ENERGY

Plants Need Energy:  At first glimpse a tropical rain forest appears to be a verdant paradise.  Upon closer examination, however, a visitor realizes it is a cruel battle-to-the-death between competing plants—all struggling for access to sunlight.   Taller trees overshadow shorter ones.  Clinging vines reach upward to the canopy.  Fallen trees create temporary spots of sunlight on the jungle floor where younger competitors gain a foothold.  Ultimately, however, it is all a never-ending competition for sunlight.  Sunlight is ENERGY— that most basic necessity for all living things.

Early Human Energy Sources: Like plants, man’s struggle for improvement, growth, prosperity and civilization is, to a large extent, the struggle for access to Energy.   At the beginning, the only Energy available to humans was human muscle power.  Later, still in pre-historic times, domesticated beasts, oxen, water buffalo, even elephants, permitted plowing and burden moving .  Wind power was early on tamed to move sailing ships—permitting grain ships from Egypt, for example, to feed the Roman Empire.  Water wheels powered mills.  But still human muscle power was the essential ingredient, whether it was as galley slaves or serfs harvesting.   The Roman Empire was so in need of human power, in the form of slaves, that conquest was an essential part of its national policy.

Energy Makes the Difference: Power from fuels, burning wood, peat and coal, was used from pre-historic times to cook, and from early historic times to smelt metals.  This led to better farming tools, permitting a level of prosperity and population growth which we now call civilization.  It also led to better weapons which meant those with access to these high-energy forms of metallurgy could subjugate those without them.  Feudalism reigned because those with metal armor were invulnerable and could tyrannize those without.  The Industrial Revolution with steam power, followed by electric power and now petroleum and nuclear power is the foundation, the underlying essential, of all the material success that we so prize, and even consider essential, in our modern world.  Cultures without access to, or the knowledge to use, these ever better sources of Energy, such as the Aborigines of Australia, remained at a Stone Age, bare subsistence level.  The descendants of those most successful at harnessing new sources of energy and the technology to use them peopled whole continents.  The difference was access to and use of Energy.

Without Energy We Die: Fish in the sea may be unaware of the water that sustains them.  It is ever-present.  We go unaware of how our constant supply of Energy underpins our very lives because it is ever-present.  Were America to return to the available Energy levels of the mid 1800s—when mules pulled plows, waterwheels powered machinery, and wind drove sailing ships— its economy could support the population it did then: about 20 million people.   Likely 290 million people in today’s America would soon die.  Without electric power refrigerated food would be impossible.   There would be no lighting.  No heating.  Electric pumps to push water into water towers would not function so water to homes and businesses would soon trickle to nothing.  All hospitals would cease functioning.   Without gas, diesel and natural gas (all petroleum products) to power engines, plowing, planting and harvesting on farms would cease or shrink to the few acres farmable by those who still owned horses and mules.  Almost all transportation would end.  No trains, no pipelines—which are powered by pumps, no airplanes and, most critical of all, no trucks.  Regardless of where food, medicine, clothing or anything else is produced, and no matter how it is transported long distances, the last stage of the trip always occurs in a truck going to a neighborhood store.  If there were no trucks, all store shelves would be empty in a few days.

No Energy, No Win: Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?  To wipe out the U.S. fleet which threatened Japan’s ability to obtain oil from a conquered Indonesia.  The Japanese High Command knew oil was key to their ability to wage war.  The U.S. military leaders had the same knowledge in planning their attacks on Nazi Germany:

The [U.S. Army Air Force] attack on oil production, oil refineries, and tank farms was, however, extremely successful and made a very large contribution to the general collapse of Germany in 1945. . . it is fair to say the oil bombing campaign materially shortened the war, thereby saving many lives.[i]

Renewable Energy Is Diddly: Where does our energy come from?  Almost two-thirds comes from petroleum and natural gas.  If you used only Renewable Energy you would eliminate 93% of the energy in our country.  Try cutting back the amount of food you eat, the amount you air condition or heat, the amount of water you use by 93%—that’s the world powered by Renewable Energy.  The idea that Renewable Energy is somehow going to replace traditional sources like coal and oil in our lifetimes, even with hugely expensive federal subsidies, is laughable.  Only the willfully self-deceived would believe it.

Energy Companies Are Not the Enemy: If you want to make America great; if you want to improve the living standard of the poor and everyone else along with them; if you want to make a better world than the one we live in; increase the amount of Energy.  If we lived like people before the Energy Revolution of the past two hundred years, we would stink from uncleanliness, live on the edge of starvation, be largely illiterate, doomed to poverty.  Energy is an essential input to everything we use and consume.  A rational Energy Policy would be devoted to increasing, and making cheaper, available Energy.  Making an enemy of Energy Producers is like fish declaring war on the sea.

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2 Responses to ENERGY

  1. Jeanie Mac says:

    Hear! Hear! You are one of the most qualified to write on this topic–let me count the ways! Thanks for your invaluable historical perspective, not to mention logic which seems to be in short supply these days. Great last sentence. Sending this on to my “windmill” friends. . ..

  2. Jayme Burkhart says:

    Glad to see ya back in action!

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