Ever since President Carter's 1979 "malaise" speech in which he declared that our energy crisis was the "Moral Equivalent of War (MEOW)," our government has promised to take whatever actions were needed to "wean out nation from its dependence on foreign oil." Mr. Carter quoted a citizen who told him, "When we enter the moral equivalent of war, Mr. President, don't issue us BB guns."
Though Mr. Carter (three decades before Scragged) warned, "What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action," our government has taken many, many costly actions in the name of energy independence. Mr. Carter offered a proposal:
To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our Nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the Sun. [emphasis added]
The US House and Senate had created the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in 1977, a few months after the first oil shortage. Mr. Carter's speech suggested that the DOE would get a lot more money, and it did. As of 2008, the agency had 16,000 employees, hired 97,000 contractor personnel, and had a budget of $24 billion.
Spending the money by adding staff was the easy part. Bureaucracies are always eager to absorb any amount of money by hiring more people, but everyone ignored the part of Mr. Carter's speech that dealt with taking effective action to solve the energy crisis:
To make absolutely certain that nothing stands in the way of achieving these goals, I will urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board which, like the War Production Board in World War II, will have the responsibility and authority to cut through the redtape, the delays, and the endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects. We will protect our environment. But when this Nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it. [emphasis added]
The process of obtaining permits to build oil refineries is so onerous, so expensive, and so uncertain that no new refineries have been built since 1976, three years before Mr. Carter promised that we'd build whatever we needed. The red tape and road blocks which prevent building nuclear power plants are still in place, and coal plants are under attack as well.
What about Mr. Carter's promise to reduce energy imports? The current DOE budget is a bit over $20 billion. Although the agency spent fewer dollars in the past, inflation has taken its toll since 1977. Let's assume that DOE spent the rough equivalent of 15 billion of today's dollars per year since it was founded. Their total impact has been nearly $500 billion, or a half-trillion dollars spent to reduce the amount of energy we import.
What's the result? Even though Mr. Carter promised that we'd never import more energy than we imported in 1977, we're importing far more per year than in 1977.
What have we gotten for spending a half-trillion dollars to achieve energy independence? What have we got for spending a half-trillion to promote new energy sources such as solar and wind as Mr. Carter promised? Nothing. Renewable sources provide a minuscule fraction of our energy needs.
A few years back, your humble correspondent attended an all-day conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dedicated to the worldwide state of the automobile business. We learned, for example, that the population of Boston, MA, is a bit over 12,000 people per square mile. Given that most if not all of those people either own a car or want to own one, it's not surprising that the city has a parking problem - where do you put 12,000 cars per square mile plus cars for commuters and have any space left over for buildings?
New York City has twice the population density per square mile because the buildings are higher, and parking there is horrendous even though most New Yorkers and many commuters have given up the idea of bringing cars into the city.
The speaker pointed out that Mumbai, in India, has nearly 30,000 people per square mile. Unlike New Yorkers, essentially all these people want to own cars, hence the Tata Nano. Where are the Indians going to park all these cars, even little teeny ones?
Then MIT dropped the other shoe. Having told us that the automobile had been so successful that the world was running out of parking places, they introduced what has by now become a common litany of problems with getting, transporting, refining, and consuming enough gasoline to power all the cars Americans, Chinese, and Indians were planning to buy. They spoke of oil production having peaked and presented hair-raising scenarios of another gasoline crisis with even higher prices.
Their solution? Government regulation. These MIT professors who claim to speak for the West Point, Delphic Oracle, and High Priests of technology all rolled into one, said that automobile technology had become so successful that the only solution was for the government to regulate cars to the point that people "voluntarily" stopped driving so much.
The audience response was spirited and vehement. The reaction boiled down to, "Whadda ya mean, you've spent all those research dollars for decades and you're telling us the only solution is for the government to tax cars out of existence? That's what they do in Europe. If I wanted to live in Europe, I'd move there. If you can't solve the problem, stop spending our research dollars and give the money to somebody who can."
MIT's boffins kept their government research grants, of course, despite their public admission that all that money had been totally ineffective at its stated goal. Stopping a government funding stream once it gets rolling is like plugging an oil well - no matter what you do, it just keeps rollin' along.
A faithful Scragged reader would assume that all this research money being spent without result is yet another example of our government's inability to do anything other than pour money down ratholes... but you'd be wrong. To our surprise, the New York Times revealed the great capitalist conspiracy which has kept us from having the energy independence to which all our spending rightfully entitles us:
You see, right now our energy conversation is dominated by three voices. There are the "petro-determinists," who never tire of telling us that we'll be dependent on oil for a "long, long time." That is true. The problem is, these same people have been telling us that ever since the first oil crisis in 1973, and their real objective in doing so is not to help us understand that breaking our oil addiction is difficult, but to make us think that it is impossible - so don't bother. [emphasis in the original]
Now we know! The Times reveals all! We're spending billions on Mideast Oil because of a vast conspiracy of oil producers who keep us from figuring out how to replace oil by telling us it's too hard.
These guys have convinced all 16,000 DOE employees and every single one of their 97,000 contractor personnel that replacing oil is so hard that nobody will criticize them if they don't find an answer. Being naturally lazy, all these people are just spinning their wheels because they know nobody will ever expect anything of them.
In speaking of Mr. Obama's reaction to the BP oil spill, the Times said:
His most important job, though, is one he has yet to take on: shaping the long-term public reaction to the spill so that we can use it to generate the political will to break our addiction to oil. [emphasis added]
The Times asserts that reducing our addiction to oil is simply a matter of political will; technology has nothing to do with it.
For the past 30 years, we've had the political will to spend a half-trillion dollars researching alternative energy through the DOE, and oil imports keep going up regardless. We've had the political and economic will to spend billions more at private universities, venture start-ups, and other research facilities both domestic and foreign, and oil imports keep going up regardless.
We've found a percent here and a percent there. We've even found the political will, maybe, to put up a wind farm in Massachusetts and to persuade the Massachusetts citizens and federal taxpayers to pay more than twice the cost of coal-generated electricity for clean, renewable wind-generated electricity - and oil imports keep going up regardless.
Our Japanese friends have visited all the energy conferences, read all the research papers, and concluded that wind and solar, while nice, will give them a few percent at most. The only solution for Japan is either oil or nuclear power; there's nothing else that's both known to work and that can handle the load. So despite costs at the pump that are nearly five times what's seen in America... Japanese oil imports keep going up regardless. Same in Europe.
Goodness, what a reach those nefarious Big Oil schemers have! If Bernie Madoff had only taken lessons from them, he'd still be walking around free as a bird!
Back here in the real world, we could make a difference if we were willing to put up nuclear plants to generate electricity which could make hydrogen to power cars, but that's politically unacceptable because it might actually have a positive outcome.
We've done all we know how to do, dumped billions into learning more things to try, and not only is it not enough, it hasn't even moved the needle!
Reducing our demand for oil is not a matter of political will. The laws of physics dictate that such a goal requires a number of significant research breakthroughs. When many, many smart people spend many, many billion dollars researching a problem with essentially no results, we can assume that it's a very hard problem.
Unless, of course, we assume that all our energy researches all over the world, Nobel laureates included, are either incompetent or crooked co-conspirators in the pockets of Big Oil. That's a bit of a stretch, but the Times says so, so it must be true.
Given, therefore, that the DOE and all its grantees have been conclusively proven to be on the Side of Evil, naturally the Times would support a total defunding and elimination of the Department of Energy at long last. Right?
Right. We're looking forward to seeing that editorial next week.