Dyson has said that it all boils down to “a deeper disagreement about values” between those who think “nature knows best” and that “any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil,” and “humanists,” like himself, who contend that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment.Dyson has always been strongly opposed to the idea that there is any such thing as an optimal ecosystem — “life is always changing” — and he abhors the notion that men and women are something apart from nature, that “we must apologize for being human.” Humans, he says, have a duty to restructure nature for their survival.
Dyson has great affection for coal and for one big reason: It is so inexpensive that most of the world can afford it. “There’s a lot of truth to the statement Greens are people who never had to worry about their grocery bills,” he says. (“Many of these people are my friends,” he will also tell you.) To Dyson, “the move of the populations of China and India from poverty to middle-class prosperity should be the great historic achievement of the century. Without coal it cannot happen.”
The practical consequence for global-warming policy is that we should pursue the following objectives in order of priority. (1) Avoid the ambitious proposals. (2) Develop the science and technology for a low-cost backstop. (3) Negotiate an international treaty coming as close as possible to the optimal policy, in case the low-cost backstop fails. (4) Avoid an international treaty making the Kyoto Protocol policy permanent. These objectives are valid for economic reasons, independent of the scientific details of global warming.
A key plank of Obama’s campaign was a theme that we need to “reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” This was really more of a populist crowd-puller, and I assumed that it would kind of go away once oil prices came back to Earth. Instead, this call to action is informing tens of billions of dollars in spending on a variety of renewable energy projects.
Thing is, this really makes no sense. Foreign oil is bad because it pulls us into Iraq-like conflicts? That only tells you that invading Iraq was a bad idea–every other country on Earth manages to survive on imported oil just fine. In fact, every other nation is also dependent on others for some sort of energy, even Saudi Arabia. Energy autarky is a dangerously misguided notion.
But maybe it’s bad because of the whole carbon thing, and we should also get rid of coal energy as we go along. If that’s the problem, then put in a carbon tax–as Norway did, with amazing results–so we properly price carbon and use less of it. While some sort of cap-and-trade may be in the works, the dominant tactic for achieving this goal seems to lie in massive subsidies for researching ‘green’ technologies.
Of course, nuclear energy–one of the cleanest and cheapest technologies around, one that America is perfectly willing to export to the rest of the world–doesn’t count, because the Senate Majority Leader is from Nevada, where the waste would go. Hydro power doesn’t count either. Natural gas exists in abundance in this country and can be cheaply imported in liquid form. Many countries are switching over to gas for their cars and buses because it’s cheaper and pollutes far less. Yet Obama’s budget punishes natural gas drillers. For some reason, our technocrats have determined that our economy needs to shift to an entirely different mode of power because, well, windmills look awesome and take away our guilt. A lesser person than I, one far more cynical, would think that green-boosters are more interested in manufacturing a crisis to meet a pre-existing agenda rather than finding the most cost-effective solution to a well-defined problem.