Energy Conflict - How Polarizing Politics Ruins Everything
Our world seems to be more politically polarized then ever. You see it on the news, and you hear it in casual conversation. I don’t think this is necessarily a recent phenomenon. It’s been part of our humanity for quite some time. While there are some battles in our past that were clearly good against evil, such as the abolishment of slavery; most present-day battles create more damage than progress.
Since my field of expertise is energy, this is where I see the most damage.
We seem to face energy crisis after energy crisis. In the 1970’s there was unrest in the Middle East, oil embargos, and a worry that we’d eventually run out of oil, coal, and natural gas. Ironically, there is more known oil, coal, and natural gas reserves today than in the 1970’s. Today’s crisis is climate change and the buildup of CO2 in our atmosphere. The counter-crisis is escalated costs, availability, and reliability of energy sources causing unaffordable heating bills in the winter or electricity blackouts in the summer.
We somehow think that one political party or belief system is good and the other is bad. The left is shouting “gloom and doom” from the rooftops. The world will end in 12-years if we don’t change our ways now. The left claims they can power the world by solar, wind, and battery storage. The left uses pejoratives for the right like “deniers”. The right is proclaiming climate-change is a hoax, and we should drive our gas-guzzling vehicles all we want because it doesn’t matter. In any case, keep the price of our fossil fuels low so that we can do what we want. The right uses pejoratives for the left like “environmentalist wackos”.
I’m not about to jump on either political band wagon in this post. Frankly, both are fueled by political fear; and have little basis in rational thought.
When we politicize a topic, we force people to pick sides. Picking sides can create productive discussions and fact-finding. Eventually, we come to some understanding that allows us to pass legislation that is needed to support well-thought-out solutions. Unfortunately, a polarized political environment creates animosity, name-calling, wacky solutions, destruction, and economic ruin.
In my humble opinion, here are some ideas in our energy world that may make the most sense:
Increase construction of nuclear energy electricity generation. This is the easiest way to replace coal and natural gas generation. Nuclear energy will result in the least amount of environmental damage; create high-density energy generation; and result in no CO2 emissions.
Plan a long-term phase out of fossil fuel burning electricity generation. I don’t know if this is 10-years or 100-years. When I hear states like California say they won’t allow gasoline vehicles in 2035, I wonder what analysis they’ve done to know that in 13-years electric cars will be affordable for the masses.
Understand geopolitical impacts of energy. Poor Europe is facing a difficult decision this coming winter. Russia invaded Ukraine and the west decided to sanction Russian natural gas. Europe is faced with high priced liquid natural gas shipped from the western hemisphere. Meanwhile, Russia is burning off excess natural gas that it can’t sell to European countries. This is creating more CO2 emissions; and is driving the price of energy much higher. If Europe understood that Russia was not their friend a while ago, maybe they would have made wiser energy choices.
Understand energy economics. Many of the right complained that President Biden created higher gasoline prices because he stopped the Keystone XL pipeline. Those on the left accused the oil companies of gouging driving gasoline prices up. While political partisans will argue either of these points, they are both wrong. I’ve published a more objective view of the entire oil price situation in another post called Our Energy Future. If we don’t better understand how energy economies work, we will forever be swayed back and forth by extraneous political arguments.
Stop alarmism. I encourage any reader of this blog post to read the book False Alarm by Bjorn Lomborg. Yes, we have a climate-change challenge. No, the world won’t end in 12-years. We need to play the long game. No one wants to destabilize our world reacting to alarmist rhetoric. No one wants to intentionally destroy our environment. If we implement kneejerk solutions, pay trillions for them, make 50% of the world angry, and don’t solve the problem, we’ve created more harm than good. If we experience moderate temperature increases over the next century and develop innovative and comprehensive solutions that do solve the problem, the world will truly be a better place.
When I write blog posts like this one, I get blasted from the left and the right. Maybe that should tell me that I’m on to something.
My plea in this post and most of my writing is not to implement my ideas or solutions; but to fairly consider opposing views. If 50% of the world is right and they force the other 50% to accept their solutions; we'll have saved a world that is at war. The wars and bitterness will last indefinitely. If we gain consensus on balanced solutions to well-identified problems, we'll all be better off. Isn’t it worth it to at least have rational discussions to solve the most challenging problems of our day?
In order to join this discussion, stop supporting politicians who ask you to hate others; or make fun of opposing views. Start engaging with those you disagree with on politically polarizing topics. Understand that politically hot topics are much more complex than your politically leaders will have you believe. If we resist political polarization, we have a chance to make genuine progress on solving the right problems.