Tom Friedman’s back, and he’s going to bat for the Energy Party!

Tom Friedman is finally back after a four-month, book-writing sabbatical. The NYT said he’d be back in April, and he just barely made it! (Now I can stop fielding those phone calls from readers wanting to know what happened to him. Here’s a recording of one of those. )

And he’s coming out swinging… and best of all, he’s coming out swinging on behalf of the Energy Party (whether he knows it or not). His first column is headlined, "Dumb as We Wanna Be," and you’ll see it on our op-ed page tomorrow. An excerpt:

    It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.
    When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit…

Go get ’em, Tom! That’s a very fine leadoff hit. Coming up to bat next, on the same op-ed page, will be Robert Samuelson, and he’ll bring Friedman around to score. His piece, succinctly headlined "Start Drilling," is the rhetorical equivalent of a hard line drive down the opposite-field line:

    What to do about oil? First it went from $60 to $80 a barrel, then from $80 to $100 and now to $120. Perhaps we can persuade OPEC to raise production, as some senators suggest; but this seems unlikely. The truth is that we’re almost powerless to influence today’s prices. We are because we didn’t take sensible actions 10 or 20 years ago. If we persist, we will be even worse off in a decade or two. The first thing to do: Start drilling.
    It may surprise Americans to discover that the United States is the third-largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. We could be producing more, but Congress has put large areas of potential supply off-limits. These include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and parts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. By government estimates, these areas may contain 25 billion to 30 billion barrels of oil (against about 30 billion barrels of proven U.S. reserves today) and 80 trillion cubic feet or more of natural gas (compared with about 200 tcf of proven reserves)….

Not start drilling as a substitute for conservation or the search for new fuels (as the ideologues of the right would have it, and the ideologues of the left deplore), but in addition to. Like I said, this is straight out of the Energy Party playbook (yeah, I know this started as a baseball metaphor, not football, but bear with me).

To reduce dependence on tyrannical foreign sources, to help out Mother Nature, to keep our economy healthy, to stoke innovation, to win the War on Terror, and make us healthier, wealthier and wiser, we should adopt the entire Energy Party platform. We should, among other things I’m forgetting at the moment:

  • Increase CAFE standards further — much further.
  • Raise the tax on gasoline, NOT reduce it, so that we’ll suppress demand, which will reduce upward pressure on prices, and we’ll be paying the higher amounts to ourselves rather than America-haters in Russia, Iran, Venezuela and yes, Saudi Arabia.
  • Use the proceeds for a Manhattan Project or Apollo Project (or whatever
    else kind of project we choose, as long as we understand that it’s the
    moral equivalent of war) to develop new technologies — hydrogen, solar, wind, geothermal, what have you — and shifting the mass of the resources to the most promising ones as they emerge.
  • Reduce highway speed limits to 55 mph, to conserve fuel and save lives (OK, Samuel? I mentioned it.) And oh, yeah — enforce the speed limits. The fines will pay for the additional cops.
  • Drill in ANWR, off the coasts, and anywhere else we can do so in reasonable safety. (Yes, we can.)
  • Increase the availability of mass transit (and if you can swing it, I’d appreciate some light rail; I love the stuff).
  • Fine, jail or ostracize anyone who drives an SUV without a compelling reason to do so. Possible propaganda poster: ""Hummers are Osama’s Panzer Corps."

And so forth and so on.

My point is, no more fooling around. It’s way past time to get serious about this stuff, and stop playing little pandering games. Let’s show a little hustle out there. And no dumb mistakes running the bases out there, fellas…

P.S. — The name of the book Mr. Friedman’s been writing, which will come out in August, is Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America. So yeah, he’s got an economic stake in these concepts. Well, more power to him. There’s money to be made in doing the smart thing, and to the extent he can persuade us to move in that direction, he deserves to get his taste.Just to help him out, here’s video of him talking about these ideas. Here’s a link to his recent magazine piece on the subject.

13 thoughts on “Tom Friedman’s back, and he’s going to bat for the Energy Party!

  1. Mike Cakora

    Friedman is an arrogant blowhard who sometimes knows what he’s talking about. He’s the one with the notion that Toyota was the perfect responsible vehicle manufacturer until he belatedly found out that it makes Tacomas, Tundras, FJ Cruisers, and Land Cruisers that generate profit to more than absorb the losses incurred with each Prius sold. His undies got all bunched up. His BVDs durn near killed him when he learned that citizens of India will soon be getting cheap, reliable cars. Oh no, they should not aspire to be middle class!
    His misunderstanding of how the world works continues with his bashing of Bush for signing last December’s energy bill. While I agree it was a disaster, it was the least worst bill the Dems could force through and we are not learning until today about some of the more odious provisions, like banning the importation of crude from Alberta oilsands. That fact is bad enough, but it may have been done as a favor to our friends, the Saudis.
    With that as an introduction, we can look at the notion of a national political commitment to a new energy future by betting the treasury on some grandiose project. As examples we have two great successes:

    – the Manhattan Project which had as its goal one or more nuclear bombs to kill enemies, and
    – Project Apollo which had as its goal putting some Americans on the moon and bringing them back alive.

    Both quite expensive but focused, and with intermediate objectives subject to measurement and evaluation.
    What’s our energy equivalent? “Let’s develop something other than petroleum as the source of our society’s energy.” Yes! We already know what the possibilities are, the problem is making them cost-effective. News flash: that’s already underway. The real issue is schedule, the timeline, something that any project manager will tell you can be solved with resources if all the other variables can be controlled. Guess what? We can’t control them yet in part because we don’t know what all of them are, but are learning as we go along.
    Take biofuels, please. They almost fit the mold of the Manhattan Project with all the money and incentives we in the US and them there Europeans have thrown at them. Yet after just a few short years of dancing around them we know that they are too expensive — inefficient — in all sorts of ways. The big one is that they have the side effect of killing the poor. Okay, ya gotta break some eggs to make the old omelet, but really it’s probably the deforestation of South America and the large islands in the Pacific that’s got the elites thinking twice.
    What Samuelson hints at is the thirty-year glide-path that we abandoned in the 1970s and 1980s. We were on the road to nukes for stationary power but allowed corruption and enviros to bring that to a standstill.
    The good news is that during the pause the information technology revolution — and I’m not just talking about computer hardware, but mean to include human factors in the form of GUI, the means of designing, interacting with, and controlling the technologies — has advanced to the point where nuclear operations are even more reliable and safer than the alternatives.
    Today we know that windpower is moderately reliable as a power-generator and more prone to malfunctions than we’d suspected; don’t you hate it when a sixty-foot rotor disintegrates? And so on. I’ve already take up too much space.

  2. Lee Muller

    It’s amazing how someone so ignorant of basic science and engineering can promote himself from commentator on what he doesn’t understand to the faux expert. I don’t know anyone who could stand to read more than 2 pages of his bilge.
    Our primary energy problem is the obstruction of progress by environmental posers.
    * ANWAR would replace all the oil we import from Saudi Arabia. Clinton vetoed it in 1994.
    * 500 years of natural gas off Florida and SC – filibusted by Democrats like Hillary.
    * Nuclear power – blocked by Democrats
    * Ethanol, which costs twice as much as gasoline and gives half the miles per gallon – promoted by Democrats.

  3. Mike Cakora

    Just to add a bit of precision along with a reference, Clinton vetoed ANWR in December 1995 after failing to make it a national monument a few months earlier in September.
    In response to Bush’s remark yesterday that we should drill in ANWR, Chucky Schumer’s complained about that it will take ten years to get that oil flowing. I don’t need a calculator to figger out we could be sipping Alaska crude today were it not for that veto.
    But it’s likely that the Democrats are pleased with higher fuel prices because it boosts the drive to investment in alternative technologies and the future schemes (i.e., cap and trade) that will further the drive against carbon pollution.
    Ya gotta figger that OPEC knows its hand and has an insight into what other oil-producers’ capabilities are. Mexico, Venezuela, and Russia will see their output decline slightly in the near future thanks to lack of investment. Norway’s production will decline because it’s a responsible citizen. Africa’s a pimple, so the only wildcards are the US and Canada. The former has enough lawyers to let the evnviros have their way, and the latter can be contained through its internal politics as well as the useful idiots in the US. Thus the US has no leverage and is left to selling bonds to China to buy almost 70% of its oil from foreign sources.

  4. bud

    Mexico, Venezuela, and Russia will see their output decline slightly in the near future thanks to lack of investment.
    This is the great myth of the 21st century. Worldwide investment in oil exploration and extraction has never been greater. Hundreds of billions of dollars are invested every year around the world. The result has kept production flat.
    That’s the good news. The bad news is we’re now bumping up against geographic constraints on our ability to increase production further. Take Mexico. The huge Cantarell field off the Mexican coast was, at one time, the second largest producing oil field in the world. This was the result of an enormous expenditure of time, money and resources to revive this aging field in the 90s with the aid of a nitrogen injection process to boast well pressure and increase oil flow. This had the intended effect and boosted the aging field from 1 million barrels a day to 2.1 million. But it had the predictable consequence of using up the field very quickly. Now it’s in it’s third year of a very rapid decline. Sure Mexico could, perhaps, boost production a few hundred thousand barrels a day with an enormous influx of petroleum resources, but where will they come from? The world’s supply of drilling platforms, petroleum engineers and other assets is already stretched to the max. Ultimately it won’t change the geography. Mexican oil production, like the U.S., U.K., Norway and Indonesia is now in terminal decline. No amount of investment will change that. All we’re talking about here is the rate of decline.
    The only answer is a massive conservation effort. I applaud Brad’s recommendations in that regard. These are strategies that should be discussed rather than wasting time on Rev. Wright.

  5. bud

    Today we know that windpower is moderately reliable as a power-generator and more prone to malfunctions than we’d suspected;
    Huh? Wind power is proving to be a very reliable, cheap and safe source of energy. Like everything else, including oil and nuclear, there have been unintended consequences. But in Europe wind power is making a significant contribution to their power generation. And in the U.S. wind turbine installations are breaking records year after year. And the cost continues to come down. The biggest problem with wind is the inconsistent nature of the “power source”. For that reason wind is unlikely to ever generate more than about a quarter of our electricity needs. Right now we’re at about 1% and growing rapidly. I would suggest this has been one of the resounding success stories in the energy world. Unfortunately it still has a long way to go before it makes a noticable contribution. But the writing is on the wall, this source of energy is here to stay.

  6. Lee Muller

    President Bush in 2001 proposed increasing research funding for alternative energy sources TENFOLD over the 2000 Clinton budget, but Congress filibustered and finally removed it from the energy bills. They have fought Bush’s solar, wind and geothermal initiatives every year, while their media pals lie to the public about it.
    All the so-called “environmental groups” were invited to Cheney’s 2001 Energy Task Force. Most refused to join, then lied to the public that they had been kept out of “secret meetings”. Again, the press helped spread their lies.
    Under oath at Congressional hearings, representatives of the Sierra Club and every other group confessed that they had refused their invitations to participate.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Here’s a quick and dirty poll of readers: Whom do you believe, Tom Friedman or Lee?
    As for the discussion between Mike and bud re windpower. It might be reliable in some places. For instance, I’d bet on it in Kansas. I used to live there, and I well remember having to lean, literally, into the wind to get to me car when I left work at night.
    But I seem to recall reading that it’s a space hog. So that still means it might work for Kansas, because believe me, they’ve got the space. But then there’s Hawaii, where the trade winds blow constantly, but where land is at such a premium that they don’t let you BUY land, you just get to LEASE it for 99 years (or something like that; it’s been awhile since I lived THERE). Maybe you could put your windfarms out at sea beyond site of land — say, 20 miles off the North Shore. But be prepared for dire environmental consequences. For instance, one reason the Pipeline and the rest of the North Shore gets such bitchin’ waves from time to time is from storms far off the the north. Can cheap energy really be worth the loss of righteous surfing conditions?

  8. Phillip

    Brad, see my comments re ANWR on the Energy Party platform rerun you posted today.
    ANWR drilling will not happen, so it’s time to let that fantasy go. We are assured, thank goodness, of a President who opposes drilling there.
    To imply that opposition to ANWR drilling is some kind of “ideologues of the left” position is ludicrous, and a hyper-partisan position in and of itself.
    Most conservatives who are honest with themselves (an incredibly shrinking minority, sadly) know that ANWR would not be a significant answer to our oil “needs;” for most conservatives, it is strictly a symbolic issue, their inability on which to deliver a black eye to the environmental movement has been a continual irritant.

  9. Lee Muller

    A poll of people duped by Tom Friedman is not worth much.
    Don’t take my word for the news you missed. If you know how to use NEXUS, you can find articles about how the Sierra Club and others were invited to the Cheney Energy Task Force. If not, I saved the articles and can post exerpts and citations here.

  10. Lee Muller

    ANWR would supply more oil than we get from Saudi Arabia. You don’t think that is significant? Then why don’t these know-it-all Democrats pass legislation to not import any more Saudi oil, if it is so insignificant?

  11. bud

    I think it’s instructive to look at another, larger, example of how ineffective in it to try and drill our way out of the oil dependency mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. When oil was discovered on the north slope of Alaska back in the early 70s everyone hailed this as a great panacea that would instantly solve all our energy problems. We would replace all imported oil from the middle east. After many billions of dollars and much environmental damage (remember the Exxon Valdez) the U.S. was able to bring 2 million new barrels of oil per day onto the world market. North slope and North Sea production helped oil and gasoline prices fall for a few years. Middle eastern oil countries did suffer for a few years as prices tumbled. But look what has happened over the last 10 years. The north slope oil never came close to reversing the declining oil production in the U.S. It slowed it for a short time but the decline continued even during peak production. The lower gasoline prices merely fueled our addiction to oil and allowed the Persian Gulf states a break in their own production, saving it for the inevetable run-up in prices that we’re seeing now.
    The oil from the Anwar is unlikely to ever result in more than a million barrels of oil per day, half of north slope production at it’s peak. And it will cost as much if not more to bring this to market. It’s unlikely to ever have the same impact on prices that the north slope did. It may briefly slow down the decline in U.S. oil production but not nearly to the extent the north slope did.
    The era of cheap oil is over. Gasoline prices will ratchet up indefinitely until we can find new ways of getting around. The right needs to get on board with a new kind of thinking that will focus on conservation and renewable energy source rather than continuing to focus on the ineffective and expensive drilling solution. All that does is postpone the day of reckoning. And not by much.

  12. Lee Muller

    Just quit handing out welfare payments rewarding parents who have children they can’t afford. Stop immigration. Enforce the immigration laws. Deport illegals. The population will retreat to about 170,000,000 – 40% less energy and pollution.

  13. Lee Muller

    ANWR = Saudi oil
    According to the monthly Dept of Energy report, Saudi Arabia typically supplies about 1,500,000 barrels of oil a day to the USA.
    According to the report of the U.S. Geological Survey on ANWR made to Congress in October 2005, ANWR would produce 10.4 BILLION barrels of oil, at a rate of 1,400,000 barrels per day.

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