Battlepanda: All coalitions have a certain amount of internal tension


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

All coalitions have a certain amount of internal tension

This is the kind of post Matt Yglesias is very good at writing -- a beautifully set-up dilemma, approaching the problem analytically and with great precision from an unexpected angle. Indeed, there are a lot of reason to fear our state of oil dependence, and the interest of the pro-environment lobby is not perfectly aligned with the faction that fear the geopolitical ramifications of reliance on mid-east oil who in turn have different concerns to those who worry about high fuel costs. Unfortunately, Matt chose a bad example to illustrate the tension between these different factions -- electric cars. According to Matt, if we built the most perfect, kick-ass electric car tomorrow, that would solve the energy crisis from the point of view of those who worry about the cost of gas, but exacerbated it from the POV of the environmentalists, because we would probably end up generating the electricity we need from coal, which is a fossil fuel that releases greenhouse gasses and pollution when burnt.

Leaving aside the question of whether we have no option but to burn coal to generate electricity, Matt is wrong on electric cars, as this post by my ol' buddy "Dymaxion" John points out. Even if we had to burn dirty, dirty coal to generate the electricity, EVs would still allow us to come up way ahead in environmental terms because they're so goshdarn efficient compared to the internal combustion engine. In addition, the smog produced by the power plant would be emitted far from population centers, which is a huge plus from the public health perspective.

I can think of other, non-spurious ways of illustrating Matt's point. Drilling ANWR certainly pits the oil-independence crowd against everybody else...the gas tax obviously would raise the ire of many who're only worried about oil in case the price goes up at the pump [actually, upon re-reading his post I realized that he did bring up this example]. But it all seem rather trivial and rather clever-clever to point out those internal tensions among the crowd who are wising up to the fact that we need to use less oil for whatever reason when there are so many no-brainer low-hanging fruit measures that would please them all, but which we're not taking. Read this, for instance:
The Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget.

A veteran researcher said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol. Those are two of the technologies that Mr. Bush cited on Tuesday night as holding the promise to replace part of the nation's oil imports.
I think it is fair to say that most of us who are concerned about our use of oil thinks that springing a few sheikels for research into alternative fuels should be a priority. Instead, it's being cut.

Matt said: "These problems, though related, are different. If you want to think about improving energy policy, you need to be clear about what it is you're trying to accomplish." Perhaps. But that can really be said about any coalition. I think the three groups Matt sets up as disparate camps are really more like overlapping circles of concern forming a venn diagram. The big difference now is between those of us who get it, for whatever reason, and those who still want to stick their head in the sand.