Saturday, December 29, 2007

Zubrin on alcohol

Robert Zubrin's new book Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil argues for imposing a sweeping mandate on the auto industry, requiring that all cars sold in the U.S. be flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on ethanol or methanol as well as gasoline. Doing this, Zubrin argues, would break OPEC's power, cut off financial support for terrorism, and give new impetus to world development.

Zubrin, of course, is known mainly for his views on space exploration. I reviewed his The Case for Mars at Reason a decade ago, and his Entering Space for a few years later. I was more impressed with the Mars book than its successor, though in retrospect it seems to me that his views about the feasibility and necessity of getting to Mars by next Tuesday or so were a bit overstated.

There's a similar rhetorical quality in Energy Victory. Zubrin says we can have energy independence within a decade (the same time frame he gave for his Mars mission) and that, unless we do as he specifies, the results will be disastrous. Much of what he says about energy (as well as about Mars) is valuable and thought-provoking. But having the government pick alcohol fuels as the energy future requires a lot of faith in the ability of experts and bureaucrats to get it right. I'd rather see a policy (such as a carbon tax) that spurs multiple alternative energy sources to compete, rather than assuming we know the best choice in advance.

Update 12/30: Rand Simberg notes the above and some other Zubrin-related links. I'd add that a mandate such as Zubrin proposes could have some dismal unintended consequences. By making new cars more expensive, it would encourage people to keep their old gas guzzlers on the road longer. And it would divert attention from other efforts to build greener cars.

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