Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 10:59:34 PM EST
(This diary entry, decidedly American in its orientation, is crossposted from DailyKos. The American Politics may lack importance here, but the matter of FT fuels is nonetheless international.
The Original Entry at DKos can be found here.
Polls connected with this entry can be found in the original.)
Many people today are too young to remember unbiased straight forward "journalism." There was a time, believe it or not, when journalists reported something called "news" without much further editorial content, except for editorials that were identified as such. In those times, people instead of saying "U.S. Air Force Strikes Militants in Somalia in an Expansion of the War On Terror," people who were called "journalists" would simply report something along these lines:
"US planes Strike Somalia."
In this type of telling, spin by the participants - the US President's claim that there was a "war on terror," and the question of whether the victims of the bombing were "militants" might be discussed in the article, but the spin would come from the participants, not the "journalist." They might say for instance, "Bush told reporters that the bombing was part of the 'War on Terror'." In this case it is clear that Bush, and not the reporter, is defining the meaning of the event. Unless explicitly quoting another person, the opinion of the political views of the bombing victims might be identified as "forces allied with those opposed to the Saudi royal family" or "persons who believe in jihad," or some such thing.
Of course the selection of what story to tell, whose view is reported, etc, would still reflect some bias and some attitude, but the "journalist" would attempt to the best of his or her ability to minimize such effects. It wasn't easy to do, to divorce one's opinions from one's work, but still many people famously did a pretty good job of simply reporting what happened, including balanced reports from all involved about why it happened and who was involved.
Bloggers, of course, have opinions, strong opinions, and, as most are not professional, need not exhibit any sort of journalistic professionalism whatsoever. When you log on to DailyKos or Democratic Underground, you know that - even though you expect to learn something - it will very much be accompanied by a liberal Democratic world view that, unless your a troll or a person seeking to understand the "enemy," you share yourself.
Still, from time to time, one sees bloggers who suggest the idea of what journalism used to be: People who report what is happening and who respects your intelligence enough to let you figure out what it means. I don't claim to be such a blogger myself, but merely note that there are some. One such blogger who suggests the historical nature of "journalists" writes quite a bit over at Democratic Underground in the Environmental and Energy Forum where he does an outstanding job of keeping everyone up to date. His name is Hatrack and here is one of this threads over there.
Now as it happens, Hatrack does have a view, and he does have an opinion about the world, which he expresses with a gentle wit, accompanied here and there healthy dollops of sarcasm. On the other hand, there are a great number of his posts that are like the post linked. Here he doesn't tell you, as I might, that the article means that coal must be banned. On the contrary, he simply tells you that scientists have observed something - the Adirondack Mountains are contaminated with mercury - and what some people say about the subject. You can draw your own conclusions.
Sometimes Hatrack, who is probably one of my favorite bloggers in the blogosphere, makes me miss old fashioned "journalism."
My tribute to Hatrack done, there is a reason I chose this particular example of his work to discuss here. This is because it seems to contain - and this is no reflection on Hatrack, who is merely reporting - some questionable science, something I noted in response. This is that scientists are reporting Mercury contamination on the basis of a study of abandoned loon nests, but the loons who abandon their nests may not be typical of all loons. They may be abandoning their nests because they have been contaminated. If one on the other hand one measured all loons, including those who remained at the nest, one might find a lower value of mercury. This type of error is commonly made by all scientists, including the very best scientists, and it has a name. It is called "selection pressure," and it is reflection of the fact that one must be aware that one's measurement of the world is very much determined by what one chooses to look at.
Speaking of loons, I have heard it said somewhere - I don't recall exactly where - that most people who have actually met a person who was or would become a President of the United States, have all been struck, irrespective of the particular President and even one's attitudes towards him, with how much more impressive the President is in person than his national image. I don't know if this is true or not. I have never met a person who was or would become President, nor do I imagine I ever will. Of course, there is, in any case, "selection pressure" involved - a person may seem impressive because of his resume - and, at least until the present - the office itself dictated that an encounter with its holder would be memorable and awe inspiring. It is entirely understandable therefore that an observer would tend to assign "larger than life" status to say, Jimmy Carter, or Gerald Ford, or Bill Clinton or even Richard Nixon.
On the other hand, I have heard somewhere as well that some politicians who have achieved high office and have the regular experience of contact with the President, have had an opposite impression. Many of them say to themselves, "Cripes, I could do a much better job than this clown. If he can be President, why can't I?"
Right now, of course, we have a "President" who is setting a new standard for "worst," a new standard for clownishness. It is hard to imagine a President who could make even Franklin Pierce look good, or to set a standard for bumbling haphazardly into extreme violence that is comparable with the historical record James Buchanan, but unquestionably it has been more than a century and a half since a President seems so small, so inept. This is probably why so many people are running for President. It is hard to imagine that anyone could meet this guy and not feel as if he or she could do better.
I don't pay attention to who is running on the Republican side - since there is no way I could vote for anyone who could identify himself or herself with this party in this time - but on our side there's a huge list. Forgive me if I leave anyone out, but the list of potential Democratic nominees includes "Hilliary Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Vilsack, John Edwards, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel, Bill Richardson, Al Sharpton and so on and so on."
The United States may not have survived the adminstrations of Pierce and Buchanan but for the fact that they were succeeded by the strongest and wisest President we would ever see, in the person of Abraham Lincoln, and even then it was a near thing. Unless a comparable person exists in the field, we are in big trouble. As incredible as it may seem, it took two inept Presidents to do what this one inept President did.
As was not the case necessarily in 1860 however, it is probable that the outcome of the 2008 election will impact the entire world's survival in measurable ways. People love to talk about Iraq, and I mean to take nothing away from what a disaster that war is. But even with all the dead bodies and the grievous moral injury involved in Iraq, the war is not the worst activity in which the US involved in my view.
The worst thing the US is doing is dumping a vast portion of the world's carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of course, it is easy to say that George Bush is in denial about this issue, just as he is in denial about everything else, but we need to look at ourselves and see if we are in denial as well.
The fact is that the root cause of the disaster at hand, and let's be clear that it is a disaster and it is happening right now, is the use of fossil fuels. People worry all the time that the world is running out of oil, but running out of oil is not merely inevitable, but it is necessary. If there were more oil than can readily be pumped out of the ground, our troubles would be worse, not better.
Irrespective of important people think cars and trucks and other oil dependent objects and machines are, the atmosphere is more important. You can survive if you cannot drive. You cannot survive if you cannot breathe, or you cannot rely on plants to grow.
This is why we must carefully inform ourselves of how the candidates weigh the issues and how they approach them.
Of course, one approach to the "problem" of oil is to do anything to maintain access to it. One example would be to militarily conquer and attack countries that still have oil. Another approach would be to make other stuff into oil. Both approaches are conservative, both assume that oil is both necessary and desirable. I contend that neither is true, but that's neither here nor there.
One can, if one wants, make oil, almost out of anything that is carbon based. We live in the golden age of chemistry. Moreover the issue isn't based on naive suppositions about what "could" be done, "if the technology is developed." On the contrary, these sorts of things are already industrial processes. Although I hope I am about produce all sorts of magical thinking, there is a company in Missouri, for instance, that makes oil out of turkey guts. As far as I know, the company is losing money, but that's not the point. It may not be done as cheaply as one can pump oil out of the ground - at least not for now - but it works. In the 1940's, cut off from oil supplies, the Germans made oil from coal, and the South African's did the same in the 1970's and 1980's.
All of my diary entries are repetitive - and almost all of them are about energy but this one issue - the fossil fuel shell game - has me very upset. It may be technically feasible to make oil from coal but we must, at all costs, fight this impulse.
We know that Republicans don't give a shit about the environmental consequences of anything they do, which is why we must be doubly sure that we are the opposite. Regrettably three prominent Democrats have endorsed this "coal to oil" approach, which is known as Fischer-Tropsch (FT) chemistry. All have noted that the United States is the "Saudi Arabia" of coal. These arguments ignore that the United States was once the "Saudi Arabia" of oil too, but we used it up. Here's an inconvenient truth. The world cannot afford any Saudi Arabias of any kind anywhere under any type of government. Fossil fuels must be banned, all of them.. The argument has nothing to due with convenience, nothing to do with cost, and everything to do with risk. If we continue with "business as usual," we will cause a vast fraction, maybe the majority, of our planet's living things to die.
The three Democrats who have endorsed "coal to oil" are Jimmy Carter, Brian Schweitzer, and Barack Obama. Carter is excused on the grounds than when he was most active on this issue two things were true: He was actively working for conservation (hence the famous sweater), and climate change was an esoteric and poorly understood issue. (Granted, Carter could have found out about the issue of climate change if he pressed it, but it would have been more politically suicidal than the sweater was.) Carter is in no position to make it happen.
Schweitzer and Obama are different stories. I have strong negative impressions of only two Democrats who are suggesting themselves, openly or otherwise, as our 2008 Presidential nominee, and the other one isn't Dennis Kucinich. But I am developing a negative, albeit single issue, impression of Obama. Telling us we can have oil is, frankly, wrong, wrong, wrong. We cannot have oil. We cannot afford it. There are better ways.
Obama is getting a lot of media attention and is aspiring I think to "front runner," status. As an early Dean supporter, I recognize that this media generated status may not mean all that much in the end. Dean was hurt by exhaustive scrutiny of the hype surrounding him which is not to say that this scrutiny was fair or that it reached justified conclusions.
On some level the depletion of oil is as much an opportunity as it is a threat. The notion that we must continue to do things the same way our grandparents did thing is conservative, not liberal. We have alternatives to oil, even if they are not being widely discussed in this country. Asia is industrially developing DME, dimethyl ether infrastructure.
DME is so superior to oil as a fuel, that it is ridiculous even to consider making oil from mixtures of carbon oxides and hydrogen - the intermediates in FT chemistry. The Japanese and the Chinese in developing DME are giving themselves a chance.. Now, it is true really regrettably too, that the Chinese are building several DME plants that are based on coal - and I oppose them - but I do not oppose the DME infrastructure since DME, even more so than oil, can be made from anything, including maybe, the ever popular renewable strategies about which people love to think.
I don't think that renewables and conservation alone are enough to address the crisis, and I know that sequestration is pure wishful thinking. Note that "coal into oil" would not allow for sequestration either, unless one were to attach long vacuum cleaner hoses to the tailpipes of cars. Let's convince ourselves from the outset that making the equivalent of one fossil fuel from another fossil fuel (oil from gas or coal) is the same as doing nothing
Barack Obama, from what I have learned of him, is a young man, and an impressive young man from all accounts. He has plenty of time to mature into a person who can do great things for his country. But on this issue is very, very, very wrong. Maybe he needs some time to think more deeply.
We are going to hear a lot about FT chemistry in the coming years, and Obama's support for this approach gives us an opportunity to consider the issue. We cannot substitute coal for gas - which is in any case dumping our problems on the shoulders of future generations. Now is the time to make the changes we need to make. Now. Now. Now. Fischer-Tropsch chemistry works but it must not be allowed to work.
The issue is not "how do we get more oil?" The issue is "how do we do away with oil?"