candid thoughts on the issues of the day.
Published on October 26, 2004 By Robert Guinness In Politics
In my last essay, I listed the Three Big E’s of Energy, Environment, and Education as the most important issues to me in this election. In this essay, I will focus on one, Energy. I will admit that many will see it as a stretch as to how Energy policy relates to Catholic teaching, but please bear with me for at least 5 minutes, and I’ll do my best to help you see why.

What Is It?

As a physicist, I’ll cite one of our most famous equations: E=mc2 (I promise this will be the only equation I’ll use.) In layman’s terms, this equation basically means, “It’s all energy.” In a more religious context, I think it means that everything in the universe can be broken down into the same mysterious thing that physicists call “energy”, but you might just as easily call it “spirit”, “mystery”, or “life-force.” Physicists don’t really know what energy is, we just know we can do useful things with it.

Why Do We Need It?

Energy is at the root of nearly everything we try to do in our society. First, energy obviously fuels our economy. It is required to produce the goods we make, drive our cars or take the bus to work or school, ship the goods we produce across the world, and in our modern economy, run the computers, printers, fax machines, and other electronic technology that are essential to our economy.

Still, energy goes beyond our economy and into our private lives. It gives us light, heat, and AC in our homes, powers our TVs, microwaves, telephones, and cell phones, and of course runs our home computers, including the one on which I’m now typing and probably the one from which you are now reading. But what’s my point, why is energy necessary to be good Christians?

The reason is that we have come to a point of development in our society, where without a huge source of energy, we can not have our way of life. Without an enormous amount of energy entering the U.S. every year, many people in the U.S. would no have no job, older people would have trouble surviving harsh winters or summers, and many of our communities, separated by great distances in this country, would probably break up. Simply put, we could not support nearly all the people who are promised freedom, equality, and the hope of economic success by this country.

Who Do We Get It From and How?

Perhaps even more important for Christians, we need to consider how we go about getting the energy that is so vital to our daily lives. First, we are far from being independent in our energy production. We currently import about half of all our oil and about 15% of our natural gas (http://www.state.gov/e/rls/rm/2003/19447.htm). So if we believe our call as Christians is to provide security for our children, we should understand that dependence is one of the worst breaches of security our nation can have. Our dependency on other countries for the most important resource for our security, energy, is growing each year.

Exploring this issue more deeply, as Christians we have look specifically at where we get our energy. Our second largest source of oil imports is Saudi Arabia, which has a government with some of the worst human rights abuses and religious persecution on Earth. Yet by buying their oil, they can maintain power from the billions of dollars we put into their coffers each year.

We also have political and economic involvement in almost every country in the Middle East, despite the widespread lack of democracy and personal freedoms in that region. This is for the simple fact that 2/3 of the world’s proven oil reserves are located there. If we remain “addicted” to oil, we will remain involved in these countries whether we like it or not. We have no choice as to where God placed the world’s oil.

How Does Our Energy Policy Effect Life?

If we look more closely at our involvement in the countries to whose oil we are addicted, we will find that many of our actions are truly unchristian and undemocratic. Take for example Venezuela, one of our largest sources of oil. Venezuela has been a Catholic country for its entire existence and has been a democratic country since 1959 (a very old democracy in Latin American terms). Its leader, Hugo Chavez, although far from perfect, is enormously popular among the poor and lower classes. He was democratically elected in 1999 by the largest margin in four decades of Venezuelan history. Yet, in 2002 there was a coup to overthrow Chavez, and it is widely believed that the Bush Administration played a large role in supporting it (even the leaders of the coup have admitted US involvement.)

Apparently the Bush’s energy policy is the following: Oil, oil, and more oil. Either get it from regimes who oppress their people, or overthrow our neighbors’ democratically elected leaders to get it at the price we want. (The US tried to get natural gas, too, from Bolivia, but that plan failed miserably and resorted in a coup, a largely peaceful one, when Bolivia’s President suggested they export natural gas to the US through their rival Chile.)

I won’t even go fully into my thoughts about the Bush Administration’s true motives for invading Iraq. You can make your own assessment there, but I just want to point out three facts that might point you in the right direction.

1. Key members of the Bush Administration were leaders of a group called, “Project for a New American Century”, which argued for invasion of Iraq well before 9/11 and the Bush Presidency. One of its top Foreign Policy goals was to seek “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil.” This group, which includes Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, is now running our country. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/iraq/etc/wolf.html)

2. Two of the first objectives in the invasion of Iraq (as stated by the Pentagon) were to secure the oil fields in Rumaylah and Kirkuk, which happen to be two of the top ten oil fields in the world. (http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/cf55c1082925aac485256cf40063eff8?OpenDocument)
(http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/03/24/iraq/main545717.shtml)

3. Despite widespread international opposition, the Bush Administration fervently attempted to keep control of Iraq’s oil revenues through a UN resolution, which eventually passed, yet the Administration continued to violate even this resolution (after using violations of UN resolutions as a justification for invasion). (http://www.christianaid.org.uk/indepth/406iraqoilupdate/Fuelling_Suspicion.pdf)

Lastly, we have to also look at what our Energy policy does to our environment, which effects all of God’s creation, including humans. Even if we ignore the global warming debate (which is a false debate), US Energy policy, especially under the Bush Administration, has an increasingly clear effect on the health of US citizens. I will discuss this issue fully in my next essay.

What is Bush’s Record?

Bush has failed to enact any significant energy policy during his four years in office. His Energy Department is packed with CEOs from the oil, gas, and coal industries. In fact, Bush’s Administration is packed with more CEOs than any other Administration in history. As informed Catholics, we need to understand that a CEO’s primary motive is profit (for some, it is their sole motive) and their sole constituency is shareholders. One of the most fundamental purposes of government is to protect the public from the abuses of the private sector, yet Bush has enlisted the wolves to watch the sheep.

Near the end of the Clinton Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency was wrapping up a number of lawsuits against coal companies who were in clear violation of our Clean Air and Clean Water laws. When Bush came into power, he promptly dropped these lawsuits. Several prominent officials in the EPA resigned in protest to this and other egregious actions of President Bush.

Bush’s Energy Task Force was also packed with oil, gas, and coal CEOs, some of them hand-picked by Bush’s friend Ken Lay. After the Enron scandal, the public demanded to see notes from the meetings of this task force, but the Bush Administration refused. What is it they have to hide? Let me ask you this: If your boss asked you to see the notes from a meeting you attended on his or her behalf, and you said, “No, I won’t let you see them,” what would happen? You’d probably get fired! I know I’m going to remind Bush and Cheney that I am one of their collective bosses and fire them both on November 2!

Bush has not just run a failed policy in an area that is screaming for reform (remember the blackouts of last summer?), but, in terms of energy policy, he has led our country in an immoral and destructive direction that, as Christians, we should vehemently oppose.

What is Kerry’s Plan?

John Kerry has a detailed plan to revolutionize energy use in the United States. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because it is easily available at http://www.johnkerry.com/issues/energy/, but the basics of the policy center on a plan he calls the “20/20 Plan.”

Under this plan, he will fund the research necessary to have 20% of our energy come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. He will also cut the Federal government’s energy bill by 20%, saving us over $14 billion in taxes over the next ten years. (Who knew Kerry was a conservative?) He will provide incentives for the automobile energy to improve fuel efficiency, as well as tax benefits for anyone to use towards buying a more fuel efficient car. He will set us on a path towards energy independence and responsible energy usage.

How Should Catholics Vote on Energy?

I hope I have demonstrated that Energy is an important issue of life, social justice, and general Christian morality, and vital to our future as a nation. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to vote in a manner that upholds our Christian values. The competing paths between Bush and Kerry for our country’s energy policy are widely divergent. One is addicted to the oil economy of the past. The other is committed to the promising new energy economies of the future.

Although you can clearly see which choice I would like you to choose, I’m not going to tell you to vote that way in so many words. I am just trying to give you the most accurate and important information I can give. I hope that you deeply examine your own conscience and decide what is best in your own mind. I pray that God guide you in deciding what is best for our nation, our children’s nation, and our grandchildren’s nation.

Comments
on Oct 27, 2004
Spot On!
Teh Bible makes it clear that we are to be the "good stewards"
on Oct 27, 2004

You apparently haven't read Bush's energy policy.

Here are some facts:

1) It relies heavily on clean coal technology which is abundant in the United States.

2) He has called for a $1 billion subsidy for the research into fuel cell technology.

3) He supports increased use of domestic sources of energy - oil from ANWR and natural gas.

As a side note, I would love to see nuclear power more heavily used but the Democrats and their supporters never push that and no other energy sources are even remotely practical at this point.

on Oct 27, 2004
BTW, if you are a physicist then I find it odd that you are not sketpical of Kerry's 20% on renewable energy plan.  Solar and wind power are not even remotely capable of reaching that level.  Only nuclear based energy sources could. Do you think Kerry supports the wide spread construction of nuclear power plants?
on Oct 27, 2004
You forget that tidal and other hydro power options exist.
on Oct 28, 2004
You apparently haven't read Bush's energy policy.


Here are some facts:


1) It relies heavily on clean coal technology which is abundant in the United States.


First of all, clean coal is an oxymoron. Coal is inherently dirty. It is much dirtier than oil, and much dirtier than natural gas. Also, the methods for mining coal being used in this country are truly horrendous. They literally chop of the top of mountains, take out the coal, and dump all the waste into the river valleys.

That being said, there is technology that can help coal be cleaner. Unfortunately, Bush has done everything to STOP this technology from being implemented. This is because to upgrade the power plants is expensive and eats into the coal companies profits. It MUST be done, however, if we are to be responsible "stewards of the land," as Bush laughingly claims to be.

2) He has called for a $1 billion subsidy for the research into fuel cell technology.

Fuel cells are a good next step, and a hydrogen economy may be a necessary intermediary before converting to the energy economy of the third millennium. But they are not a long term solution. Fuel cells still require FUEL. the hydrogen has so be extracted from something, and that process takes energy. that energy will most likely still come from burning hydrocarbons in the near term. so fuel cells are not the answer.

3) He supports increased use of domestic sources of energy - oil from ANWR and natural gas.

On principle, we should not drill and pipe through land set aside as a wildlife refuge. It would set a dangerous precedent. I applaud Kerry for opposing these efforts. ANWR isn't a solution to our energy needs anyways. It would just be a drop in the bucket. Simply put, the U.S. DOES NOT HAVE enough oil to meet our current demand domestically.

The same goes for natural gas. We have some natural gas in the U.S., and we should continue to explore it. But Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar will by far dominate the natural gas market, since those three countries combined represent about 60% of the world's total gas reserves. The U.S. only represents about 3%.

As a side note, I would love to see nuclear power more heavily used but the Democrats and their supporters never push that and no other energy sources are even remotely practical at this point.

I'm in favor of building limited new fission reactors. I can't stand those nuts that are completely afraid of nuclear. But we still have to find out something to do with the nuclear waste. The nuts won't let us transport it, they won't let us bury it. We have to figure out something to do with the existing waste and the waste being produced with existing reactors before we start building new ones.

We need a robust multi-source energy economy. That means wind, where there is wind, solar, where the days are long and there are no clouds, ethanol where there is soil and rainfall, and limited hydropower where there are mountains and snow. Space solar also represents enormous potential. Ultimately though, we will need to master fusion reactors. And ultimately (foreseeable future), it will be Helium-3, not hydrogen, deuterium, or tritium, that will be the most practical fusion fuel. John Kerry is the only one talking about these possibilities.
on Oct 28, 2004

Reply #4 By: SiRMetMan - 10/27/2004 7:31:13 PM
You forget that tidal and other hydro power options exist.


Sorry but *draginol* is correct. Even adding in tidal and hydro the energy source falls short.
on Oct 28, 2004
BTW, if you are a physicist then I find it odd that you are not sketpical of Kerry's 20% on renewable energy plan.


If you are a businessman, I find it odd that you are not insistent that we have a renewable energy source. It's quite simple really: If we use our energy source at a faster rate than at which that energy source is being created, we will eventually run out. We are currently using hydrocarbons at a rate WAY faster than the rate hydrocarbons are being created (probably by a factor of several million). Wed are using them so fast that Earth doesn't have a mechanism to sink all the carbon that we are putting back into the atmosphere.

Solar and wind power are not even remotely capable of reaching that level.


Earth-based solar and wind alone no. But there is, in fact, enough solar energy, especially if we convert it to electricity in low earth orbit, to power our entire planet. We need more research funds going into solar voltaics and launch vehicles to reduce costs. We also need massive initial government subsidies to break through the economy of scales and build a viable market. Repubicans don't seem to like that though.

Only nuclear based energy sources could. Do you think Kerry supports the wide spread construction of nuclear power plants?


I think Kerry is strong enough to stand up against the extreme left (whereas Bush seems incapable of resisting the temptation to bend over for the extreme right). Kerry is wise, however, to be cautious about nuclear fission, per my reasoning in my previous comment. Only an idiot would support the wide spread construction of nuclear power plants, until we settle on a place to put the nuclear waste. On Bush's energy policy site, there is no mention of this issue when he discusses nuclear energy, which he calls an "emissions free" energy source. I did, in fact, look at Bush's energy policy, as stated on his website. I really wish I didn't have to be so harsh, but...Most of it is so artificial and contrived, it makes me sick. Brad, did you spend any time comparing what he says on his site to what he actually did during his first term?
on Oct 28, 2004
Great post, Robert.

One problem with Bush's plans is that his rhetoric is so much better than the reality of his policies. Is coal a good source of energy? Sometimes. But not when the Bush administration redefines "waste" as "fill", so that it can bulldoze the tops of mountains into the creekbeds below.
on Oct 28, 2004

Fuel cells are a good next step, and a hydrogen economy may be a necessary intermediary before converting to the energy economy of the third millennium. But they are not a long term solution. Fuel cells still require FUEL. the hydrogen has so be extracted from something, and that process takes energy. that energy will most likely still come from burning hydrocarbons in the near term. so fuel cells are not the answer.

We are talking past each other.  You claimed that Bush is all about oil. My point is that that is really not the case. If you want to argue that Bush's energy program relies on fossil fuels than I'm with you. Yes, Bush's plan relies on fossil fuels. And "clean coal" is pretty clean these days. 

We need a robust multi-source energy economy. That means wind, where there is wind, solar, where the days are long and there are no clouds, ethanol where there is soil and rainfall, and limited hydropower where there are mountains and snow. Space solar also represents enormous potential. Ultimately though, we will need to master fusion reactors. And ultimately (foreseeable future), it will be Helium-3, not hydrogen, deuterium, or tritium, that will be the most practical fusion fuel. John Kerry is the only one talking about these possibilities.

Wind and solar aren't even remotely sufficient for our energy needs. And they both take a lot of energy to construct in the first place -- it takes years just for them to make up the energy they themselves consumed let alone starting to provide a net benefit.  Hydro is pretty tapped out already for easy to construct places and other places would be immensely costly in terms of energy use to construct.  Space solar is a joke, I can't bleieve you would suggest that as having enormous potential.  Fusion power sure, why not, great. But that's not a plan, that' sa wish.

Talking about possibilities is silly. We need a real plan. Not a wish list. Heck, let's talk about warp drive and anti-mater reactors while we're at it.

If you are a businessman, I find it odd that you are not insistent that we have a renewable energy source.

You are obviously not a businessman so let me tell you a little bit about it - being a business man is a lot like being an engineer, you have to be pragmatic. I don't worry about us running out of oil or coal or other fossil fuels. Peak production issues on oil are an issue but there is no shortage of existing energy sources for the next few centuries.

Secondly, as a business man, I have to deal with reality as it is, not as I wish it to be.  I can WISH we had fusion power or anti-matter plants just l ike I can wish we had transporters and warp drive. But that isn't a plan.  Kerry isn't offering a plan, he's offering a vision of a future without the ability to achieve it.

Bush gets attacked because he puts forward an actual plan that lives in the realm of reality. You don't like fossil fuels. Fine. I'm not fond of them either. But give me an alternative then. A real alternative. Don't sit back and wave your hand saying "oh, solar and wind and space based energy collectors will do the trick" because that's just ridiculous. This issue has been discussed by far smarter people than myself who have concluded that at best, these renewable resources could make up maybe 5% of our total energy if we did a massive (expensive) investment in their construction.  But 20%? No way. 

Have you ever calculated how many terrajoules of energy this country uses each year? Not even counting the cars, it's enormous. Solar and wind is a drop in the bucket.

And there's no evidence that Kerry will be strong against any political pressure. He always seems to take the path of least resistance.

If you REALLY want to not be dependent on foreign energy sources then you ahve to look at COAL and NUCLEAR POWER. Those are your realistic choices today. At least until warp drive arrives.

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