Politics & Policy

Read my Lips: No New Energy

Why I am green.

If you want to save the environment, you can do one of two things. You can just live as you do now, ignore all the scare-mongering and environmental millennarianism, and probably both you and the planet will be just fine until the end of the world — even if that is a million years from now.

Or you can start living like I do, and perhaps even fool yourself into thinking you’re making a difference. I am sitting at my desk right now, wearing a winter hat and scarf and shivering in my one-bedroom basement apartment in Washington.

Have I set my thermostat too low? Just what do you mean by “thermostat?”

Last month, my old roommate and I used 210 kWh of electricity, roughly 1/90 of Al Gore’s monthly average. And unlike the Nobel-prize-winning purveyor of environmental panic, I don’t have natural gas or heating oil. I have never owned an automobile or flown in a private plane, and I usually work from home.

I wash all of my clothes in cold water. While shopping for my groceries online this month (and yes, that saves gasoline by consolidating deliveries), I even bought a few of those new twisty light bulbs that all the environmentalists want us to start using. I had been burning through incandescent bulbs so quickly that I was cannibalizing my light fixtures just to keep a few of the lamps on. (There’s really no need to have three light bulbs in the same overhead fixture, is there?) My new “green” bulbs are a bit dimmer, and sometimes they freak me out by illuminating more than a full second after I flip the switch. But I don’t mind.

Why do I live like this? It’s really just because I’m cheap as hell and way too busy to care about things like “being comfortable.” I’m also from Northern Indiana, so I have no appreciation for the finer things in life.

I could instead plead environmentalism, but environmentalism is not about one’s personal life, as Al Gore’s shining example proves. Rather, it is about forcing other people to do things. I live a “green” lifestyle because I have nothing better to do. You, or even I, would object to being forced to live like this.

Yet this is precisely how environmentalists want us to live, if you take their policy proposals seriously. If we don’t live voluntarily like beggars, then their plan for us is much higher energy prices, or else massive shortages that leave us no choice. How else can one explain the Democrats’ energy bill, versions of which passed both the House and Senate earlier this year? Neither version contains new positive sources of energy. The only solution being offered is: stop using so much of it! And that isn’t even remotely possible.

The bill’s “oil savings program” would mandate reductions of 10 million barrels of oil per day below projected usage by 2031. It is not clear how this would work (rationing, higher gas taxes, etc.), but that’s a lot of oil — it’s nearly half of what we use each day currently. Despite modest progress with alternative fuels, Americans will almost certainly need more oil in 2031, when the U.S. Census Bureau projects that our population will be 9-percent larger than it is now.

Nuclear and hydroelectric power — two economically viable sources of energy that could actually reduce American emissions of CO2 — are not even counted in this bill among the “renewable” sources of energy that the new bill forces on utilities. Despite having zero emissions, they are being shunted aside in the frenzy to subsidize solar, biomass, and wind power, none of which are economically feasible in most parts of the country or at all.

But could the ethanol mandate, beginning at 12 billion gallons in 2010 and increasing thereafter, add to our energy supply? Oh, no. Corn ethanol may actually require more energy to produce and transport (it cannot be put into pipelines like oil) than it releases when burnt. At best, ethanol is nearly energy-neutral. It is in fact a subsidy for farmers that has nothing to do with producing energy. Ethanol also increases smog emissions and its production usually involves burning coal, so it doesn’t even have an environmental benefit.

Is there a way to reduce emissions and produce more energy? There are a few hopeful signs, but just a few. The Department of Energy reports applications to build 32 new nuclear plants nationwide. There has even been some progress with wind power (although John Kerry and Ted Kennedy are still resisting that wind farm off Nantucket). But there is very little new energy coming, and Democrats in Congress want to keep it that way. It is no surprise, then that their bill would cause $1 trillion in lost economic output over the next two decades, according to a new study by CRA International.

Which gets me back to my lifestyle. For all of my needless austerity, I still emitted more than 3,500 kg of carbon dioxide in October (as calculated here), almost entirely because I took two plane trips. Great Britain, in its effort to meet its Kyoto obligations, has as its goal to limit subjects to an average of just 8,000 kg of carbon dioxide per year — and in the future they want to cut that in half to 4,000 kg per year! There’s no way I’m going to meet that standard.

Somehow, I doubt that Congress has any plans to stop subsidizing the airline industry. You probably don’t want to stop traveling, either. So if you want to save the world, you might as well turn off the heat right now and start removing those “extra” light bulbs from the ceiling fixtures.

Trust me, it’s really not that bad. And you’ll be used to it by the time it becomes law.

– David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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