- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

ENERGY: THE MASTER RESOURCE

By Robert L. Bradley Jr.

and Richard W. Fulmer

Kendall/Hunt, $19.95,

227 pages

REVIEWED BY BEN LIEBERMAN

For anyone who doesn’t know much about energy, “Energy: The Master Resource” is an excellent introductory text. But even those who think they already understand the subject may benefit from this book, because it convincingly demonstrates that much of the conventional wisdom on energy is untrue.

Authored by long-time energy analysts Robert Bradley and Richard Fulmer, the book is a short but comprehensive primer on energy. Written at an advanced high school or introductory college level, it explains in plain language what energy is, its various forms, how it is used, and its role throughout history and in modern times. After laying out this background, the authors apply it to the energy issues of the day and provide several surprising insights.

The recent rise in the price of gasoline has put energy back in the spotlight to a degree not seen since 1970s. But it also has brought back some vintage 1970s energy myths. For example, the jump at the pump over the last year has renewed fears that the planet is quickly running out of oil. Books with titles like “The End of Oil and Out of Gas” have gotten much attention by predicting that the recent rise in prices marks the beginning of the end to affordable gasoline.

But Mr. Bradley and Mr. Fulmer provide the antidote to these overblown fears. For one thing, they point out that claims of an impending oil crisis have been around since well before World War II. Self-proclaimed experts have been predicting the imminent end of oil for nearly as long as we’ve been using the stuff. The mistake these oil pessimists repeatedly make is to take a static view of the world — they calculate currently known oil reserves, divide by annual consumption levels, and conclude that we’ll start running dry within a decade or two.

But Mr. Bradley and Mr. Fulmer explain that “what is left out of the ‘number of years left’ equation is human ingenuity.” Over time, people come up with better ways to find and extract oil, making more and more of it available. In addition, we find new methods to economically utilize previously unusable sources, such as the oil-containing tar sands in Alberta, Canada. At the same time, automotive engineers continually achieve breakthroughs that allow vehicles to get more out of each gallon. The more expensive oil becomes, the greater incentive there is to create such innovations. This is why high prices tend to self-correct over the long term.

Looking further ahead, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Fulmer suggest that we’ll eventually come up with something better than today’s gasoline- or diesel-powered cars and trucks — and probably do so long before we run short of oil. In sum, they argue that “if energy is the master resource, then creative and knowledgeable people are the ultimate resource.”

However, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Fulmer warn that this optimistic picture can come true only in societies where people have the freedom to turn new ideas into reality. Throughout the book, the authors emphasize that free markets, not government action, have provided us with better and cheaper energy supplies as well as solutions to occasional shortages and price spikes. And affordable energy goes hand in hand with improved living standards.

When the energy pessimists aren’t worrying about running out of energy, they’re worrying about the consequences of using it. On this point, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Fulmer take on the real but overstated pollution problems associated with energy use. One of the book’s many graphs shows that emissions into the air have declined by 48 percent since the 1970s, a span over which energy use increased by 42 percent and vehicle miles traveled by 155 percent. Their conclusion: Pollution can be addressed without the need for governments to step in and curtail our energy usage.

That conclusion extends to the latest energy-related environmental concern, global warming. Fears that average temperatures are rising as a result of carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel use has led to calls for costly and intrusive government restrictions on power plants, factories and vehicles. But the authors point out that questions remain about the seriousness and imminence of global warming, and that the proffered solutions run the risk of doing more economic harm than environmental good. They conclude that the best answers to this and other energy challenges won’t come from Washington but “can only come from unshackled, inventive minds and from a dynamic marketplace, free to employ resources to their best effect.”

“Energy: The Master Resource” works well in its intended role as a textbook, but should also appeal to a general audience concerned about energy issues. Its overview of the energy basics and application of those basics to energy-related current events make it a worthwhile starting point for anyone interested in the subject.

Ben Lieberman is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

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