The Green New Deal does not have to define America

Imagine if, 30 years ago, a politician had stood up and announced, “Hello, I’m Phillip Mamauf-Wifarts and I’m running for President of the United States. If you elect me, I promise to take away your smartphone, your search engine, your social media, and your video teleconferencing apps. No more Zoom, Facebook, Google, or iPhone for you!”

Every word he said would have been nonsense. Only 30 years ago, no one had a smartphone or knew what a search engine was. Social media meant CompuServe and America Online, and no one imagined being able to talk to and see unlimited numbers of people scattered around the world at a negligible cost.

Now imagine if a serious political contender made a similar threat today. People would be up in arms, denouncing a madman. Millions of ordinary, common people have technology that was unimaginable 30 years ago and rely on it to the point that they can’t imagine life without it.

But now imagine that Mamauf-Wifarts told people 30 years ago that, apart from a few silly gadgets, his policies would mean there would effectively be no improvement in the convenience and comfort of daily transportation, major travel, or even air conditioning (a.k.a., relief from the oppressive heat), and that all would have regressed in some ways, they would have been outraged.  How can we make so much technological progress and not have it translate into transformative betterment?

Of course, that’s exactly where we are today. The things that most powerfully affect our lives are stagnant.

But what if this state of affairs is artificial? What if farmworkers in California’s Central Valley could easily afford a well-air-conditioned house in August? What if Los Angeles County residents could traverse their county in less than 30 minutes at a cost less than a half-hour’s earnings? What if you could get from anywhere on Planet Earth to anywhere else on Planet Earth in less than 24 hours, for less than a day’s wages? And did I mention that you could do so in safety and comfort? What if Elon Musk’s and Richard Branson’s visions were already a reality, and accessible to a (thriving) middle class?

If we already had that ability and a politician promised to return us to today’s technology, we would be taking to the streets with pitchforks, just as we would if that politician promised to take away our smartphones and search engines.

The problem is that, since we have not yet achieved these transportation and air-conditioning (and heating) wonders, we can’t seem to get too worked up about their absence. Even if someone holds out the possibility that these things are available, we can’t seem to rouse ourselves. Take away what we have, and we’ll kill you. But take away or promise to give us what we don’t…crickets. To quote Pink Floyd, we have become comfortably numb.

But that scenario of a transportation and climate-comfort cornucopia could be our reality, and not just in some far-off distant future. We could have already had it years ago, except that some people with power took baseball bats to the rest of our kneecaps. A society that has developed technology to the level at which today we find Big Data, Artificial Intelligence/AI, Smart Appliances, Smart Vehicles, IoT (Internet of Things, a.k.a a chip in every potato chip), Machine Learning, and the ability to spy on everyone everywhere all the time (and to monetize that spying), has the technology it needs to bring about the nearest thing possible to techno-Utopia.

What we really lack is the ability to move lots of heavy stuff cheaply.

Yes, we have amazing manufacturing robotics, but what is the cost of digging a mile of tunnel through solid igneous? Of constructing a mile of earthquake-proof elevated road or railway? What if that cost could be one-tenth or even one-hundredth of what it currently is? Imagine how much more could be built. California could have myriad economically viable bullet train systems (the one’s progressives claim to dearly desire) without ripping off middle-class taxpayers.

But we gave all of that up decades ago with every act of legislation, regulation, and policy that made energy more expensive than it had to be. We gave it whenever we closed a pipeline or refused to permit a new one. We gave it up when we subsidized ethanol. We gave it up when we acquiesced to (completely unnecessary) $5-per-gallon gasoline (an ever-increasing percentage is taxes). And we definitively slammed the door on the future wonderland when we strangled nuclear power in its infancy.

My father was a staunch Democrat and I doubt he would be a Donald Trump fan. He was also a nuclear scientist, counted Nobel laureate physicists among his closest personal friends, and was a passionate and authoritative evangelist for nuclear power.

No other method has ever existed for producing such massive amounts of energy for peaceful purposes, at pennies per gigawatt-hour. Nuclear power, combined with our existing software capabilities, can achieve the implosion of the cost of large physical infrastructure projects by orders of magnitude. As Ron Ross said, “Nuclear energy is the energy densest of all the currently feasible alternatives.”

Next time you find yourself at a standstill in your Uberlyft on what is grotesquely called a “freeway,” on your way to an air transport facility that federal bureaucrats “run,” remember this: If you want your grandchildren to have it any better than this, liberty and nuclear energy -- if we would but choose them -- are the keys.

Howard Hyde is the author of “Escape from Berkeley: An EX liberal progressive socialist embraces America (and doesn’t apologize)

IMAGE: The wonders of nuclear fission (retro cartoon). YouTube screen grab.

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