Welcome to Charge: the future of energy
WHERE WE’RE GOING IS WHERE WE’VE BEEN
by Daniel C. Sweeney, Ph.D
This week Samuel Bodman’s, George Bush’s Energy Secretary, chose Lee Raymond to head a group developing national energy policy initiatives. In view of Bush’s recent statements in support of alternative fuels and curbing oil imports, this is a rather remarkable appointment.
Raymond is the former president and CEO of Exxon-Mobil who during his tenure at the oil giant funded pseudo-scientific research purporting to disprove the existence of global warming and scoffed at the notion of lessening foreign oil dependence through the promotion of alternative energy sources. Exxon-Mobil has been virtually alone among the biggest international petroleum companies in its failure to diversify into alternative energy in one form or another, and also has been unusual in its stated insistence that global climate change studies are “junk science”.
Exxon-Mobil under Raymond’s leadership also issued statements to the effect that current conventional oil reserves total in excess of 3.1 trillion barrels, almost double the median number cited by leading oil analysts, and suggested that oil producers would increase production to over 50% above current levels. Exxon also dismissed the conventional wisdom to the effect that almost all oil producers have already passed the peak of production. Scores of countries would be boosting production in the future according to Exxon’s top management.
Obviously Exxon’s, and, by extension, Raymond’s position is consistent. If oil really is superabundant and likely to flow out of the ground in ever more copious cascades then why bother with alternative energy, especially if CO2 emissions really are no problem? Of course one could place a less charitable construction on the expression of these notions and infer that Exxon’s intention were to try to stifle renewables so that energy consumers were left with no choice but ever more expensive petroleum products, but that would be churlish even to suggest. Indeed in the Texas of Spindletop days one might be challenged to a duel or horsewhipped or otherwise ill used for contesting the statements of an industry stalwart and perhaps even today these are dangerous inferences to make.
One is reminded here of Dick Cheney’s secret energy meetings during the Bush Administration’s first term and one begins to understand the need for secrecy then and now. After all, individuals lacking in subtlety might suspect that some deep disharmony underlies George Bush’s assertions of energy independence and his appointment of a petroleum satrap heretofore committed to ever increasing growth in oil consumption. How does one square that circle?
We don’t pretend to know.
If Raymond and Exxon-Mobil are right on all counts—global warming and peak oil are both junk science and business as usual can go on indefinitely—then this is an excellent appointment, but then why not be more forthright? Why doesn’t George W. Bush simply state that lessening dependence on foreign oil is rank foolishness, and then strike all funding for alternative energy research from the D.O.E. budget? Why make any concessions at all to Greens and doomsayers and enviro whack jobs? Solidify the base, for God’s sake, and keep on message.
Still, we cannot refrain from speculating on the possibility of some fundamental discrepancy between Exxon-Mobil’s professed position and their own internal deliberations. What if they actually believe otherwise, that oil is running out and that global warming is real but let’s not say so because that’s bad for business?
That leads to further speculation. What is the plan if oil reaches $150 a barrel in ten years and the Greenland ice sheet melts and the U.S. is embroiled in two or three Middle Eastern conflicts simultaneously. How does one avoid appearing wrong oneself, and how does one deflect the anger of the citizenry elsewhere. That would require extreme adroitness at public relations jujitsu.
Homosexuals are always good scapegoats, but how does one blame them for an oil shortage? They don’t consume petroleum jelly in those quantities. Ah, we have it…. During the sixth century when homosexuality was declared a crime under the Code of Justinian the reasoning was that homosexual acts induced earthquakes! The precise causal relationship eludes us, but it seemed rather obvious to the jurists of that period. If Gays can produce such profound geophysical effects in the form of temblors, then mightn’t they disturb oil fields as well? Maybe that’s a stretch I think it represents the kind of out of the box thinking that will be required.
Anyway, President Bush is to be congratulated on a fine appointment. We’re sure that the conclusions of this new energy policy committee will soon be made available on a need-to-know basis.