May 09, 2005
More dissembling from Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins' most recent column (Dated May 5th, it appeared in today's Seattle Times) is a typical half-witted hatchet job, full of omissions, half-truths and distortions. Let's take a look.

(Omitting two-paragraph screed against Big Oil companies)

And their genius answer to "energy independence"? Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Look, the total oil under ANWR is 1 billion barrels less than this country uses in a year, according to Robert Bryce, the Texas journalist who specializes in energy reporting. The bill is just riddled with perversity: We continue to subsidize people who buy Hummers, but no longer grant tax rebates to those who buy hybrid cars that are more than six times as fuel efficient. This is not how you get to "energy independence." The United States hit its oil peak back in 1970 -- domestic production has been declining ever since.

Wow, she packed a lot into one paragraph. Drilling in ANWR is expected to produce anywhere from 40% to a bit over 100% of the oil we import from Saudi Arabia each day. (IOW, we might be able to stop all imports from the House of Sod.) That's not an insignificant amount. We currently import about 1.5 million barrels per day from Saudi Arabia, according to this helpful chart from the Department of Energy. This PDF file, also from the DoE, points out that from 2013 (when drilling will commence) through 2023 or 2024 (depending on which forecast is used), production will increase from ANWR. This will allow us several addtional years to develop alternative energy sources.

Robert Bryce, the writer she cites, is not a disinterested observer. He is a vigorous partisan whose writings have appeared in the leftist Salon, Texas Observer (where he was a colleague of Ivins'), Mother Jones, and The Nation. Of course, Ivins fails to point out his ideology because it might call into question his motivation and credibility on the issue.

We don't subsidize Hummer buyers; Ivins is referring to a loophole in the Bush economic stimulus package which increased the allowable tax write-off for trucks used for work. Small business owners are able to use the increased tax writeoff, so CEO's and other corporate fatcats don't get a break; only small businessmen get the benefit. As to the tax credit for hybrid vehicles, it's extraordinarily regressive; the rich who are most likely to be able to benefit get a significantly larger rebate, as shown by the sidebar chart in this USA Today article. Ivins also conveniently forgets to mention that congress can extend the tax rebate; it was scheduled to sunset in 2006. Bush's plan called for the rebates, but Congress makes the decisions on spending. Ivins instead blames Bush for the sins of congress. **See update and link below**

I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite as odd as the right wing's insistence that global warming does not exist. I'm not a climatologist, but I can read what they're saying. In fact, they're screaming it. Rush Limbaugh is not a climatologist, either, nor are any of the rest of these pinheads who seem to think the whole thing is some figment of liberals' imagination.

There's nothing liberal about global warming, it's science. There seems to be some element of childish spite in the refusal to recognize it -- "Boy, we can drive the liberals crazy by pretending it's not happening, ha, ha, ha." If you read right-wing blogs, you find a kind of Beavis and Butthead attitude about the subject, a sort of adolescent-jerk humor. What's astonishing is finding the same attitude among members of Congress. Head-militantly-in-sand is not a solution.

Half of the nimrods squawking about global warming in the 21st century were screaming about how pollution was creating a new ice age in the 1970's. There is not a whole lot of science behind global warming, because all of the models that are being used are deeply flawed. Some omit the effects of oceans, some use readings only from urban areas (where temperatures rise as population increases), some eliminate datapoints that don't fit preconceived definitions, and so forth. And not all of the "pinheads" who dispute global warming lack scientific backgrounds (including climatology). Note, for example, the Oregon Petition, with over 17,000 signatories, over 90% of whom have been verified; almost 40% of these scientists held advanced degrees in physical science or life science. The "head in the sand" crowd is composed of those who refuse to accept that nuclear power is the once and future solution to much of our power generation issues. (more on that shortly)

Foreign policy also plays a role here. Let us pass quickly by the administration's pre-war assurances that Iraqi oil would pay for the war -- the country is pumping less now than it did under Saddam Hussein. How smart is it to dick around trying to oust the president of Venezuela? You put a bunch of ideological nutcases in charge of Latin American policy, and you're going to create a lot of enemies down there.

Yes, it is true that the Bush administration miscalculated on the Iraqi oil issue, but Ivins is flat-out wrong. According to the notoriously pro-Bush Al Jazeera, Iraqi oil production began exceeding pre-war levels last year, and this year should be able to produce more than 50% more than pre-war levels, as more or Iraq's ill-maintained infrastructure is repaired.

Hugo Chavez's anti-Americanism has nothing to do with the "ideological nutcases" in the Latin American desk at State, and more to do with his political love-fest with Fidel Castro, the pariah of the hemisphere. Opposing Chavez is not losing us any support from his neighbors, all of whom have seen a significant cooling of relations with the Venezuela, with a leader who is paranoid after an almost-successful coup two years ago.

And their answer is to bring back nukes? Let's review the bidding on that one. Aside from Murphy's Law, the problem with nukes is that they create radioactive waste that remains toxic for tens of thousands of years. And we don't know what to do with it. The First Rule of Holes applies -- if you're stuck in one, stop digging. We're already dependent on one form of energy that has a toxic legacy, why in heaven's name walk into another one, this time with foreknowledge of its effects? Especially when there are cheap, reliable, renewable, non-poison-producing alternatives? We're nuts to even think about it. Wind power already has near competitive prices.

Renewable energy sources are not pie-in-the-sky -- they're here right now, and they're going to be a lot cheaper than oil. The single cheapest thing we can do about oil is not use so much of it. Current hybrid technology will not get us to the mythical goal of "energy independence," but at least we can slow down the demand for oil. In theory, it only takes 15 years to replace the entire fleet of American cars now on the road. We don't have another four years to waste.

And a few more errors to close out the piece.

Nuclear power *is* the solution, as countries as diverse as France, Estonia, and South Korea have all discovered. (Each use nuclear power to generate more than 50% of their total power generation.) New technology in nuclear reactors reduce the already minuscule change of a meltdown to zero (the United States never used a reactor with the unsafe design of the Chernobyl reactor, and in the Three-Mile Island incident, a meltdown didn't occur because of the safety features of the plant). The new designs are even safer, because the designs are inherently safe, requiring human intervention to prevent a shutdown.

Nuclear waste is a concern, but nowhere near as dangerous as doctrinaire anti-nukes (like Ivins) would have us believe. Toren Smith had a nice summary of the issue of nuclear waste, discussing vitrification, a simple and elegant solution to the problem.

Ivins implies that renewable energy is the solution, but neglects to point out a few facts, such as the fact that wind generators and solar panels require a source of wind or sunlight to produce energy, hydroelectric power (the best renewable of all) is verboten amongst the greenies because of its effect on fish, and any attempt to create a large-scale project is opposed by the NIMBYs, BANANAs, and the environmentalists who snivel about habitat destruction. Further, only 3% of our electrical power is generated by oil-fired plants. If Ivins were addressing the problems with coal- or gas-fired plants, it'd be more relevant, but not oil.

Here in Washington (state), we have one reactor, Columbia Unit 1, with a capacity of about 1100 MWe. The efficiency factor for Nuclear power is about 90%, so the effective power is about 990 MWe. A single wind turbine has a capacity of about 3 MWe, with an efficiency rating of about 30%, so the effective power is 900 KWe. In order to generate the same power as our one nuclear plant, a wind farm with 1000 turbines would be required, which is a staggering number. The project off Martha's Vinyard (scuttled by limosine liberals who didn't want it to interfere with their views) was projected to be 130 turbines over 24 square miles. 1000 tubines would require 184 square miles, which is simply not feasible.

UPDATE: Q and O notes that Oregon is studying a punitive tax on owners of hybrid vehicles, taxing them on miles driven. A similar proposal is being pushed in California. Is Ivins going to chastise the Democratic governor and senate in Oregon, or the monolithic Democratic assembly and senate in California? These new taxes have nothing to do with the federal government.

posted on May 09, 2005 11:39 PM


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