Is God telling us something?

As we’ve all come to learn from bitter experience, the worst place to be when a hurricane strikes is just to the right of the eye as it comes ashore. That’s where the greatest force and the highest storm surge hit, because at that point you’re dealing with not only the head-on circular speed of the counter-clockwise winds, but the forward momentum of the storm itself (at least I think that’s why; any more weather-savvy people out there are invited to correct me).

Conversely, if you’ve got to be within the radius of such a storm, the “best” place to be is to the left of the eye, because that way you just get the hurricane’s “backhand” as it is moving in a direction opposite that of the wind.

Thus Hugo hit McLellanvile harder than it did Charleston, and Katrina slammed little towns in western Mississippi harder than it did New Orleans (not that that was much comfort to New Orleans once the Lake Pontchartrain levee broke).

So it struck me as interesting, looking at the map we ran
on the front page this morning, to see the way Rita had shifted course. Galveston and Houston were able to breathe a little easier, as it looked as though they might get the backhand now, when the opposite had seemed likely earlier. But in shifting course to the east, the greatest force of the storm was now projected to hit the greatest concentration of oil refineries in the region.

Is God trying to tell us something? Is He giving us a more direct hint — since we haven’t taken the earlier ones, which were none too subtle (9/11, Katrina) — that maybe, just maybe, we ought to be thinking about a serious energy policy? One in which we pursue alternative sources of power for all we’re worth while conserving like crazy and in the meantime (as long as we’re still relying on some oil) looking for other places to get and process oil domestically besides the Gulf Coast?

Maybe. But before I make too big a deal about this in theological terms, let’s wait and see where the storm actually does come ashore…

23 thoughts on “Is God telling us something?

  1. Phillip

    If God is trying to tell us something, I’m not sure that we know how to take a hint. While these natural disasters, 9-11, and Iraq have gotten a lot more people thinking about breaking free of America’s dependence on oil, the President and Congress are STILL actually trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. USGS and other scientific studies have shown that it’s unlikely that the amount of economically feasible recoverable oil will be more than about a year’s worth or a little more. Are we really going to risk long-term damage to a vital and more-or-less pristine part of the planet, just to have that “one more drink before we quit”?
    Meanwhile, increasing our cars’ fuel efficiency standards by just 3 miles per gallon would save more than a million barrels of oil a day, according to EPA studies. That’s thought to be more than the most optimistic projections of what oil could be gained from ANWR.
    Haven’t we learned anything? Do proponents of ANWR drilling truly believe in their hearts that the potential impact on the environment is worth the oil we would get out of it? I know you and Sen. Graham favor opening up ANWR–you’re both often very sensible on many issues so that’s why I’m asking you both in this case (sending the Senator a letter to this effect) to please reconsider. For others the motives for the ANWR battle may be less well-meaning. Naturally there is the oil industry, which obviously has its own interests at heart. Beyond that I fear that the ANWR issue is seen by Bush et al as being less about the oil itself and more as a symbolic battleground in which to inflict a crushing defeat on the environmental movement.
    While we’re at it, let’s say a prayer for folks in Rita’s path–as I write it’s down to Category 3 so let’s hope it keeps weakening.

  2. Brad Warthen

    We should ONLY open it up — and increase our refining capacity (which is to be greatly reduced tonight) — and do other things to increase the supply IF we are willing to increase mileage standards, reduce speed limits, initiate a crash program like the Manhattan and Apollo projects to develop hydrogen and/or other alternatives, raise the gas tax (to finance the quest for alternatives), and build up mass transit all across the country.
    Why would we drill while doing all these things? Because we’re still going to need oil for a while. You use the “one last drink” analogy, which implies a sot’s request before taking the pledge to quit alcohol. But this isn’t alcohol. It’s more like water, in terms of how essential it is to our economy. And we’re not going to be able to replace water overnight.
    (Yes, I know that analogy’s imperfect, because water could never be replaced. But I couldn’t think of anything else that’s that essential — meat? protein? carbohydrates? trace elements? — that a huge effort could find a way to replace.)

  3. Jerry

    Me, I would love to know the plans set forth, in secret, by the energy commision that Vice President Cheney led in the early days of this administration. The one with the oil executives with the seats at the table. The cynic in me noticed that way before these current disasters that the price of gas kept going up and up. Yes, I do accept that there are many factors that contributed to that but deep down I wonder if there was testing to see just how high gas prices could go up and not damage our economy. I remember from where this administration came.
    Obviously there were no plans to increase refining capacity or to prepare for any type of emergency. With all of the profits they have made they still need tax breaks for “exploration” and to increase production. Why not reinvest in these things? We have heard all of their excuses. Brad, why not revisit this with renewed calls for the release, under the FOI Act, of what this comission discussed and plans they made? It should be obvious that what they did was of no benefit (Unless you count the oil companies).

  4. Mike C

    Jerry –
    We can infer what Cheney’s energy task force came up with by what made it into the energy bill. What Big Oil wanted was the opportunity to:

    – explore where they thought there might be oil and
    – drill where they found oil.

    Cost to the taxpayer? Zilch, except for the tax allowances that have been part our convoluted code for decades. There was no direct subsidy to Big Oil of the type that there was for alternative fuels. Big Oil would pay for the exploration and pay for the drilling. Some conspiracy. I challenge you to find one provision in the bill submitted to Congress that transferred funds to any oil company. They just want the chance to find and extract the Texas tea that they’ll refine and use to lure you to buy the Slim Jims, coffee, and soft drinks that their retail outlets offer.
    As for increasing refining capacity, the bill does include some relief, but the big problem, one that you’d certainly highlight, is that some folks don’t want a refinery near them, and others don’t want refineries built anywhere. One investor group has been trying to spend $2.5 billion to build a refinery in Arizona; after five years of paperwork they’re hoping to EPA approval. Now after approval, do you expect that some folks might sue? I do.
    If you want conspiracies, look to the ethanol provisions. They are but another form of agricultural subsidy, benefiting farmers, and one or two ethanol processors. That’s where the scandal is.
    The alternative fuel subsidies are less offensive, but not entirely benign, since much of the money is earmarked
    Brad –
    As for CAFE — corporate average fuel economy – it’s simply a subtle method to eliminate consumer choice; it had unintended consequences, primary among which was the creation of the SUV and popularity of the pickup truck, as I noted here. I agree that we’re headed for a hydrogen economy, but that will require investment in nuclear power, as I wrote here. That entry also mentioned the natural gas price increases; we are now facing shortages and price increases as The State reported today.
    One great advantage of easing oil and natgas extraction restrictions domestically is that we lesson our dependence on foreign sources while driving down the price. The really great point that Jerry’s conspiracy theories bring to mind is that encouraging competition drives prices down.
    If for whatever reason one wants to limit the use of natural gas or petroleum, one should do what’s done now — restrict domestic extraction. That will raise prices and encourage imports, necessitating hefty duties to any foreign imports. Since that’s not politically feasible (and, fortunately, economically idiotic), it seems to me that CAFE is just a surreptitious means of attaining the same objective while driving domestic automobile manufacturers out of business.
    Finally, public transportation is not self-supporting; it requires subsidies. In the US we use proceeds from local and federal fuel taxes to support local systems. The main obstacle to greater acceptance of public transportation is that it doesn’t go where a lot of folks want to go on the schedule that’s convenient for them, so their fares are lost. We live in a convenience world. Columbia is a tough nut because of population density and the fact that not all folks work downtown. I don’t deny the need or desirability of public transportation, but merely point out that it’s an expensive lunch, as opposed to a free one.

  5. Mike C

    As the persistent optimist I have to believe that folks will realize that today’s high energy prices are the result of policy failures. To be fair, the current spike in gasoline and other petroleum products is in part the result of poor weather. A contributing political factor has been the bipartisan reluctance to allow drilling on federal lands, in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico, off the left coast, etc. So, had we more diverse drilling, we’d be less susceptible to local weather disruptions. Ditto for refinery licensing as I noted above.
    So what up with natural gas? We’ve got domestic reserves on federal lands that are off limits for extraction, barriers to the importation of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and increased demand. As I pointed out in this blog entry, demand has increased at a rate faster than policymakers expected — no surprise since those folks are typically surprised by unintended consequence — that they rarely acknowledge cost jobs and increase prices. These folks have forgotten the gas lines of the 1970s, lines caused by government policies, not energy supply realities. This amnesia or ignorance — take your pick — is bipartisan and stupid or ignorant — take your pick. Here are the folks to pick on. Let me be clear: they are responsible for your higher natural gas bills.

  6. Phillip

    David, it’s a reasonable question, and the difficulty in giving you a good answer only shows that things long ago passed a critical point. We could have taken a different path…seems like I remember a certain President saying something about our dependence on oil the other day, now when was that??? Oh yeah, April 18, 1977!!!! Almost 30 years ago!
    The point, David and Brad, is that drilling in ANWR will be such a tiny alleviation of the problem at best, that future generations may grieve at what we wrought for the sake of one or two or three years’ worth of oil. So even if ANWR is drilled, you’ve done nothing to really solve the problem, and now you’ve potentially altered a critical part of the planetary environment.
    The Bush energy policy does include targeting investment and enhanced political relationships with several non-mideast states for increased oil importation. And, obviously, if the Iraq thing works out the way the Bush team planned, we’ll be getting more oil from them. But don’t hold your breath on that one. In any case, it’s clear that we are running out of good options on all fronts. This is an issue that demands the urgent focus of a “Manhattan Project” or the Apollo program. Here’s one Republican auto industry executive who gets it:
    (sorry I’m a techno-idiot and can’t figure out how to create the link here, so you have to cut & paste into your browser).
    Back to the Carter speech linked above, a little pre-emptive strike here…I know that Mike will likely pounce on that and tell us all about how terrible Carter’s energy policy was…The point I’m making by citing the speech is not to comment on Carter’s policy, but to point out the sense of absolute urgency he gave the issue. I wish the presidents since that time had addressed this issue with similar passion, I don’t think any of them did (including Clinton).

  7. John

    Our problems are straightforward. We have persisted in using old technology for fossil fuel to energy conversion. That may have saved us some money, maybe not, it’s not relevant now because China and India are rapidly industrializing using our model for technological/energy development. How does a market of ~ 375 million compete against a market of ~ 2.5 billion? By spending more for the product. Ouch! Their effective markets are not that large yet, but clearly it is only a matter of time (not much of it) before they are significant competitors for energy sources. Drilling in Alaska, off the FL gulf coast, etc, may put the day off a little longer, but nationally we should demand the best technology available for energy (just like we do for medicine, computers, home entertainment, etc). But we can’t just demand our technologists to be smart, we also have to be smart about our lifestyles. After all, you can demand the best MRI access in North America, but if all you use it for is to watch that cigarette-induced cancer kill you then it doesn’t really gain you anything. The “Manhattan Project for energy” needs to be matched with a similar effort for education about conservation, consequences (good and bad) of high energy expenditure, new technologies for home and transport, etc.

  8. Mike C

    Phillip – links is links. However you put them in, they are good. The HTML tag is this:
    [a href=”Site”] label [/a]
    where the [ is < and the ] is >.
    So you might have done you link like this: [a href=”htttp://”] Here’s[/a] one Republican auto industry executive who gets it.
    Which would have given us this: Here’s one Republican auto industry executive who gets it.
    Okay, enough with the pleasantries. Carter started the billions of spending on coal gasification, put on a sweater, keeping in place stooopid rules that Nixon started – price controls, windfall profits taxes, etc. The best way to encourage exploration and conservation is to let the price rise and allow greater exploration domestically. (BTW, Both Democrats and Republicans have put areas off limits, with the current incumbent protecting his brother politically by limiting drilling in the eastern part of the Gulf.)
    Drilling in ANWR is just a start, so let’s start and you’ll recall that I’ve pledged to eat caribou two meals per week if that’s what it takes. The cost to the taxpayer is nil because oil companies will make the investments. Ditto for Alberta tar sands where it takes $35 to extract a barrel of oil, but our neighbors to the north have loads of it. We have plenty of petroleum to get us through to the hydrogen economy.
    I like Tim Leuliette, but he’s used to operating in a highly regulated environment and does want to support those who beat him up regularly — the domestic auto industry. He and the others who push for a Manhattan or Apollo-style project misunderstand something: to move to a hydrogen economy, there are no research or technological obstacles of the sort that confronted the bomb-makers or moon-landers. As I wrote here, the bits of technology are understood and under development. What’s holding things up are politics, the threat of lawsuits, and an oppressive regulatory environment. As near as I can tell, the only technical challenge is a possible but unlikely breakthrough in battery technology that might weaken hydrogen as a transport medium. Toyota’s recent $2M investment is pragmatic – it’s been running
    hydrogen-fueled vehicles
    for years, but needs lighter and stronger tanks. (An aside – it was their hydrogen hybrid technology that let them introduce the Prius after California finally gave up on its ZLEV standard.) Toyota aims to reduce the price tag on a fuel cell-powered car for $50,000 by 2015. The auto industry is doing its part.
    But look at today’s Wall Street Journal: billions and billions in merit-less suits against big oil, the folks who are going to figure out hydrogen distribution and retailing. We need to reform class action lawsuits nationwide today.
    The long-lead-time item for the hydrogen economy is hydrogen production plants. The only reliable and environmentally sound way to do that on a grand scale is with nuclear power plants, but you, I, and the utilities know that they’ll have to make allowances for lawsuits too.
    I have to wonder if there’s a Manhattan-style project aimed at stopping prosperity. I’ll work on this for my blog too.

  9. Mike C

    John –
    You make the good case for the transition to hydrogen, something that governments and private enterprise have been researching. While I agree that we should each be smart about our lifestyles, folks will be folks, and there will be a lot who don’t get the message.
    Making people aware of the economic consequences of their choices is the most effective way to get their attention – hit them in the wallet. That’s why a move to health savings accounts — where the individual pays for regular medical care and insurance pays for catastrophic illness —
    has a greater potential for getting folks attention than our traditional method of providing insurance does. To put it another way, if my employer-provided insurance takes care of all my needs, why should I eat lard-less means, stop smoking, drink less than a twelve-pack each night, etc.? I see no economic consequences for my frequent trips to the doctor and occasional ambulance ride to the emergency room since all the bills are covered.
    Your mention of MRI reminded me of yet another example of government regulation running amuck:

    Doctors say patients’ lives will be at risk if EU enforces MRI rules.
    Life-saving treatments are to be banned in the UK because of “arbitrary” new European restrictions on the use of MRI scanners, according to leading medical professionals.
    They say that about 300,000 procedures a year, including heart treatment and brain surgery, would be affected by the legislation, which seeks to restrict workers’ exposure to electromagnetic fields. But experts claim there is no evidence that such exposure is harmful.
    A lead signatory to the letter, Professor Ian Young, OBE, who pioneered the world’s first MRI scan of the head in 1978 and was awarded the Gold Medal of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, said the new rules would “endanger patients”.
    He said there was no clear evidence that MRI equipment poses any real health risk to operators, but the restrictions will put patients at risk by denying them the most accurate diagnoses and effective treatments.
    “If you start introducing arbitrary and stupid regulations such as this, you will force doctors to use less effective equipment or X-rays, which for children are a contraindication [exposure to X-ray radiation has been proven to carry health risks for children].”

    Read the whole thing.

  10. John

    The potential of the “hydrogen economy” has been overstated enormously. There are two proposed sources of hydrogen that I am aware of, hydrocarbons or electrolysis of water. Hydrocarbon sources do nothing to affect climate change, the original point of the column, and water needs nuke plants (new ones, a lot of them) to get enough hydrogen to make a difference. There are a lot of more realistic energy sources (including conservation) out there that are more immediately accessible (the time/$ for permitting and building a windfield or home solar unit is neglible compared to a nuke plant, and the related construction pumps money into NEW sectors of the economy). In the long term, we’ll probably need hydrogen, but there are a lot of other things we could do much more quickly, cheaply, and better.

  11. David

    Phillip – The reaction of the environmentalists to drilling in ANWR truly mystifies me. Yet, I am rational enough to see that now that “big oil” has been demonized by our so-called mainstream media, that reaction from the uninformed is logical. Consider this – coal companies continue to strip mine and deep mine in many states in America. When is the last time you heard anyone picketing or protesting the coal companies? The proposed new I-73 highway will environmentally alter millions of acres of ground, yet not really a word from the eco types. ANWR amounts to the oil companies using about the land mass of a postage stamp stuck on the football field at Williams Bryce, yet the emotional rage against it is bizarre. Ask any Alaskan if they have benefited from the existing Alaskan pipeline and see what you hear. And I am not saying talk to some young stooge who just joined the Sierra Club. The state of Alaska is thriving due to that pipeline, if only SC had one like it. Also, initial estimates for the Alaska pipeline were understandably low but now the geologists indicate there is much more oil there. The same will be true of ANWR.

    The futurists have nearly always failed at predicting the fortunes of the human race. Why? Mainly because technology gains were not and could not be factored in. Malthus predicted overpopulation because he could never imagine mass farming. Past geologists had no idea about deep drilling, seismology, sonar, and laser technology. So even the so-called energy experts continue to predict the end of oil as we know it. Nonsense. The other thing that has been mis-underestimated is business and the free market. I read where business beginning back in the 70’s embarked on oil reduction programs. Drop by drop, quart by quart, barrel by barrel, industry has been constantly economizing on the use of oil. I see it personally with recycling and reclaiming.

    What scares me about a Manhattan type project is that the government would be involved in it. Yet another federal bureau to hire layers and layers of ‘crats to push paper. Can you say Homeland Security Dept.?

  12. Mike C

    John –
    I’ve got a blog entry that explores hydrogen and nukes. Hydrogen as the fuel of the future is attractive because it’s clean and can replace, in one of two ways, gasoline and diesel in mobile applications. The issue is how to make it cheaper than current fuels. The key is that hydrogen is a conveyance, a medium for storing energy. It has to be created, stored, and dispensed so it can serve as a fuel.
    Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity for electric vehicles that are quiet and economical. One company – Ballard promised to prove to the world that it’s possible to construct an affordable fuel cell vehicle within five years.
    Another approach is to use hydrogen as a fuel for the workhorse internal combustion engine. One would have sufficient power for vehicles that do work — whether construction, freight hauling, war-fighting — or provide private recreation and transportation. Folks got boats on the lake, and many folks regularly haul a crowd and thus need larger workhorses.
    Part of the trick in weaning us from oil is to make hydrogen widely available and cheap, both of which require infrastructure and investment. Nukes that generate electricity for a geographic area can devote non-peak capacity to generating hydrogen for mobile applications. Then some combination of pipelines and tankers transport the hydrogen to retail dispensing locations that will look much like today’s gas stations. In fact, oil companies are interested in hydrogen since they hope to play a part in its transport and sale.
    Which brings us to alternatives. We’ve done a pretty good job of conservation, but the easy part’s been done. We keep finding new ways to consume energy. For example, if you really want to force conservation, eliminate cell phones, each of which can be though of as a water heater. The phone itself consume little power, but it’s the infrastructure that’s the energy hog. Most personal computers are more efficient than their predecessor models, something that’s especially important with laptops, but we have more of them — my family has five of various vintages that are used daily.
    Wind-power is getting more economical, but the durn things are unsightly and do kill birds and bats. Like solar, wind is not available 24x7x365, and without the incentives is not yet cost effective. You are correct that one can add solar panels and perhaps a windmill to one’s house, but it takes considerable time to realize any savings because of the expense of the infrastructure. In other words, solar and wind ain’t for po’ folks. Nuclear generating plants are because the costs are spread over a broad base, delivering electricity at a fraction of the price of solar or wind.
    Natural gas has more than doubled in price thanks to restrictions on domestic exploration and LNG imports. Now I do find the idea of a manure-powered vehicle attractive, but I’m a perverse kind of guy and just hope that John Monk ends up driving behind me…
    People really do want reliable power — the Katrina and Rita experience shows what happens when power fails.
    I covered the shenanigans of mandatory fuel efficiency in this blog entry. Today Toyota and Honda are clearly the leaders in hybrid vehicles. What have our domestic manufacturers been doing, where have they been spending their money? Go ahead, impose stringent CAFE requirements, but you’ll kill at least two former kings of the road.
    How bad is it? Last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal had a brief article on Ford’s search for a new direction (link requires paid subscription). It’s appalling and merely proves that the company has been poorly led for more than a decade. Ford has joined GM in resigning itself to a smaller market share, but what’s worse, it’s delaying or canceling orders for new vehicles parts from its suppliers, its future is vague! But it has hired a new image guy.
    For a bit during the 1990s Ford got close to Toyota’s production efficiency of 17 man-hours per vehicle. When the Camry started outselling the Taurus, Ford gave up. Ford does have some good product, but without a vision for the future, it will go the way of
    Packard. Perhaps it should.
    What the CAFE folks forget is that GM and Ford do offer high-mpg cars, as do all of the other manufacturers. So the potential for fuel savings is there. Another dirty little secret is that those with better ideas want to force folks to purchase vehicles that get better fuel economy than what they would otherwise choose. So we have to consider how much coercion is a good idea in a free country. If they are willing to purchase a little more gas for their comfort and convenience, why should we stop them?
    I also did a blog entry on purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle: “Don’t be Fuelish.

  13. John

    There are two problems with hydrogen that are really profound. First, it isn’t very compressible, so the energy density of the stored material is low compared to other fuels. That means you need an unrealistically large tank to move a vehicle for a long range. Second, precious metals are still a significant component of the fuel cells. Ballard can get one of these cars on the road, sure, but the global supplies of metals like platinum just aren’t there to meet large scale needs. Pursuring the technology is still a very worthwhile activity, but counting on hydrogen to help anytime soon is like planning a retirement around a lottery ticket.
    Interestingly enough, solar and wind are for poor folks, in other countries. In places where Federal dollars aren’t spent subsidizing the construction of large power grids, solar, wind and battery backup are very successfully and cheaply bringing electricity to rural areas (Brazil and India are leaders in this). A good starting point for references in this area is:
    The bird and bat hazard from wind has been largely dealt with by switching to the vertical windmill designs. It still happens, but not nearly as often.

  14. Phillip

    David–yes, coal fields and interstate highway location are periodically the focus of environmental questioning, but ANWR is unique because of the (virtually) total lack of human impact. Your point about the land mass used comes from that piece of baloney about “footprint” the pro-drilling forces use. They only count the points where the pipeline supports touch the ground; it’s like saying the area covered by your dining room table only amounts to the points touched by the bottom of the legs, added up.
    And this goes out to Mike, as well: Nobody’s “demonizing” big oil–like any industry, these companies do what they feel they must to make maximum profit. Nothing wrong in principle with that in our capitalist system. But, would you not agree, Mike and David, that there are certain factors worth considering for humanity that are not covered by the profit motive? Should there be NO restrictions on the effects of what these industries do to make their profits? David, let’s say for the sake of argument that many of the futurists predictions are off…has it not also become clear that certain practices ARE environmentally harmful, we DO have to take care about not causing possibly permanent alteration to certain eco-systems? Where do we draw the line? I get the feeling that in your guys’ touching faith that free markets solve all problems, you wouldn’t draw a line anywhere…

  15. Mike C

    John – Good points. Toyota’s $2M to Savannah River National Lab is to develop hydrogen fuel storage systems for cars. They’ve been playing with compress, metal hydride, etc. Their window is ten years and have been playing with hydrogen already for over ten years. They’ve got other irons in the fire, but they seem to get a bigger bang our of their hydrogen buck…
    Phillip –
    Our legislators can and should hammer out regulations to be enforced by the executive. The issue I have with much legislation is that, unless it’s a spending bill that has earmarks for each member’s district, its vague, placing a burden on the agencies that have to develop regulations for enforcement and enabling judges wide latitude in determining compliance. That also opens the door to lawsuits out the proverbial wazoo (although I’ve never seen a proverb about wazoos).
    So sure, we should have a highly visible process that we can and should implement to assure safety and health. Folks — even conservatives — like a clean environment and love nature. You are correct that the unscrupulous, private and public, can cause great damage. Look at the environmental horrors behind what was the Iron Curtain.
    I do not see the merit in keeping something pristine for the sake of being pristine, in part because nature’s not really pristine, but quite dynamic. Drilling in a small part of ANWR does no hard; all evidence can be mitigated in two or three decades when the wells play out.
    I’m a big fan of science and prosperity and realize that we daily build on our knowledge base. But ethics is subjective and can get unbalanced. While I own pets and treat them well, I believe that there’s a need for animal experimentation to demonstrate product safety. So does society in general and the FDA in particular. Yet some folks disagree and are more than vocal in their opposition. Intimidation is bad, but grave-robbing is a new low.
    Society can draw a line, those who don’t abide by it are criminals, be they corporations, governments, or individuals.

  16. David

    Phillip – A few questions for you. One, why are so many rivers so polluted? The Cuyahuga (?) in Cleveland actually caught on fire once, the Chicago river, the Seine, the Thames, and so on are dangerous and filthy. My answer, because no one owns them. The government does. My point here is that I would prefer to see the government own no land masses. That includes ANWR. If you start at the origination of the Congaree river, and private owners owned portions of that river, anyone polluting or dumping waste could and would be sued by all downriver. It would be watched and protected. ANWR to me is no different. Lets get the Federal and State governments out of land ownership.

    Then the next question is about Mother Nature itself. The oceans used to be pure fresh drinking water. Who polluted them with salt. Yes, Mama Nature herself. No, Halliburton wasn’t there to do it. Nature is there for us to use wisely and intelligently. Some eco nuts even want us to stop cutting down trees, a renewable resource. Oil is in the ground for us to use and we should use it, no matter where it is found.

    I am not anti environment by any means and enjoy the outdoors as much as I can. But if we had the EPA back in 1842 (?) when oil was first found, we would even today all be riding horses to work. We were given the treasures of the earth by our creator to use and so let’s use them.

  17. Phillip

    Funny how this thread in the end comes back around to a quasi-theological discussion such as Brad’s “Dare We Dream” post above did. Mike has commented and linked on how environmentalism has become almost a kind of religion of its own. (Crichton is trying to make that point these days). In the end I think there is a lot of truth to that, but it goes both ways. David, you and I have different views that probably just come down to theological difference of opinion. I understand your perspective, but personally, I don’t feel that the mysterious power of creation gave “us” (i.e., human beings) the treasures of the earth, except insofar as it also gave them to single-celled organisms, rocks, trees, whatever.
    I’m in the middle of reading Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and there’s an arresting passage describing earth & life history in terms of a human 24-hour day, midnight to midnight. Basically, life appears at 4 AM, doesn’t advance much beyond single-celled organisms until about 8:30 PM, plants at 10 PM, dinosaurs just before 11 PM for about 45 minutes, age of mammals 11:39, and human beings emerge one minute and 17 seconds before midnight. Makes you realize we’re truly johnny-come-lately’s…of course the question left unanswered by this timeline is, what happens (and what creatures are following us) tomorrow???

  18. David

    Phillip – We do have dominion over all the earth. See this —- And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

    The timeline makes good sense except that we don’t know if the clock is one of infinity. We also don’t yet know what other treasures are on this planet or other planets. Think of the silicon revolution – who would have ever thought that magnetized sand could impact the human race as it has. Anyway, this nation does not have the common sense to drill for our own oil or build any new refineries. Yet, it still comes down to the same people who are stopping those activities are the biggest whiners about the price of or lack of oil and gas. Exxon is just now beginning to drill off of Madagascar, possibly the point of the world’s oldest civilization. That country welcomes the oil business gratefully. Oh, yes, they havent opened their branch of the Sierra Club there. Thats it.
    3. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Genesis 1.28

  19. Mike C

    Phillip –
    I admit that I can get a little aggressive, if not obnoxious, in this forum, but I’ll put aside that persona for a moment.
    I think that you and I have the same goal – a clean world full of healthy folks. Our differences lie in the method of attaining this goal, so here’s the short version of my take.
    I believe the following (as proven fact or supported opinion):

    1. Life forms seek immortality by begetting new generations
    2. Competition runs rampant among all species and is a precondition for survival
    3. Males of the species are by nature aggressive jerks.
    4. Tribes and packs form based on kinship
    5. Human nature is self-centered
    6. Human rationality can be encouraged
    7. Culture, knowledge, and irrationality are transferable
    8. Maslow’s hierarchy applies to society as well as to individuals.
    9. Hobbes was almost right.
    10. Murphy was an optimist.

    Most of human history worldwide has been a tragedy for the masses; only a relatively few enjoyed prosperity, fair health, and long lives. Prosperity began to spread and the human condition started slowly to improve in the early 19th century as science, the scientific method, widespread power generation, and machines became prevalent.
    Why? (Up to this point we probably agree.)
    Preceding that period were societal, intellectual, legal, and political innovations that broke loose some of the strictures of Europe’s rigid class structure and enabled the accumulation of wealth through private property and private enterprise by ordinary folks, first in the merchant class, then outwards. The Dutch played an unrecognized role in this during the 17th century as political and religious dissenters found personal liberty, religious tolerance, intellectual stimulation (John Locke spent his exile in Holland), private enterprise, and contract rights (for credit), ideas that later spread to the British Isles through the intellectuals and the Glorious Revolution, and to America via the Pilgrims. Note that this foundation was not based on kinship, nationality, social class, or any of the, to that time, traditional measures of trust, but on a shared confidence and understanding of legal rights, the rule of law.
    That set the stage for the tumult of the 19th and 20th centuries, the beginning of the industrial revolution, the beginning of the end of slavery in the West, the acceleration of western prosperity, the rise of the modern nation state, the rise and fall of a Reich and another really bad idea that killed 100 million folks, and a bunch of sinister notions that it’s been pure happenstance that’s created modernity and our prosperity.
    Because of the machinations of capitalists, the prosperity of all those who live in a laissez-faire system has increased. The classic case is Hong Kong, a city under the thumb of colonial Britain that thrived despite the lack (perhaps in part because of) a social safety net. It was not democratic, but the people were free to engage in enterprise, and they proved enterprising. The city’s inhabitants had confidence that they’d be treated fairly, the rule of law prevailed.
    As prosperity increases, one’s needs move up the pyramid. At the subsistence level, one needs food, shelter, and clothing. With prosperity comes a growing appreciation for that which lies beyond the physiological. The populace works for legislation to limit industrial waste, unsafe work practices, cruel employers, and a host of ills that it put up with, another great sign of progress. But that only works in a free society.
    While democracy is not required for capitalism, capitalism is a necessary condition for democracy. The conundrum we face is that at some point we get too smart for ourselves, we seem to forget the basics of human nature and start inadvertently to cripple that which enriches us.
    I’m sure you’ll agree that just because businesspeople are capitalists does not mean that they favor free markets; each wants a monopoly and most will push to the extent they can to achieve that end, with some employing illegal means. We certainly need some amount of regulation to ensure that the playing field is level, that the game is fair. But most companies will gladly follow the rules as long as they know what the rules are.
    But we’ve gradually expanded the notion of fairness — ignoring culture, economics, and human nature — to the point that we’ve become unfair. Take AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children): To reduce poverty and provide for their sustenance, unwed mothers with children should be provided with government checks. The checks will grow in value with each subsequent illegitimate child and will be forthcoming for as long as the woman remains unmarried. What a great way to destroy a culture, and we did it for forty years! Kids, especially boys, raised without dads are more likely to be jerks and criminals and high school dropouts. Despite the fact that every culture has regarded marriage, the nuclear family, as a pretty durn good idea, we now consider it to be optional, and are paying a price. That’s unfair to society and to the individuals who grow up maladjusted. Yet there are some folks who don’t want to extend the welfare reform that eliminated this and other evils.
    Or take the minimum wage, or better the new, improved version, the living wage. It ignores concepts like productivity, competition, and all of the other things that force folks to improve their skills and knowledge to get ahead. Have we forgotten that it’s human and to be expected for folks to try to get the most with the least effort? I think so.
    How about the rule of law? Our tort system went haywire forty years ago with results that ripple through society. Playgrounds have rides so safe they’re not fun. Manufacturers pump up selling prices to build a reserve for the inevitable lawsuits. Corporations get sued when their stock prices go down. Mississippi is suing insurers for following the provisions that have been approved by state regulators. We sue companies for doing or not doing something that they had no idea about.
    A last example: price gouging. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina and Rita, would you like no gas at $2.00 per gallon or twenty gallons at $3.75? The higher price brings demand more in line with available supplies. In like manner, I’ve been paying less than $0.90 per pound for chicken. Is that fair to the chicken farmer? Should I be reverse gouging and pay more? That’s supply and demand.
    We’re reducing everything to politics. We’re in the mode where we petition the government to right all wrongs, give us some advantage, increase our wages, limit the competition our business faces, give us a tax exemption, give us perfection, and on and on. Our notions of ethics have gotten so bizarre that we’ve banned pesticides because they were safely consumed by fully informed volunteers, companies and their employees are attacked because a few oddballs believe that animal welfare is as sacred as human welfare, and banned a class of pharmaceuticals because four overweight women who smoked died during a study of thousands.
    We’re forgetting how we got here; the Old Europeans have just beaten us to ennui. Most folks don’t even realize that we’re richer than they are, but I guess that point is moot.

  20. David

    Mike and Phillip and Brad and all – After reading all these posts over again, I think I will go rent Brook’s “The History of the World” and then I can figure it out. Back to all later.

  21. Lee

    If God sent a hurricane to punish New Orleans, why did he spare the seedy French Quarter, its bars, brothels, strip clubs, and the thousands of generational criminals who stayed behind in order to loot?


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