Perhaps the gravest danger to freedom is ignorance or maybe its busy citizens listening to popular media sound bites, hype and shenanigans to get eyeballs and ears for advertisers.  Both plus other human foibles allow or encourage snake oil sales, frauds and political scandals.  Those results plus the loss of mental independence in academia have brought us to the cusp of a disaster with energy, the environment and the economy, the big three ‘Es’ of our time. And I thought watching hurricanes coming was interesting.

All three of the Big ‘Es’ are sinking into an abyss of government interference that will cost dearly in incomes, jobs, savings and investment.  You may have thought the past few months were bad, just wait till government passes out new unfairness and costs (here’s the cap and trade moment) to energy for “saving the environment” and destructing a large share of the modern economy.  With 70% or better of the gross domestic product in the U.S. democracy coming from personal and family spending – business and government better wake up, the gold mine is in danger.

The central feature of the three Big ‘Es” is energy.  Energy is fungible, adaptable and can be added to in a dynamic market.  Whereas the environment is a set of resources, if left to itself, it will take care of itself, with much a similar dynamism as a market, ruled by competition in the cycles of life of plants and animals. The economy is the subject, a victim or beneficiary of the efforts in energy markets and mankind’s activities and constantly leavens, supports and destroys wee bits of the environment setting off new stages of life and growth.  The surety of all three depends on energy use in its widest diversity and lowest costs.

When Anthony Watts posted Keith O. Rattie, President of the Questar Corporation, speech at the 22nd Annual UVU Symposium on Environmental Ethics at Utah Valley University for all to see I have been puzzling how to get more eyes on the speech.  (Original PDF file click here.) Mr. Rattie spoke as clearly and in as well organized fashion as I’ve seen on the topic, conveniently tilted, “Energy Myths and Realities.”

Keith O. Rattie of Questar Corp.

Keith O. Rattie of Questar Corp.

It’s a great luxury and benefit to everyone to have such a resource on the Internet with its potential to be widely spread and used.  He doesn’t attack anyone, but the premise for so much foolishness to simply be destructed leaves the reader wondering how the media and academia could be so deeply suckered in.  OK, he’s in the awl bidness or more accurately – the natural gas business.  I strongly urge a click over and a read.  Meanwhile, for those needing a summary or short version here’s my bit in supporting our being informed.

After introducing himself Mr. Rattie shows us the breadth and depth of the coming energy issue, we’re facing a planetary population in the 9 billion range by mid century or just 40 years out.  This from about 6.5 billion now of which a billion or so have the wealth for energy and 2 billion have never flipped a light switch.  He doesn’t remind but I will, that Americans have a shocking level of ignorance that the rest of the world sees as arrogance.

Covering history Rattie recalls the consensus of the 1970s when global cooling was all the rage – incidentally blaming fossil fuels at the time, too.  What Americans got was the prodigiously wasteful 1977 National Energy Plan, another human central planning boondoggle that failed abysmally.  Today the input is reversed, it was warmer this time and the government is setting up to suck out fossil fuels from our energy supplies with taxes, lots of taxes.  Here’s a nice note for peak oil types.  “Over the past 39 years mankind has consumed nearly twice the world’s known oil reserves in 1970 – and today proven oil reserves are nearly double what they were before we started.”

A point gets made at the close of several paragraphs – governments are intervening at increasing rates with the market distorting it with the new inputs – all with the message from the media that energy is too important to leave to those same government impacted markets.

On the global warming or environmental front, Rattie talks of the past observations that have over the past 250 years shown us a degree or so of warming in each century.  The “debate is over” assertion from the extremists and medicine show types is mentioned and for my part, there hasn’t been a debate with real information to use, just models and projections which Rattie as a trained engineer with a good education notes the weaknesses in the models and points out “Contrary to the righteous certitude we get from some, no one knows how much warming will occur in the future, nor how much of any warming that does occur will be due to man, and how much to nature. No one knows how warming will affect the planet, or how easily people, plants and animals will adapt to any warming that does occur. When someone tells you they do know, I suggest Mark Twain’s advice: respect those who seek the truth, be wary of those who claim to have found it.”

Rattie spends a few moments on the other global warming notions but gets to the worrisome point, government ideas like cap and trade.  A nice guy, he allows that “Indeed, President Obama’s hope of shrinking the now massive federal budget deficit depends on vast new revenues from a tax on carbon energy – so called “cap and trade”.  He explains cap and trade, but the scare is in the long-term plan.

The long-term plan is a mandated 80% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050.  He illustrates that for Utah folks and offers all of us that 80% by 2050 would require a reduction in Americas CO2 emissions from about 20 tons per person per year today, to about 2 tons per person per year in 2050. “When was the last time America’s carbon footprint was as low as 2 tons per person per year? Probably not since the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620.”  I think he’s wrong. I and other woodcutters know 2 tons is a pittance of firewood for a year.  Still, the case is made even if overly generous.

The dilemma consumes long paragraphs, as it should – Americans and all other developed economy citizens enjoy an energy rich economy – that reaches much deeper into our lives than gassing up the car and the gas and electric bill.  Plus there are 6.2 billion other people eager and willing to compete for the energy and fuels in the market.  We want cheap standards of energized living but we don’t want drilling, refineries, plants, nukes or even dams.  I’ll add there is a new industry growing in academia destructing alternatives for media sensationalism.

Rattie has formed seven or so “inconvenient realities” that are sure to drive politicians nuts if reporters start asking sensible and high school level questions.  This section of the speech deserves a read but I’ll cover them briefly.

1.    Demand for energy and fuels is going to grow, maybe as much as 50% in just two decades.

2.    Alternatives are long-term affairs that today are really supplements.  It’s a fact full of promise, in dire need of capital and breakthroughs.  But for now the demand is 50 to 100 times or more the total output of alternatives depending on who’s measuring what.  It’s a long path.

3.    Cap and Trade will be a staggering and painful mistake.  Rattie breaks out the trillions of dollars estimates and dashes any thinking person’s hopes for cap and trade, Kyoto treaties and other ideas with stunning simple examples.

4.    Americans aren’t willing to pay for global warming mitigation. Europe has failed already with a 20% increase in electricity rates to show for it.

5.    What would work is natural gas.   Rattie is in the business and has a bias, but he is in a large way correct.

6.    Sequestration of CO2 will be wildly expensive.  The infrastructure could get as large as the capital plant of natural gas itself.

7.    And we still have time to talk it out.  For my part that’s assuming the “sold” camp will even listen, which is a dubious notion at best and a lost cause at worst.  But gradually the facts and perspectives of reason are getting out, but it isn’t looking good for the economy with cap and trade likely stuffed down the economy’s throat.

Rattie reminds us that humanity has a long list of problems and fiddling about with cap and trade and other ideas easily forecasted as failures makes us all poorer over the long term.  But Rattie also offers solid hope in humanity.  We’re adaptable.  We live in the Arctic where it never thaws out, in the tropics where it never cools off, and polar bears have survived in warmer times than these.

The best closing comment is about history, we have no compelling reasons, emotions and snake oil pitches worthy to cast the market aside and replace them with, as Rattie put it, “We should resist the temptation to ask politicians to substitute their judgments for that of the market, and let markets determine how much energy gets used, what types of energy get used, where, how and by whom energy gets used.”  Markets are after all, just places where everyone’s decisions are totaled up.

Go have look at Anthony Watts site or download the pdf. Your Senator is going to need your call to call off cap and trade for good.


3 Comments so far

  1. Matt on May 21, 2009 6:22 AM

    BO must have cap and trade to pay for his plans. But, people don’t believe that their electricity rates are going to skyrocket. And, when gas goes to $5 a gallon – it’s always the oil companies fault.

    I am very pessimistic about our chances of stopping or even slowing down the coming calamity.

    Within 10 years people will be rioting in the streets which will make the 60’s look like a walk in the park. That’s why Homeland Security is so nervous.

  2. Al Fin on May 21, 2009 9:11 AM

    Many of Mr. Obama’s friends and backers on the left have long believed in the great “human die off.” We may have 6.5 billion humans on the planet now, but after the die-off only 100 million or so will remain. All good leftists, I might add.

    Quite regrettable, but necessary, as they say at Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Royal Society, and other cloisters of the very enlightened.

    The will cover and obscure a multitude of errors, and sins of omission and commission.

  3. Matt on May 22, 2009 9:46 AM

    Interestingly enough, only the advent of a disruptive power technology that completely alters the energy equation will save us from the coming mess.

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