If despair is the worst of sins, then Robert Bryce’s appropriately named Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Independence” must rank as the worst book on energy policy ever written. Given the vast number of low-quality titles in the field, this is a remarkable accomplishment.
“The U.S. cannot control its destiny when it comes to energy,” Bryce asserts, “and there’s nothing the U.S. can do to change that fact.” There is no reason to be unhappy about this, because “there’s little or no justification for the push to make America energy independent.” Never mind that the U.S. could pay $600 billion for imported oil this year, up from $40 billion in 1999. “Prices fluctuate. They go up and they down. Get over it. . . . No matter how you slice it, gasoline is cheap, cheap, cheap.”
Bryce sees America’s continued “obsession” about the price of oil as being really quite rude to our suppliers. “You know, the Chinese never ask us about price,” observes Prince Saud, chairman of Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, who provides Bryce with a helpful quote. Do we really want to look like a bunch of cheapskates by comparison?
We should get over our obsession with Saudi support for terrorism, too: “Terrorism actually causes rather little damage.” And anyway, “the conflation of oil and terrorism implies a link between terrorism and Islam. That is simply not true.” And who are we to judge, anyway? America itself was founded by terrorists. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Paul Revere, John Adams, and Samuel Adams — three icons of America’s push to gain independence from Britain — were all members of the Sons of Liberty, a group that frequently used violence to intimidate British loyalists.” So how is al-Qaeda any different?
When you get past all the phony concerns about terrorism and price gouging, it becomes clear that all this anti-OPEC talk is simply “racist,” in Bryce’s telling. In fact, he says, America should welcome high oil prices because “A dramatic drop in the price of crude would reduce China’s oil import bills and thereby allow greater consumption with little cost. That would allow China’s economy to grow even faster — growth that will further fuel China’s rise as a global power.” So, even though we pay three times as much as China for oil imports in absolute terms, and 12 times as much per capita, we should be grateful to OPEC for imposing this tax upon our economy because by doing so they are saving us from the Yellow Peril. Bryce points out that high oil prices save us from the threat of rising living standards in India, as well. Obviously, anyone who fails to appreciate these benefits must be a “racist.”
Bryce’s insights are thus truly unique. But there is a reason why his understanding of these issues exceeds that of most people. Invited to Saudi Arabia, he was shown the wonders of the Kingdom, which cured him of his previous misconceptions. He has seen the future, and it is Islamic.
A Pusher of Lies
In assuming the mantle of the Saudi’s Lord Haw Haw urging America’s energy surrender, Bryce makes his case with verve, utilizing an unprecedented combination of incorrectly performed calculations, illogic, rhetorical dishonesty, silly demagoguery, willful stupidity, outright falsehoods, critical omissions, crank citations, and pseudoscientific theories. Indeed, one must be grateful to his publisher for titling the book Gusher of Lies, as otherwise many people might be deluded into believing that some of it is true.
Correcting all the errors in Gusher of Lies would take a work three times its length, and at 372 pages, it is 372 pages too long already. Nearly all the relevant calculations in Bryce’s doorstop are off by at least a factor of two, and some — like his estimate of the amount of water used to produce corn ethanol — are off by a factor of over 400. (He says 885 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol; the actual industry figure is 2, since corn used for ethanol is not irrigated.). Bryce seems to suffer from an incapacity to consider quantity as relevant to any issue. To his mind, those concerned about terrorism can’t object to increased Saudi revenues, since the Kingdom can fund just as much terrorism whether their income is under $3 billion per year (as in 1972), $30 billion per year (as in 1999), or over $300 billion per year (as it will be this year.)