Saturday, July 19, 2008


Power and Global Warming

Successful Presidents are those who are able to create and use coalitions to support their programs. Franklin Roosevelt was very successful at building such coalitions. These coalitions provided the popular support necessary to enact such programs as WPA, PWA, CCC, and Social Security. Harry Truman was able to build a coalition to support the Marshal Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe. Other Presidents have built and used coalitions for varioius purposes. Kennedy used the natural desire of Americans to compete with the Russians to build the space program which put an American on the Moon before any Russian got there. Nixon helped create and used a coalition of Americans who hated and dreaded Communism to win election. And so it goes.

Our current President, Mr. Bush, has tried to build a strong coalition in support of the war in Iraq. He hasn't been very successful. The anti-war coalition is stronger and will probably help defeat his successor, Senator McCain.

My libertarian friend R and I have a dispute about tactics and strategies in achieving two different goals. One is to modify our power generation infrastructure so that we will not depend on imported fuel, particularly petroleum. The other objective is to reduce the emissions of CO-2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and thereby slow (or even stop) the rate of global warming. I am personally happy to combine these two goals. However, R, being more logical than I, keeps them separate. We both want to reduce the dependance on imported petroleum. We have different ideas about global warming and how much should we try to limit the greenhouse gas emissions.

These differences lead to some rather pointed criticism of various things that politicians do, or don't do, to try to achieve one or both of these goals. Consider the problem of the high cost of imported petroleum. One solution, advocated by R and many conservatives, is to extract more petroleum from beneath our own lands. Oil companies should be permitted to drill for oil in places where it would be economically worth while to extract the oil and sell it. Examples are areas off-shore from California and Florida and the ANWR area in Alaska. Another solution is to build power plants that use wind, light from the sun, heat from the earth, and the fission of uranium atoms to generate electricity.

The second solution addresses both the imported oil problem and global warming in that the proposed power plants do not use the combustion of carbon or hydrocarbon compounds to produce energy. R makes the argument that the program to build the new power plants will necessarily take a long time - perhaps 20 years or more - and we must do something to address the immediate problem posed by the continual and inevitable increase in the cost of imported petroleum. He also makes the argument that it isn't necessary for the government to do anything to bring about the needed changes. Market forces will make it profitable to convert shale from Alberta into fuel that can be used in existing plants and transportation vehicles. It will take time, of course. We can also use a process of making gasoline or other liquid hydrocarbon fuels from coal. We have plenty of coal.

I make the argument that we need a President who can generate a coalition to support a program for rapid change-over from a petroleum fueled power system to one based on renewable and non-polluting energy sources. We need another John Kennedy or another Franklin Roosevelt.

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