The Week That Was
July 19-25, 1999


The big day has arrived.  We launch our NEW web page today, the one nearly everyone voted for.  Hope all the rest of you like it too.

And to inaugurate it, we celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the first manned Moon landing with an op-ed (published in the Washington Times on July22).  Check it out if you want to know why the Martians are awaiting the first visit from planet Earth.  And if you don’t know Phobos from Deimos, here’s your chance.

Taking bets on global warming: 

Dr. Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab of NOAA at Princeton, N.J., the government’s largest (and oldest) climate modeling program, has come up with a blockbuster.  The August 1999 issue of Popular Science quotes him as offering 10:1 odds to all takers; he’s betting that global warming is “well underway” and caused by CO2 from fossil-fuel burning.  On July 20, we e-mailed him, offering $100 to his $1000, but insisted that the parameters of the bet be well defined in advance so there would be little ambiguity.  We haven’t heard from Jerry yet, but we got lots of e-mails from folks who want to get in on a good thing.  We’ll keep you posted.

We get a large amount of campaign mail from both major parties and some minor ones  all in anticipation of the November 2000 elections.  The other day, we took a closer look at the rather detailed policy agenda of Steve Forbes, from abortion and budget to U.S. foreign policy.  Among the dozen or so topics there was no listing for “environment” and certainly no hysterical breast beating about the Earth being out of balance….and no whining about warming.  We take this as a good sign: It shows the general popular lack of interest, and it also speaks for the fact that the quality of air and water has improved tremendously in the past decades to the extent that the public no longer regards environment as a problem.  How refreshing!  We wish devoutly that all politicians would take note.  Are you listening, Al?

Talking about politics, we are somewhat amused by President Bill Clinton’s claim that George W. Bush “stole” or somehow misappropriated the term “Compassionate Conservative.” On our bookshelf is a volume with that title, in which Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs discourses on his life philosophy.  A brilliant chemical engineer and entrepreneur, he first mass-produced penicillin during World War II and later built one of the world’s largest engineering companies.   His book sets out to demonstrate that conservatives are just as compassionate as liberals but have a better way of helping people in need.  Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” with the best of intentions, but it accomplished little and created a culture of dependency.  “Self-esteem” was to be bestowed from the top down; but that never works.  Instead, as Dr. Jacobs writes in a recent article, dignity of the individual is the touchstone of compassionate conservatism.  Not just general benevolence mixed with condescension, but providing the tools and incentives to achieve independence and pride.  In fact, he has now turned the words around, preaching “conservative compassion” in order to emphasize the difference between conservatives who foster individual initiative and liberals who seek to increase the role of government.  George W., take note!

Renewable Energy News

According to Ben Lieberman’s guest commentary “A Million Solar Goofs” in The Electricity Daily, 1970 fads are making a comeback, including government-subsidized solar energy.  A Clinton initiative plans to have 1 million solar photovoltaic systems in place by 2010.  “Capturing the Sun’s warmth can help us to turn down the Earth’s temperature,” says the President.  With a DOE subsidy of 50% and a systems cost of $2800, consumers may save as much as $73 a year off their electric bills, according to Massachusetts Electric Company.  This gives a less than 3% return, and homeowners would have to wait 40 years to recover their initial investment.  If they are lucky!  The rosy estimate neglects the cost of maintenance, including scraping off the snow and ice during the winter months.  Mass. Electric gets to raise its energy bills to all customers, raking in millions of dollars annually.  And DOE’s contribution comes out of the pockets of taxpayers.  Looks like a welfare program for roofers and the budding solar industry, and a perfect scam on consumers.

The Clinton administration has promised that, by 2020, at least 5% of U.S. electric power will come from wind turbines.  They may have overestimated a bit, say by a factor of 25.  According to DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA 1999 Annual Energy Outlook, Table A-17), wind power may generate as much as 0.2 % of electric demand by 2020.  Wow…Now that’ll really make some difference!

The Midwest is being hyped as the “Saudi Arabia” of wind in a recent study from the Council of State Governments.  But it looks increasingly like wind farms in the Midwest will be the “Saudi Arabia” of stranded costs.  The technological risk of new wind turbines has led to extensive retrofitting in the first year of a thirty-year contract in Minnesota’s 107-megawatt Lake Benton project, hailed as the “flagship” project of the new wind industry.  The news gets worse.  It appears that the Midwest is also the “Saudi Arabia” of lightning.  Reports Windpower Monthly (June, 1999 p. 21): “The Midwest, the area of America with the most new wind development, is far more prone to lightning than almost any area where wind projects have been installed.”  The same issue reports on mechanical problems on nearly 1000 gearboxes, requiring retrofits and shutdowns.  There’ll be a lot of white elephants roaming the prairie in years to come.  It was only a few short years ago that the Sydkraft utility in Sweden dynamited the largest wind turbine (which it had inherited from the government);simply too expensive to operate.

And just think.  The enviros are gearing up to tout wind as a Kyoto solution for Earth Day 2000.  Maybe decapitated birds in California and flaming wind turbines in the Midwest will make them think more kindly of fossil fuels after all.  

Finally, news from the (soon to be) largest coal burner.  Chinese scientists explain why they like global warming.  They have calculated the melting rate of glaciers and predict a 50% increase from a 1 C warming (and believe in their own numbers).  Anyway, they figure this will release badly needed water for their arid northwest.  The more warming the better; they’re all for it even if it annoys the bejeebers out of the White House.  Clinton/Gore, you should never have bombed their embassy in Belgrade.  We could have told you, but no...


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