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The Nonsense on Energy-Independence


On NPR today (2014-2-21) I heard a seemingly intelligent person saying she’d abandoned her opposition to building the Keystone-XL pipeline because building the pipeline would (she said or implied) somehow fund the production of green energy.

Imagine the nonsense of it. It was radio, so I have to imagine that she had a “straight face”.

OK, let’s assume that the pipeline would be cheaper (I suppose some computation of the cost to build, maintain, clean up after, and operate it) than using trucks and railways to transport the Canadian tar-sands oil. (She didn’t say what the costs were for building, maintaining, etc., the highways, fleets of trucks, and railways—or cleaning up their spills), but let’s assume the pipeline would be cheaper.

So what?

Her argument was preposterous. Listen to it! Because it would save money to transport this oil in this manner, the money saved would become available—and, she hinted, would actually be used—to build green energy sources!

Wow! A Canadian oil company would save money and then (but why?) spend the money saved to build green energy sources? Does anyone really expect a corporation—or any capitalist—to spend money (whether “saved” or not) to compete with the very business (oil production in this case) that they hope to make them rich?

And what about fracking?

Fracking is making gas so cheap you’d think it was the once-promised cheap nuclear energy. And think of all the money saved (by producing fracked gas instead of not doing so)! Just think! And will not all of that money, as so saved, also be available (and also be used, actually used?) to build new, green energy sources? Somehow, it doesn’t seem very likely.

Since when do we expect fossil fuel companies to rescue us from climate change by building green energy sources? And why are they waiting until they can “save money” by building XL pipelines and fracking ever-so-cheap (and endless-in-supply) natural gas.

Natural gas is, you know, the “greenhouse gas” also called methane which is 30 times more dangerous as a “greenhouse gas” than CO2 to the environment and which leaks into the atmosphere every time a fracking well is sunk or used.

Does it make sense for the USA to wait to deal with climate change until fossil fuels become even more available and cheaper? This is supposed to make sense? How about making fossil fuels more expensive, right now, and for ever, on a steeply increasing incline, so that all Americans can plan and will have real economic incentives to shift from gas, oil, gasoline, coal to “green” sources of energy for cars, home-heating, home-cooling, etc?

What would happen if no American piolitican ever uttered the phrase “energy independence” without also discussing the on-rushing disaster of climate change brought on by use of fossil-fuels?

What would happen if our government (the USA) decided to start producing green energy sources just as fast as it could. You know, as if it thought there were an emergency? With all the speed and alacrity that the USA went into its $1T war with Iraq?

Anyway, imagine action on such an emergency footing. Would the government, in that case, delay? Would it wait until after it had “saved money” by continuing the use of somewhat cheaper fossil fuels? Would it wait for anything?

If its concern was to turn around the very climate change which is caused by burning those same fossil fuels would it wait for more people to use more of those fossil fuels?? Does this idea pass for rationality these days? Who’s kidding whom?

If the USA took climate change seriously, would it not be moving heaven and earth to replace fossil-fuel produced energy, world-wide but especially at home, with non-fossil (“green”) sources of energy?

Consider: we still have, despite the inroads of capitalism, quite a few “public utilities” in the USA. We have the military, the “intelligence community”, the police and fire systems, the federal and state and local highway systems, local water and sewage systems, school systems, local governments.

Why should not the production and transmission of electricity also be a “public utility”?

Ah, but where would the money to do that come from?

Well, to start, there could be taxes (taxes on “carbon”, taxes on corporate and personal income, maybe a draw-down of the immense wealth of the 0.01%). The USA has had, from time to time, an “estate tax” which more or less taxes the estates of people after they die. But apart from the loop-holes and exclusions built into that tax, it demands that we wait for people to die before the tax is collected. To combat climate change, we should collect it as soon as possible—maybe via a 1%/year wealth tax. After all, climate change is an emergency!

Also there could be a shift in the “defense” and “intelligence” budgets. Those budgets make sense—if at all—only on the theory that the USA faces dreadful “enemies” which can be prevented from doing the USA significant harm only by these enormous expenditures. How much harm are we avoiding? No-one knows or says. How much do we pay for “defense” and “intelligence”? Who knows? $1T/year? $2T/year would be my guess. (Yes, Virginia, that T means “trillion”, one thousand billions, one million millions, otherwise known as 1,000,000,000,000.)

So since the threats of speculative injuries from terrorism are minuscule compared to the sure-thing injuries threatened long-term and in some cases already being done by climate change, let’s just shift a lot of the “defense” and “intelligence” money away from how we spend them today and into production of green energy. If it were up to me, I’d shift 90% of the combined “defense” and “intelligence” budgets over into R&D and installation of “green” energy for the country.

Of course, much militates against doing this.

Governments, like generals, are always fighting the “last war”, and the USA is good at spending ridiculously large amounts of money on really stupid “war” projects if those projects can be characterized as “defense” or “intelligence” to combat “terrorism”—and this despite the fact that no enemy has attacked the USA (in more than the small ways that the few terrorists around do) for 70 years.

Meanwhile, governments are very bad at dealing with environmental threats, and this for many reasons, among which are the fact that most environmental threats arise from the day-to-day operation of our industrial society which politicians are loathe to damp down in any way that the owners of the industries involved (the CEOs of the BIG corporations) would not support.

Apparently, they are quite happy with the idea that all human life on earth might be gone in another 50-100 years (or is it closer to 20-50 years? The bad news on climate change gets worse each year) so long as they don’t need to grapple with our deadly industrial system, especially the vast energy component of it.

Interfering with profits of corporations today is forbidden. Interfering with human life on earth next generation is OK.

Go figure.

And that, dear children, is why the USA is proceeding at break-neck speed with every plan to increase the (cheap) production of fossil fuels that comes on the horizon (especially fracking and oil-pipelines), but doing nothing to mitigate (it is far too late, now, to prevent) climate change’s worst coming effects.

Peter Belmont lives in Brooklyn. He can be reached at:

Peter Belmont lives in Brooklyn. He can be reached at:

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