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Monday, May 7, 2012

GOP: the de-energizer dumb bunny

The GOP, on the national and state levels, has fallen into the mindset that the only purpose worth working and living for is the total subjugation of opponents and anyone else who departs from their party line on any subject whatever. Nowhere is this more apparent than on matters of energy.  The current party line contradicts  what Nixon advocated and retreats into the hagiography of Ronald Reagan with a scriptural devotion.   

Reagan believed that the development of energy should be totally governed by the market.  His Secretary of the Interior James Watt was fanatically anti-conservation about any natural resource.  He promoted unrestrained exploitation of natural resources by business.  The strain of belief that ruled during the Reagan-Watt era has developed to the point of being militantly anti-science, a large element in the current war on education and teachers.  

The conservative  movement is paradoxically opposed to anything that conserves the health of the planet.  It advocates the unbridled rule of business interests over humanity and nature in the name of a free market,  no matter how rapacious, negligent, destructive, and oppressive.  The conservative philosophy of full, unrestrained exploitation and devastation of the natural world in the name of free enterprise has come against an opponent that it has come to hate:  science.  Over the years, scientists have found compelling evidence that mindless exploitation is lethal to the health of humans and the life-sustaining working of the planet Earth itself.  The conservative movement's response to this evidence is to deny and denounce it.  Science stands in the way of greed and the lust for power, the main driving forces of the conservative version of the free market.  In the current conservative mindset, science is okay as long as it can be applied to plundering the planet.  But when it is in employed in behalf of preserving and conserving the planet, science is reprehensible and despised.  

Science has measured damage to the planet that is deleterious to human life.  It provides ideas for limiting human contributions to global warming, for reducing the damage to the air and the earth from our extraction and use of energy, for limiting the use of chemicals and organisms in the production and marketing of our food that endangers human life.  But these ideas require regulations and restraints that impose requirements on commerce, and that is an evil according to the gospel of the market and interferes with worship of the god of mammon.

The idea that the nation should move to renewable and sustainable forms of energy was at one time one that held an appeal across the political spectrum.  In fact, some true conservatives who believed in conservation were its most dedicated advocates.  The membership of conservation organizations which worked to clean up and preserve earth were not divided along party lines in the early years of environmental advocacy.  Partisan affiliations were irrelevant to that work.   During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the facts of plunder and pollution were inescapable.  They were in the air we breathed, the rain whose acid scorched forests and plains, and etched deeply into the landscape.  They confronted communities and organizations.  In the early 70s I was a member of a church council that each summer spent considerable money to paint the church parsonage, only to see the paint flaking and peeling and dissolving away by spring.  The church was near a factory area where foundries sent toxic and corrosive fumes into the air.  Emphysema was a common ailment among men who worked in that environment. There was no disagreement between Democrats and Republicans that what we were burning for fuel and the emissions it sent into the air needed to be changed. 

As concern about the environment and physical quality of life registered on the mind of the public, nuclear power emerged as a clean solution.  However, nuclear power turned out not to be safe or without environmental hazards.  Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima a year ago have shown  how nuclear power can produce disasters of huge magnitude and lasting consequence.  And, of course, we haven't figured out what to do with spent radioactive fuel waste.  We bury it in lead vaults and try to forget it, knowing that it will be lying in potent wait thousands of years from now.  

 The obvious candidates as sources of clean, renewable energy emerged as hydro, wind, and solar, and geo-thermal.  The main problem with clean and renewable energy is that in its raw forms it cannot be controlled and manipulated in the market place to produce the huge profits that gas, oil, and coal companies make.  The big five oil companies made $137 billion  in profits last year, a 75 percent increase over the previous year in a time when the world is struggling with a recession.  

This ability to manipulate commodities is the reason that huge energy companies are reluctant to join in a conversion to clean and renewable energy.  They cannot control wind and sunlight and set up ways to make the profit margin gigantic.  The biggest obstacle, therefore, to the development of a clean and renewable energy supply is the big carbon energy companies.   Clean, renewable energy is a threat to their luxurious existence.  And so, they use part of their profits to mount a campaign that insists upon cleanness of their products, denies that there is such a thing as man-influenced global warming, and asserts that wind and solar as major sources of energy are foolish, impractical, and unfeasible.

Solar and wind energy are not without problems.  Wind turbines do take up much landscape, pose some hazards to wildlife, and do make some noise.  They also can be pricey.  Solar also can take up huge blocks of landscape.  And both are dependent for production of energy on the wind blowing and the sun shining. Hydro-electric systems also take up huge chunks of riverine landscape and interferes with drainage and natural food production.  Geo-thermal is efficient for cooling and heating, but does not produce energy to power transportation, industry, and agriculture.  But no advocates of converting to clean, renewable energy have said there would not be problems to face and technology to be created.   However, China is developing entire renewable energy cities in anticipation of a conversion away from petroleum and coal into renewable fuels. 
China is designing renewable energy cities.

Furthermore, the advocates have explained time and again that a new energy economy would have to come from multiple sources, not just wind and solar.  Electricity from wind and solar sources would be used in the production of hydrogen, which would create a steady reliable supply of energy when the wind is not blowing and the sun not shining. If scientists ever manage to achieve nuclear fusion, a hydrogen fuel economy would be almost assured.  But such a prospect is not a happy one for the energy corporations.  They would find themselves obsolete and irrelevant.  Unless they became committed to the delivery of cheap, clean  energy. 

Understanding the development and growth of energy as an industry helps to demonstrate why the biggest obstacle to renewable, inexpensive energy is the energy companies.  They faced the cheap energy factor in their beginnings.  As the American frontier expanded and developed, cheap, accessible heat and power was a key.  Heating homes and cooking was a requisite for survival and development.  Heat was supplied largely by wood.  Power for developing the frontier was supplied by oxen and horses, which ran on grass and grains.  The prairie sod was broken by oats converted to power through equine digestive systems.   Light was supplied by candles and oil lamps, which burned everything from whale blubber, to lard, to kerosene.  Self-sufficiency was the operating principle in the growth of America.  That's why the energy business had such a difficult time getting started in rural and small-town America.

People on the frontier had to be self-sufficient in supplying their energy needs.  There was no one else to do it.  It was common for town developers to include a parcel of land outside of town for each lot they sold in town.  That parcel was for a wood lot on which to grow and harvest firewood.  

People who came to the frontier avoided any business arrangements that could intrude on their independence by tying them to any outside forces that could exercise authority over them.    They avoided mortgages.  And when electricity became available, they weren't interested, although they saw great advantages to the convenience of it.  Electric companies did not want to serve rural areas because they said they could not recover the cost of the infrastructure.   Farmers did not want to be made financially obligated to business companies and and they were very frugal about using electricity.  It  was said that farmers would be satisfied with one light in the milking barn so that they could have some quick lighting to do their milking in the dark early morning hours.  However, farmers also saw that their standard of living could be vastly improved by electricity used in food preparation and preservation, in heating and cleaning, and by making the labor expended in running a farm more manageable.  The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 provided a  means of bringing electricity to rural America without putting the people under a stifling burden of debt.  When electricity did come, the rural attitude was to use it sparingly and frugally, and rely on farm-produced energy as much as possible to keep the farm free from corporate obligations.  Supplying electricity to rural areas was simply not profitable for the private companies,  and energy companies do not want a return to cheap,self-produced energy that would reduce their profit-making ability.

That fear of energy self-sufficiency, independence from corporate producers, and cheap supplies is what underlies the resistance to clean, renewable sources under development.  The GOP stance against such energy is not derived from good science and the advances in technology that could put the energy economy on a clean, renewable, inexpensive basis.  The GOP policies reflect their allegiance to corporate domination of the economy, not what can lift the standard of living and improve the lives of the working people and consumers who use and  pay for the energy.  

The GOP policy is driven by the opposition to providing some economic and social benefits to the 99 percent, which they wish to keep in economic thralldom to the energy companies that top the Fortune 500 list.  And, of course, to keep the huge corporations free to exploit, pollute, despoil, and subjugate in the the name of the free market. 


1 comment:

Douglas said...

In recent weeks, PBS and SDPB-TV have broadcast programs on the massive dam projects in the 1932 and on period, the atomic bomb development project, and the incredible developments and production of the aircraft industry during WWII followed by the Moon Landing.

I see no reason why such huge programs like that but for developing wind, solar, and Thorium nuclear could not be done in a period of only a few years. Preceded by extreme insulation of homes and fast elevated light rail, we would need very little fossil fuels let alone be dependent on areas with energy that have governments and social systems that despise the US.

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