Thursday, May 21, 2015

Climate Change or Not, Humans Need Reliable, Economical Energy—and the Pilgrim Pipeline

The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, which would move liquid petroleum through Northern New Jersey, has garnered some loud opposition. But the opposition is motivated primarily by NIMBYism and environmentalism-inspired anti-fossil fuel hysteria.

But to automatically condemn the Pilgrim Pipeline, which would transport crude oil through 60 miles of our state (notably, the Highlands region), is premature until all the facts are heard, and to oppose any infrastructure project because of a reflexive dislike of fossil fuels is an irrational misfire in the overarching climate fight.

The Star-Ledger did salute allegiance to the environmentalist flag. It supports “every reasonable measure to advance environmental protection – a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system, more subsidies for clean energy, and conservation – because climate change is a clear and imminent threat, if not the moral imperative of our time.”

But the Star-Ledger, to its credit, stops short of radical environmentalist efforts to shut down the fossil fuel industry regardless of the consequences. Editorial Board member Tom Moran, for example, previously criticized environmentalists who hailed New York’s ban on fracking. On Pilgrim, the paper notes that

Even environmentalists, in their lucid moments, must concede that oil must travel. There is no timeline on when the U.S. can transition from hydrocarbons for its transportation needs – it could be 10 years or 50 years – so the only option in the interim is to make the delivery method safer.

They’re giving hard core environmentalists too much credit. The most lucid environmentalists are not primarily concerned with human well-being. That aside, the Star-Ledger does note that pipelines are much safer than trains and barges, especially newer, technologically state-of-the-art pipelines. The Star-Ledger also notes a legitimate downside to the pipeline; approval could carry with it the power of the company to impose eminent domain seizures.

Its nod to environmentalist dogma aside, the Star-Ledger presents a relatively balanced assessment of the pipeline proposal. I left these comments:

Regardless of whether climate change turns out to be an “imminent threat” or much ado about nothing, one thing is certain: Without reliable energy on demand, life in any climate is miserable and deadly to man. Imagine no regular source of clean water; no safe human and industrial waste disposal facilities; no clean indoor central heating and cooling; no electricity; no safe means of transportation to move people and goods over short or long distances; no modern medicine; no modern agriculture; no modern communications; no sturdy structures; no ability to quickly remediate disaster consequences; and none of the myriad other aspects of safe, clean, and prosperous modern living that we take for granted.

Our modern, life-giving industrial society requires monumental amounts of reliable energy, most of which is currently provided by fossil fuels. Nowhere on Earth has anyone yet proved that so-called “renewable” energy can be the primary source of energy. It would be cruel, immoral, and downright insane to suppress and block fossil fuel development merely on the quasi-religious hope that something will come along to replace it.

To the extent “renewables” can contribute to our energy needs, the demand for fossil fuels and thus pipelines will naturally decline. But given the vital importance of reliable energy to our lives, we shouldn’t suppress any energy technology. We should welcome energy producers of all kinds, consistent with common sense technologically and economically feasible environmental, safety, and anti-pollution policies, and due respect for property rights.

In the comments, URnoexpert11 questioned mrbru’s observation that "Solar, which tries to convert sunlight into energy, is nothing but a modified version of  coal, oil and natural gas..." URnoexpert11 asked how so?  Does it pollute at the same levels?  Please elaborate.” mrbru didn’t. But I did:

All energy sources pollute, including wind and solar. But pollution risks of any energy source must be weighed against the benefits and the risks of not having it. Would any rational person argue for the abolition of antibiotics or vaccines just because they have some potentially harmful side effects? The answer is to minimize pollution through technology and law—which has been ongoing and successful for decades—not forego the enormous benefits of fossil fuel energy. To focus only on pollution and not benefits of fossil fuels is the very definition of irrational prejudice.

Related Reading:

Call for "Carbon Fee" is a Call for a Tax on Human Well-Being

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