Tom Friedman: Why Do We Swallow What Big Oil and the Green Movement Tell Us?

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Thomas L. Friedman
Opinion Columnist
It has long been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. By that definition, we’re the ones detached from reality if we keep accepting what the oil industry and the green movement keep telling us over and over again and expecting a different result.
The greens keep saying that because the price of wind and solar is now as cheap as, or cheaper than, fossil fuels, they’ve won the energy war. Game, set, match — welcome to the green planet.
The oil companies say — as they have in each previous energy crisis since 1973 — that the only answer to this energy crisis is the one they’ve offered for the past 49 years: drill, baby, drill. Welcome to reality.
Well, they’re both wrong, and accepting the repetition of either of these tired shibboleths is hurting us economically, environmentally and geopolitically — especially, of late, geopolitically.
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Because our continued addiction to fossil fuels is bolstering Vladimir Putin’s petrodictatorship and creating a situation where we in the West are — yes, say it with me now — funding both sides of the war. We fund our military aid to Ukraine with our tax dollars and some of America’s allies fund Putin’s military with purchases of his oil and gas exports.
And if that’s not the definition of insanity, then I don’t know what is.
Have no illusion — these sins of the green movement and the oil industry are not equal. The greens are trying to fix a real, planet-threatening problem, even if their ambition exceeds their grasp. The oil and coal companies know that what they are doing is incompatible with a stable, healthy environment. Yes, they are right that without them there would be no global economy today. But unless they use their immense engineering talents to become energy companies, not just fossil fuel companies, there will be no livable economy tomorrow.
Let’s look at both. For too long, too many in the green movement have treated the necessary and urgent shift we need to make from fossil fuels to renewable energy as though it were like flipping a switch — just get off oil, get off gasoline, get off coal and get off nuclear — and do it NOW, without having put in place the kind of transition mechanisms, clean energy sources and market incentives required to make such a massive shift in our energy system.
It’s Germany in 2011, suddenly deciding after the Fukushima accident to phase out its 17 relatively clean and reliable nuclear reactors, which provided some 25 percent of the country’s electricity. This, even though Germany had nowhere near enough solar, wind, geothermal or hydro to replace that nuclear power. So now it’s burning more coal and gas.
A 2019 working paper for the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research found that in Germany “the lost nuclear electricity production due to the phaseout was replaced primarily by coal-fired production and net electricity imports. The social cost of this shift from nuclear to coal is approximately $12 billion per year. Over 70 percent of this cost comes from the increased mortality risk associated with exposure to the local air pollution emitted when burning fossil fuels.”



Today, the European Union is drawing up a plan to break its addiction to Russian oil and gas by 2027, but, in the meantime, Putin is laughing all the way to the bank. As CNN reported in April, citing a report by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air: “Russian revenues from fossil fuel exports to the European Union soared during the first two months of the Ukraine invasion” — to $46.3 billion. That was more than double the value of Russian energy imported by the E.U. during the same two-month period a year earlier.
That was not because the E.U.’s volume of imports doubled. Higher oil and gas prices accounted for most of that increase. In other words, Putin starts a war that creates instability, which drives up oil prices, so he makes twice as much money exporting roughly the same amount of oil.
Opinion Conversation The climate, and the world, are changing. What challenges will the future bring, and how should we respond to them?



 

cigaretteman

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While Germany jumped off nuclear before it had a safety net of sufficient clean alternatives, at least it has been on a serious, path-defining quest to get them. Indeed, the whole world owes Germany a huge debt for driving down the price of solar panels and wind turbines through the subsidies and tax incentives it created. In Germany, wind turbines, solar panels and other renewables covered 54 percent of power consumption this past January and February — which is AMAZING. In 2021, renewable energy sources accounted for only about 12 percent of total U.S. energy that was consumed.
Still, the most important delusion of the green movement today — of which I am a proud, if grouchy, member — is telling itself that because the price of wind and solar technology has fallen so low now that it can beat coal and natural gas in most markets, often even without subsidies, it’s “game over” for fossil fuels. I wish. PRICE IS ONLY HALF THE STORY.
If you can’t install the transmission lines — to get that sun and wind power from the vast open spaces where it is generated to the big urban areas where it is needed — and if you cannot set aside more land to install the scale of solar and wind farms you need to replace coal, gas or nuclear, it doesn’t matter that your renewables are cheaper on a per-kilowatt-hour basis.
And today transmission is a huge problem in the U.S. and Europe, where many people don’t want wind farms, solar fields, electricity lines — or natural gas pipelines — in their backyard.
Philip Anschutz, the 82-year-old billionaire and conservative who made a fortune drilling for oil, “has been trying for the past decade to build a potentially lucrative $3 billion power line called the TransWest Express that would connect his massive new wind farm in Wyoming to the Southwestern U.S. It would supply renewable energy to about two million customers,” Bloomberg reported last month. “The U.S. needs thousands of miles of new power lines to bring wind and solar power from prairies and deserts to cities in the transition away from fossil fuels.”
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Anschutz, the report added, “spent years lining up hundreds of permits and easements from local governments and landowners along the route.” He secured all but one — for Cross Mountain Ranch, which did not want its pristine Colorado landscape scarred by power lines. So now, “17 years after the start of the project, not a single wire has been strung.”
Sorry, I wish this were not the case, but there is no immaculate pathway from brown energy to green energy. The road is paved with cruel trade-offs. Pick your poison — but grow up.
Meanwhile, ever since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the big oil companies have basically said in each successive crisis: Sure, we need more clean energy, but you have to understand — it doesn’t scale. Right now, we’re in an emergency, so we just need to drill more. You hear the same refrain today, which is why we’re in danger of wasting yet another oil crisis and never breaking our fossil fuel addiction.
The oil companies better be careful, though, because this time could be different, thanks to more consumers demanding electric cars and more industries being forced by consumers and employees to quickly decarbonize. Recently, McKinsey issued its 2022 Global Energy Perspective, concluding: “As the world pivots to low-carbon resources, the global energy demand for electricity could triple to 50 percent by 2050, and fossil fuel demand could peak as soon as 2023 — primarily driven by increased electric vehicle uptake.”
Net-net — both the greens and the browns need to get real: The greens need to up their deployment game. “That means tripling solar installation rates, roughly doubling long distance transmission lines, doing everything possible to accelerate the electric car transition and starting to roll out renewable hydrogen for industry,” said Hal Harvey, chief executive of Energy Innovation, which helps companies and countries transition to clean fuels. And we need to do this rapidly and intelligently, “while protecting local ecosystems.”
The fossil fuel companies, Harvey told me, “need to change their business model so that it is compatible with life on earth — while they still have a chance.”
For those oil companies sitting on large natural gas deposits — which are needed in this transition because gas is cleaner than coal — it means tapping those deposits but doing so with zero methane leakage; otherwise gas becomes as bad as coal. But it also means thinking much more seriously about how fossil fuel companies truly make the transition to become “energy companies,” not just oil companies, so they can leverage their amazing pools of engineering talent to provide more energy solutions that save the planet, not warm it.
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The Stone Age, as they say, didn’t end because we ran out of stones. And the oil age won’t end because we run out of oil. It will end with millions of barrels still in the ground because we’ve made oil for transportation obsolete.
The serious oil companies will get ahead of that. The serious petrodictators will be taken down by it. We can’t make it happen soon enough.
 

soybean

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Sep 30, 2001
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All Friedman says rings true to me on this issue. In America today the extremes on almost every issue seem to make the most noise now, while the center remains mostly mute. The longer I live the old Schopenhauer way seems to make more and more sense to me these days. I'm paticularly reminded of his words "All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; Third, it is accepted as self-evident." This trurth, at least as I believe it to be, will be a sad awakening for both, or maybe I should say all sides to swallow. The day of reckoning will come too soon for all of us, regardless of the fuel we think is the future.
 
Nov 28, 2010
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Thom Friedman has an interesting and analytical mind. I find a lot of his work really top end.
This is not one of those.

Friedman sets up his piece with the typical conservative lie - that Big Oil and the Green Movement are equally bad. Which simply isn't anywhere close to true.

Later he admits that they aren't equally bad. So if you read that far, you might think he walked back the early lie.
But if you read further (part 2 of ciggy's post) he reverts to equally bad EVEN AS HE ADMITS that the Green Movement is trying to save the planet while Big Oil is blithely destroying it in the name of profits.

Friedman lost his mind when he became a cheer leader for the Iraq War. Everything he writes now is not necessarily wrong, but everything has to be scrutinized for false framing.
 

fsu1jreed

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Apr 1, 2002
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We should NEVER just believe ANY special interest group, but that comparison is bullshit.
 
Nov 28, 2010
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Nuclear is an absolute must to get off fossil fuels. The greens who oppose that are cutting their own throats...and everyone else's. But they are not equal to Big Oil.
Agreed. I've reluctantly become a nuclear power supporter, for 2 reasons:

1. It seems unlikely we can reach our necessary - i.e., disaster-averting - targets without nuclear; and

2. I'm assured by people who seem trustworthy that the latest generations of nuclear power plants are an order of magnitude safer than they used to be.

Of course that isn't the whole story. We need to make sure that we do, in fact, use only these safer generations of nuclear power plants. And we need the tightest possible oversight to make sure corners aren't cut during construction or operation, ever.
 

hwk23

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Nov 22, 2010
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Agreed. I've reluctantly become a nuclear power supporter, for 2 reasons:

1. It seems unlikely we can reach our necessary - i.e., disaster-averting - targets without nuclear; and

2. I'm assured by people who seem trustworthy that the latest generations of nuclear power plants are an order of magnitude safer than they used to be.

Of course that isn't the whole story. We need to make sure that we do, in fact, use only these safer generations of nuclear power plants. And we need the tightest possible oversight to make sure corners aren't cut during construction or operation, ever.
I'm for it if #2 is correct. We don't need another Chernobyl (or 3 Mile Island), ever.

Elon Musk has said 100 by 100 miles of solar could supply enough energy to power the entire US. If true, that sounds like a good idea.

Edit: https://www.buzzworthy.com/elon-musk-claims-solar-farm-could-power-america/
 
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tarheelbybirth

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Apr 17, 2003
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I'm for it if #2 is correct. We don't need another Chernobyl (or 3 Mile Island), ever.

Elon Musk has said 100 by 100 miles of solar could supply enough energy to power the entire US. If true, that sounds like a good idea.

Edit: https://www.buzzworthy.com/elon-musk-claims-solar-farm-could-power-america/
Molten salt reactors can't melt down. And while you can put a 100 x 100 mile solar farm in the desert southwest, you can't take that power and get it all the way to the northeast - at least not with current technology. Over a few hundred miles, you'll lose around 5% and the loss will increase exponentially the farther you try to send it.
 

Rifler

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Jan 26, 2011
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Correct, energy transportation is the real problem,.. Which is why we need to push for a national smart grid project as today's version the moon shot,.. There are thousands of ways to produce clean energy. Being able to efficiently put that energy where you need it is the holy grail.
 
Nov 28, 2010
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Would a modest but escalating carbon tax encourage people to migrate to where the energy is?

I mean, why not?

We could use some of that tax money to aid in relocation.
 

Rifler

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Would a modest but escalating carbon tax encourage people to migrate to where the energy is?

I mean, why not?

We could use some of that tax money to aid in relocation.

I don't think so,... Americans are reluctant move even for employment anymore.
 
Nov 28, 2010
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Carbon credits would work better than a Carbon tax.
I've heard enough arguments over a carbon tax, cap and trade, and tax credits that I find it hard to keep their details, benefits and demerits straight. I'd be delighted if you could clarify the differences and point out why you think credits would would better.

My usual complaint about tax credits is that (most often) they work better for the well off than the less well off. That doesn't have to be true, of course, as a few tax credits also work as rebates for those who don't pay enough taxes to get meaningful credits. If we pass a carbon tax credit that works that way, I'd be more interested.

The cap part of cap and trade makes some sense, but the trade part is ripe for (and I'd bet rife with) corruption. I'll send a couple of bucks to someone who says he'll plant a tree and I get to keep polluting. Great. Except for the continued polluting, and except for accountability for the tree. Is it still alive 1, 5 or 10 years later? Is it the right kind of tree for the ecology where it's planted? Is it double-counted - is it, for example, one of the trees that the rapist Indonesian palm oil folks were going to plant anyway after they destroy the habitat of orangs or bonobos? And so on.

The carbon tax seems to me to be straight forward, and makes better use of existing market mechanisms, rather than needing to create a special market, as in the case of cap and trade.

I'll shut up and listen.
 

tarheelbybirth

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Apr 17, 2003
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Would a modest but escalating carbon tax encourage people to migrate to where the energy is?

I mean, why not?

We could use some of that tax money to aid in relocation.
No need to relocate if we go with molten salt nukes...and we have to. And I say that knowing we won't until it's too late. Tipping points are falling across the board and we're going to get to a point where even if we stopped using ALL fossil fuels, the temps would continue to rise due to natural factors that we pushed past the brink. Realistically, the only way we stave off disaster is to develop a massive carbon capture technology that can remove gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere relatively cheaply and quickly.
 
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tarheelbybirth

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The sulphur dioxide (SO2) allowance-trading programme established under Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) was the world’s first large-scale pollutant cap-and-trade system.

Not only was the program a success, it exceeded expectations. Most interesting about it is it was a GOP idea that the Dems resisted but finally acceded to in order to get something. When they turned around and said, "Hey, this worked great for sulphur...let's use the same idea for carbon" the GOP - as is their wont - went ballistic and refused to allow such an idea to advance. Their f'n idea.
 

joelbc1

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Sep 5, 2007
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you can’t always get what you want!
heard enough arguments over a carbon tax, cap and trade, and tax credits that I find it hard to keep their details, benefits and demerits straight. I'd be delighted if you could clarify the differences and point out why you think credits would would better.

My usual complaint about tax credits is that (most often) they work better for the well off than the less well off. That doesn't have to be true, of course, as a few tax credits also work as rebates for those who don't pay enough taxes to get meaningful credits. If we pass a carbon tax credit that works that way, I'd be more interested.

The cap part of cap and trade makes some sense, but the trade part is ripe for (and I'd bet rife with) corruption. I'll send a couple of bucks to someone who says he'll plant a tree and I get to keep polluting. Great. Except for the continued polluting, and except for accountability for the tree. Is it still alive 1, 5 or 10 years later? Is it the right kind of tree for the ecology where it's planted? Is it double-counted - is it, for example, one of the trees that the rapist Indonesian palm oil folks were going to plant anyway after they destroy the habitat of orangs or bonobos? And so on.

The carbon tax seems to me to be straight forward, and makes better use of existing market mechanisms, rather than needing to create a special market, as in the case of cap and trade.

I'll shut up and listen.
I can hardly wait for THIS Supreme Court to wade into the middle of a “cap and trade” controversy abd drop a little of their wisdom in solving this issue! o_O
 
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Nov 28, 2010
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I can hardly wait for THIS Supreme Court to wade into the middle of a “cap and trade” controversy abd drop a little of their wisdom in solving this issue! o_O
Yeah, that's a scary thought, isn't it?

Whatever good steps get taken will be enjoined, slowed and maybe not survive our corrupt judiciary.
 

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