Obama By-Passes Gas

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

President Obama continues his Global War on Cheap Energy™, this time under the guise of avoiding “spikes” in gasoline (petrol) prices.  He wants to pass gas without regrets and move post-haste to electricity and biofuels, although both are more expensive than gasoline and diesel for road and rail transport. According to the Associated Press, in a speech at the Argonne National Laboratories Obama said:

The only way to break this cycle of spiking gas prices — the only way to break that cycle for good — is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks, off oil.

Let me start by saying that I’m greatly encouraged to hear that Obama has solved the problem of price variation in capitalist societies. It’s simple. Are you like me, bothered by gas prices going up and down, tired of seeing peaks and valleys in the cost of gasoline, fed up with price spikes because of e.g. unregulated speculation in commodities? The answer is obvious.

Stop using gas.

corn as food not fuelFigure 1. Unrefined Corn Ethanol.

SOURCE: Oxfam, Burning down the house: Corn as fuel, not food

We can extend that to other areas, of course. Food prices spiking? Turn your food into gasoline, where there are no longer any price spikes. I see a future industry here …

I must protest, however, that his claim that shifting cars and trucks to electricity and biofuels will break the cycle of spiking gas prices is all too true … and that’s very bad news.

It’s bad news because the way he plans to get past spiking gas prices is to go to high, constant alternative fuel prices, higher than even the spikes of today. And just as he promised … no spikes. The high prices, just like the outrageous thirty-cent per kilowatt-hours electricity prices in California resulting from this same kind of backwards thinking, get locked in by long-term contracts.

No more price spikes. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, the brilliant Obama plan is the same trademarked plan the Government always seems to have, to wit:


In this case, it’s two BILLION dollars. With a B. If your family had started a business when Christ was born and made a million dollars profit per year, a huge sum of money, imagine what that could buy, you’d have been millionaires … well, after two thousand long years of running your business, stacking up a million bucks every year, year after slow year, centuries pass, finally a millennium. You’re still running the business, more years go by, dark ages and renaissance and finally, ten centuries after the first endless millennium, right about now you’d be hitting two billion in total profits.

Now imagine what that could buy. It is a huge sum of money.

They say the first time history repeats, it’s as a tragedy. The next time, it’s a comedy. I suppose this is the first repeat. When this circus originally debuted, unfortunately, Obama was only fifteen years old, and from reports, the head of the choom gang. Not that that is a black mark to a reprobate like myself, we’ve all been young, but it increases the chances that he might have missed the urgency and the drama of the moment when Jimmy Carter delivered a televised speech announcing his new official Energy Policy and the formation of the Department of Energy on April 18, 1977. The entire talk is here. It’s long, I will only discuss certain points. I’ll indicate where I’ve skipped over text with the ellipsis (three periods, or three full stops for our UK cousins). I’ll start from his opening.

Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.

It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.

We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.

OK, that’s it. Time out. I’ve heard this nonsense enough. I hereby declare Willis’s Rule of Degenerations, which states:

Whenever some rich guy says he’s doing something for “the grandchildren”, you can make money betting that the poor, who too often are people of color, will get shafted.

and also Willis’s Rule of the Worst Danger, which states

Whatever a rich guy says is the worst danger we face this century, the challenge of our generation, unprecedented in our history … almost certainly isn’t.

I’m sorry, but those claims just can’t continue, it’s cruel to the grandchildren to keep exhibiting them like trained monkeys that way. But I digress … Carter goes on to say:

We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

Two days from now, I will present my energy proposals to the Congress. Its members will be my partners and they have already given me a great deal of valuable advice. Many of these proposals will be unpopular. Some will cause you to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.

The most important thing about these proposals is that the alternative may be a national catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power as a nation.

Note the false urgency, the false claims of the huge importance of the issue. This is characteristic of the alarmist style. The banner is “WE MUST DECIDE NOW!” … but no, actually, we didn’t have to decide anything about energy. And we didn’t decide much of anything about energy, despite Carter’s urgings.

He goes on:

Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people and the ability of the President and the Congress to govern. This difficult effort will be the “moral equivalent of war” — except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy.

Since I’m on a roll, let me propose Willis’s Rule of Moral Equivalency, which states:

Whatever a rich guy says is morally equivalent to war … almost certainly isn’t.

But again I digress … here’s President Carter continuing his roll:

I know that some of you may doubt that we face real energy shortages. The 1973 gasoline lines are gone, and our homes are warm again. But our energy problem is worse tonight than it was in 1973 or a few weeks ago in the dead of winter. It is worse because more waste has occurred, and more time has passed by without our planning for the future. And it will get worse every day until we act.

The reference to 1973 is to Nixon’s short-lived attempts at gasoline price controls. Predictably, these led to shortages and huge lines at the pumps. And all of this, of course, is more false urgency. Here’s the reasoning he adduces to support it (as always, emphasis mine)

The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about six percent a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years. Our nation’s independence of economic and political action is becoming increasingly constrained. Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil than it can produce.

Is this sounding familiar to anyone? I fear it’s the usual doom merchant’s snake oil … the sky is falling. Well, modern doom merchants have gotten smarter, at least. They now say “the sky will fall in two decades”, trusting correctly that people will have forgotten their failed doomcast by then … see Paul Ehrlich as the modern holotype.

The world now uses about 60 million barrels of oil a day and demand increases each year about five percent. This means that just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new Saudi Arabia every three years. Obviously, this cannot continue.

And yet … here we are , and it has continued right up to 2013, thirty years past when Carter said we’d run out. And with the advent of fracking providing huge untapped resources of both natural gas and tight oil, and with the Canadian tar sands online, and with the recent Japanese extraction of methane from undersea hydrates, and the discoveries in Brazil and elsewhere, and with stated reserves no smaller than they were when Carter spoke, I see every reason to think that fossil fuel use can continue for at least a half century at a minimum, and potentially much more. Folks, if you are worried about running out of fossil fuel, you can relax. The world is awash in fossil energy. There is no urgency regarding running out, that is 100% hype, both in Carter’s time and today. He goes on:

We must look back in history to understand our energy problem. Twice in the last several hundred years there has been a transition in the way people use energy.

The first was about 200 years ago, away from wood — which had provided about 90 percent of all fuel — to coal, which was more efficient. This change became the basis of the Industrial Revolution.

The second change took place in this century, with the growing use of oil and natural gas. They were more convenient and cheaper than coal, and the supply seemed to be almost without limit. They made possible the age of automobile and airplane travel. Nearly everyone who is alive today grew up during this age and we have never known anything different.

Because we are now running out of gas and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power.

(In passing I note the repeat of the “must prepare quickly” meme to reinforce the false sense of urgency.)

My main comment on this, however, is that the first two transitions proceeded seamlessly, without the slightest bit of government interference, or as it is known in some quarters, “government assistance”. I continue to make the assumption that the same is true about the future transition from fossil fuels to X, that it can happen without the Government’s involvement … but there’s a small problem. We don’t know what X is yet. I trust that the market (with appropriate regulation as all markets need) will sort it out quite nicely. I discuss these options below.

He continues:

The world has not prepared for the future. During the 1950s, people used twice as much oil as during the 1940s. During the 1960s, we used twice as much as during the 1950s. And in each of those decades, more oil was consumed than in all of mankind’s previous history.

World consumption of oil is still going up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970s and 1980s by 5 percent a year as it has in the past, we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.

… All of us have heard about the large oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope. In a few years when the North Slope is producing fully, its total output will be just about equal to two years’ increase in our nation’s energy demand.

Each new inventory of world oil reserves has been more disturbing than the last. World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But some time in the 1980s it can’t go up much more. Demand will overtake production. We have no choice about that.

Again we see the techniques of the alarmists in action. It’s all about must act now, can’t wait, need to move, values are in conflict, world oil production will peak in the 1980s, stakes are huge, decisions are urgent, all the usual catch-phrases of post-normal “science”. At least Carter had the excuse that it was kinda new stuff back then … but in 2013 that kind of alarmism is well past its use-by date.

Then Carter paints the bleak future if nothing is done. Do remember when evaluating his forecast that in fact nothing was done, nothing substantial was accomplished by his Energy Plan.

And despite that, world oil production didn’t peak in the 1980s as he forecast. Global energy use has continued to rise at about the same rate, and world oil production is still rising as we speak … but that is reality, here’s Carter’s bleakly incorrect vision of the future without his energy plan …

… Now we have a choice. But if we wait, we will live in fear of embargoes. We could endanger our freedom as a sovereign nation to act in foreign affairs. Within ten years we would not be able to import enough oil — from any country, at any acceptable price.

If we wait, and do not act, then our factories will not be able to keep our people on the job with reduced supplies of fuel. Too few of our utilities will have switched to coal, our most abundant energy source.

We will not be ready to keep our transportation system running with smaller, more efficient cars and a better network of buses, trains and public transportation.

We will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment. We will have a crash program to build more nuclear plants, strip-mine and burn more coal, and drill more offshore wells than we will need if we begin to conserve now. Inflation will soar, production will go down, people will lose their jobs. Intense competition will build up among nations and among the different regions within our own country.

If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.

But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time. That is the concept of the energy policy we will present on Wednesday. Our national energy plan is based on ten fundamental principles.

Job loss, intense competition between nations and regions destabilizing the planet, multiple socioeconomipolitical crises, can’t run public transportation … ACT NOW OR BE DOOMED!!!

Meanwhile, let me take a deep breath, step away from the urgency, and pause to keep all of this in context.  In James Hansen’s Policies Shaft The Poor, I showed that per-capita income and per-capita energy use are inextricably linked. Let me repeat that graph here, it’s an important one:

energy use vs incomeFigure 2. Energy use per person (tons of oil equivalent, TOE) versus average income, by country. Colors show geographical regions. Size of the circle indicates population. The US is the large yellow circle at the top right. Canada is the overlapping yellow circle. China is the large red circle, India the large light blue circle. Here’s a link to the live Gapminder graph so you can experiment with it yourself.

As you can see, energy use and income are two sides of the same coin.

And finally, with that as prologue, here’s the Carter energy plan (emphasis as always is mine). Or more specifically, what he calls the “principles”. And despite Carter’s alarmism, and his general pro-government-assistance/intervention stance, he raises some interesting issues and has a few good principles. Mixed in with horrible principles, of course. Here goes (all emphasis in Carter’s words is mine):

The first principle is that we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.

Damn, what is it with these guys? Their guiding thought seems to be that the Federal Government should take responsibility for every single non-problem, and that the people should take it in the shorts … same old same old.

The second principle is that healthy economic growth must continue. Only by saving energy can we maintain our standard of living and keep our people at work. An effective conservation program will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Finally, some things we can agree on. Healthy economic growth is the key to any nation raising its standard of living, which in turn means less avoidable deaths.

And saving energy is good … the only problem is that people do that all the time, because energy costs money. And most folks want to save money. So as a principle, conservation is good. As a point of entry for Federal regulation into people’s lives … not good. Saving energy is already happening, what reason is there for government intervention?

Next, poor folks already “save” all the energy they possibly can because energy costs money. Preaching energy savings to them is just cruel.

He also floats the concept now known as “green jobs” … and it had about the same effect then as now. Because while the Federal Government can hire people to do something, the idea that regulations actually create jobs is always suspect. I’ve seen very few true examples of that. The particular regulations may be necessary, because humans are pigs, we need regulations … but creating jobs? Doubtful. This illusion that regulations create jobs is widespread in government, see my post Browner, Colbert, the EPA, and Broken Windows

In Carter’s case, nothing happened, same as with Obama’s green jobs plans.

The third principle is that we must protect the environment. Our energy problems have the same cause as our environmental problems — wasteful use of resources. Conservation helps us solve both at once.

I agree with that principle entirely. Indeed, we must protect and avoid un-necessary damage to the environment. And conservation is an integral part of that, it is the cheapest way wherever it is possible.

The fourth principle is that we must reduce our vulnerability to potentially devastating embargoes. We can protect ourselves from uncertain supplies by reducing our demand for oil, making the most of our abundant resources such as coal, and developing a strategic petroleum reserve.

Note that this was from that simpler time before the demonization of fossil fuels. I agree that we should reduce our dependence on overseas oil. That’s why I support the Keystone Pipeline, as well as expanded drilling both on and offshore. Nobody was surprised when, after discovering massive offshore fields, Brazil immediately began to develop them. We should do the same. We should drill offshore wherever the oil is.

And I say that as a fisherman and a man who is passionate about the eternal sea and has spent his life on and around and under the ocean. I say that because the world needs more cheap oil, people around the globe are dying for the lack of cheap oil, and meanwhile, rich 1%ers like Bill McKibben and President Obama and Hollywood celebrities and lots of un-indicted climate alarmists are doing their very best to make oil as expensive as possible … I warn you folks who support high energy prices through restricting drilling or by any other way, history will not judge you lightly. But I digress … back to Carter’s principles.

The fifth principle is that we must be fair. Our solutions must ask equal sacrifices from every region, every class of people, every interest group. Industry will have to do its part to conserve, just as the consumers will. The energy producers deserve fair treatment, but we will not let the oil companies profiteer.

Oh, please. When in history has that ever been even remotely true? Sacrifices always fall disproportionately on the poor and people of color. Look, as a principle I like it, just like I’m up for mom and apple pie. I do think it’s good to call for fairness. But in reality, expensive oil is so far from fair as to be laughable. Plus the obligatory demonization of the oil companies is ritualistic and unpleasant. They’re not the problem, they’re just businessmen like every other.

The sixth principle, and the cornerstone of our policy, is to reduce the demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy. Conservation is the only way we can buy a barrel of oil for a few dollars. It costs about $13 to waste it.

Again, I like the principle, and have preached it for years.  If it is available, conservation is always cheaper than purchase. Two problems. First, I just don’t think that it is the government’s job to enforce it. The government can advocate for it, but it most always jumps right to enforcement.

Second, Carter just said that the burden would fall equally. But poor people don’t waste energy. They already consume as little as they can, and far too many of them sit shivering in the dark as a consequence as we debate this very question. So for the poor, this is just another rich man’s good idea gone nowhere.

(In passing, let me note that the $13/barrel that Carter refers to, adjusted for inflation, is about $50/barrel.)

The seventh principle is that prices should generally reflect the true replacement costs of energy. We are only cheating ourselves if we make energy artificially cheap and use more than we can really afford.

In general I’m in favor of that, if I understand his meaning. It argues for less government subsidy and price support by any means. He is absolutely correct that we cheat ourselves when we make solar and ethanol and wind artificially cheap.

The eighth principle is that government policies must be predictable and certain. Both consumers and producers need policies they can count on so they can plan ahead. This is one reason I am working with the Congress to create a new Department of Energy, to replace more than 50 different agencies that now have some control over energy.

I must admit that for a peanut farmer, Jimmy had a keen grasp of salesmanship. The government was dabbling in energy in a whole host of ways. That makes sense, energy impacts a lot of things, and decisions are made on the basis of the local situation and the local impact. The system worked well for oh, about two hundred years at that point … so Jimmy declares that it is bad and wrong, it’s a huge problem.

And to solve the problem that only he has noticed, some lack of un-needed uniformity in government rules, he declares that we need a Department of Energy. Declare a problem, declare your solution. All we need is more bureaucracy, problem solved.

Really? How about some clear principles in place of a whole wasteful new government Department? In fact, it strikes me that I need to propose a new rule for this, Willis’s Rule of Government Departments, which states that

If your Government names a new Department after something, you can kiss it goodbye.

I submit the US Departments of Energy and Education as prima facie evidence … but again I digress, it’s hard not to get sidetractored in the midst of Carter’s Ten Principles. Here’s number nine:

The ninth principle is that we must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are more plentiful. We can’t continue to use oil and gas for 75 percent of our consumption when they make up seven percent of our domestic reserves. We need to shift to plentiful coal while taking care to protect the environment, and to apply stricter safety standards to nuclear energy.

Again, this was before the globe developed carbophobia and an unreasoning (but understandable) fear of nuclear energy. Carter’s prescription is far too logical for the current Administration. The new standard seems to be tax and cap and restrict the fuels that are the cheapest and subsidize those that are most expensive

The tenth principle is that we must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century.

Dang, and he was doing so good on number nine there … no, Mister President, we didn’t need to “start now” at the time, nor did we need to do a damn thing to prepare for the 21st century except continue to explore for oil in new and imaginative ways. As we had always done.

Not only that, but the preparations were overwhelmingly wasted. Based on this speech, Carter spent millions and millions of dollars on solar and wind and allied unconventional energy sources … and we’re now in the next century he warned us about. Look around you.

total world energy consumption 2010

Figure 3. Total world energy consumption by source. In the upper right circle showing renewables, the large dark red area is biomass for heat (home heating, cooking, etc.), 11.4% of total energy. Light blue is hydropower, 3.3% of the total. Each of the other unconventional sources are only half a percent or less of the total.

Do you see any sign of the money Carter spent? People are STILL subsidizing the sun and the wind, the Government is subsidizing rich people to buy $50,000 electric cars, and after thirty-five years of studies and millions of dollars in subsidies, wind and sun and biomass for electricity and biodiesel all added together still total less than 1% of global energy production. And despite that pathetic record of wasted subsidies, the proponents like Obama claim success is just around the corner … the same corner it’s always been just around …

So that’s Jimmy Carter’s Ten Principles of Screwing Up Your Energy Supply. Near the closing he says:

… And we have been proud of our vision of the future. We have always wanted to give our children and grandchildren a world richer in possibilities than we’ve had. They are the ones we must provide for now. They are the ones who will suffer most if we don’t act.

I’ve given you some of the principles of the plan.

I am sure each of you will find something you don’t like about the specifics of our proposal. It will demand that we make sacrifices and changes in our lives. To some degree, the sacrifices will be painful — but so is any meaningful sacrifice. It will lead to some higher costs, and to some greater inconveniences for everyone.

But the sacrifices will be gradual, realistic and necessary. Above all, they will be fair. No one will gain an unfair advantage through this plan. No one will be asked to bear an unfair burden. We will monitor the accuracy of data from the oil and natural gas companies, so that we will know their true production, supplies, reserves, and profits.

The citizens who insist on driving large, unnecessarily powerful cars must expect to pay more for that luxury.

Here we go again, heading towards the grand finale. Drag the poor grandchildren back out on stage where they sweat and fidget under the bright lights, tell people they can expect to suffer, the plan is for energy to become more expensive, and chastise them, tell them that they will have to “pay more” for their “luxuries” … always the paternalistic preaching, the inevitable claim of high moral ground, and always to the same end. More government involvement and more importantly, higher energy costs.

Now, you may recall that I got into Carter’s speech by saying that this is the second time that we’ve heard this exact same horse-puckey, these same lame excuses for jacking up the cost of energy. Once again, Obama and Chu and James Hansen and the rest are peddling the same New! Expensive! Renewable! snake oil as cure-all patent medicine, nothing it won’t fix, makes the lame to see and the blind to talk …

And there is no more urgency now than there was in Carter’s time. Despite all of his claims of how the energy world was going to end, we continued with business as usual and the fossil fuel didn’t end. Same thing today.

And Carter touting the fact that his plans will result in raised prices, so we should bend over and get ready to make sacrifices? He, like Obama, thinks cheap gas is a luxury to be weaned off of. It is not. Cheap energy is the savior of the poor. It is the only way nations can become more developed. Making energy more expensive should be listed by the UN as a crime against humanity, and looking at the various mortality rates among the poor, I’m dead serious.

In that regard, note that the avowed goal of the recent Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, was to get US gas prices up to European levels (~ $8 to $10 per gallon).

As I showed in Figure 2, for most of the world, you can’t increase national income without increasing energy use. They are the flip sides of the same coin.

I also said that increasing energy prices harm and impoverish and kill the poor. I’m sure some people took that last one as hyperbole, about killing people … so let me show you a very, very ugly graph:

child mortality vs gdp per capitaFigure 4. Child mortality rates versus income. Circle size shows crude birth rate.  Nobody has figured out how to have low child mortality with low income (empty lower left half of the graph). Live Link 

The equation is simple.

Expensive energy = Less energy use = less income = more children dying.

And that is why I find the insistence that we have to rush to replace fossil fuels to be a lethal conceit of a small group of rich people, the 1%ers who will never feel the pinch. Carter tried it thirty-five years ago. We are still paying the price in the form of a useless “Department of Energy”, headed until recently by an idiot savant Nobel Laureate, Steven Chu. The Government is still trying to sell the same stale alarmist line, the bizarre, death-dealing claim that we need to increase the cost of energy. When Chu made that claim I wanted to scream “You idiot! The Department of Energy was supposed to argue and lobby and work for CHEAP ENERGY to lift the masses out of poverty, not strive to make it more expensive!!”

I say again. If you argue for any form of increase in the price of energy, whether through more renewables, subsidies for “unconventional” energy, renewable “standards”, required percentages of unconventional energy, cap-and-trade schemes, carbon taxes, or anything else that raises energy prices, you are harming and impoverishing and killing the poor today. 

Now, I don’t think CO2 is a problem, for a host of reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere in numberless posts.

But if you think it will be a problem for the poor fifty years from now, and if you truly care about the poor, then you owe it to the less fortunate of our planet to figure out a plan for allaying your CO2 fears that doesn’t involve hurting, impoverishing, and killing poor people right now.


PS—I did love the logic. According to the Associated Press:

The initiative, proposing to spend $200 million a year on research, would be paid for with revenue from federal oil and gas leases on offshore drilling and would not add to the deficit.

Good to know … I guess he just forgot to mention what he is going to divert the funds from …

PPS—Can the government play a beneficial role in the process ? I’d say cash prizes are the way to go. Get a panel of experts to identify the bottlenecks in various potential energy processes—artificial photosynthesis, algae-based biofuels, battery storage, whatever. Then offer prizes for any one who can show a cost-effective path past the bottlenecks. If you gave me two billion in prizes to distribute, I’ll guarantee you that we would see some forward progress. Forgets about using the funds for grants, that just leads to more paperwork. We’re interested in results, right? Then let’s pay for results.

That’s what I’d do with two billion, and it is a way that I think the Government could actually be of use rather than a hindrance. I’m not of the “government is bad” or the “regulation is bad” school. I’m an advocate of directed, appropriate government. Plus I don’t want to repeat history a la Carter. We just need to think up new ways to encourage entrepreneurial activity. I’m greatly in favor of the government spending money on basic scientific research … but only for results, for practical answers to the important bottleneck problems. And two billion dollars, in say a hundred prizes of twenty million dollars each could buy a reasonable of those answers. Put a time limit on them, if not solved in ten years shift the prize to some newly identified problem. Or announce half the prizes now, fifty of them, and reserve half for the next fifty really tough problems that show up. Seriously, wouldn’t each twenty million dollar prize for solving an agreed-upon bottleneck guarantee advancing the development of whatever type of energy was involved? And since we only pay for success, where’s the downside?

So please, don’t misconstrue this as a complaint about government—it’s just about bad government. Offering prizes in my book would be good government.


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Everyone research Thorium – a real alternative that money should be going into


The President’s rhetoric may be good but it’s not hard to see where he wants to go. Present a soluition that has nothing to do with the problem. People think he will save them and he will be long gone when the bill comes due. It will then be too late to change it. Think Obamacare.
I predict the crowding out of fossil fuels by “renewables” and a “percentag of” taxing model that guarantees increased revenues to government.

you might enjoy this photograph of a EPA sponsored electric car from October 1973. Our best men are working on the problem and they have been since the EPA was created and before the Energy Department

Why does the USA have one individual that has so much power? I thought you had a revolution to get out of a monarchy. Where I live, Canada, there are 312 individuals with equal power that get to vote on creating laws, then it still has to pass in the senate.
We don’t have one guy.
By the way, the socialists in Canada want to abolish the senate because they prevented a law that would have required the federal government to account for every single carbon molecule used throughout the federal institutions, at great cost with no scientifically valid reason. Thank goodness for our system of checks and balances against tyranny. Long live the queen. 🙂

Randolph Resor

Congratulations, Willis! You and I seem to be about the same age, and I too remember the madness of Jimmy Carter. I was working for a railroad industry trade association at the time (first job out of grad school) and one of my responsibilities was to review the “Federal Energy Guidelines”, which in the two years I held that job ballooned to four binders totaling 40,000 pages, two columns per page. Nowhere in the plans for “emergency fuel allocations” was there any mention of railroads. Scallop fishermen in Pamlico Sound got a special allocation, but not railroads, in the event of a national fuel emergency.
So we asked for an audience with the Energy Secretary (I worked for the head of the association). We got an interview with his deputy, who listened impatiently to my boss and then exclaimed, “I don’t like the railroads and you’ll get nothing from me!” and walked out of the room. But I’m sure those scallop fishermen were vital to the national economy.


You are confused as to the objective.
Check this out from a real accomplished brain surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Carson
“Let’s say somebody were [in the White House] and they wanted to destroy this nation,” Carson postulated in remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I would create division among the people, encourage a culture of ridicule for basic morality and the principles that made and sustained the country, undermine the financial stability of the nation, and weaken and destroy the military. It appears coincidentally that those are the very things that are happening right now.”

Gary Pearse

“…get past spiking gas prices is to go to high, constant alternative fuel prices,”
Then, of course, we get a spike in gasoline supply, unless we outlaw the stuff. Probably noting the failure of Jimmy C’s energy policy, the present admin. is looking at just that for fossil fuels.

Dr. Bob

I have been in the “Alternative Energy” business for 14 years, and all alternatives to conventional crude oil are more expensive either on the cost of the conversion facility (for Gas to Liquids or Coal to Liquids, GTL and CTL respectively), or the cost of raw materials (biomass) on a $/mmBtu basis. And Biomass to Liquids has the added benefit of having both a high cost of the plant needed to process biomass to hydrocarbon fuel (drop-in replacement for petroleum fuel, not Ethanol) and low production volume. CTL plants can be quite large, up to 100,000 bbl/day. GTL plants can be larger, but require a vast amount of NG reserves to feed such a plant. Shell built a 144,000 bbl/day GTL plant in Qatar for about $18Billion.
But no one has built a successful plant to convert biomass to hydrocarbon fuels at any scale and at any reasonable cost. These plants are limited in size to about 2000 bbl/day due to the inability of biomass to be produced in large quantities and be collected and delivered to the plant economically. These BTL plants will cost between $150,000 to $300,000 per barrel per day capacity, so a 2000 bbl/day plant will cost up to $600 million.
Keep in mind that the US consumes 17 Million Barrels per Day of fuel. So biofuels will only provide a miniscule amount of our fuel needs. Also keep in mind that one ton of biomass produces about 1 to 1.5 barrels of hydrocarbon fuel or nearly 2 bbl of cellulosic ethanol (but that process doesn’t work commercially, on in pilot plants). Thus a 2000 bbl/day plant fed with biomass needs feedstock 24/7/365. Using 4 tons/acre typical yield of biomass (DOE claims much higher potential yield, but no demonstrated commercial production), a 20% loss factor for storage of biomass for a year, a 20% factor for land not useful for harvesting (roads, buildings, etc), you end up needing 688 square miles of land to produce the feedstock for a BTL plant. This is roughly 25 miles square.
And you need to have crop rotation to avoid soil degradation, so that number is a bare minimum amount needed. Plus you need to account for other factors such a storm damage to a crop, drought, pests, and potential wild fires (remember, this is switchgrass of the like that is highly flamable when dry). If this plant does not get sufficient feedstock, it will go bankrupt. And you cannot economically transport low density/low energy content biomass more than 25 miles or you lose money on it and consume more energy producing and moving it than you get out of it.
So, you cannot grow your way out of the use of conventional fuels. Crude oil is in the same physical state as the product, liquid hydrocarbon fuel. To convert solids or gases to liquid fuel simply takes energy and costly technology. There is much more to discuss on this topic as well, including the environmental impact of converting vast tracts of land to energy crop production. And Algae is a dead issue. Ask the NAS and others that have tried and failed to reduce the capital and production costs of algae.

John W. Garrett

Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love contains “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long” which includes the aphorism, “The greatest productive force is human selfishness.”
While the statement is not universally accurate, its explanatory power along with that of free markets is such that a sentient individual ought to be extremely leery of alternatives proposed by “do-gooders” and “world-savers.”




It is preferable to be doomed instead of governed by idiots.

Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
This administration’s energy policy is giving me gas, but not the right kind. It amazes me that so many voted for him, when his policies are so clearly harmful. Such is the power of wishful thinking, I guess.

Government regulations have created jobs, mine among them. I’ve been an “Environmental Manager” for 3 decades. If it weren’t for the gubmint, I’d have to find honest work.
The rest is spot on. We have a governing class absolutely dedicated to making energy scarce and expensive while reducing our dependence on foreign sources. Well, if we have a President who can control the climate and sea level rise, why can’t he control the laws of supply and demand? I’m more amazed that anyone believes him.

Willis, you were going great guns until the very last paragraph.
So please, don’t misconstrue this as a complaint about government—it’s just about bad government.
Is there any other kind?
Offering prizes in my book would be good government.
Prizes quickly become Grants, then Subsidies, then Price Supports then crony capitalist regulatory advantages.
You are a big student of history. When the government offers prizes, what fraction of the time does that get turned into bad government?
The Longitude Prize became a corrupt game controlled by an insider. I argue that such is the rule rather than the exception. The Depts of Energy and Agriculture are proof enough.
The Patent Office is a rewarder of prizes – a time-limited monopoly on any improvemnt to a process. It is an insider’s game. Under a good governement, should the prize for coming in second be zero (or negative by lots of legal bills?)
The Pacific Railroad Land Grants could arguably be one such example. The US Congress gave 10 sections of land along the right of way for every mile of grade. A continent is connected. Railroads empires get built. Might be a fair trade in the eyes of some, maybe not other eyes. But that less a prize, but a payment for services.
DARPA is on the whole a jewel. But maybe they just have a good press office.

John F. Hultquist

An excellent essay. Thanks for all the effort. Send a copy to Carter!
About the “future transition from fossil fuels to X,” and “We don’t know what X is yet.”
There is a report on the web about the transition from horses to trucks and autos in urban areas within which the statement is made that the technology for the transition was underway even as it became apparent that equines would not scale up with city growth. In that case, “X” was soon recognized and the transition was quite rapid. This seems to follow stones, copper, bronze, steel, aluminum, plastics . . .
Looking for X?
I might also mention that you seem not to have absorbed the teachings of the élitists – namely, we are supposed to feel guilty and do as they say. If you acquire the proper level of guilt, then facts, such as shown in your Figure 4, are less likely to get in the way of accepting their solutions. How else can one explain something as stupendously stupid as Obama’s idea of avoiding “spikes” in fuel prices?

garymount says:
March 17, 2013 at 9:12 am
“Why does the USA have one individual that has so much power?”
Per the Constitution of the United States of America, the office of the President actually has very little power. His role was to be the unified face of the several states to the outside world and the office of last resort for the mediation of dispute, as well as a balance against the legislature. What power Obama wields today was accrued over time by the unconstitutional acts of various presidents over history, most notoriously Lincoln, Hoover and Roosevelt.
The big shift came when people began referring to the USA as a single entity rather than the plural around the 1920s or so. At that point the balance of power had shifted from the states to the federal government and the executive. Roosevelt had essentially transformed the presidency into an elected dictator and bypassed most of the checks and balances designed to prevent that from happening through the use of extra-governmental organisations that were granted power by his say-so and retroactively legitimised by the acquiescence of the supreme court and congress. After that it was pretty much over as far as constitutional government was concerned. Now the president can simply issue executive orders or call up one of the myriad three-letter agencies to do his bidding and not have to worry about petty little things like legality or constitutionality or what those pesky “the people” think.

Gary Pearse

“..no, Mister President, we didn’t need to “start now” at the time, nor did we need to do a damn thing to prepare for the 21st century”
Why is it the lefties feel they have to solve the problem. Economics is basically an automatic problem solver, a “governor” if you like. The anti-science crowd, of course, are also anti-economics, too. Let the price go up, already. It is the only arbiter for selection of alternatives and we don’;t need lefty think tanks, eliites, Clubs of Rome, governments… to step in now because we are blindly and stupidly heading for an abrupt halt in an energy source. With the failure of policies like Carters, they have grudgingly and with much frustration been getting an education in how free enterprise economics solves problems, so now they understand they have to kill off the things that work to get the policy “right”.
Incidentally, I wish I had a nice link to a prediction I made in the 1970s that offshore oil and gas would be discovered in Brazil, Bangladesh, Egypt, China, Congo, etc in major river delta’s/sea-bed deposits. Being a mining exploration geologist, I argued with a petroleum geologist friend that they should be looking for new fields in such areas (mining exploration geologists rule: look for elephants in elephant country) – gee they all turned out to have oil and gas and in much broader areas than just the delta/major river seabed sediments..
etc. etc.

I like the idea of prizes for small developments that can lead to a cheap energy future. If I was king I’d move most of our energy usage to gas, with prizes for better gas storage, or gas/electric hybrids and natural gas powered semi’s. The problem is for the next 20 years we’ll be dependent on oil, and all of the advances in energy depend on high oil prices, low oil prices cause the entire energy industry: oil, gas, solar to crash.
Swings in energy prices are part of the nature of the business. Higher prices cause more activity cause more production, but because there is finite storage so prices crash when storage is full, or when the price is so high that the economy tanks and we have demand destruction.
One idea to try and keep energy prices more stable in the USA would be an import tax on oil. Set the value below the current price such as $70-80 and then at least energy producers and alternative energy developers in the USA will have the confidence to work and not worry about the crash that always happens, which destroys the industry and leads to inevitable price spikes 3 years down the road.
I tried to make this point on my blog a few years ago:
Cheap energy is great, and I realize poor people are hurt by expensive energy, but when energy its too cheap it hurts all parts of the energy sector, and worse it is only temporary leading higher prices later. Better a happy medium until we have ‘free’ energy from fusion, or space based solar power whose development could be paid for by prizes.


Confronting politicians with logic is so unfair. It’s not their money they waste.


I suspect China and India are ready to do the heavy lift on thorium. The US has already spiked the Indian effort to initiate a nuclear fuel cycle cheaply. We have huge global reserves and resources in natural gas to get us to the next century, never mind coal. The industrialization of space is just starting.
The biggest risk is societal breakdown as the paid fascists and commies in our government crash the economy and Constitution…

Here is the reason Progressives want the CARBON TAX . . . they need trillions to stay in power . .
A friend shared this article with you from The Washington Post:
Federal program that began as a last resort for the hungry has grown into an economic lifeline for entire towns..
Sent from my iPhone
The only solution is to Restore the original Founders Constitution with a weak, small limited Federal Government and a unlimited strong State government. The 17th Amendment and the 14th and 16th gave the power to do these Unconstitutional acts with a usurping Court. Are you mad enough or scared enough to join our national effort to take the power away from DC and the Political class. End the Progressive Movement now. The answers are in this library and project to RESTORE LIBERTY. http://articlevprojecttorestoreliberty.com/index.html
“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
Alexis de Tocqueville


As usual, right on the button, Willis.
It looks as if we might need a new Prime Minister soon on this side of the pond – how would you fancy the job?
No. I suppose you wouldn’t. You would get too much strife from all the Government departments that you would disband.

A work of science, Willis, & a work of art.
Thank you, truly.

Barry Cullen

I remember that in the ’90’s reading that the uS GDP had increased 5x/unit of “oil since Carter. A demonstration that conservation works very quickly however, further increases are exponentially more difficult to achieve unless breakthru’s, like horizontal drilling and the use of propends during fraking, are allowed to be practiced w/ minimal gov’t “assistance”.


Be careful, you admitted you are a rich guy. And I’ll bet your income is or was in the top 700 million of people in the world, which would make you a 1%er too. ;->


Oh crap. I just woke up, haven’t cleared out the cobwebs yet, and screwed that one up. Top 70 million? Whatever.


Willis, good post. You did leave out Carter’s mandate to switch to hydrogen fuel. That was a great success/not.

Peter Stroud

At least in the USA you have a Conservative Republican Party to counteract some of the excesses of the lunatic left. We, in the UK are, until 2015, governed by a Conservative / liberalDemocrat
coalition. The LibDems are as fanatical about green issues as the US’s Democrats. But, unfortunately the Conservative leadership has also come under the spell of Hansen / Gore, so we have little hope of common sense returning to our government scene for a long time. The idiots have already pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 percent in fifty years. If I were a young man, I would be investing in horses and coaching inns.

Mark Bofill

Stephen Rasey says:
March 17, 2013 at 9:59 am
Willis, you were going great guns until the very last paragraph.
So please, don’t misconstrue this as a complaint about government—it’s just about bad government.
Is there any other kind?
Stephen, it happens I personally agree with your sentiment. However, I try (mostly) not to fight that fight here. I hate to alienate people with different views about government who share my skepticism regarding AGW/CAGW. Admittedly, we’re talking about President Obama passing gas and I’m not sure how to talk about the President without talking politics, or if it’s even possible. Still, I’m always glad to hear that one needn’t share my specific political perspectives to disagree with C/AGW or bad policy.

Xi Gua

Biofuel requires installing huge stainless steel engine covers. That along raises CO2 emission by a lot.


Willis, there’s already a huge prize out there for anybody who can demonstrate economic alternatives. It’s called the market. Anybody who can produce alternatives at a cost competitive with fossils will have VC’s beating his door down. No government prizes needed.

Chuck Nolan

Willis, in figure 4 I see a vertical line of four blue dots just past the $10,000 mark.
It looks like money isn’t the answer because the top dot indicates about a 12% loss and the bottom dot of the four is down to maybe 1.5% with little difference in money.
Is that because of local resources or government or what?

john robertson

Bureaucracy is the home of stupidity.
This poor servant, remains necessary as we choose not to execute the dangerous idiots lose amongst us. Thats understandable as it sucks to be wrong as to who the idiot is.
But the bureaus cannot be masters, unchecked they devour all wealth and imprison all constructive creativity.
Resulting in creative destruction.
We humans adapt very well.
The minions of government are no different to you or me, except I have no interest in running your affairs for you.
The groupthink crew, somehow always drift into that mindset, we the parasitic collective, can better operate the hosts affairs, than the host know how.
What is not permitted, is prohibited.
Same old cycles, here we go again, either we prune government brutally or we grind to a halt.


“Not that that is a black mark to a reprobate like myself, we’ve all been young,…”
He doesn’t realize it, now he is in a position where no one dares to speak the truth.
OK, now I’ll go back to reading your post.
I couldn’t get past it.

I don’t think Obama will get anywhere with congress with his speach. It was for public consumption to assure his green supporters that he keeps his promises. Hopefully, the general public sees this for what it is. One thing for sure. We will be using more natural gas and our economy will improve as a result. The general public is not buying into the idea that electric cars are the answer to our problems.

Joe Prins

You crack me up: “He wants to pass gas without regrets”. (2nd line) Still have to read the rest of your article.

I’m the son of a Titan rocket engineer in an industry with governments as the primary customer. I grew up on the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo-Skylab program. It was exciting. So keep this in mind with the following observations
President Kennedy set a goal to put a Man on the Moon and “return him safely to Earth” by the end of the decade. He made it before the first mission. The administrators of NASA in 1961 had no real idea what it would cost. Only sketches of vehicles based upon estimates of payload and needed fuel mass. Lunar Orbit Rendezvous wasn’t even on paper, much less accepted. Yet in the course of a bunch of prizes, NASA got the job done. …. And we haven’t been back in 40 years. We built a mammoth organization that can no longer put its own astronaut into low earth orbit. Was the Prize a smart thing to do? Was it smart and just squandered?
In June 1963, shortly after the Concorde JV annoucement, JFK also set National Supersonic Transport program to build an SST, which the Boeing 2707 reached plywood mockup stage when it was cancelled in 1971. That was the year of the billboard: Will the last person leaving Seattle – Turn out the Lights. Everyone remembers JFK’s Moon goal, but his SST goal is forgotten.

Bill H

Excellent post Willis.. shared with friends on another site..

From today’s Torygraph, it’s not just here in the US that people are dying. The poor always suffer first… http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9078273/Hypothermia-deaths-double-over-five-years.html. At the risk of getting snipped, what do you call people that cause other’s deaths?


“The only way to break this cycle of spiking gas prices — the only way to break that cycle for good — is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks, off oil.”
A statement made from utter ignorance of how a free market works. This comes as no surprise from the Fascist-in-chief. And that is exactly what he is advocating- when government forbids the free market to decide, but instead takes control to direct free market while allowing people to retain ownership in the companies that government is now directing and controlling via extensive regulation and law, that is the very definition of FASCISM.
But fascism is just another level of socialism. And that word only means that society,, through government takes control one way or other. The key point is that economic decisions will no longer be made on an economic basis. They will be make on an ideological and political basis. This encumbers and destroys the ability of business to make rational economic calculations and instead must seek to make a rational political calculation instead. But politics don’t pay the bills. The only thing that does is profit, and when a company is hard pressed to make a 7% profit, it doesn’t take many mistakes, accidents, lawsuits and miscalculations to degrade 7% down to a level where no bank will lend money, nor where retail investors will buy stock.
This does not end well. For some companies, it ended in total economic destruction and even war. Fascism is a denial of the basis for our Constitution. This must be resisted with every possible means.


Replacing gasoline by natural gas would make sense though.

Brilliantly done, Willis. I find it amazing and incredibly sad that a bigger percentage of the general public don’t see what is happening in the world. This is where we (the world over) need the MSM to dig around, ferret out what there is wrong in government and tell it like it is. Without fear. We (the world over) seem to have a bunch of wimps as reporters (actually I no longer think “reporter” is the right term as they don’t report anything amiss in the warming scam).
You know, if “reporters” grew a backbone, they could turn their sales around so fast, they could have a hockey stick to be proud of. They could be leaders in their field, protectors of the people, defenders of the truth – the whole shebang. Probably make more money than they get now for keeping quiet, and make big names for themselves, too. They could go down in history as heroes, but alas, they no longer even have the imagination anymore to look ahead.
Thanks, Willis. At least the Internet works and more people are using it. The information is getting out there, albeit slowly.

S. Meyer

Delightful! I especially like the idea of giving out prizes. Willis, could you point me to a good reference about estimated reserves of oil, coal, natural gas etc? Thanks!

Wonderbar!! I am reminded of my universal rule for organizations: PLANNING IS FIGURING OUT WHAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.


Typical Obama…..now what do we do with all those old cars, lawnmowers, outboards, etc that won’t burn this crap….
…oh, I know, that’s the poor people that can’t afford to upgrade
If they would just move to the inner cities…where all this liberal government take care of me comes from…..they wouldn’t need those things

William Sears

Of course, there still needs to be seed money to pay for the research that leads to winning the prizes. However, I have a bigger complaint against offering prize incentives in all but a very few areas. It is that it requires the government to be efficient in choosing fruitful areas of research. Something that your own article has shown that it is very poor at doing. Let private industry choose the areas, take the risks, and reap the awards through the usual methods of research funding, investment and profit. After all, this is how we have gained all the marvels of modern society that we have now. Or as Hayek is attributed as saying: I want plans of the many not of the few.
I like your idiot savant comment. It is one that I use myself, in a only slightly different context.


Manfred says:
March 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm
Replacing gasoline by natural gas would make sense though.

There is a system known as “gas to liquids” that can convert natural gas to gasoline or diesel fuel using something called the Fischer–Tropsch process. Perhaps someone familiar with this process can comment on the chemistry and economics involved, as it beyond my pay grade.

W. Eschenbach said:
“But poor people don’t waste energy. They already consume as little as they
can, and far too many of them sit shivering in the dark.”
My experience says many poor people do waste energy. I have seen too
many lower income people refusing to spend $30-$40 more for a refrigerator
that uses $20 less of electricity per year.
I don’t see every government intervention as bad. For example, in recent
years, automakers have advertized about airbags. Once upon a time, the
automakers were dragged by the government, kicking and screaming, to
start putting airbags in cars.

Bill H

Latitude says:
March 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm
Typical Obama…..now what do we do with all those old cars, lawnmowers, outboards, etc that won’t burn this crap….
…oh, I know, that’s the poor people that can’t afford to upgrade
If they would just move to the inner cities…where all this liberal government take care of me comes from…..they wouldn’t need those things
If you follow the UN Agenda 21 theme this is precisely what they want… close tight groups of controllable people.. (easier to exterminate them that way.. just ask Hitler..) IMHO

Goode 'nuff

Our government is a global embarrassment. Too dysfunctional to produce anything but crisis after crisis.
The check engine light comes on and probably not enough people demand they do the deal and provide leadership. Because instead of being thrown out so many of the failures are still there clinging to their untenable ideals.
I saw nothing at CPAC nut house to be optimistic about.
Conservatives believe seniors could shop for health insurance, as they do for groceries, to drive down prices. The states, freed from excessive federal oversight, could similarly drive down costs.
That’s absolute fantasy.
Seniors would confront large insurance companies armed with too little information, and limited choices or monopolies when they purchase drugs and hospital care.
Already, large employers operate in a similar market space—free to negotiate with health insurance companies—and even they have not been able to harness rising health insurance premiums.
Granny will not do any better than GM jawboning Humana and Walgreens. Federal Medicare spending could only be cut by providing inadequate subsidies that would require seniors to pay much larger premiums and out-of-pocket costs than they currently bear with traditional Medicare.
Similarly, it is doubtful that the states, acting individually, can do a better job of negotiating reimbursement rates for Medicaid services for the poor than does the federal government. In fact, the Ryan solution could drive up prices, because providers could play off states against each other.
Got to come up with something better or face more rejection.