, on a clear day, a vacationing snowbird might see the distant outline of the rig, thus preventing him from communing with nature while basking cheek by jowl with 500,000 other sunburned barking tourists waddling around the artificial beach like a colony of strange pink walruses.
There is oil in the farthest frozen north of Alaska, but we will not drill for it for fear of offending caribou or Kennedys. And having (more than once) seen abundant deer graze just a few feet from active oil wells in Texas, I can’t believe the caribou will be the ones that actually care.
But that’s OK, because America has enough coal to last for centuries. Except we can’t mine it lest we make a hole. And we can’t burn it because it really is unpleasant to be around. Well, that’s not entirely true. We can burn some coal but not other coal. For example, I once saw a power plant in Indiana that cannot burn the coal mined in Indiana because it is too dirty for the EPA. So instead, they ship in trainloads of “clean” coal from Colorado, which makes less pollution –especially if you don’t count all the diesel fuel that was burned by the train hauling it across half the continent.
Natural gas is a good alternative. It burns cleanly, but nobody wants it transported through their neighborhood. New England still relies upon noxious home heating oil, in part, because none of the states whining about pollution and price want terminals to be built for liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers. They’re scary. Not as scary as Iran building a nuclear bomb with oil money, but scary. So LNG is obstructed at every turn. In one case, Reps. Barney Frank and James McGovern of Massachusetts took a break from bloviating about heating oil costs to propose that a decrepit condemned bridge across the Fall River be preserved as a bicycle path, solely because the bridge is too low to allow LNG tankers to pass on their way to an approved new terminal site, thus killing the terminal. Think of it as Massachusetts’ bridge to the 19th Century. Home heating oil forever! (Or at least as long as Hugo Chavez says it’s OK.)
But we can live without domestic fossil fuels because we are willing to produce practical alternative fuels, right?
Hydropower is emission-free and practical, but it stops up rivers and impedes travel by fish -so no more of that.
Wind power is a great idea -practical in select sites, renewable, and pollution free. But the windmills are ugly. In one of the greatest examples of elitist hypocrisy known to all history, a proposed wind power site off the coast of windy Martha’s Vineyard is being opposed by the wealthy environmentalists that can afford to live there — people like Walter Cronkite — because it might interrupt a tiny part of their view of the distant horizon. Sure it might make the world a better, cleaner, safer place — but what about the beautiful peoples’ ocean views? Also, windmills can chop up errant birds. So that’s out.
Solar? Expensive and impractical in most places, so it’s currently a favorite. It would be perfect for providing electricity to isolated areas — a market that could fuel the development and practicality of the technology for use elsewhere. But this market is being subsidized onto the general electric grid by the rural electrification act. So instead we’ll just have to subsidize the grid to half-heartedly experiment with solar and feel good about that.
I know: Ethanol! Energy from maize (you call it “corn”) grown in the heartland. Clean burning and good for the family farm. Willie Nelson could finally stop those idiotic “Farm Aid” concerts. Except that modern farming is so dependent upon fossil fuel for tilling, fertilizing, harvesting, and transportation that a recent study showed that it takes more than a gallon’s worth of oil to make one gallon of ethanol — a lot more. Ethanol as a replacement for fossil fuel is thus a perpetual motion machine, but one with a good lobby in Washington. Being totally unworkable, this is a very popular alternative for “the future”.
But even ethanol isn’t as impractical for the foreseeable future as hydrogen power, which is the President’s favorite idea for “the future”. Hydrogen makes only water when burned. Unfortunately, hydrogen can only be made from fossil fuels (see “perpetual motion machine” above) or the electrolysis of water, which would require an abundant supply of cheap non-polluting electricity, and if we had that, why would we need the hydrogen? Also, if all cars started emitting water vapor, I’m sure water would be reclassified as a pollutant by the “I hate mankind” wing of the environmental movement, complete with terrible predictions about the effects of “global misting.”
There is, though, one source of alternative energy that is practical, economical, well established, and emission-free: nuclear. So of course, that is the one that everybody hates most. Nuclear energy could even fuel a fabled “hydrogen economy” with non-polluting and cheap electricity. But it is scary. The mainstream media has seen to that. It will make you glow in the dark and it could somehow explode for no reason at all, creating three-eyed fish and imparting strange super-powers to anyone bit by the radioactive spiders that would inevitably result.
A coal-fueled power plant emits more radiation than a nuclear power plant (due to uranium ore in the coal), but such facts do not matter in a society that draws its knowledge of nuclear physics from “The China Syndrome” and “The Incredible Hulk.” Nuclear power plants, if built in large numbers, would also make America safer in a little heralded way: they burn the same fuel as nuclear bombs.
Were America to switch from a fossil fuel economy to a nuclear economy for electricity needs, we would consume enough uranium that the world supply would be impacted. Why would the greedy sell uranium to rogue states when America is legally paying top dollar for every kilogram it can find? Such a move could also wreck the economies of the Middle East and make nuclear power too expensive for most third world nations to play with, and I could live with that.
But America will not pursue nuclear energy, any more than it will drill for its own oil. Energy is bad. Instead we will continue to live in a fantasy world in which we do not develop our own oil, coal, gas, hydropower, wind power or nuclear and instead dream about hydrogen and ethanol and solar because we know they are too far off to require us to make real decisions anytime soon. We will continue to restrict supply and then complain about price. We will prohibit domestic energy sources and whine about having to import energy from overseas. And we will continue to stifle our economy and instead fuel the economies of our enemies.
Many critics contend that America does not have an energy policy. But that is wrong. Our policy is clear and has been unchanged for thirty years or more: produce little, use lots, and wonder why things never get better.