Sunday, June 29, 2008

If the price of gasoline is around $4 a gallon, Americans have no one to blame but themselves. For decades, we have demonized the people and businesses who supply our energy. Energy fuels our economy and prosperity, but bad public policies have made it increasingly more difficult to develop our own vast resources. Americans are in danger of falling irreversibly into a dysfunctional culture and fading into the dust of history.

We sit on our own undeveloped energy supplies and complain about the high price of gasoline and imported oil. Public policy in the United States is not designed to facilitate the development of new energy supplies, but to stop it. The U.S. government has placed the Continental Shelves of the U.S. off-limits for drilling. Offshore drilling would have virtually no significant effect on environmental quality.

But our energy policies are not determined by science, reason or facts. Energy policy in the United States is held hostage by a fanatical environmentalism based on emotion, fraud and deceit. The common-sense conservation ethics of Henry Thoreau, John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt have been supplanted by a radical ideology that is anti-science, anti-reason, and anti-human. In the 18th century, Rousseau argued that humanity had been ruined by agriculture and metallurgy. In the 21st century, it’s fossil fuels and technology. The exaltation of the primitive is rooted in a hatred of the human mind. This suicidal and nihilistic creed can only lead us back to the Stone Age.

Global warming is a fraud and a hysterical scare tactic. Recent warming trends are very modest, and well within the range of natural variation. Predictions of future warming are based on speculative computer models whose accuracy cannot be evaluated or even tested. Sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere is at the highest level since satellite monitoring began in 1979. Last summer there was record low snowmelt in Antarctica. During April this year, 1,185 new all-time record low temperatures were recorded at U.S. weather stations.

Given these facts, it is difficult to see how global warming can be real, or how we can be in the middle of a “climate crisis.” But when these data are related to environmentalists, there is no sense of relief. Instead, it makes them angry that they might be deprived of their primary excuse to make war on civilization.

So-called renewable energy sources are largely a fraud. The production of ethanol consumes more energy than it produces and has driven up food prices around the world, creating a humanitarian crisis. Unlike drowning polar bears, starvation and malnutrition are real problems, not phony hype cooked up in a Hollywood movie studio.

The world food crisis is only a foreshock of what is to come if we try to move away from fossil fuels prematurely. We are inviting suffering and human misery on a scale not experienced in Western Civilization since the Middle Ages.

Solar and wind power can’t replace oil and gas. They are expensive, intermittent and cannot be used for transportation. Many states, including Texas and California, have rapidly developed wind power. But apparently no one bothered to anticipate what would happen if the wind stopped blowing. They found out last February when a cessation of wind created a power emergency.

Immobilized by a dysfunctional ideology, we sit on vast, undeveloped petroleum resources. In the Western United States alone, there are 3 trillion barrels of petroleum in oil shale. At current consumption rates, this is enough oil to provide 100 percent of our domestic oil needs for 300 years. The technology exists to bring this fuel to market for $30 a barrel in an environmentally benign manner. But it’s not being developed because of irrational opposition by environmentalists.

The Continental Shelves of the U.S. contain enormous quantities of natural gas in the form of methane hydrates. The technology for exploiting this gas source is still being developed, and full-scale production may not occur for another 30 years. But the size of the resource is so large that 1 percent could supply the United States with gas for 100 years.

We need energy policies that actually produce energy. Fossil fuels, conventional and unconventional, are far from depleted and will remain our primary energy sources for many decades. The United States has enough oil and gas resources to meet our energy needs for hundreds of years. Nothing but our own ignorance stands in the way of developing them.

David Deming is a geophysicist, an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis and an associate professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma.

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