Energy

Energy in the West Cheap and Ubiquitous Despite Policymakers' Best Efforts

The West's misguided attempts to curtail CO2 emissions through limits on energy use are filtering down to places where cheap energy is still a distant dream.

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British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three well-known laws, the third of which, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," is pertinent to my column today. From air-conditioned rooms in summer and heated apartments in winter, to hot cups of coffee at breakfast and cold glasses of water at lunch, the life of a typical Westerner is powered by energy that is both cheap and ubiquitous.

Few of us stop and think about its almost miraculous abundance or can conceive of a world without it. Yet, only two centuries ago, most of us relied, primarily, on two types of energy—human and animal muscle—to meet our everyday needs. If you got tired or sick, or if your mule or horse had died, you were out of luck. The Industrial Revolution changed all that, as Alex Epstein documents in his superb book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.

Today, energy is so abundant that many Western governments are trying to limit its use through punitive tariffs. "Fuel poverty," or the unenviable choice between a freezing cold apartment and a massive heating bill, is already killing thousands of poor people and pensioners in Europe, and compounding the continent's manufacturing woes, as high energy prices force factories to close and move overseas.

Unfortunately, our obsession with global warming and supposedly looming planetary destruction, and our misguided attempts to curtail CO2 emissions through limits on energy use, are slowly filtering down to places where access to cheap energy is still a distant dream.

I was reminded of the pernicious effects of Western eschatology when speaking to a young World Bank official who works on promoting "renewable" energy in those parts of Africa which have not yet experienced the magic of abundant energy derived from fossil fuels. Angola, for example, is oil rich, but energy poor. What the Angolan people, not to mention the Angolan economy, need is a reliable and cheap source of energy. Why should they pay extra for unreliable sources of energy—like solar and wind—when they have oil to burn?

Consider, also, South Africa. The country is, by African standards, rich in income and, by global standards, super rich in coal reserves. Yet South Africa will build eight Russian nuclear power stations. Why?  Because the South African government wants to "transform" the country's "energy mix" from one where 100 percent of energy is derived from coal to one where 11 percent is generated by solar and wind, and another 13 percent is generated by nuclear power. The estimated, which is to say minimum, cost comes to a cool one trillion South African Rands.

As the old saying goes: rich countries can get away with idiotic policies—at least for a time.

Explore more data like this at HumanProgress.org.

NEXT: Brickbat: Find Another Job

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  1. Market Failure! Cheap energy is choking mother Gaia! Repent! Shiver in your hovel. Eschew eating what you cannot locally grow. Rend your clothes and walk naked before the world and lay yourself low. It’s that or enjoy your modern life and tell the environmental nuts they are literally trying to kill more people than Hitler.

    1. *Clobbers Florida Man with a shovel*

      We’ll have to exorcize those warmist demons from you.

      1. Oh wait, he was coming around at the end.

        *hides shovel*

        1. *Lays bleeding and semi unconscious*

          *weakly* why?

          1. Are you sure you didn’t just overdose on some new artisinal drug?

            1. *Checks pockets*

              What the hell was in the hand crafted burlap sack?

    2. Environmental guilt is the hairshirt of the 21st century.

      1. Outstanding.

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      1. Hey, who needs a pimp when you have Google?

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    1. Are the girls cheap and ubiquitous?

    2. But what if I want a beautiful man? Way to other me, dating bot!

    3. I’m not single, but I may try this if my apartment gets freezing cold next winter.

      You get whole bunch of people cramped into a small space, especially with the addition of some music, dancing, and cheap booze, and you’d be surprised how hot the place gets. You often have to crack a window — even in the dead of winter.

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  4. The best way forward, if you actually believe in man-made global warming bullshit, is to untether the market from state-established monopolies and allow competition to flourish. In Texas, you have more options in buying energy than you do in what kind car you buy. You can pu chase the cheapest, the most “green” (which is far from the cheapest), you can lock in a lower rate per kWh but be penalized if your usage falls below a threshold or you can find a low rate that jumps if you go over a kWh threshold. And you can pick hundreds of hybrids of these options.

    And you know what? It is less than half of what energy costs have been for me in areas where the state only allows a single actor Ike California, Virginia and Georgia. And that choice lets greens choose to pay more so the private companies investing in green tech can continue developing it. The alternative is a company that is stagnant because there is no incentive to meet customer wants or needs…they’re forced to,do business with you and your profits are strictly regulated , so why invest in anything?

    1. So basically what you’re saying is that the free market can be good for the greens and good for ordinary people’s wallets, too? No wonder the leftists hate free markets so much. The last think they want is for people to actually do their own thing and be happy.

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  8. Your concern, Marian, for the poor of the world is touching. Of course, you could not care less that the effects of climate change are going to impact those poor areas the most. So save your pity. I’m not impressed.

    Cheap energy? Really. Have you factored in the costs of carbon, or is all that CO2 a free ride for you? It’s not for everyone else. Maybe you would support a carbon tax, which should be in place, and then it wouldn’t be so cheap anymore.

    In the meantime, solar is growing rapidly, getting cheaper everyday, and lo and behold, bringing power to some of the poorest areas around the globe. Areas that never had electricity even though fossil fuels are cheap.

    1. Here is just one example, Marian.

      In East Africa, many place use dirty, filthy, unhealthy kerosene, at a cost of .50c a day.

      “M-Kopa Solar provides power to more than 140,000 households in East Africa for $0.45 per day, and is adding over 4,000 homes each week. And with this increased uptake comes economic opportunities for the companies that provide it.
      M-Kopa Solar’s revenues are nearing $20m per year, and the company is starting to licence its technology in other markets, such as Ghana.”

      1. You do know cheap kerosene provided by Rockefeller is what allowed Americans to stay up past sunset and make this country great?

    2. Hey Marian, maybe you would chose kerosene as the power source for your home rather than solar. Yeah, I doubt it.

    3. Jackass is still stuck on stupid. I suppose he would buy a car that only worked intermittently and even less at night with a battery. And not only that, he would pay the same price for such a car.

      1. Or how about slaying that straw man of “solar bad”? Nobody is arguing that we should ban solar power. Or wind, hydro, wave action, tidal, geothermal, etc.

        If it is better and cheaper, that’s where the market goes. In some areas of the world, electricity infrastructure does not exist, so propane, Kerosene, coal, wood, dung, etc. are preferable sources of energy at this point in those locations.

        The minute that solar is better and cheaper than coal or natural gas, everyone is going that direction. If switchgrass ethanol were the cheapest and best, there ya go! Everyone would be driving ethanol cars powered on switchgrass ethanol.

        It makes no sense to run around arguing that Solar or Wind or whatever is the most efficient or cost effective. The second that it is in fact the most cost effective, everyone will by buyng

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  11. Consider the words of the man Comrade Obama hired as his top adviser on science and technology, John P. Holdren:

    “A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to DE-DEVELOP the United States. Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses in overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries.De-development means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation. This effort must be largely political.”

    “Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations,” wrote Obama’s future science adviser, along with Paul and Anne Ehrlich, “is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided to every human being.”

  12. once is accidental,twice is coincidence,three times is enemy action.”
    Comrade Obama blocked nuclear power by closing Yucca Mountain,is going after coal via EPA,has blocked Gulf and ANWR oil drilling,and is now going after fracking,doing everything possible to block US oil production. He killed the Keystone XL pipeline. Coal,oil,and nuclear is over 70% of US energy sources.
    See a pattern here? there’s a concerted effort by Comrade Obama to reduce US energy supplies,which DIRECTLY diminishes the US economy.

    It’s all part of his efforts to weaken the US economically,politically,and militarily.

    “The Obama Doctrine can be described in just nine words: Embolden our enemies, undermine our friends, diminish our country.” Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

  13. The solution to all of it was invented 50 years ago, the molten salt thorium reactor. The fact that the entire world does not right now run on thorium is the greatest crime in history.

  14. This article doesn’t fully address reality. Fuel subsidies in various forms worldwide are far more prevalent than carbon taxes, including our $4.7 billion of tax expenditure for the fossil fuel industry. If you want to advocate a free market approach in the energy context then ending backdoor government spending in this sector is the starting point.

    There is also a libertarian case for the carbon tax. Shifting the cost of a product onto third parties through pollution makes its sticker price artificially low. Why tax something we want more of (income) when we can instead tax something we want less of (known, harmful externalities). If we need pay some sort of tax then replace the payroll tax with this.

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