THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
Expanding supply or managing demand?
In the opening articles, five commentators address the question from different viewpoints.
ADAM VAUGHAN, online editor, New Consumer magazine argues that saving energy is the way forward: ‘By taking a number of simple steps, consumers can save energy and money – and help save the planet.’
JOE KAPLINSKY, science writer, spiked, believes that we need to greatly expand energy supply: ‘The best thing that we could do for future generations is to build a new energy infrastructure, bigger and better than the old one.’
MALCOLM GRIMSTON, associate fellow at Chatham House, argues that we need to embrace nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy remains the only proven large-scale option that can deliver major saving in greenhouse gas emissions.’
MARK JACCARD, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver believes that fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain central to energy supply: ‘Zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least a century.’
JIM SKEA, research director, UK Energy Research Centre argues that renewables are not a panacea to all our energy problems, but ‘A variety of renewable technologies may play an important part in energy generation in the future.’
spiked is keen to find out what readers think, and you can respond to the debate here.
I would also briefly mention that you can read a related article by me here, and that in general I think the options posed in the debates subtitle (reduction of use or expansion of supply) is similar to the options posed by the problem greenhouse gas emissions (reduction of emissions or increase of sequestration).
Most of the policy recommendations I’ve seen regarding CO2 emissions have focused on reduction of emissions rather than an increases in the rate and amount of carbon sequestration (in forests and so on). There’s a lot of work to be done on that latter point, especially if largescale reduction of emissions is untenable both politically and economically for the foreseeable future.
A genuinely thorny pastoral issue that often arose in the course of my counseling was the question of two-career marriages. What should a couple do if the wife wanted/needed to work outside the home when children were present, especially when the children were young? Because I served suburban churches (from 1972-1992) some of my congregants needed to be two-income families just to survive. Others did not but made a choice to pursue two careers anyway. The scenario always varies from place to place. In urban and poorer communities the need for two incomes is so great that there is little choice but to have both husband and wife fully employed at all times. The choice is never an easy one and always filled with real pressures no matter which way you decide to go.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."
As I’ve noted previously, it is probably best for the cause of limited government that political power be divided rather than in the hands of a single party, no matter which party. This AP story offers evidence in support of that claim from early action by the newly Democratic Congress. At the same time, a close reading of the article indicates that congressional Democrats’ cutting of Republican pork may not result in any meaningful or lasting scaling back of needless government spending.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the incoming chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, have pledged that “there will be no congressional earmarks” in the upcoming budget.
Earmarks will be available again in the 2008 budget cycle, after “reforms of the earmarking process are put in place.” There’s a lot of smoke right now around the talk of earmark reform. We’ll see next year whether there’s any fire.
Last month Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said that making lasting earmark reform will be difficult: “There are three parties in Washington: Democrats; Republicans; and appropriators,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said. “Democrats should expect any serious reform efforts to meet stiff opposition from appropriators who have no qualms about breaking party lines, or the bank, to keep their pork.”
According to CAGW, Rep. Obey has appropriated over $5.5 million in pork since 2005, and has a lifetime rating of 19% or “hostile.” Sen. Byrd, meanwhile, is crowned “The King of Pork” with a rating of 17% and a tally approaching $1 billion in pork since 2000. More on “the King” here.
It’s an open question, then, whether Byrd’s and Obey’s commitment to real reform is authentic.
In the meantime, I recommend checking out other resources at Citizens Against Government Waste.
Gary Becker and Richard Posner examine the increasing gap between the rich and poor in terms of wealth and income. This gap was most recently highlighted in a report that “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth,” and the richest 1% hold 40% of wealth. The report was issued by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (PDF).
Becker seems to accept that wealth inequality is essentially a problem, and seems at pains to show that “the inequality in wealth appropriately defined is not nearly as large as the report might suggest, and wealth inequality in the world has almost surely become smaller over time, not larger as some in the media reported.”
Posner acknowledges that income inequality is increasing in the developed world and in some rapidly developing nations, but seems less concerned. He raises three possible negative social consequences of “the existence of a stratum of exceedingly wealthy people.”
Of the three, the third I think is the most important and real: “Huge personal wealth may play a disproportionate role in political competition. Personal wealth confers an enormous advantage on a candidate, but also permits a person who does not want to be a candidate to exert an influence on candidates and policies.”
I don’t think income or wealth inequality in itself is necessarily negative, and so I tend to agree with Posner’s emphasis rather than Becker’s. The problem comes when the economic power of the wealthy is used to disproportionately skew policy in their favor at the expense of less economically powerful classes. But as a whole, I think the concern about wealth disparity is more due to its effect on subjective well-being, or happiness, and the resulting envy that is engendered.
But, as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action admitted in a recent debate with Rev. Sirico, the concern for policy-makers should not be primarily the happiness level or sense of subjective well-being of citizens, but rather how the poorest of the poor are doing, whether the objective floor of material well-being is being raised or not.
Sider has said that he would not be concerned with an increasing gap between rich and poor so long as the living standards of the poor were also increasing (so long as that increased concentration of economic power does not manifest itself in corruption of the political process, via rent-seeking, et al.)
People are much more likely to vote with regard to their subjective sense of well-being, however, so that politicians are easily manipulated into catering to their constituency’s sense of happiness rather than appealing to their objective betterment.
Following up on the story from a couple months back about restrictions to bankruptcy filings prohibiting filers from budgeting for tithing, and in the midst of the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s invitation to Sen. Barack Obama to appear at a Saddleback Church event, news comes both houses of Congress have passed the “Obama-Hatch Tithing Bill.”
The bill would “protect an individual’s right to continue reasonable charitable contributions, including religious tithing, during the course of consumer bankruptcy. The measure passed the United States Senate in late September and will now be presented to the President for his signature” (HT: Religion Clause).
It’s good to see the folks on Capitol Hill respond when the ball is in their court. As U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield, Jr. wrote in his original decision, “Whether tithing is or is not reasonable for a debtor in bankruptcy is for Washington to decide…. Until Congress amends [the 2005 Act], the court’s hands are tied and the tithing principles that this court once applied pre BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) have been effectively mooted.”
The judge says its not his job to legislate from the bench and that Congress needs to take action if they want to protect tithing. Congress acts and tithing is protected. Now that’s the separation of powers at work.
During a recent family trip to visit relatives, we settled down for a night of wholesome family entertainment to watch “Inside Man” (well, maybe not all that wholesome; it is a film about a bank robbery, after all). This post has almost nothing to do with the plot of the movie, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t fret. It is a film worth queuing on your Netflix, however, and I recommend it despite the fact that I don’t much care for Spike Lee films.
In any case, at one point in the film a young black kid is playing a video game on a portable game unit. We get a closeup of the game, wherein Matthew (played by Amir Ali Said), is controlling a car full of gang members about to do a drive-by shooting. As the car approaches the target, instructions flash prominently on the game screen, “Kill ‘dat [N-word]!!!” Matthew, good at following directions, manipulates a few buttons, thereby moving one of the gang members to shoot the mark in the head, thereby pasting “cherry pie” all over the outside of the building.
There’s an interesting conversation between Matthew and one of the bank robbers at this point in the movie, but I want to pass along what happened in the real world later. After the film ended, I asked our relatives if they knew what real video game Spike Lee was parodying. They answered negatively, and I said, “It’s the one the kids are playing in the next room.” Sure enough, some of our family’s kids, as well as some neighbors, were huddled around a console playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
This game was originally released with an ESRB rating of “M” for “Mature,” then was readjusted to “Adults Only,” after the political brouhaha, and then re-released as “M”. In any case, there is a great deal of violence in the game, and at least some of the children playing it in my family’s house were well under even the “M” age rating (17 years and older). The parents had no real knowledge about the content or the themes of the game.
This situation is no doubt repeated innumerable times all over the country on a daily basis. That’s why it’s nice to see some recognition in the debate about censorship of video games of the necessary role parents play. NPR’s Future Tense has noted the release of the 11th annual video game report card by the National Institute on Media and the Family.
According to the report card, the latest installment reflects a change in focus, in which the institute “acknowledge[s] the strides” taken by retailers and the video game industry. This year, the challenge is put forth to parents: “Simply put, parents need to step up to the plate and the experts need to conduct more and better research.”
Indeed, the report card grades “Parental Involvement,” as an “INCOMPLETE,” saying, “Parents could be, and should be, doing a lot better, but at least part of their failure can be attributed to the confusion created by the game makers.” The cacophony of voices clamoring for the authority to be passed on to some other institution makes the institute regard lack of parental involvement in the context of such extenuating circumstances. That’s why parents don’t get a failing grade this year.
All this finally reflects the truth of the matter, I think, that parents bear the primary and ultimate responsibility for the education and moral formation of their children. In this day and age, that education and formation is conducted within a world pervaded by use of technology. It’s our calling and challenge as parents to make sure that we use computers, video games, and other technologies prudently.
Coal has long been a target of environmentalist anger. Soot, strip-mining, smokestacks—so many ugly features. Much of that opposition is overblown, of course (we’ve got to get energy from somewhere), but some of it has merit. This story from Ohio exhibits one of the genuine problems. The state’s taxpayers have to foot a $300 million bill for cleaning up the environmental messes coal companies have left. Some, but only a small part, of that is being paid for by corporate fees and taxes.
Free-market environmentalists, like the good folks at PERC, insist that these kinds of externalities can be accounted for in a properly constructed market, rather than relying on the very blunt and usually inequitable tool of government to take care of environmental fallout from industrial activitiy. I’m inclined to agree, but I wonder how such a market would work in this case. Maybe the source of the problem is the 1978 federal law cited by the article, which requires states to help companies repair damaged land—did this encourage irresponsible practices by coal producers?
According to the Church Report’s Jennifer Morehouse, Parents Television Council President L. Brent Bozell is renewing an argument for the FCC to require a la carte cable programming. “It’s time to let the market decide what it wants on cable programming,” says Bozell.
I’m sympathetic to this view. I would prefer the option to be able to pick and choose which cable channels I pay for and get access to, instead of having to decide on subscription levels which include a lot of channels I’m not interested in.
But here’s where Bozell loses me: “Families, according to Bozell, have to pay for dozens of channels they do not watch and find offensive.” They only have to pay for them if they choose to have cable TV. Families make clear which of their desires are more powerful when they are willing to “subsidize some of the most graphic content imaginable” rather than forego cable television.
The market in this sense is working, as it is illustrating that cable consumers do not have sufficiently high interest to make it worthwhile for cable providers to respond and offer a la carte services. The problem with the cable market in the end is not that cable providers aren’t being required to offer a la carte, but that there is a lack of competition in local markets, although that is changing in a few places. Increased competition might make offering a la carte services more of a realistic option to give particular providers a competitive edge.
So, in my case, for instance, my desire for a la carte is not stronger than my desire for cable television/cable internet as it is now (although I do only get the lowest “basic” level of programming). I think this is probably representative of the position of many of the cable consumers Bozell is talking about. In no way, however, am I being forced to “subsidize the cable industry’s raunch.”
More on families and parenting in an age of technology later today.