The energy policy morass

The current issue of the Weekly Standard features a cover story written by my friend Steve Hayward. Steve is the author of books including the two-volume Age of Reagan, The Real Jimmy Carter. He is also the author of the annual review that he calls the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators.
In the current Weekly Standard cover story Steve turns his attention to energy policy, a subject that spans the period he has focused on as a historian as well as his extracurricular interest in environmental issues. Here is his opening paragraph:

If you think the health care debate is a tangled mess, try wading into the thickets of the energy sector, which is high on the Obama administration’s list of targets to subjugate. Few areas of national policy offer as bad a ratio of blather to substance as energy. It is a field where cliché, wishful thinking, and wince-inducing ignorance dominate the discourse. No matter how patiently or repeatedly the myths and realities of energy are explained, a large portion of the public, along with giddy pundits like Tom Friedman, persist in thinking an energy revolution is one government-sponsored gadget away from being willed into existence. Liberals are the worst offenders, but conservatives have their own energy shibboleths that deserve to be candidly recognized as such. The energy industry itself, meanwhile–including old-line fossil fuel companies, but also rent-seeking manufacturers such as GE and Siemens–contributes to public ignorance and confusion by jumping on the “green energy” bandwagon for mostly bad reasons. Everyone from T. Boone Pickens to Ralph Nader has a plan to “solve” America’s energy crisis, while Obama is practicing Clintonian triangulation to see whether Republicans will be cheap dates on an energy bill.

Among other things, I learn from reading Steve’s article that American oil consumption has remained virtually flat over the last 30 years: “Today, we use only slightly more oil than we did in 1978, even though the economy has more than doubled in real terms.” Turning to the current ambition of the left, Steve points to the left’s ambition to control carbon dioxide emissions:

The target the climate campaigners have set for the United States–an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2050–would require replacing virtually our entire fossil fuel energy infrastructure. Substituting natural gas for coal would deliver only about a 15 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, and even if we replaced every coal plant with a carbon-free nuclear plant, we’d still be less than halfway to the policy target. For the United States, the 80 percent reduction target means reducing our fossil fuel use to a level the nation last experienced in 1910. But since our population in 2050 will be nearly five times larger than the population of 1910, on a per capita basis we’re talking about going back to the fossil fuel use of about 1875. This is patently absurd.

Steve is a trustworthy guide to a difficult subject. His long article is worth reading in its entirety.
Via RealClearPolitics.

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