Thursday, 9 June 2011

What's the point?

From Jeff Carter on energy policy:
The question we should be asking ourselves is not how we can conserve, but how can we best produce energy at the lowest marginal cost? There are three ways to do that: Nuclear, coal, and natural gas. They are cheap, abundant, and for national security bugs they are in our own country. Without new sources of them, we won’t expand our economy as fast as we could. Existing supply chains will become constrained, driving up the cost.
Mr Carter puts his finger on a point that's driven me bonkers ever since the energy crisis of the '70s:  If the Environmentalists (and I include Frau Merkel, Mr Cameron, and Mr Obama here) are serious and not pushing a barely hidden agenda, then what's the point of their drive to "conserve energy"?  Conserve it for what?  For how long? What comes next?  I can understand a conservation programme in wartime or if there's a woefully inadequate energy supply, but surely the goal in both cases is to mitigate any hardships until the war is won or capacity is restored.  Neither is the case here.  The ones bleating on about conserving and sustainability certainly aren't looking forward to the bright day when the emergency passes, the lid comes off, we can scrap the windmills and finally start building nuclear reactors and drill for oil again.  No, it always looks like candles and woolly jumpers until doomsday.

As I said, assuming the Environmentalists to be honest, what do they expect the rest of us to do?  Keep civilisation in stasis?  Create a steady state economy that never grows yet somehow never shrinks?  Declare that so many gigawatts may be generated and no more because... Because what?  It's like those insane resource conservation drives that tell us we must preserve this or that "for our children", but make it quite clear that those proposing the conserving don't want our kids to have a go at it either.

As for "efficiency", if you want to make an engineer angry, suggest that technology should be made more efficient. I had a friend in the field who would do his nut every time he heard about the government setting new energy efficiency targets as if they were the first ones to think of it.  "What the Hell do those tossers think engineers do?"  He'd yell over the din of the snug bar.  "The whole point of engineering is to make things more efficient. That's our job!"  It was a bit like telling a writer that things might go smoother if he put some words together.

Yes, I do know what the answer is–or are.  There are quite a few ranging from the clueless to the totalitarian, but they don't get much of an airing in public debate because people have no desire to become medieval peasants again, thank you.  I'm being rhetorical here.  I'm just curious about what the "green" crowd would say about energy policy if they lived in the real world where we actually need to not only keep the lights on, but to produce as much additional wattage as possible to solve our problems. What do they say to someone like me who pulls out the charge sheet and says, "Look here, we need 100 terrawatts of power by the end of the century or we're going bust.  Where are we going to get it from?"

Probably the same thing they say when it's pointed out that you can't defend a country with good intentions as opposed to warships and tanks.


Sergej said...

I think it's a kind of conspicuous (non-)consumption. Instead of "Hey, look at me! I can afford a gold-plated Cadillac! Bling bling!" it's "I've got so much extra resources that I can pretend I'm poor!" French court playing at Arcadian shepherds right before the Revolution. You don't find these attitudes in people who face the possibility of real poverty, and when my bunch faces layoffs and possible belt-tightening (now, for instance), they cling the hardest to these class markers. "No, I do not face the possibility of lean times! We would be better off if gasoline were $2/liter (notice how cosmopolitan and Metric I am!)!"

As for the engineers, I guess it's a matter of priorities. Do you want me to overcome the problem that people die of cancer (let's say), or the problem that the price of gasoline is artificially way too high, and there's money to be made in finding an alternative? This ultimately balances out: these days, the solution might involve Chinese rare earths; later, when China decides to stop selling the stuff and batteries and magnets become expensive, someone will remember how we used to burn petroleum distillates for energy. The only thing lost is engineers' time, when they could have been inventing something new.

Wesley said...


Seems anytime the government (any government) gets involved in non-governmental activities, that is, outside of the very few required for a society to function, the activity turns to (expletive deleted). The same is true of people who think their small group should determine what everyone else is allowed to do. “After all, it’s for your own good. We say so. And we are right. You got other ideas, you racist, you? Just shaddup aboudit.” Yet the people who want to exert control over their fellows gravitate to government and special interests. They tend not to be very bright, even though they believe they are, or to learn from history, and they too often tend to retard the advancement and liberties of their fellows, so the rest of us are not allowed to reach our potentials. Instead they want to stifle the creative and punish the achievers.

Small children are often tyrants. Perhaps some never grow up. But why do so many old children want to govern?

In the New Testament we're told about the ultimate Servant-Leader. Maybe that's one reason governments tend to be so hostile to those Books.