By Arthur B. Robinson, Ph.D.
Energy. It’s the stuff of which our world and universe are made. It is everything we can perceive and measure in the physical world. Beyond that physical world, we “see through a glass, darkly.” Science, engineering and the industries that are based upon them deal solely with energy – its nature and its uses.
We utilize many forms of energy – gravitational energy, such as that in hydroelectric dams; kinetic energy, as stored in a flywheel or the wind; heat energy, as in a geothermal well; elastic energy, as in a rubber band; electrical energy, as carried in power lines; chemical energy, as in gasoline; radiant energy, as in sunshine; nuclear energy, as utilized by nuclear power plants; and mass energy, as material objects – mass – are just another form of energy with the quantity measured by E=mc2.
We can measure energy and can convert its forms into one another – but we have no ability to create energy or to destroy it. Moreover, we actually do not know how to answer the question, “What is energy?” Since everything we perceive is a form of energy, we cannot rigorously conceptualize it. Energy just is.
Control of energy – harnessing its different forms for our benefit – is the primary industrial activity of our civilization. Early men controlled mainly the biochemical energy of their own bodies and that of domesticated animals. Most activities were carried out by human hands. When men learned to control the chemical energy in hydrocarbons – by burning wood and coal – they greatly advanced, especially after learning to convert fire-produced heat energy into steam to power machinery.
In the days of Thomas Edison, men learned to produce and control industrial electrical energy – an enormous advance that permitted the development of most of the technology of our modern world. Electrical energy, however, must be produced from some other form of energy. It does not naturally exist on the Earth, except in lightning and other phenomena that we cannot easily gather. Also, we have no practical means of storing large quantities of it, so we must make electricity as we use it. Initially, industrial electricity was produced from steam made by burning wood, coal, oil and natural gas, followed later by hydroelectric power plants that make electricity.
Then, in the single greatest technological advance in recorded history, men learned to make heat and electricity by converting mass to energy in the nuclear reactors of nuclear power plants. This advance provided the safest, cleanest, most inexpensive and potentially most plentiful and useful energy in human history. Man’s access to energy took a giant leap forward.
Inexpensive, abundant nuclear-electric energy should have caused a vast revolution of technological advances, raising the living standards of even the poorest people – those in the United States where the advance was made and eventually throughout the world – to unprecedented high levels. But, it did not do so. Why? The answer to this question about the tragedy of American nuclear energy reveals the fundamental reasons for current high oil, coal and natural gas prices; rising electricity prices; diminishing prosperity in the United States; and much of the world-wide tension that continually leads to war.
Economist Julian Simon, in his book “The Ultimate Resource 2,” describes and verifies a fundamental economic law. Each human being who is born, on average, produces more resources than he consumes – IF he possesses also the freedom to do so. That “IF” is the essence of America’s current energy difficulties.
Simon’s law is not new. It was the driving force behind the American Revolution and our Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is the fundamental thesis of “Up From Slavery,” Booker T. Washington’s post-Civil War autobiographical instructions to his people – telling them how to avoid trading the physical slavery from which they had been freed for the social slavery of racism. Those who have taken his advice are truly free. Those who have followed the demagoguery of professional racists are not.
The energy issue is actually an issue of human rights. Each human being has a fundamental human right to the freedom required to produce or acquire the energy and technology necessary to provide him and those he is responsible for with as long, prosperous, healthful and enjoyable lives as his resourcefulness and labor can produce – so long as his efforts do not encroach upon these same human rights of his fellow men. Restriction of these human rights to freely produce is morally and ethically wrong. It is a form of slavery.
As the population of a free country grows, the per-person productivity and prosperity of its people also grows, in accordance with Simon’s law. If, however, freedom to produce is seriously restricted by government-made-and-sanctioned tyranny, then Simon’s law fails and the people of the country descend into lowered prosperity, poverty and death. If the people are initially prosperous, like those of the United States, this process takes a long time. If they are already poor, like the billions of people in Africa and Asia, withdrawal of technology leads quickly to vast genocidal death.
Just the arbitrary banning of one simple technology – the use of DDT to combat malaria – has resulted in the deaths of more than 40 million children in Africa, Asia and South America. An estimated 500 million adults are now afflicted with this debilitating, DDT-preventable disease. This banning of DDT by the U.S. government’s EPA and its amplification by actions of other U.S. agencies, other Western governments and the United Nations has arguably been the greatest single act of genocide and slavery in human history.
Why are American fuel prices approaching $5 per gallon? Why are food and electricity prices on their way to doubling? Why are economic conditions chaotic? The reason is simple. Americans no longer possess the freedom to produce the goods and services required to maintain their former standard of living. Taxation – both direct and indirect through currency inflation, runaway government regulation and government-sponsored-and-encouraged litigation have reduced the productivity of Americans below that required to maintain their way of life. This tyranny – this economic slavery – has been produced entirely by the federal and state governments of the United States.
There are no resource limitations, technological limitations or geopolitical reasons for the current energy shortages and high prices. These shortages and prices are solely the result of taxation, regulation and litigation that have stifled American energy-producing industries.
The technology that now sustains the people of the United States- with very rare exceptions such as advances in computers – was produced by earlier generations of Americans, who were economically free.
When you use a polyethylene bag to carry your store purchases, it is very likely that the polyethylene was produced in a petrochemical plant that my father, Edward H. Robinson, helped to make possible. He was head of design and construction for many such plants, including the large Union Carbide petrochemical and polyethylene plant at Sea Drift, Texas.
When that plant was built, my dad’s personal taxes totaled 10 percent – and a partial gold standard restricted inflation; industrial regulations were few and sensible; and government-sanctioned litigation was almost non-existent. Besides the technical problems of design and the leadership duties required to direct the engineering and construction personnel, his biggest headache was squabbling among his office secretaries.
That polyethylene plant would not be built in the United States today. Government restrictions would make its construction entirely impracticable.
Besides work on chemical plants in the continental U.S., Ted Robinson directed the design and construction of Carbide plants in Puerto Rico, Japan, Scotland, Belgium, Brazil and India. He died in 1966 in the crash of an Air India Boeing 707 at the summit of Mont Blanc, while commuting to build a plant near Bombay. Also dying in that crash, a tragedy widely believed in India to have been a deliberate political assassination, was the father of nuclear energy in India, Homi J. Bhabha.
Such petrochemical plants as the one at Sea Drift could be built today in Brazil and India, but not in the United States. Essentially, all of American heavy industry was built by free Americans – before the past 35 years of increasingly oppressive taxation, regulation and litigation. That industrial base is wearing out and moving abroad. The U.S. government has taxed away the industrial capital required to maintain and modernize it; regulated away the freedom to build it; and created an ever-present litigation industry, which has destroyed many U.S. industries and constantly threatens those that remain.
The United States has become a very unfavorable business climate in which to make things – especially industrial products such as energy. As a result, the American worker cannot even successfully compete with those in some communist countries. A very large part of our industrial base has already been shipped abroad.
As a result of government suppression of industrial freedom, there has been very little new energy production installed in the United States during the past 30 years. Not a single new oil refinery or nuclear power plant has been initiated in the U.S. during that time, and very little other energy manufacturing has been installed.
The result of this is that the U.S. now imports 30 percent of its energy at a current cost of $600 billion per year. Americans have seen that cost double during the past year. How high will the price ultimately go? It will rise until Americans no longer buy that 30 percent.
The oppressive hand of federal and state governments has so debilitated American industry that Americans no longer produce sufficient goods and services to trade for the things they wish to buy abroad. They are the weaker bidders in the world auction for energy. The stronger bidders are the people in countries that now make the products that Americans once produced.
Abundant, inexpensive energy is the currency of technological progress. In a free market, the relative amounts of different sorts of energy are automatically adjusted by supply and demand. The storability and high energy density of gasoline and diesel fuel make them ideal for transportation use. The safety, low cost and cleanliness of nuclear power make it ideal for electricity generation. Solar cells are useful in locations remote from power lines. As technology changes, so does the mix of energy generated.
Coal can be used to make electricity, or, through liquefaction, converted to petroleum. The United States contains 25 percent of the world’s coal. Nuclear power plants can provide the heat necessary to liquefy this coal. Should that be done, the United States could produce more oil than Saudi Arabia – with U.S. reserves lasting more than 200 years. Nuclear power can also be used to produce oil directly from plant materials, should the chemical engineering and material supply of this liquefaction ever become practical.
Consider one example: Just outside Phoenix, Ariz. – sited on 4,000 acres, of which it uses about 100 acres, plus 800 acres for water storage – is the Palo Verde nuclear power station. Using the wastewater from Phoenix as cooling water, Palo Verde has three nuclear reactors – all 1970s technology. It was intended to have 10 reactors, but the government-sanctioned-and-implemented anti-nuclear hysteria of the 1970s – very similar to the hysteria being created today against the hydrocarbon industry through the scientifically discredited myth of human-caused global warming – stopped construction when only three reactors had been completed.
Each of the three reactors at Palo Verde produces the annual electric power of two Hoover Dams. The three together produce about 30 million megawatt hours per year, which is the equivalent of six Hoover Dams. If completion of the Palo Verde plant had been permitted, it would now be producing as much electricity as 20 Hoover Dams.
The construction of just one complete 10-reactor Palo Verde power station in each of the 50 states would be the equivalent of providing 20 Hoover dams in each state. If this were done, the United States would have a 20 percent excess of energy for export rather than a 30 percent deficit in energy imported. Instead of spending $600 billion abroad each year, we would have a $400 billion trade surplus in energy. We could export our oil and coal and run our civilization more on electricity, or we could use more hydrocarbons – employing nuclear power to make crude oil from coal. All forms of energy are industrially interconvertable, so there are many options.
The total capital cost of 50 complete Palo Verde-size nuclear installations is, in 2008 dollars, about $1 trillion – the approximate value of the energy these installations would produce each year. Private capital to build these power plants would be easily available – IF the U.S. government repealed the taxation, regulation and incentives to litigation that now make construction of the plants impossible.
But what about nuclear waste? Most Americans do not know that the so-called “nuclear waste” problem has been created entirely by government regulation. Spent fuel from nuclear plants can be reprocessed to make more new fuel for the plants. The only reason that it is today stored at 100 different locations throughout our country is that our politicians passed laws preventing breeder reactors and nuclear fuel recycling in the United States.
Instead, while it deprives Americans of nuclear technology, our government raises taxes on current energy producers and spends this tax money subsidizing the construction of … windmills. Riding preposterous mechanical tax-financed horses, these 21st Century Don Quixotes tilt against the world – a world in which we are consequently no longer competitive.
What reason does government give for depriving us of nuclear power? The same reason that governments always give – fear. Fear that “terrorists” might seize a nuclear power plant – and do what? Turn off the power? Kill themselves by opening the reactor and trying to carry away its fuel rods? Blow it up with chemical explosives – virtually impossible with modern reactor containment facilities – scattering diluted radioactive material over a few hundred acres and probably harming no one except those hurt in the explosion?
Until recently, public tours were allowed of nuclear power plants. Ordinary Americans could see this wonderful technology. Now, U.S. government regulations prevent even Ph.D. students in nuclear engineering from entering these plants. Their given excuse? Fear! Government apparatchiks are busy turning our existing nuclear power plants into the equivalent of the mythical supernatural forbidden places that terrified ignorant savages. Nuclear technology is so much to be feared that ordinary people cannot even look upon it!
If we must shut down the major industries of our civilization through fear of terrorists, the terrorists have won. The history of cowardice is clear. Cowards have no future.
Fear is the political driving force of tyranny. Today, the hottest topic of fear – based on which our government is on the verge of levying vast new taxes and regulations – is the fear of human-caused global warming. Never mind that this hypothesis is false.
No less than 31,000 American physical scientists, including 9,000 Ph.D.s, have petitioned the government not to do this at PetitionProject.org. These scientists have declared the hypothesis false and have pointed out that atmospheric carbon dioxide is required for all life on Earth and that the modest increases of recent years have fertilized plant growth and actually much enhanced our natural environment.
Does the Palo Verde example mean Americans should solve their energy problem solely by building nuclear power plants? Do we need a vast government program to subsidize nuclear energy? Absolutely not! Americans need the freedom to decide, in the free competitive market with no tax-subsidies and no government impediments, the mixture of energy they require.
With current technology, that mixture would include largely hydrocarbon and nuclear energy, with small amounts from other technologies. No one knows the future. As science and technology advance, free market decisions will change.
Technological advance cannot, however, be enhanced by government. The last thing the American people need is for a bunch of Washington politicians – most of whom have never produced any product of real value – deciding which energy technologies should be developed in the future and spending tax money in attempts to cause that development. Taxing Americans for these purposes is unconscionable.
Moreover, high taxation – far beyond the excessive tax rates the famous Laffer Curve shows actually lead to fewer government and private resources by inhibiting productivity – is already stifling our country, both direct taxation and the hidden tax of currency inflation.
If our money – produced by our government – were honest, prices would actually steadily decrease. Why? Because as technology advances, it becomes easier to produce the things we need. Simon’s law steadily lowers the real prices of goods and services. Yet American savers never see these gains. Inflation of our currency confiscates the entirety of our technological productivity gains and more besides – at the rate of inflation that our politicians think we will tolerate.
The only way the U.S. energy problem can be solved is to remove the obstacles that caused it. The taxation, regulation, litigation and tax subsidies that government has placed on the back of the American energy industry must be repealed. Free men with private capital in a free market will then be able to build the energy industry we need. Similar action should be taken for our other industries.
As the cost of energy rises, as imported energy becomes a luxury, and as American prosperity falls, the American people are going to become very unhappy. Current fuel prices are only a taste of the inevitable privations that are coming.
There is only one, simple, central question in the energy debate: As their suffering increases, will the American people realize that their diminishing prosperity is the direct result of the taxation, regulation and litigation their government has created?
Will American voters throw out the politicians who are still creating more of this tyranny and replace them with representatives who will repeal the laws that are impoverishing them?
If they do, if they restore the fundamental human right of freedom to produce to the American people, the needed U.S. energy capacity can be built in record time – without the expenditure of a single dollar of tax money.
If, on the other hand, Americans are convinced by the demagoguery of self-interested politicians who urge them to hate industrial producers such as oil companies, use tax money for useless and wasteful schemes such as the ethanol debacle, and blame their troubles on essential free market institutions such as commodity markets –
If they allow continued oppressive regulation of energy producers, continued regulatory prevention of nuclear power plant construction and of oil and gas exploration and development –
If they allow the dead hand of government to continue to drive industry away from the United States –
Then the great experiment in human freedom begun in the United States more than two centuries ago is over.
As our human right to produce dies, killed by the dead hand of government tyranny, so will die the prosperity and remaining freedom of our country.
Winston Churchill said that Americans always do the right thing – after they have tried everything else first. In allowing our politicians to stifle American industry for more than 30 years with tyrannical taxation, regulation and litigation, we have completed the “everything else.”
It is now time for us to do the right thing.
Editor’s note: The preceding is reprinted from the current edition of WND’s elite monthly Whistleblower magazine, titled “ENERGY FREEDOM: The Next American Revolution.” For a limited time, subscription and renewal prices have been rolled back to 2002 levels! Subscribe to Whistleblower now!
Arthur Robinson is a research professor of chemistry, co-founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, and publisher of “Access to Energy” newsletter. Educated at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Diego, Robinson served as a faculty member of UCSD until co-founding the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine with Linus Pauling in 1973. Beginning with their initial work together on general anesthesia and the structure of water at Caltech in 1961, Pauling and Robinson carried out published research on a wide variety of topics from nuclear physics to nutrition. Robinson’s concern over the political manipulation of science led him to launch the Petition Project, a compilation of more than 31,000 scientists, including 9,000 Ph.D.s – and more names arriving daily – rejecting the hypothesis of man-caused global warming and urging the government not to limit production of carbon dioxide, which enhances and is required for all life.