The Great Race

by William Yeatman on June 13, 2008

I have heard an awful lot of public discourse over the past few days about the irresponsibility of our Washington policymakers’ refusal to tap domestic sources of hydrocarbons. What seems to be gaining particular traction is objection to the lame defense that, well, the oil from ANWR wouldn’t be here for another seven to ten years anyway, so let’s not do it.

I have heard in response the rather sane assessment that it does seem rather likely that we are going to need it in seven to ten years, as well, and as such that accessing our own energy sources remains a good bet.

And there's the rub. The typically implicit and often express rationale underlying the “it’s not immediate” rationalization is that we should instead invest in alternatives of the future. First, taxpayers have been investing in alternatives to hydrocarbons to the tune of about $40 billion since the 1970s — and what have we gotten for all that appropriated money

More absurd is the larger argument that X resource won’t be here for seven to ten years so let’s invest instead in something else that will be here in, I don’t know, 14 to 20 years. If ever. Remember how the wind and solar industries tell us every year for the past three decades — since the subsidies started pouring in — that in a few years they’ll be cost competitive, that the technologies and economics will make sense in, oh, maybe a decade, but for now they must have subsidies and mandates? How has that worked out?

No one knows when the next miracle drug for any particular ailment will be here, but the fact that it isn’t immediate has never, ever been a reason not to go after it. (Yes, I am comparing tapping the most abundant affordable energy sources with life saving technologies; I believe you would too if you thought about it). 

So here’s the bet. Let’s go after both, and see which gets here first. ANWR oil, or the miracle fuels, commercialized and somewhat economically sensible hydrogen alternatives, cost-competitive wind and solar, cold fusion, cellulosic ethanol. You name the viable, commercial-scale alternative that you believe would be here to compete in seven to ten years on its merits with no more subsidy than hydrocarbons receive, and get it here first, and you were right.

If you bet on it with your own money, you will win, and win big. Name names. Tell me the technology you bet on that can win that race.

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