Give Thanks to Fossil Fuels

Was the power on in your house this morning?

If so, thank fossil fuels!

A few parts of America do get energy from other sources. Washington state has fast-flowing rivers that allow Washingtonians to get most of their electricity from hydroelectric power. Iowa now gets about 40 percent of its electricity from wind.

But most of us get power from the much-hated fossil fuels, primarily natural gas and coal.

Burning them does pollute, although government-mandated (yes, government has done some useful things) controls like scrubbers in smokestacks have nearly eliminated the dangerous pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide.

But fossil fuels do still emit greenhouse gasses, and that probably increases global warming. Yes, I know some scientists doubt that man’s activities contribute much, but I’ll go with the large group that says we do.

Now, Black Lives Matter protesters say fossil fuels create “environmental racism” because black neighborhoods are often located in low-lying floodplains or are close to refineries and other energy infrastructure. Activist Jane Fonda recently joined them to say, “The fossil fuel industry will have to pay!”

But I suspect Fonda and other anti-fossil fuel protesters have no clue about where the electricity that powers their electric cars comes from.

Today, Americans still get 81 percent of our energy and 62.7 percent of our electricity from fossil fuels. Oil fuels about 91 percent of all transportation.

Without fossil fuels, much of the world would freeze in the dark. We just don’t yet have enough alternatives.

One country almost does: Iceland.

Iceland has hot springs, so geothermal power provides 25 percent of its juice, and hydropower provides most of the rest.

But even in Iceland, that’s not enough. Iceland still burns oil.

The protesters ought to watch the new documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World. My new video this week is a short (4 minute) version of it.

“Electricity doesn’t guarantee wealth,” says energy journalist Robert Bryce, “but not having it almost always means poverty. The defining inequality in the world today is the disparity between the electricity-rich and the electricity-poor. Three billion people in the world today use less electricity than what’s used by my kitchen refrigerator. To empower the low-watt world, we’re going to need a lot more juice.”

Hate coal all you want, but it still accounts for about 38 percent of global electricity production. Even Japan, home to the Kyoto Protocol, plans to build 22 new coal-fired power plants.

Pitiful and expensive American “green” mandates won’t dent the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Americans take electric light for granted, but Bryce’s film reminds us: “Electricity allowed us to conquer our oldest foe: darkness. For millennia, the cost of having well-lit spaces at night was so high, only the very rich could afford it.”

That’s still true in much of the world. About 300 million people in India have no access to electricity.

Many cook and heat their homes by burning cow dung. It’s why about 1.3 million Indians die from indoor air pollution each year. Cooking with cow dung, Bryce says, “is akin to burning 400 cigarettes an hour in your kitchen.”

Pollution like that is a much bigger threat to disadvantaged people than greenhouse gasses American activists complain about.

“Darkness kills human potential. Electricity nourishes it,” says Bryce.

But what about climate change? I’m told that’s why we must move to renewable energy.

Renewables, Bryce replies, simply cannot supply “the enormous amount of electricity the world needs at prices consumers can afford.”

Environmental activist Michael Shellenberger points out that he hears environmentalists say: “People must reduce energy consumption! (But) the only people in the world who say that are rich people.”

“Energy poverty vs climate change. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution,” concludes Bryce. “But there are about three billion people in the world without adequate access to electricity…and they will do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need.”

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The Private Space Race

This week, American astronauts returned to earth. Their trip to the space station was the first manned launch from the U.S. in 10 years.

By NASA? No. Of course, not.

This space flight happened because government was not in charge.

An Obama administration committee had concluded that launching such a vehicle would take 12 years and cost $36 billion.

But this rocket was finished in half that time—for less than $1 billion (1/36th the predicted cost).

That’s because it was built by Elon Musk’s private company, Space X. He does things faster and cheaper because he spends his own money.

“This is the potential of free enterprise!” explains aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin in my newest video.

Of course, years ago, NASA did manage to send astronauts to the moon.

That succeeded, says Zubrin, “because it was purpose-driven. (America) wanted to astonish the world what free people could do.”

But in the 50 years since then, as transportation improved and computers got smaller and cheaper, NASA made little progress.

Fortunately, President Obama gave private companies permission to compete in space, saying, “We can’t keep doing the same old things as before.”

Competition then cut the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was.

Why couldn’t NASA have done that?

Because after the moon landing, it became a typical government agency—over budget and behind schedule. Zubrin says NASA’s purpose seemed to be to “supply money to various suppliers.”

Suppliers were happy to go along.

Zubrin once worked at Lockheed Martin, where he once discovered a way for a rocket to carry twice as much weight. “We went to management, the engineers, and said, ‘Look, we could double the payload capability for 10 percent extra cost.’ They said, ‘Look, if the Air Force wants us to improve the Titan, they’ll pay us to do it!'”

NASA was paying contractor’s development costs and then adding 10 percent profit. The more things cost, the bigger the contractor’s profit. So contractors had little incentive to innovate.

Even NASA now admits this is a problem. During its 2020 budget request, Administrator Jim Bridenstine confessed, “We have not been good at maintaining schedule and…at maintaining costs.”

Nor is NASA good at innovating. Their technology was so out of date, says Zubrin, that “astronauts brought their laptops with them into space—because shuttle computers were obsolete.”

I asked, “When (NASA) saw that the astronauts brought their own computers, why didn’t they upgrade?”

“Because they had an entire philosophy that various components had to be space rated,” he explains. “Space rating was very bureaucratic and costly.”

NASA was OK with high costs as long as spaceships were assembled in many congressmen’s districts.

“NASA is a very large job program,” says Aerospace lawyer James Dunstan. “By spreading its centers across the country, NASA gets more support from more different congressmen.”

Congressmen even laugh about it. Rep. Randy Weber (R–Texas) joked, “We’ll welcome (NASA) back to Texas to spend lots of money any time.”

Private companies do more with less money. One of Musk’s cost-saving innovations is reusable rocket boosters.

For years, NASA dropped its boosters into the ocean.

“Why would they throw it away?” I ask Dunstan.

“Because that’s the way it’s always been done!” he replies.

Twenty years ago, at Lockheed Martin, Zubrin had proposed reusable boosters. His bosses told him: “Cute idea. But if we sell one of these, we’re out of business.”

Zubrin explains, “They wanted to keep the cost of space launch high.”

Thankfully, now that self-interested entrepreneurs compete, space travel will get cheaper. Musk can’t waste a dollar. Space X must compete with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and others.

The private sector always comes up with ways to do things that politicians cannot imagine.

Government didn’t invent affordable cars, airplanes, iPhones, etc. It took competing entrepreneurs, pursuing profit, to nurture them into the good things we have now.

Get rid of government monopolies.

For-profit competition brings us the best things in life.

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Progressive Policies Keep Failing

I laughed when I saw The Washington Post headline: “Minneapolis had progressive policies, but its economy still left black families behind.”

The media are so clueless. Instead of “but,” the headline should have said, “therefore,” or “so, obviously.”

Of course, progressive policies failed! They almost always do.

“If you wanted a poster child for the progressive movement, it would be Minneapolis,” says Republican Minnesota Senate candidate Jason Lewis in my new video. “This is the same city council that voted to abolish the police department.”

The council, which has no Republicans, spends taxpayer money on most every progressive idea.

They brag that they recycle most everything. They have a plan to stop climate change. They tell landlords to whom they must rent. They will force employers to pay every worker $15 an hour. They even tell supermarkets what cereal they must sell.

Despite such policies, meant to improve life for minorities and the poor, the Minneapolis income gap between whites and blacks is the second highest in the country.

While that surprises the media, it’s no surprise to Lewis, who points out, “When you take away the incentive for work and savings and investment, you get less of it!”

Exactly. When government sends checks to people who don’t work, more people don’t work. Guarantees like a high minimum wage raise the cost of potential workers, so some never get hired. High taxes to fund progressives’ programs make it difficult for businesses to open in the first place.

Lewis says; ” I’ve been touring businesses that were burned. They did not mention global warming, recycling, or the environment one single time. You know what they say? Give me low taxes and give me public order.”

Lewis says Minnesota is now a “command and control economy….They’re not even shy about it. (Congresswoman) Ilhan Omar said we need to abolish capitalism!”

Not exactly. But Omar did call for “dismantling the whole system of oppression,” including America’s economic systems that, “prioritize profit.”

Lewis says she wants to create “equal poverty for everybody.”

No, I push back, “She thinks her ideas will lift everybody up.”

“Show us, Ilhan,” he responds. “Where has it worked? Everything that you’re proposing hasn’t worked!”

He’s right.

But Cam Gordon, a current Minneapolis councilman, tells me the city’s economic “disparities were caused by a long trail of historic racism.”

He tweeted: “Time to end capitalism as we know it.”

He says that would be good because “we could have more democratic control of our resources.” Cam Gordon is the kind of guy who gets elected in Minneapolis.

“Every alternative to capitalism brings stagnation and poverty,” I say to him.

Gordon answers, “I think we can take care of each other better.”

Lewis points out that before COVID-19, “the people gaining the most were at the bottom end of the wage scale. Women, Hispanics, African Americans were gaining the most. A rising tide truly lifts all boats.”

He’s right again. In the past 50 years, while progressives attacked profits, capitalism—the pursuit of profit—lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty.

When I point that out to Gordon, he simply ignores my point about fabulous progress around the world and says: “The problem with capitalism as we know it is this idea that we have to have constant growth….Capitalism got us the housing crisis right now and…climate change. It’s actually going to destroy the planet.”

Sigh.

His Green Party’s “community-based economics” would give the community control over private property. Seems to me like community-based economics is just another way to say socialism. That’s brought poverty and tyranny every time it’s been tried.

“When socialism fails,” says Lewis, “the apologists always say, ‘We just didn’t do it enough, just didn’t do it the right way.’ (But) it’s always failed.”

Sadly, today in America, the progressives are winning.

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Don’t Put Too Much Faith in the Experts

Between 2 million and 3 million Americans will die!

That was the prediction from “experts” at London’s Imperial College when COVID-19 began. They did also say if there was “social distancing of the whole population,” the death toll could be cut in half, but 1.1 million to 1.46 million Americans would still die by this summer.

Our actual death toll has been about one-tenth of that.

Nevertheless, Imperial College’s model was extremely influential.

Politicians issued stay-at-home orders. They said we must trust the “experts.”

“Follow the science. Listen to the experts. Do what they tell you,” said Joe Biden, laughing at what he considered an obvious truth.

But “there is no such thing as ‘the science!'” replies science reporter Matt Ridley in my new video about “expert” predictions. “Science consists of people disagreeing with each other!”

The lockdowns, he adds, were “quite dangerously wrong.”

Because Imperial’s model predicted that COVID-19 would overwhelm hospitals, patients were moved to nursing homes. The coronavirus then spread in nursing homes.

Ordering almost every worker to stay home led to an economic collapse that may have killed people, too.

“The main interventions that helped prevent people dying were stopping large gatherings, people washing their hands and wearing face masks, general social distancing—not forcing people to stay home,” says Ridley.

Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now admits: “We all failed at that business. All the early national experts: ‘Here’s my projection model.’ They were all wrong.”

If he and other politicians had just done just a little research, then they would have known that Imperial College researchers repeatedly predict great disasters that don’t happen. Their model predicted 65,000 deaths from swine flu, 136,000 from mad cow disease, and 200 million from bird flu.

The real numbers were in the hundreds.

After such predictions were repeatedly wrong, why did politicians boss us around based on those same “experts” models?

“If you say something really pessimistic about how many people are going to die,” explains Ridley, “the media want to believe you. The politicians daren’t not believe you.”

This bias towards pessimism applies to fear of climate change, too.

Thirty-two years ago, climate “experts” said rising seas would “completely cover” the islands of the Maldives “in the next 30 years.” But now, 32 years later, the islands are not only still there, they’re doing better than ever. They’re even building new airports.

“Climate change is real,” says Ridley, “but it’s not happening nearly as fast as models predicted.”

Models repeatedly overpredict disaster because that’s “a very good way of attracting attention to your science and getting rewarded for it,” says Ridley.

One more example: For years, “experts” predicted an oil shortage. President Jimmy Carter warned, “The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are simply running out.” All the “experts” agreed.

But as the demand for oil grew, oil prices rose. That inspired entrepreneurs to invent new ways of getting more oil and gas out of the same rocks. They succeeded so well that America now has so much oil and gas that we sell some to other countries.

Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works, shows how innovators prove “experts” wrong all the time.

He points out that the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation once said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Microsoft’s CEO confidently said: “There’s no chance the iPhone is going to get significant market share.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that because “most people have nothing to say to each other…the Internet’s impact on the economy (will be) no greater than the fax machine’s.”

Of course, not all experts are wrong. Useful experts do exist. I want a trained civil engineer to design any bridge I cross.

But Ridley points out: “There is no such thing as expertise on the future. It’s dangerous to rely too much on models (which lead politicians to) lock down society and destroy people’s livelihood. Danger lies both ways.”

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Cancel Culture Is Out of Control

The online mob came for Harald Uhlig.

What terrible thing had he done? As I show in my new video, he tweeted that Black Lives Matter “torpedoed itself, with its full-fledged support of #defundthepolice.” Instead of defunding, Uhlig suggested, “train them better.”

Hundreds of people then signed a petition to demand that Uhlig, a University of Chicago professor and head of the Journal of Political Economy, resign. Even prominent economists like Janet Yellen and Paul Krugman joined the mob. Krugman called Uhlig “another privileged white man who evidently cannot control his urge to belittle the concerns of those less fortunate.”

But that’s just a lie. Uhlig wasn’t belittling concerns of anyone less fortunate.

“There was nothing racist or discriminatory in how he said it,” says Reason magazine senior editor Robby Soave, who covers the new “woke” protests. “But because he has some different views from the protesters, he must be a racist.”

Uhlig was placed on leave by the journal he ran.

The new totalitarians demand that no one criticize their view of the world.

The online mob even attacks its fellow Democrats.

David Shor, an analyst at Democratic polling firm Civis Analytics, tweeted a study that concluded, “race riots reduced Democratic vote share.”

That study was probably accurate. Obviously, rioting alienates voters.

But the mob attacked Shor. “Come get your boy,” one tweeted.

His bosses did. Even though Shor issued a groveling apology, he was fired.

Soave points out, “There’s a cruel streak in activism that says, ‘If you disagree with me…you have no right to speak.'”

“Why are they winning?” I ask. “Their argument is ridiculous.”

“People are afraid to challenge them,” explains Soave. “It just takes one employee at one company, to say, ‘Here’s the law that protects my rights to feel safe and comfortable in this workplace. If you’re not making me feel safe and comfortable, I’m going to get you in trouble.'”

So cowardly corporations cave.

A Boeing executive was even forced out for opposing women’s service in the military—30 years ago.

A Los Angeles soccer team fired a player because his wife posted racist comments.

Michigan State pushed out a physicist when a twitter mob from its “Graduate Employees Union” labeled him a “scientific racist.” What racist thing had the physicist done? He “rejects the idea that scientists should categorically exclude the possibility of average genetic differences among groups,” is how a Wall Street Journal column explained it.

Now “cancel culture” has moved abroad.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is being smeared as “transphobic.” When a tax researcher was fired for saying, “Identifying as a woman does not make a person a woman,” Rowling tweeted, incredulously, “Force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”

She said she has nothing against trans people, but she’s “concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition.”

The Twitter mob claimed her “hate” was “killing trans people.”

Some staff at Hachette, her publisher, refused to work on her next book. Actors in her Harry Potter movies spoke out against her.

But Rowling didn’t back down. “It isn’t hate to speak the truth,” she tweeted.

She also mocked a charity that used the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of women, tweeting: “There used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

That further incensed the mob. It claimed her “hate…leads to trans women, especially teens and black trans women, becoming victims of sexual assault.”

But Rowling is the rare person popular enough to be able to resist the mob. Her publisher spoke up for her, saying, “Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of publishing.”

And the University of Chicago stood up to the mob, too. The school, after a 10-day investigation, announced there was “no basis” for taking away Harold Uhlig’s job. He’s been reinstated.

That’s how these cases should be handled.

“The solution is to challenge these people,” says Soave. “We just have to speak up.”

Those of us who can, must.

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Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War

Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

“It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart in my new video. Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.

But “one problem kept cropping up,” he says in his soon-to-be-released book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.”

After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.

But what about the opioid epidemic? Lots of Americans die from overdoses!

Hart blames the drug war for that, too. Yes, opioids are legal, but their sale is tightly restricted.

“If drugs were over the counter, there would be fewer deaths?” I asked.

“Of course,” he responds. “People die from opioids because they get tainted opioids….That would go away if we didn’t have this war on drugs. Imagine if the only subject of any conversation about driving automobiles was fatal car crashes….So it is with the opioid epidemic.”

Drugs do harm many people, but in real life, replies Hart, “I know tons of people who do drugs; they are public officials, captains of industry, and they’re doing well. Drugs, including nicotine and heroin, make people feel better. That’s why they are used.”

President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. America’s drug war funds a prison-industrial complex. Hart says his years inside the well-funded research side of that complex showed him that any research not in support of the “tough-on-drugs” ideology is routinely dismissed to “keep outrage stoked” and funds coming in.

America locks up more than 2 million Americans. That’s a higher percentage of our citizens, disproportionately black citizens, than any other country in the world.

“In every country with a more permissive drug regime, all outcomes are better,” says Hart. Countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized, “don’t have these problems that we have with drug overdoses.”

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use. Instead of punishing drug users, they offer medical help. Deaths from overdoses dropped sharply. In 2017, Portugal had only 4 deaths per million people. The United States had 217 per million.

“In a society, you will have people who misbehave, says Hart. “But that doesn’t mean you should punish all of us because someone can’t handle this activity.”

He’s right. It’s time to end the drug war.

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