A Scientist Gets With the Program

Political appointees say nice things about the person who appointed them. Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, often mentions President Obama’s programs in a favorable, even worshipful, way. If he has any doubts about the administration’s programs they don’t emerge in his public utterances.

The motivation behind the administration’s energy program is very simple and obvious.  The motivation has nothing to do with science and everything to do with political constituencies. The leftist, green movement in the U.S. is very large and very powerful. The greens are advocates for distinctly bizarre energy policies. They deeply believe in man-caused global warming, no matter if there is massive evidence casting doubt on that theory. The greens are a fundamental constituency of the Democratic Party. The administration is not going to offend the Sierra Club, The Audubon Society, The Environmental Defense Fund, or many similar organizations and the fellow traveling media. If this important constituency believes that global warming threatens an imminent catastrophe, then the administration will support their point of view. What individual scientists who work for the government think is irrelevant. They have to get with the program or get a different job.

Yes, the administration must pacify the green movement and make them think that it is implementing their program. But, at the same time the administration has to make sure that people can gas up their cars at a reasonable cost, heat their houses and turn on their lights. If those things stop working the entire country is going to get mad at them.

There is a basic contradiction between the green program and the need to keep the lights on. Most of the green solutions are more fantasy than solution. The green constituency loves windmills, solar energy and things like biofuels. None of this is remotely competitive or practical. The intermittent nature of wind energy or solar energy creates electric grid management problems. Even though these technologies don’t burn fuel, the capital cost is so high that the cost per kilowatt hour is often 5 or 10 times higher than conventional energy when the ancillary costs, like power lines, energy storage, and backup plants, are taken into account. The green energy program would be totally non-existent if it weren’t for government subsidies and mandates.

One might think that the United States Department of Energy is supposed to devise and implement intelligent policies that are scientifically sound and economically efficient. Perhaps that’s what happens in some alternate universe. That is not to say that everything the department does is junk science. If there are no overriding political considerations, reasonable policies may actually emerge. For example, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is part of the Department of Energy. They collect statistics on energy and in my experience they are straight shooters.

The problem with a political approach to policy is that craziness feeds on itself. If the department of energy blesses solar energy because certain loony but influential groups think it is swell, then sensible people, under the illusion that the DOE has integrity, will start to believe that there must be something to solar energy, even if they can’t figure out what it is.

Secretary Moniz, a former MIT physicist, has to defend the contradictory policies of his department. As a result his statements are shrouded in logical fog. At a Q & A session with government employees, one person asked him how renewable energy, that is windmills and solar electricity, will survive since natural gas generated electricity is so much cheaper. The honest answer is that renewables will survive because he government will subsidize them or a government, probably a state government, will force the power companies to purchase the renewable electricity at an inflated price that will be passed on to the customers. Of course he didn’t give this honest answer to the question. Instead, he went into a long discussion about natural gas being a bridge fuel to the presumed renewable future.

After watching YouTube videos of Moniz I got the impression that he understands energy basics and is good at hiding the contradictions in the official policy. However it appears that when he talks about global warming / climate change, he has no clue about the science and instead is just parroting an extreme and unscientific party line. Moniz promotes the idea that global warming will also cause hurricanes, droughts and floods. This notion was recently manufactured to try to salvage something from the failure of global warming because the Earth has not warmed for 18 years. The science behind this idea that CO2 creates extreme weather is slim to none, but it is psychologically effective because people remember the most recent bad weather more clearly than the bad weather of 20 years ago. Thus they can be easily tricked into thinking there is a trend for the worse.

The idea that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will cause strong global warming, as opposed to mild, hard to detect, global warming, is based on computer models of the atmosphere. These models are severely deficient, even according to the people who create them. Further, the many models disagree with each other and disagree with the existing climate of the Earth. The only time there was some matchup between increasing CO2 and increasing temperature was about the last 30 years end of the 20th century. The temperature increased just as fast from 1910 to 1940 when it couldn’t be blamed on CO2, because CO2 generation was tiny back then. Global warming is a scientific theory with little scientific support. However it has great political support.

Renewable energy may be a trillion dollar mistake. At some point it will go out of fashion and we can plow under the windmills and solar farms. At least renewable energy won’t threaten our survival, even if some sad sacks in California have to pay 40 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity. But the Department of Energy is also in charge of nuclear bombs and the associated technology. Secretary Moniz is working with Secretary of State Kerry in negotiating an agreement with the Iranians that is supposed to delay the acquisition of nuclear bombs by the ayatollahs. At this point things start to get scary.

The only likely way to stop the ayatollahs from getting a bomb is to use force and bomb their bomb making industry into a pile of smoking rubble. But Obama doesn’t want to do this because it is risky. As retaliation, the Iranians could be expected to try to block he Strait of Hormuz and to destroy Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure. The result could be, for a while, $10 a gallon gasoline. Of course the Iranians might not do this and they might not succeed if they tried.  But Obama would rather make a pretend agreement with the Iranians to prevent them from developing nuclear bombs. At least the crisis will be delayed until after the next election. Likewise the destruction of Tel Aviv or New York or the destruction of our electric grid by electromagnetic pulse will also be delayed. Or, maybe none of these bad things will ever happen. So Secretary Moniz spends time in Paris negotiating with his Iranian counterpart, who also went to MIT, about the minutiae of centrifuges and plutonium separation. None of that much matters because the Iranians are going to make bombs regardless of what some agreement says.

Of course I could be wrong. Maybe global warming really will turn out to be a problem. Maybe the Department of Energy will sponsor research that develops a plant that turns 10% of the solar energy falling on it into diesel fuel. Maybe a new supreme leader will take over in Iran and Iran will give up its nuclear weapons and embrace the United States. Sometimes, against all expectations, taking the politically expedient wrong path turns out, in the end, to be the right path. Just don’t count on it.

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