Recently, I discussed the importance of oil to our whole civilization. It seems like every time the price of oil goes up, everyone starts screaming for “alternate energy” sources.
But it seems that every time we look into alternate forms of energy, one or more liberal groups jumps up and howls in protest.
Let’s look at a few of the power-generation methods that have been derailed:
1) Nuclear Power.(fission) An astoundingly efficient way of generating electricity, with an admirable safety record: in about 50 years of use, only a single major accident, and one near-major accident. Yet no new plants have been built in about 25 years (I think New Hampshire’ Seabrook Station was the last), and some of the oldest ones are running out of usable life.
2) Wind Power. Recently, developers proposed a series of windmills to be placed in the ocean off Cape Cod. The environmental impact would have been minimal, but Cape residents (notably among them Senator John Kerry) denounced the windmills because it would disrupt the ocean view that they pay so dearly for.
3) Hydroelectric Power. Harnessing the energy in waterfalls and damming rivers for electricity is an old, well-established technology. The energy waiting to be harnessed is tremendous, and it’s also incredibly safe. But damming a river changes its ecosystem, and the environmentalists go absolutely bonkers if a two-inch-long fish might be inconvenienced. The rivers must be left alone, and all the energy must be allowed to continue untapped.
4) Solar Power. This one has very few drawbacks, as Paul pointed out this week, but it takes a huge amount of land in very specific areas (they have to receive a great deal of sunshine, for starters). The integrity of those areas is staunchly defended by the environmentalists, and the solar grid’s potential for disruption other forms of wildlife will, eventually become an issue. bullwinkle might have been facetious when he predicted that the first roasted bird would become a martyr for the environmentalists, but there’s a strong element of truth behind it.
Finally, while I don’t quite grasp why the price of gasoline has shot up so much recently, one plausible explanation I’ve heard is that the bottleneck isn’t in the supply, but in our ability to refine it. From what I’ve heard, our refineries are operating right now at pretty much their maximum ability. Meanwhile, demand is showing no sign of easing, and there are absolutely no plans to build new refineries or in other ways increase capacity. And why are there no new refineries being built?
Because refineries are big, ugly, smelly, messy, and gross. Nobody wants them around, so nobody allows them to be built near them. Oil refineries are the sewer workers of the industrial world: nobody respects them, nobody likes them, nobody wants to think about what they do because it’s too disgusting, but if it wasn’t for them our civilization would crumble.
Robert Heinlein coined what he called the TANSTAAFL principle: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. There’s no such thing as “free” energy; there’s a price to be paid no matter what. We need to take a cold, calculated look at just what we need and figure out what price we are willing to pay; we’ve had decades to shop around for that fantasy “free energy” source, and we’re still hungry.
And for those who say that they don’t want to pay the price, they’re welcome to simply stop using energy. No electricity, no gasoline, no heating oil, nothing that they don’t generate themselves.
I hear Ted Kaczynski has a cabin available for rent…