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Monday, February 18, 2008

So-so gusher

I’ve now read the rest of the book I mentioned below, Gusher of Lies, by Robert Bryce. It’s a mixed bag. Bryce makes some good points – his arguments against ethanol are very much on target, and he makes a good case against energy subsidies more broadly. And he’s correct in saying that energy independence, in the sense of outright autarky, is impossible in an interdependent, interconnected world. (However, no one, including Robert Zubrin, argues for such autarky; Zubrin is happy to import biofuels.)

Yet Bryce is much too blasé in dismissing the links between Persian Gulf oil revenues and terrorism. Saudi financing of radical groups is shrugged off. Al Qaeda is likened to other terrorist groups such as FARC in Colombia, notwithstanding their differences in reach and ambition. The Bin Laden family fortune, Bryce informs us, came from construction, not oil (but of course, the Saudi construction boom resulted from oil).

Often, Bryce dismisses possible substitutes for current energy sources by saying they are decades away. But even if that is true, so what? The point of U.S. energy policy should be to lay the groundwork for a long-term shift away from sources that are environmentally and strategically problematic.

Claims that we can shift from oil in a decade are absurd. But moving over several decades to a more diversified, cleaner, and ultimately more secure portfolio of energy sources is not absurd. And since no one can predict what that energy mix will be, the best solution is to tax the clearly undesired sources with a carbon levy, and to make other possible energy sources prove themselves in the market, without government prop-ups.

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