A few months ago, after a trip to Texas, I took an Über home from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. When the driver found out where I had been and what I write about, he immediately asked: “Is it true that in Texas they’re paying only $2.50 a gallon? I’m paying almost $4 here. This is really bad for my business. Why is it happening?”
There are a lot of factors, I responded, but the bottom line is this: we live in a state where the government, including the governor, is not focused on making energy abundant and affordable but rather “green”—which, in practice, means unreliable and expensive.
Our governor, Jerry Brown, was aptly nicknamed “Jerry Brownout” during his first tenure as governor in the 1970s for his fierce opposition to both fossil fuel energy and (carbon-free) nuclear energy. In 1978, energy theorist Petr Beckmann observed: “In 1976, California led the way in affirming popular desire for nuclear power; today Gov. Jerry Brownout is outlawing it in his state.”
Having helped gut nuclear in California, today’s Jerry Brownout has his anti-development sights set on the most important form of energy in civilization, fossil fuel. In April, he announced a “target” of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 40%, which is code for: 40% of today’s fossil fuel use, including oil use, should be outlawed. Part of this proposal calls for Californians to be forced to use over 50% “renewables”—a euphemism for “unreliables,” mostly solar and wind. Brown, like most anti-development activists, refuses to support carbon-free, renewable, and reliable hydro power.
Last month I explained how Germany’s attempt to pursue a far more modest percentage of unreliable energy has been horrifically damaging. But I want to focus here on his attack on the most indispensable fossil fuel, the fuel most near and dear to my Über driver, oil.
In the state already known for its jacked up gasoline prices, Brown has declared that he wants to outlaw 50% of California gasoline use in the next 15 years.
Thankfully the California Assembly fended off this proposal last week, but Brown remains undeterred. “Oil has won the skirmish. But they’ve lost the bigger battle,” he said, calling his opponents “merchants of destruction” and committing to using his executive power to outlaw much of our gasoline use.
So it’s crucial to understand just how destructive his anti-oil agenda is.
Here’s some context: in the last 15 years, despite much work by Arnold Schwarzenegger and other anti-fossil fuel politicians to restrict them to the point that we pay some of the highest fuel and electricity prices in the Continental US, gasoline consumption in California has held steady at around 350 million barrels (14.7 billion gallons).
Because gasoline—and the oil it comes from—is an amazing, amazing product that is absolutely without peer for many of the most crucial tasks in life.
My Über driver used a gasoline-powered car, fueled by the oil industry, because over its lifetime a gasoline car takes far fewer resources to produce, run, and dispose of than, say, a battery-powered car. Battery-powered cars are, importantly, also fossil fuel cars.
The reason for gasoline cars’ cost-effectiveness lies in the supreme virtue of oil. Oil is what’s called a liquid hydrocarbon—a combination of different sized hydrogen-carbon molecules that can store 50 times more energy than a battery. Vast quantities of these liquid hydrocarbons existed underground doing nothing for millions and millions of years until the much-hated oil industry figured out how to find and extract this glop and transform it into the ultimate form of mobile power.
Because mobile power is so fundamental to prosperity, when oil becomes more abundant, such as in the 1990s, the entire global economy benefits. When oil becomes less abundant, the entire global economy suffers—even if the decline is just 1 or 2 percent.
Jerry Brown wants to force Californians to use 50% less.
“Force” is the operative word here. Jerry Brown is not saying: innovators of the world, try to outcompete oil. He is saying: you may not use oil, even if it remains by far your best option. What are you supposed to use? Brown doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care. His focus is not producing energy but on finding reasons to stop it.
Brown claims he is doing all of this for his “climate legacy.” This may be true in the sense of prestige, but it is not true in reference to reality. First of all, if Brown actually cared about CO2 emissions he would, as his first order of business, reverse California’s technophobic, anti-nuclear policies that he helped create.
But more fundamentally, he would recognize that you cannot be for climate livability and against energy abundance. Energy abundance is essential to climate livability—since the natural climate is inherently variable, volatile, and vicious. And oil and other fossil fuels do infinitely more to make it safer than make it more dangerous. This has been proven and documented—there has been a 98% decline in the rate of climate-related deaths since significant global CO2 emissions began. For 40 years doomsayers have hidden our ever-safer climate by conflating mild, manageable global warming, which is real, with catastrophic global warming, which is not.
Jerry Brown’s “climate legacy” will be an unmitigated increase in climate danger as energy-impoverished Californians would be less able to cope with climate danger and every other area of life.
Even if you don’t live in California, you need to be concerned about Jerry Brown, because his approach to energy is becoming more common. Fundamentally, Jerry Brown judges energy sources by how “green” they are—which means how little they impact nature—but that is the wrong standard. The proper standard is to maximize human well-being, pursuing the course of action that combines the most positive impacts with the least negative impacts.
The energy issue that most influences human well-being is energy abundance—the access to large amounts of energy to do the work necessary to improve our lives, including to clean up the many environmental hazards of nature and to cope with our naturally dangerous climate. Every major energy source we use (including coal) can be made incredibly clean by historical standards, and by the standard of many other activities in life.
In all of today’s debates involving environmental issues, there is one fundamental question: is our ultimate goal to maximize human well-being on this planet or to minimize human impact on this planet?
If you choose the first, you choose energy abundance and energy liberation. If you choose the second, you choose energy poverty and energy deprivation.
California needs leaders—and voters—who will choose abundance. And oust Jerry Brownout.