Friday, February 20, 2009

The Era of Confusion Explained

We are living in an interregnum between the end of the old energy economy and the beginning of a new energy economy. As with many interregnums, this is a period of profound confusion. I have designated the current period which hopefully will be over by 2012, the era of confusion. Nothing illustrates the present confusion more than the Obama stimulus package. The stimulus was conceived of as a device to compensate for a decrease in consumer and business spending. In addition it is designed to prop up all sorts of failing businesses. Republicans charge that there is a lot of spending on projects that are more motivated by political than economic reasons. This is quite true, but also hypocritical considering the lavish way Republicans spent on their Pork Barrel projects during the first six years of Bush II.

Republicans were offered a chance to help shape the stimulus package, but chose to play politics with it. Republicans are right that stimulus package is not a good one, it was hastily conceived, as a response to an economic emergency. So much pork got into the package because the Obama team did not have a good understanding of the underlying problems that led us into the crisis.  The response is to simply misapply the pseudo-Keynesian formula to the present situation. Republicans have even less to offer, and unlike the Obama administration the Republicans are disinclined to learn from their mistakes.

Be that as it may, for all their faults, the Republicans were willing to offer limited support for conventional nuclear power in the stimulus package, the congressional Democrats, who have bought into the renewables idiocy, lock stock and pork barrel, played politics with nuclear power and shut it out of the final ill-conceived stimulus bill.

In February 2009, we have reached the low-water mark of rationality as far America's energy future is concerned. Not only were loan guarantees for reactors written out of the Obama stimulus package, but the stimulus package wastes billions on solar generators that produce electricity 20% of the time, and windmills that produce most of their electricity in the middle of the night when no one needs it. The whole renewables scheme is very poorly thought through as a plan for replacing fossil fuels. When confronted with the limitations of renewables, and the expense of overcoming them, renewables advocates always fall back on the idea of burning fossil fuels when renewables are not producing. The problem with renewables is simple, on their own, renewables will never stop global warming. Furthermore by asking the simplest questions like "where is the power going to come from after dark if the wind doesn't blow", or "how are you going to generate electricity on cloudy days", is a good starting point. People who have common sense understand these questions, but many people are afraid to ask them, because they are afraid of looking foolish. There are, after all, people who pose as experts, people who claim to have the answers, who will tell you that the questions are foolish. They, the experts, have it all figured out, just don't bother them by asking about details. The answers can all be written in bumper sticker slogans, and people who are confused don't need to ask for more information. More information will only add to your confusion.

Why aren't people asking the questions common sense dictates about renewables? The answer is simple:
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians.
The problem is not the so called experts, who can easily be shown to be spreading ignorance and lies. The problem lies rather with those who willingly ignore the fact that the lies are not even very convincing lies. People who are deeply confused have difficulty acknowledging that they are being lied to, even when doing so should be a matter of simple common sense. As Pogo acknowledged years ago,

Until we are willing to wake up, and acknowledge our confusion, there is no way out of the mess we are in.


donb said...

What bothers me most about the stimulus bill is that there is too much money going to fund continued consumption while there is too little going to fund productive programs and infrastructure build-out.

I see borrowing to fund consumption as immoral (following the lead of Aquinas), whether the borrowing is at the personal level or at the national level. Ultimately for the borrower, there is nothing to show for it but debt.

Borrowed money should be used to fund the build-up of productive assets, which are real wealth. As Charles points out, we are in the middle of a major shift in energy sources. And yet we find that the most promising sources of energy are being starved for development money.

There are related problems. I see the nuclear industry being regulated for safety. This is certainly important. But the industry needs to be regulated for success, which means abundant, economical and safe energy.

Unfortunately, politics is about getting elected, the exercise of power, spending money, and then getting re-elected. With re-election cycles of 2, 4 and 6 years, many politicians (especially party leaders) take a short-sighted view on many issues. Those few representatives who dare to not toe the party line but vote the best for the people are punished by their party leadership, who deny them committee seats and party re-election funds.

Soylent said...

"This is quite true, but also hypocritical considering the lavish way Republicans spent on their Pork Barrel projects during the first six years of Bush II."

Some monumental a-holes even had the gall to condemn the stimulus bill after their idea, tax cuts to the tune of ~3 trillion were rejected.

Anonymous said...

A good post and many good comments here and to previous posts.

I think one of our biggest and least known mistakes, among the public, was the decision to let Offshore Power Systems fail.

Had we kept that alive we could now have several such facilities cranking out floating nuclear power plants for use here and abroad. They would provide tens of thousands of high paying jobs and take a big chunk out of our trade deficit. They would have also prevented the construction of hundreds of coal power plants.

A modest piece of the stimulus money could have been used to create such a facility on each coast with real long-term beneficial results.

Bill Hannahan

Jason Ribeiro said...

@Bill - While I agree with you that offshore power plants sound like a good idea, the Navy has proven the idea works after all, the mindset to overcome with something like that is staggering. Nuclear ignorance and illiteracy is the rampant fuel for the confusion that Charles describes. NEI blog recently posted a bit on another environmentalist persuaded to support nuclear. Reading this environmentalist's post about this, he mentions that floating nuclear plants are definitely a bad idea. My comment to that was "why? the Navy's been doing it for years with no problems."

What strikes me in this line of (non)thinking is the propensity to react and form opinions without any analysis much less any curiosity.

Marcel F. Williams said...

We have extreme difficulty in the US getting permission to build new reactors on existing nuclear sites. How are we going to build nuclear power plants-- offshore?

Unless the US nuclear industry stands up and aggressively promotes itself as a better alternative for producing energy and protecting the environment than coal, gas, oil, solar, and wind then this country is doomed economically.

Of course, since Westinghouse is now owned by Toshiba of Japan, maybe that nuclear company is simply afraid to take on the anti-nuclear forces in America and are content to continue selling US nuclear reactors and US nuclear energy technology to China and other nations.

Marcel F. Williams

Kirk Sorensen said...

Jason, I'd wager we have more underwater nuclear powerplants than terrestrial nuclear powerplants. Makes one wonder why this remarkable basing concept doesn't get more attention from future energy planners.

Kirk Sorensen said...

Marcel, I've been advocating for several years now the basing of future LFTR underwater, a few miles out to see. They would be out of sight, out of mind, near demand centers yet on "land" that no one claims, protected from the forces of nature and air attack from airplanes, in the midst of an unlimited thermal sink, and with the ability to be relocated as needed.

Red Craig said...

"People who have common sense understand these questions, but many people are afraid to ask them, because they are afraid of looking foolish."

Emperor's clothes, no?

Good article, Charles.


Marcel F. Williams said...

Kirk, I think you're going to have to get permission from 'Green Peace' first before any such marine facility could be built:-)


Kirk Sorensen said...

Kirk, I think you're going to have to get permission from 'Green Peace' first before any such marine facility could be built:-)

That's like asking al-Queda for permission to visit Saudi Arabia.

Greenpeace is a bunch of loons who aren't even worth the time I'm wasting on writing this comment.


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