Thursday, January 27, 2011

No Way to Greatness

Barack Obama is fixated on solar panels. In his presidency so far, he has had two momentous speeches. The first was his Gulf oil spill speech, and the second was this State of the Union speech, momentous only because he made it so by his declaration of our Sputnik Moment. (You might say that I've forgotten about the Arizona massacre speech, but I think that the event and the speech will slip everyone's mind before long.)

In both cases, he made trivial green energy initiatives the focus of our attention. In his first oval office address when he talked to us about the national crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, he used the occasion to underscore the importance of energy efficient windows and solar panels. In his second SOTU address, he brought us back to the same fierce urgency. Solar Shingles.

This is not the interstate highway system or the Apollo space program.

Daniel Henninger is also puzzled by this hip leftist "obsession" that distracts the president from the matters at hand. ("A Presidency to Nowhere," WSJ, Jan. 27, 2011)

So what explains this?

(A) Unlike Bill Clinton who genuinely turned to the center after his midterm defeat, our president is a true believer, i.e. an ideologue. He can't think any other way.

(B) Henninger says he wants to just run out the clock for two years pretending to be bipartisan with the GOP and of one mind with the electorate.

(C) He is the anti-colonialist that Dinesh D'Souza says he is, and all this solar panel as national everything-policy is a way of weaning America off of everyone else's stuff.


Jeremy said...

Nice work in skipping lightly past your key premise, David. I suppose it would be way too much work to actually support the claim that green energy initiatives are, in fact, "trivial." You were far better off getting right to the point with a string of ad hominem rhetoric aimed at those with even less inclination to examine underlying assumptions than yourself.

David C. Innes said...

Thank you for taking the time, Jeremy.

I left it as self-evident that this green tinkering around the edges of our energy supply is a trivial topic for a presidential address that took as its theme America's Sputnik Moment. I know people who are fairly far out on the left (in my judgment) who are convinced it is The Great Moral Challenge and survival issue of our day. But they parallel the gold standard crowd on the right.

Personally, I don't see how "green energy" can fuel this vast economy unless you include lots of nuclear. It's a fantasy. But I'm just eyeballing it. If the president thinks otherwise, he did not make the case in that speech or in any other speech that I know of. He is proposing this radical change in how we power the country. The burden of proof is on him, not me. The solar shingles stuff sounds trivial. If its a big deal, he needs to make the case, and he hasn't.

Jeremy said...

I think the President left it as self evident that this vast economy cannot be fueled with fossils indefinitely; not an unreasonable presumption. I find it odd that fiscal conservatives on the right are not allied with conservationists on the left. One seeks to conserve government spending and impact, the other seeks to conserve energy spending and impact. The logic of both ideologies is virtually identical- the only difference is in the fundamental premises which, if they were critically examined instead of held as self-evident, would likely converge onto a more unified ideology.

If solar shingles sound trivial, then yes, the president's message has failed to connect. That doesn't mean, however, that the message itself is trivial. The groundwork for serious entrepreneurial energy revolution is already laid, but it will never take off as long as the current energy policy is publicly subsidized. We know that drilling for oil and burning coal works to make money and run industry, so why risk the investment in untested alternatives? There's an answer to that question and the president needs to elucidate it, but it's short-sighted and dangerous to dismiss ideas uncritically, citing unexamined 'self-evident' premises under the guise of core values.

David C. Innes said...

Fiscal conservatives would view what people spend on energy as a personal choice that is best governed by calculations of self-interest, philanthropy, or whatever standard of judgment one wishes to use. These decisions are made by businesses, families, drivers, etc. with a view to their judgments of whatever is most conducive to their or our well-being. Energy conservationists on the left want government to bully people into a national policy that is politically tyrannical and personally oppressive. I don't see much convergence there. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you.

As for the green energy economy, I'm all ears. But so far it looks like a few people who think they're more enlightened than everyone else and who have proven their complete indifference to the principles of economics and their contempt for the people who put them in power telling everyone else what's good for them in the end.

He has not made the case for a disaster in the long range if we keep burning fossil fuels, even our own fossil fuels. All that I've heard is leftist green scolding and exhortations that assume the truth of his point before he makes it.

Jeremy said...

If you look back to the end of the 19th century, people were unequivocally guided by "calculations of self-interest, philanthropy, or whatever standard of judgment one wishes to use" with regard to timber and the timber industry. It wasn't until 90% of the forest cover of the continent had been expended that conservationists of the day we able to "bully people into a national policy that [was] politically tyrannical and personally oppressive" by creating the National Parks and the National Forests, ensuring both aesthetic longevity and a steady, regulated timber supply.

The current energy situation parallels that of forestry in many ways, including both increased demand and consumption coupled with dwindling supply. You're a professor, so I assume you have access to scientific journals. No study, even those conducted by the oil and gas industry, projects that production will be able to meet current (let alone future) use levels by the time our children reach retirement, which says nothing about the ecological impact of leveraging those resources. I suppose it depends on how you define 'disaster,' but how is it not crystal clear that economics based on the current energy model are anything but a fantasy?

David C. Innes said...

Yes, I am a professor (politics). And I must turn my attention to Descartes, grading, and a writing project. Thank you for reading, and I hope you find something else of value on the blog or at Worldmag.