“This is clearly a green dream team.”
– Gene Karpinski, League of Conservation Voters (2008)
“We find ourselves firmly in the neo-Malthusian camp … because the barriers to continued material growth, in the form of problems of economics, logistics, management, and environmental impact, are so formidable.”
– John Holdren et al. (1977)
President Obama is salesman-in-chief for a set of energy policies that are in conflict with what the large majority of Americans desire—and expect—at the pump and at the switch. Oil, natural gas, and coal are the most plentiful, reliable, and affordable energies. They are naturally chosen over inferior substitutes such as ethanol for transportation and wind and (on-grid) solar for electricity.
Free choice creates “market failure,” an intelligensia declares. Energy should be pricier (less available) to save us from ourselves, energy planners conclude. But does government knows best? Isn’t there analytical failure in the central plan and government failure in the implementation? Buyer beware.
The Dream—and Team
“The pursuit of a new energy economy requires a sustained, all-hands-on-deck effort,” Obama announced soon after his election in 2008. “This time will be different. This time we cannot fail.” The New York Times editorialized:
There is no question what this team must do — mount a strong offensive on climate change, fashion a more efficient energy system, seek out and invest in next-generation, transformative technologies. These are extraordinarily difficult tasks that will face resistance from industry and many in Congress.
Mr. Obama’s advisers fortunately seem united in their concern for the threats facing the planet and unafraid to use the pricing power of the market or the financial power of government to address them.
Four years later, amid “green energy” carnage, there are numerous signs of a three-front war against coal, oil, and natural gas. In the trenches for the “green dream team” are Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, EPA head Lisa Jackson, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. And behind the secretaries is a Philosopher King—Obama’s chief science advisor, John P. Holdren.
Holdren’s official titles are Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). A MacArthur genius and prior Harvard professor, this energy interventionist is, indeed, the smartest guy in the room.
An examination of Holdren’s decades-old energy-related writings, many made with his mentor Paul Ehrlich, reveals a litany of alarmism and failed prognostications. Until he takes them off the table, his statements should be part of the conversation in the current political season.
John Holdren has advocated “a massive campaign … to de-develop the United States;” sounded the alarm over global cooling; called for “a rebellion against cars;” and endorsed a plan to place “strict depletion [production] quotas on the natural resources of the United States.”
Holdren is on record as predicting mass death from the enhanced greenhouse effect, or anthropogenic global warming. Stated Ehrlich: “As University of California physicist John Holdren has said, it is possible that carbon dioxide-induced famines could kill as many as a billion people before the year 2020.”
Holdren’s deep-seated belief of the human “predicament,” where one nation’s gain means another’s loss, led him to state:
“Only one rational path is open to us—simultaneous de-development of the [overdeveloped countries] and semi-development of the underdeveloped countries (UDC’s), in order to approach a decent and ecologically sustainable standard of living for all in between. By de-development we mean lower per-capita energy consumption, fewer gadgets, and the abolition of planned obsolescence.”
Holdren has admitted that his government-planning approach would require “undesirable social or political change” and a “loss of civil liberties.” This is because, in his view, “People are the bane of rational energy planning.”
Behind the President is a worldview, and behind that is a brain trust. Make no mistake: the energy/environmental worldview is neo-Malthusian. According to this world view, fossil fuels are depletable and thus not physically sustainable. Fossil fuels increase pollution. Burning hydrocarbons will lead to catastrophic climate change through the enhanced greenhouse effect. Ergo, government must plan our energy future by transforming it.
“The curious task of economics, F. A. Hayek, wrote in The Fatal Conceit, “is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine the can design.” Such is warning to government planners in particular and to democracies in general. In the real world of analytical and government failure, alleged market failures do not look so bad. In fact, the most sustainable energy future might just be the free-market one.
NOTE: John Holdren’s views on energy and climate, including the sources of the above quotations, can be found in Robert Bradley, “The Heated Energy Debate: Assessing John Holdren’s Attack on Bjørn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist“ (Competitive Enterprise Institute: 2003), and at MasterResource.org.