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Someone get them a room December 19, 2007

Posted by shubber in hot air, public service announcement, smack talk.
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It appears the great sage, Robert Zubrin, has come down once again from the mountain to share his wisdom with the masses. Not content with spewing economically challenged fantasies about developing space (lest we forget the trillion dollar asteroid), he has now set his sights on America’s energy independence, with a book entitled (surprise):

energy_victory_cover.jpg

As if that were not bad enough, the sycophantic excuse for a review of the book, from a subset of a website I normally respect and read on a regular basis (Space Daily), was over the top.

Someone get Alan Walters a towel to wipe up that embarrassing stain on his pants. His love fest for the latest vapid tome from Zubrin would be funny if it weren’t sad. One might (even knowing better) hope that after he recovers from the GI Joe boo-ya mentality exhibited early in his “review” (“he even provides an aerial photograph and targeting information of the Iranian oil export terminal on Kharg Island.”) he might go back and re-read the book as an actual reviewer. What is it with arm-chair wannabe soldiers these days?

Perhaps he should consider the power of the Auto and oil lobbies, both of which are embodiments of western capitalism and self interest, and neither of which would ever let this fantasy of forcing flex-fuel engines on US consumers come to pass. Trent Lott’s recent stripping of key legislation on behalf of his donors from Nissan being exhibit D in a long and sordid list of such examples over the years. As for nefarious control of our government by those OPEC baddies, someone should just remind both him and Bob Zubrin which PAC has the single biggest influence in Congress.

Hint: it ain’t the Saudis.

Finally, given Zubrin’s displayed lack of a basic grasp of economics in his previous bestseller, “Entering Space”, perhaps one would take his “insightful” strategy with a healthy serving of much needed sodium chloride. Alas, this is obviously too much to ask for from Energy Daily.

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Comments»

1. TomsRants - December 19, 2007

Bob seems to have a singular message, no matter what he writes. It’s: “Do it my way or we’ll all die!” Kinda like Giuliani. (KIDDING)

Seriously, however, I reject the plan as it – again – requires government force to implement…mandates, laws, policies, etc., and I, for one, am sick and tired of vertically integrated, top-down, hegemonic, hierarchical systems, and so are a lot of other people. We’re tired of being told how to live and what to think by so-called “experts”.

I believe a lot of our nation’s political problems in the world would be solved by our getting away from middle east oil. But once we’ve achieved that goal, I’m happy to simply ignore the middle east, and they can do what they want after that – I don’t really care. We can still trade with them, etc., but how they live their lives or who they sell their oil to will be immaterial. That sounds very liberating to me. If Bob wants to save the rest of the world, he is certainly free to give away his own book royalties. But his global redistributionist ideas, even if it’s using Saudi money, are complete kool-aid.

2. Professor L - December 20, 2007

Since I interviewed Bob about his book and thesis on The Space Show this past Tuesday evening, Dec. 18, and since I have actually read the book, I would like to offer a short clarification. The mandate that Dr. Zubrin talks about is one that would require all vehicles sold in the US in five years to come equipped with flex fuel engines. That is the end of the mandate, nothing more, nothing hidden, nothing else. His analysis, conclusions of what may or may not happen, all of that is how Dr. Zubrin sees the situation and in fact it may or may not be accurate.

As far as mandates are concerned, I concur with Tom that we are all sick of being told what to do, what we must have, especially by the government. Yet the day Bob was on the program, Congress passed the energy bill which President Bush will sign and it has mandates in it for higher gas mileage for cars over a very long time. We have safety in cars because of mandates and laws, i.e. seat belts and more. Sometimes industry acts out of its own defense, sometimes because its forced to act by litigation, sometimes by consumer demand.. I see very little downside to the Zubrin mandate. Fist, it would give you and me the option of using gasoline in a flex fuel car that I might have some day, or to use an alcohol fuel. I don’t have that option now for a variety of reasons. The government is not forcing one type of fuel or the other on me or anyone else. I suspect the market will make that decision for most of us. The thing is, we can live in an idealistic world or work and strive to create an idealistic world where we have no mandates or rules by government. But I don’t see it as achievable let alone practical. So saying that all cars need to be sold with the flex fuel engine by a certain date makes sense to me. Its a positive mandate if you ask me. Government mandates are not going away because Tom and others want them to and want our country to be free of them. So if we are practical and grounded in reality and not wishful thinking, the flex fuel idea makes more sense than the almost meaningless long term gas mileage numbers that are in the new energy bill. But I guess Trent Lott and the Japanese auto industry did not think so and the mandate was removed this time around. While I certainly understand Tom’s position and even in a perfect world would agree with him, I see a different situation. I would support a flex fuel engine mandate for all autos sold in the country. I don’t see a downside for it though I am not as convinced of the huge positive outcome that Dr. Zubrin writes about in his book or discussed on The Space Show. If you are interested, I urge you to read his book, “Energy Victory,” and decide for yourself. You can also listen to him describe his plan at http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/854-BWB-2007-12-18.mp3. We live in a world of mandates. While I agree with Tom about them, I am also practical and I am open to some mandates being worthwhile while others are not.

3. TomsRants - December 21, 2007

But David, that’s the real issue, isn’t it? “Flex fuel”, in this context, does not mean “either gasoline or Anything Else That Might Burn in a Car Engine”…it means gas or an ethanol-based fuel only, more specifically, E-85. So I diasgree, the government WOULD be forcing a specific type of fuel on us, and we’ll be taxed to subsidize its (inefficient) production.

When we talk E85, we’re talking continuation of farm subsidies, to grow things that should be for human consumption, but will be used instead to make a fuel that doesn’t deliver the energy/performance of gasoline, takes more energy to produce than is delivered in the end, and will do virtually nothing to make us truly energy independent. Government mandates such as what Bob proposes only serve to stifle true innovation in this regard.

There’s a guy in the midwest right now who charges about $5000 to do biodiesel conversions on everything from Porsches to Hummers – and the Hummers are getting 600 HP and 36 MPG. GM is taking a serious look at this guy. The point is there is already so much innovation going on in the private sector, innovation that will turn into real products within a few short years, that proposed mandated programs should already be seen as DOA by the Congress. Who needs a “flex fuel” vehicle running inefficient E85 when I can drive a plug-in hybrid, a kick-ass biodiesel car, or one that runs on next-gen fuel cells? And why should I be taxed and regulated to pay for something that will be obsolete (except for the farm subsidies) by the time it’s fully implemented?

There is no “one best way” approach to energy independence, and it’s too early in the game to try and lock down a “one size fits all” solution on everybody. Mandates are almost always a failure as they are perceived by pols as a quick and dirty, politically expedient solution, after which they wash their hands of the problem, leaving the inevitable mess for the next generation of pols to solve decades later.

Tell you what, though, David. Since you have the book, you can loan it to me when I’m in SF in January. I’m a speed-reader, I can probably finish it while we’re having dinner.

4. Professor L - December 22, 2007

Hi Tom, remind me and I will loan you the book. Also, Zubrin is not limited by E85. A flex fuel engine uses M85 as well and Bob makes a case for methanol based fuel over ethanol. Evidently this is more controversial than the flex fuel mandate. Anyway, I’m a realist. We are not going to be living in a mandate free world and government is not going Libertarian on us, its going to be more and more controlling. Just look at the host of candidates for office and the gang of front runners. So a flex fuel mandate is not nearly as bad as most government mandates and I don’t see much of a downside to it, if any But read his book and then separate the mandate from his analysis, conclusions, etc. I think we are only talking about government mandates here, not if such a mandate will do all that Bob thinks it will do. I would hope he is correct but I really can’t go that far. In addition to the flex fuel and methanol part of the book, his book focuses on winning the war on terror so when you read it, you will have Bob’s ideas on that subject as well. But again, that is not part of this discussion. Make sure you remind me to bring the book to you. And if you really think we can achieve a mandate free government in this country for 2008 and beyond, well, what did Shubber say was going on at the Space Investment Summit in his quotes in the LA Times article?

5. D. F. Linton - December 22, 2007

TomsRants, no Zubrin is advocatng a true flex-fuel mandate: pure gasoline, 100% methanol (from non-PC coal-to-liquids, if necessary), 100% ethanol (if economical after you dump the import tariff) or any mixture thereof. The relevant technology adjusts the fuel/air ratio using an exhaust sensor. People should RTFB before bloviating.

6. TomsRants - December 22, 2007

A mandate is a mandate. If that scenario can compete freely on a level field with no government interference, go for it. The fact that its supporters are calling for a mandate is that it can’t handle competition.

The worst part of it is that there will still be federal subsidies to crony capitalist and Big Agro players, to whom the fuel delivery infrastructure will be handed over – that’s the issue. Competitive innovators in the biodiesel, and hydrogen fuel cell, et al, players will be squeezed out. When government tries to predict who the winners are going to be and picks them in advance, they are nearly always wrong, and we all lose. We’ll pay a heavy price for bad delivery. Plus, as history shows, government won’t get OUT of something it has been subsidizing until history has long passed it by, i.e., canals, railroads, the Shuttle…

7. rn - December 24, 2007

Shubber: “Trent Lott’s recent stripping of key legislation on behalf of his donors from Nissan being exhibit D in a long and sordid list of such examples over the years.”

In the Space Show interview, Zubrin actually uses this as an example. He does emphasize the Saudi aspect more than the Oil and Auto lobbies, but mentions all of them.

Even with the powerful counter-interests, I think he’s picked a fight this time that he has a better chance of winning than the Mars plan. The ethanol and methanol interests, if they would join forces, would be pretty powerful. Maybe they could go up against oil. I don’t see the auto companies being all that against it, if they get a little carrot. The U.S. car companies that you would think (sans Lott) would be in a better lobbying position than foreign car companies have the best FFV abilities at the moment, so they might be pretty neutral about the whole thing.

TomsRant: “Competitive innovators in the biodiesel, and hydrogen fuel cell, et al, players will be squeezed out. When government tries to predict who the winners are going to be and picks them in advance, they are nearly always wrong, and we all lose. We’ll pay a heavy price for bad delivery. Plus, as history shows, government won’t get OUT of something it has been subsidizing until history has long passed it by, i.e., canals, railroads, the Shuttle…”

Zubrin is quite in favor of biodiesel in the book, but it’s too little at the moment to accomplish what he wants – quick energy independence. I assume the same for plug-in hybrids. He’s against hydrogen for various reasons. My impression is that he’s not trying to force M85 or E85 on consumers, but rather to give them a choice. Right now there is no practical consumer choice to demand flex-fuel, because although it’s cheap there are hardly any M85 or E85 gas stations. Thus car makers have no reason to make them (except they make a few million to get points in CAFE standards rules). At the same time, there’s no practical incentive for a gas station to provide M85 or E85 pumps, because only a few million cars can use them, and that’s not enough for an expensive pump. He claims the flex-fuel manufacturing mandate would be cheap (~$100 per car) and would break this Catch-22. It would be a mandate, and my instict also leans against mandates, but it seems a pretty easy and useful mandate compared to others we already have, are getting in the new energy bill, and will surely get in the future.

Tom’s point about government subsidies is another angle. This wouldn’t be a subsidy, it would be a mandate to support the countless various ethanol and methanol sources (not just corn). Zubrin thinks the demand for E85/M85 would be great enough that domestic sources couldn’t meet the demand (unless we went heavily with certain methanol sources like coal, which would be just as polluting as gasoline). He would still keep ethanol subsidies (as a counter to the oil cartel, which can otherwise destroy the ethanol industry at will). However, he would reduce/eliminate tariffs against agricultural (or E85/M85) imports. This strikes me as a much bigger victory against government interference than the flex-fuel mandate. Would it happen like Zubrin thinks? I don’t know. Would the FFV mandate eliminate the percieved need for other, more onerous vehicle energy mandates?

I do agree with Tom that the government should try to avoid picking winners. I wouldn’t want to exclude other solutions. How about modifying Zubrin’s proposed mandate so it doesn’t apply to all vehicles sold in the U.S., but rather to all gasoline-only vehicles sold in the U.S.? This would allow biodiesel, hydrogen, etc. Electric/gas combos could be allowed. You could even allow gasoline-only options that meet extremely high fuel efficiency standards. The various options that are in early/development stages would not be squashed, but for practical purposes there should still be enough FFV’s to set in motion the events Zubrin thinks would take place.

8. LNeil - January 3, 2008

Let’s understand something very clearly here before we babble on about “positive mandates”. If you’re a car manufacturer, and His Bobness gets his “mandate” jammed through the coercion mill in Washington, when you refuse to build cars to his (and their) specification, they will come to get you. They will steal your property and kidnap you. If you resist, they will beat you up and very possibly kill you.

That’s what you’re countenencing whenever you ask for a law to be passed, whether you regard the particular law you want as all cute, fuzzy, and covered with fluffy plush or not.

It is a license to kill.

I’m against giving _anybody_ a license to kill, especially government.


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