By Alvin Lowi, Jr.
The Name of the Game
All domestic, commercial and industrial facilities obtain their energy services (e.g. electricity, heating and cooling) primarily from the nationwide electric and natural gas utility grids. These grids are maintained by state-franchised monopolies, an invention of the same inventor as the incandescent light bulb, Thomas Edison no less. It was Edison and his business head (Samuel Insull) who persuaded states and municipalities to single-source the matrices of wires and pipes to traverse the countryside, towns and cities across state and private property lines to supply electricity and fuel to consumers. Built countrywide during the past century, these grids have become marvels of the modern industrial age. They provide virtually universal access to effective, clean, abundant, convenient and inexpensive energy with no more effort than the flick of a switch. Indeed, these energy grids are the very essence of productivity, security and prosperity in the modern world. What’s more, they give the impression that progress requires a partnership of private enterprise and politics.
Modernity is the result of capitalistic industrialization, entrepreneurial initiative and free-market socialization. The results of this social paradigm are eagerly sought everywhere but its methods are just as eagerly misrepresented and misconstrued. The idea that politics is essential and instrumental is one example.
Modernity has also bred concerns that man’s appetite for energy is unsustainable and has grown to the point where it is damaging the environment and climate in which he lives. It is generally believed that a lazy political authority has allowed profit-seeking private enterprise industry to run amuck and spoil the environment while wasting resources. An energized federal environmental protection bureaucracy is called for.
Whether or not these concerns are scientifically supportable, they have been exploited to produce an emotional public response resulting in some vindictive public policies. Such policies have spawned legislation aimed at curtailing the utilization of natural resources and enterprises that might change the environment. The implementation of such legislation has brought about industrial regulation that is tantamount to de-industrialization. Among other things, these policies have more than doubled the cost of obtaining electricity from its grid in less than a decade, even as energy supplies have increased and fuel prices dropped. Such arbitrary charges now burden the economy and raise the cost of operating the utilities such that, during this time, the grid has begun to deny service on random occasions. Higher cost, less service, bad omen.
The greater part of this escalation of electricity cost and unreliability is largely due to environmental protection legislation for the ostensible purpose of preventing climate change. This policy objective intersects with energy supply and consumption curtailment objectives that conflict with economic activity.
The proxy for this political objective is stringent control of “greenhouse gas” emissions. A familiar analogy is the shrinking of man’s carbon footprint. This objective is being sought out of fear of inadvertent Earth warming caused by continued fuel-burning by humans that will increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere to the point where enough sunshine will be trapped to overheat the planet and plunge its climate into an irreversible warming trend with catastrophic consequences for mankind. But a “sensitive” faction has come to the rescue. Accusing man of being his own worst enemy, they are urging his government rein in industrial practices and correct a supposed imbalance in the political-industrial system.
But why pick on man-generated CO2? There are other significant sources of CO2 in the environment as well as other significant greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some of these gases have even greater solar interaction than CO2 and none is more essential in the environment as CO2 for continued plant life.
The answer to this question is an example of the streetlight effect:
A policeman sees a drunk searching for something under a streetlight. He asks the drunk, “What have you lost?” The drunk replies, “I lost my keys.” While they both proceed to look under the streetlight together, the policeman asks the drunk if he is sure he lost them here. The drunk replies, “No, I lost them in the park.” The policeman asks, if that’s the case, why are you searching here?” The drunk replies, “This is where the light is.”
The moral [RL1] of this story is: you might not find what you are missing but you will find what you shine a light on...
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