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Beyond the Blame Game "Obama Doesn't Really Think This Way"

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Energy and Freedom

by Christopher Chantrill
July 29, 2008 at 9:15 pm


WHEN SINGER Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers in Los Angeles got a chance to audition for the Tommy Dorsey big band in New York, they piled into a car and drove across the nation—in 1939. No doubt it was cheaper than taking the train.

When Jack Kerouac went On the Road in the late 1940s he went in a car. It wouldn’t have been quite the same if he’d taken the bus.

Cars have been useful to ordinary people too. When Americans have looked to buy a home they have often traded price for commute time. They decide how big of a home they want, and then start driving out of town knowing that the longer the commute, the lower the price.

Cars are freedom. Even back in the 1840s Thomas Cook could see that. Of course, in those days there weren’t any cars, but he arranged for a special train to carry him and 500 other temperance campaigners to a meeting eleven miles out of town.

As the Duke of Wellington complained, railways encouraged the poor to travel around needlessly.

Sooner or later, the powerful were going to try to put a stop to all this needlessness. It was a question of saving the planet. Rich, powerful people would travel around the planet on executive jets exhorting people to stay home and use mass transit. And if that didn’t work they had a old-fashioned backup plan: prophecy. Oil, the major transportation fuel, was running out, they preached. So it didn’t make any sense to look for it, since it was running out anyway.

This campaign worked like a champ for a while, for people naturally defer to their superiors, especially when they talk in a confident, superior way from a media pulpit. People decided it would be good to “go green,” especially if it meant buying a vanity car like the Toyota Prius.

But when gasoline reaches $4.50 per gallon then “going green” doesn’t do it. If you are a young singer, maybe you can’t afford to drive to that breakthrough audition. If you are a dental assistant, it means giving up your dream of a little acreage and a horse. What’s a few acres compared to saving the planet?

In his Farewell to Alms Gregory Clark reminds us that underneath all the innovation and the freedom of the modern capitalist world is one rather simple concept. It is the energy input from non-biological production. In the old days there was a limit to the energy that could be deployed for human use. It was limited to the output from organic agriculture.

Today things are different. We can mine and drill for energy instead of grow on farms. Remove that energy and we would still be better off than 200 years ago, but not much. There is a limit to a world fueled entirely by animal power and agriculture.

It is the concentration of energy in oil and in coal and, even more so, in uranium that enables us the ordinary Wal-Mart worker to enjoy luxuries hardly dreamed of by Egyptian pharaohs. So when planet-saving priests urge us to abandon highly concentrated energy that has transformed our lives and return to low-concentration energy sources like biofuels and wind power we may well believe that they are flying us up a box canyon.

When a pilot realizes he is flying up a box canyon with nothing but a rock wall ahead, he understands that he must abandon his natural precautionary principle—there are old pilots, bold pilots, but no old, bold, pilots—and take a big risk for once.

In the summer of Drill, Drill, Drill, the American consumer finds himself in a similar situation. He finds that the natural instinct of the powerful to increase their power by reducing his access to energy has him flying up a box canyon.

In Congress the high priests of carbon footprints and peak oil are still celebrating the Mass of global warming with its liturgy of carbon taxes, cap and trade, and wind and solar. But they are worried by the mob outside the door baying Drill, Drill, Drill. Are you afraid, Wolf Blitzer asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week?

PELOSI: You know, I mean, the point is, is we are putting forth the alternatives that we need to put forth, and that is, drill, use it or lose it. …

BLITZER: So let me get — will you allow this issue, offshore oil drilling, to come up for a vote on the floor of the House?

PELOSI: We’re going to exhaust our other remedies in terms of increasing supply in America by…

BLITZER: So the answer is no?

PELOSI: I have no plans to do so.

The text doesn’t quite communicate an embarrassed Speaker stumbling over her talking points and finally admitting that she has no intention of getting the ordinary people in America out of the energy box canyon.

But don’t lose hope America. It took six months of dithering before the Democratic Congress threw the trial lawyers under the bus and passed the update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. How long will it take for Democrats in Congress to throw the environmentalists under the bus?

After all there is something more important than saving the planet. It is winning the next election.

Some people think that there is something more important than winning elections. It is an America where Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers can still pile into a car and drive across the continent to audition for the Tommy Dorsey band. Because if freedom means anything it means an America where people don’t have to live in a liberal-approved townhouse and commute to work on a liberal-approved mass-transit system.

An America that is still strong and free would be an America where a dental assistant can aspire to a little acreage and a horse or two.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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