Death by a thousand cuts. Or in the case of the efficiency of the U.S. economy, by at least four: energy policy, health care policy, trade union resurgence, and fiscal madness.
Start with energy. The world is awash in it. The wind blows and the sun shines, at least some times and somewhere. Oil and gas wells gush, and substantial oil- and gas-rich areas have never even been explored. Coal abounds. Nuclear power can be had at a cost. So why has Barack Obama made energy policy one of his three top priorities — education and health care are the other two — in a country in which inexpensive energy has produced the world’s most productive agriculture, a population capable of navigating America’s huge spaces in air-conditioned comfort, and permitted the substitution of energy-plus-brain-power for back-breaking labor?
One problem is that oil is largely in the hands of very bad actors. Still another is that almost all sources of energy have significant impacts on the environment: solar panels consume acres of space; wind machines are considered eye sores by those who can spot them; oil, natural gas and coal emit CO2, responsible for claims that the globe is warming; nuclear power generates long-lived and dangerous waste.
It is the environmental issues that seem intractable. At one time a united environmental movement was of one mind on important issues. No longer. President Obama and greens favor the development of solar and wind power, but other environmentalists oppose dedicating substantial swathes of desert land to solar panels, and Senator Ted Kennedy is leading the charge against building windmills in sight of his family compound on Cape Cod. Some environmentalists see pollution-free nuclear power as an important part of future energy supply, others oppose new plants because there is no political agreement on the disposal of nuclear waste. If environmentalists in America agree on anything it is that coal presents the greatest threat to the environment, and that the courts can be used to drag out the permitting process until most projects are abandoned.
All of this means that the electrical energy needed to power battery-driven vehicles won’t come cheap, if indeed it is available. Industry sources fear that with coal and nuclear more or less off the table, at least for now, we will end up rationing electricity.
“Death by Obamanomics” June 29, 2009