Powering Down

Patrick Richardson:

Kansas is ranked second in the nation behind Montana for wind energy potential, a fact which should have environmentalists jumping for joy. Instead, they’re trying to block the construction of transmission lines to wind farms in south central Kansas and north central Oklahoma.

Why? Well it all has to do with the lesser prairie chicken. According to a story by the Hutchinson News in February of this year, ranchers and wildlife officials in the area are teaming up with groups like the Sierra Club to block the construction of the lines, which would apparently run through prime breeding territory for the bird.


Environmental groups, which are as quick to fang each other as they are dirty polluters, are lining up in opposition to the lines and to wind farms in general. In fact, they’re lining up against most current sources of renewable power: the Audubon Society hates wind farms because the blades kill birds and bats; hydroelectric covers up large swaths of land and releases “greenhouse gasses” when decaying material is exposed to the air; the Sierra Club has opposed solar plants in the Mohave. Apparently, even geothermal creates toxic waste no one wants.

Environmentalists tend to favor new energy technologies such as wind and solar as long as they’re purely theoretical. Once they start to become real, it turns out that these technologies, like everything else in the world, have drawbacks, and hence, while the in-theory approval may continue, practical deployments are fought.

The creation of a large and affluent middle class has been very largely a function of the availability of plentiful and reasonably-priced energy. The “progressive” war on America’s energy industries, if it succeeds, will mean for most Americans an increasingly dismal economic outlook.

In my previous Powering Down post, I quoted the Fabian socialists Beatrice and Sidney Webb, reflecting circa 1928 on history and on the contributions of what they called the Machine Age:

The manual-working population of the cities was, in fact, mainly composed of laborers who were lifelong hewers of wood and drawers of water whilst that of the vast stretches of farmland and forest outside the cities was as devoid of art as of letters. And the proportion of merely mechanical work in the world’s production has, taken as a whole, lessened, not increased. What a multitude of laborers quarried the stones, dragged and carried the stones and lifted the stones of the cathedral walls on which half a dozen skilled and artistic masons carved gargoyles? From the building of the Pyramids down to the present day, the proportion of the world’s work of the nature of mere physical digging, pushing, carrying, lifting and hammering, by the exertion of muscular force, has almost continuously diminished…. And it must not be forgotten that, in “Western civilization to-day, the actual numbers of men and women engaged in daily work of distinctly intellectual character, which is thus not necessarily devoid of art, are positively greater than at any previous time. There are, of course, many more such workers of superior education, artistic capacity, and interesting daily tasks in Henry Ford’s factories at Detroit than there were in the whole city of Detroit fifty years ago! Along side of these successors of the equally exceptional skilled handicraftsmen of the Middle Ages there has come to be a vast multitude of other workers with less interesting tasks, who could not other wise have come into existence, and who represent the laborers of the cities and the semi-servile rural population of past times, and who certainly would not themselves dream of wishing to revert to the conditions of those times. It may be granted, that, in much of their daily tasks (as has always been the case) the workers of to-day can find no joy, and take the very minimum of interest. But there is one all important difference in their lot. Unlike their predecessors, these men spend only half their waking hours at the task by which they gain their bread. In the other half of their day they are, for the first time in history, free (and, in great measure, able) to give themselves to other interests, which in an ever- increasing proportion of cases lead to an intellectual development heretofore unknown among the typical manual workers. It is, in fact, arguable that it is among the lower half of the manual workers of Western civilization rather than among the upper half, that there has been the greatest relative advance during the past couple of centuries. It is, indeed, to the so-called unskilled workers of London and Berlin and Paris, badly off in many respects as they still are and notably to their wives and children that the Machine Age has incidentally brought the greatest advance in freedom and in civilization.

It is precisely the “working people,” about whom the “progressives” claim to care so deeply, who will suffer the greatest pain from the putting of the Machine Age into reverse.

15 thoughts on “Powering Down”

  1. This leads back to the issue of working with one’s hands and with tools. The average middle class office worker today has less contact with basic mechanical tasks than his father and grandfather did. I limit this to the male sex because women have tended to avoid these tasks with many honorable exceptions during World War II. I find my sons less interested in tools and working on simple things. One son is a fireman and does do work around his home, using my tools I might add. The other son, a lawyer, seems far less interested and was not particularly interested as a child. One of my earliest memories was smashing my thumb with a hammer.

    Many of the “Millenial” age worker and voter has little interest in how things work at the basic level. They can probably program the DVR and maybe set up apps on the iPhone that I am unaware of, but they can’t fix a toilet or install a new kitchen faucet. The source of power is the outlet in the wall. All this reminds me of a very funny Bill Cosby routine about electricity. Except it isn’t funny when a large number of voters don’t know where water and power come from.

  2. MK…part of the justification for the enormous increase in educational spending over the last several decades has been that “we live in a technological society.” But many if not most people make it all the way through K-12 and college without learning *anything* about the key technologies of our society..I suspect that many couldn’t explain how an auto engine works even at the “the piston goes up and compresses the mixture, then the mixture burns and pushes it down” level, or provide a rough estimate of the sources of American electricity.

  3. Trust me that long before they’ve completely reversed the machine age we will be conquered by a country that didn’t attempt such foolishness. And we will get to “enjoy” levels of pollution orders of magnitude greater than today.

  4. Here in California during the late 70’s (Jerry Brown Administration), the Sierra Club had three major lawsuits underway.

    One was to stop a nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, another to stop a big hydro dam (New Melonies), and a third to stop geothermal power at the Geysers.

    Power in the hands of “the little people” is a danger to the “planet” according to these elitists.

    As to Obama, his actions in office have been decidely ANTI-nuclear. His appointment as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Jaczko) was a former aide to first Ed Markey (D-MA) and later to Harry Reid (D-NV). Jaczko decided to stop the review of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, against the express text of the law and against the Congressional appropriations for this commission.

    Obama’s OMB has done whatever they could to delay and prevent the nuclear loan guarantees that the industry needs to start building new nukes.

    That’s what you get when your vote Democratic.

  5. Yes, the energy we need will come from unicorn burps. I just don’t see an understanding of basic technology among the young who do not work at trades. They simply don’t understand why the energy policies of the left will leave us cold in the dark. There has been a whole movement in medical magical thinking ( crystals healing,etc.) and it has spilled over to people who never took algebra.

  6. The Energy Policy of the Left is natural gas. Lots and lots of natural gas. In Pennsylvania. Sure the exploitation of shale gas leaves some water taps that can be lit with a match — we just have to figure out how to charge the hapless homeowners for the free gas they are getting from their water wells.

    One gets to talk about the evil gas companies, but nothing will be done to slow it down — Pennsylvania is essential for Mr. Obama’s reelection in 2012.

  7. One of the absolutely fundamental changes required in the way people in general think about these issues, and the various “activists” who populate the myriad organizations who allegedly focus on conservation or energy or whatever, is to begin to follow the logic of their demands to the inevitable consequences which will necessarily result.

    We, as a culture, have become paralyzed by the endless claims that anything and everything we try to do to increase our supplies of energy is bad, and a threat to something that is more important, even if that something is a minor sub-species of a bird or fish.

    Rarely are these claims of impending ecological doom evaluated with a careful and rational analysis. Instead, the media promulgates the endless alarms as if each one is something new and well supported, and before too long, the schoolkids are marching to save the “cuddly du jour” from the evil technocrats. Meanwhile, the average citizen, and the business that employs him or her, and pays the taxes that underwrite everything else, faces endlessly increasing costs for all forms of energy.

    It has become increasingly apparent that all these supposed crises are “trojan horses” being used to advance the true underlying agenda—reduce and restrict the range of choices available to the average person. (It is notable that none of the restrictions actually apply to the tranzi elites who relentlessly advocate them)

    I noticed a long time ago that after all the rhetoric and folderal was stripped away, the resulting message always seemed to consist of some reason why individuals were incapable of making good decisions, and so those decisions would have to be made for them.

  8. Watermelon: Green on the outside and red on the inside.

    Environmentalist: A watermelon that will give no one any pleasure.

  9. MK…there are a lot of magical-crystals types on the left (which somehow never seems to deter the “progressive” claims for being scientific)…also, though, there are quite a few people who *do* understand computer technology in considerable depth but for whatever reason are unable to grasp the importance of other technologies.

  10. It’s more complex than it seems. At one time the Sierra Club was pro-nuclear (at least they said so when they opposed a dam). There is of course lots of NIMBYism, GAIAism, and pure powerseeking, but one factor is that any real technology or industry involves grubby tradeoffs. This requires acknowledging that the other side has a point or interest. That’s why the current trend in greenery is “land preservation”. Note that this does not include recreation or other uses except in the most minimal way. That way no complex tradeoffs need to be considered. One feels good (or makes some transaction fee or both) and no one is offended except the taxpayer.

  11. One of the many ironies of environmentalism is the fact that the Sierra Club was founded by John Muir to attempt to stop the Hetch Hetchy dam which created the reservoir from which San Francisco gets its water. Once every few years there is a half hearted attempt to raise the issue of Hetch Hetchy but it is quickly dropped. The canyon was supposed to be second only to the Yosemite Valley in beauty before the dam but even San Francisco leftists can be practical when it is their own water at stake.

  12. The Sierra Club WAS pro-nuclear up to about 1975 or so. In fact that was a contributor to my decision as a young man to pursue a career in nuclear engineering.

    However, David Broder (sp?), a board member, discovered that demogoguing fears about nuclear was very popular and split with the Sierra Club to form Friends of the Earth (FoE). The Sierra Club then “followed the money” and also adapted an anti-nuclear position. Interestingly, Ansel Adams quit the Sierra Club board over the issue, if memory serves.

    As to Hetch-Hetchy, I remember Nixon’s Secretary of Interior James Watt coming to California and broaching the subject to establish his boss’s environmental creds – HA! Our San Francisco liberals quickly found ways to change the subject.

Comments are closed.