I am grateful to Thomas L. Friedman because he supplies a significant function and gives good value. For anyone desirous of understanding the most conventional of elite conventional wisdom, Tom Friedman is one of the go-to writers. His column today is a compendium of conventional wisdom, of the kind that holds up poorly under any kind of scrutiny but has the virtue of adhering to the liberal party line. His offering today is that special breed of snark that presumes to understand the motivations and beliefs of those who disagree with him:
If you follow the debate around the energy/climate bills working through Congress you will notice that the drill-baby-drill opponents of this legislation are now making two claims. One is that the globe has been cooling lately, not warming, and the other is that America simply can’t afford any kind of cap-and-trade/carbon tax.But here is what they also surely believe, but are not saying: They believe the world is going to face a mass plague, like the Black Death, that will wipe out 2.5 billion people sometime between now and 2050. They believe it is much better for America that the world be dependent on oil for energy — a commodity largely controlled by countries that hate us and can only go up in price as demand increases — rather than on clean power technologies that are controlled by us and only go down in price as demand increases. And, finally, they believe that people in the developing world are very happy being poor — just give them a little running water and electricity and they’ll be fine. They’ll never want to live like us.
In almost every sentence there is nonsense. As just a few instances, it is not a belief that "the globe has been cooling lately", it is a conclusion based on the best data we have accrued about the global climate and temperature over the last 10 years. The reasons for the cooling in the last ten years are not well understood (though the decreased output of the sun must be considered high on the list) but only those impervious to changing data can insist that AGW is a fact in the face of contrary evidence. His logic is more impressive when he declares that those of us who think we should be utilizing our own energy resources to the fullest in order to ease the transition to cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy, prefer the world continue to be dependent on oil controlled by our enemies rather than on clean power. Somehow wanting to extract more American energy (with all that means for high paying jobs, increased tax revenues, and decreasing our dependence on unstable, unfriendly regimes) means we want the world to continue to be dependent on others for their energy. Where Thomas Friedman also fails is in noting that thus far there exist no alternative, clean energies that can scale properly to replace petroleum based products as sources of energy. Germany, a bastion of wind power, has found the need to build coal fired electric plants in order to make up the shortfall when the wind doesn't blow; as a result their power generation is more inefficient and costly than if they had just built the plants in the first place and concentrated the money spent on windmills for already extant technology that could manage the coal fired plants' pollution.
Finally, Friedman manages to confuse himself within his own article. He insists that once a Carbon tax raises the price of energy alternative energy will flourish (although the technology is not yet mature and none of it is now scalable.) He then proceeds to allege:
So either the opponents of a serious energy/climate bill with a price on carbon don’t care about our being addicted to oil and dependent on petro-dictators forever or they really believe that we will not be adding 2.5 billion more people who want to live like us, so the price of oil won’t go up very far and, therefore, we shouldn’t raise taxes to stimulate clean, renewable alternatives and energy efficiency.
I'm confused. If I believe we should drill, that means I want us to continue to be dependent on petro-dictators? Who ever said the new Middle Class wouldn't want to live like us? If the demand on oil increases, so will the price and supply will follow and as alternative energy gets cheaper and matures, the markets will naturally migrate to cheaper energy. Why would we want a tax now that will damage the economy and make the natural maturation of technology slow down? Wouldn't that condemn billions to continued poverty or a return to poverty? Am I missing something here or do those who espouse the conventional wisdom not know what they are talking about?
As luck would have it, we have two recent examples that show that neither logic nor mathematics are strengths of the elite conventional wisdom doyens; the first features Al Gore on the Conan Program, via the magic of Youtube:
Video: The Goracle on geothermal temperatures
Conan: … to create energy, and it sounds to me like an evil plan by Lex Luthor to defeat Superman. Can you, can you tell me, is this a viable solution, geothermal energy?
Al: It definitely is, and it’s a relatively new one. People think about geothermal energy — when they think about it at all — in terms of the hot water bubbling up in some places, but two kilometers or so down in most places there are these incredibly hot rocks, ’cause the interior of the earth is extremely hot, several million degrees, and the crust of the earth is hot …
Where Gore is off by several orders of magnitude on the earth's interior temperature, John Kerry performs a marvelous, analogous transformation for our greenhouse gases, claiming that the emissions have increased in the last 8 years 4 times faster than in the 1990s; the facts?
The Institute for Energy Research catches John Kerry using hyperbolically wrong numbers on carbon emissions in the US as a means to use the Chicken Little approach to passing legislation:
According to the government’s own numbers, CO2 emissions didn’t increase even by a factor of 1 during that period. In an eighteen-year period (1990-2008), the total growth of CO2 emissions was only 15.9% from energy production and 30% from the energy-use sectors. Moreover, the rate of growth year-on-year has slowed in both instances. In 2008, CO2 emissions dropped 2.8% in energy production and 2.1% in energy use, likely as a result of the recession. In 2006, though, while the economy remained overheated, CO2 emissions dropped 1.45% in energy production and 2.22% in energy use.
I don't mean to focus on the conventional wisdom of AGW, but these two examples were just too tempting. They are, in fact, perfect exemplars of the tendency of the elites to ignore actual facts when it might interfere with their desired beliefs. Barry Rubin places this tendency in its historical context, in a must-read posting today:
We are all searching, in this bizarre era we inhabit, for a healthy sense of déjà vu. By this I mean, we seek precedents for some of the strange things that Political Correctness forces onto people and current political debates bring into play.
Unfortunately, the virtually sole candidate brought up play in such matters is summarized by the word “fascism.” But the extremities of Nazi Germany generally don’t fit well with the relatively mild forms of mischief gotten up to in Western democratic states. Actually, the best parallel I can think of is the way that the Communist party and its fellow travelers tried to impose a cultural line on intellectual life, a process at its peak in the United States and in Britain during the 1930s, while continuingfor many decades longer in countries like France and Italy.
The experience described below by George Orwell in 1937 is a wonderful example of how history is repeating itself. I want to add quickly that I am not speaking here of subservience to a foreign state (the USSR) or even the kind of discipline exercised on party members, but how it permeated into the broader cultural, media, and intellectual scene.
To sum up the three themes:
--There is a party line which should be followed by everyone, even if they aren't in the party.
--Those who don’t follow it will be called all sorts of awful names which even horrifies the victim since these insults have nothing to do with what he was trying to do or say. In those days, it was fascist or Trotskyist; today it is racist, neo-conservative, or Islamophobic.
--The line is justified because not following it is said to lead to terrible results (historically, the triumph of fascism and big business; today, the triumph of racism, Islamophobia, and big business). Another reason is that telling the truth would help the enemy, in those days, fascism or capitalism, in these days, Republicans, George W. Bush, or various reactionary, Christian fundamentalist, or fuddy-duddy forces.
--The punishments are not torture, prison, and execution but ridicule, denial of a teaching job or tenure, or just not getting your book or articles published.
Please do yourself a favor and read Barry's whole article. Our current climate is a near perfect imagining of "liberal fascism" where for the good of all of us, an enlightened few who know what is true, must use all means at their disposal to enforce proper thinking in order to "save the planet", redress inequality, undo racism, colonialism, sexism, and any other -ism that captures their fancy. AGW has been declared beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry for quite some time and the international consensus, that the West must pay for their assaults on the planet (while simultaneously enriching elites, impoverishing the most vulnerable, and beggaring the Western Middle Classes) is unassailable. Rational discourse and true science, ie gathering data, testing hypotheses, and allowing conclusions to arise from the weight of the evidence, our wonderful and rich inheritance from the enlightenment, is an impediment to all that is good and must be jettisoned.
So, an appreciation for Thomas Friedman, who puts the conventional into conventional wisdom.
PS Here is some data that is bad news for the liberal elites: Capitalism works miracles!