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The US Chamber of Commerce and “21st Century Energy” — a glance with thoughts

November 24th, 2008 · 4 Comments

For much of this year, the US Chamber of Commerce has been engaged in a public campaign related to energy issues.   Early in the year, the Chamber aligned themselves with the National Association of Manufacturing in battling against any meaningful action on global warming, including running ads against action strongly reminiscent of the infamous Harry and Louise anti-health care advertising.  In mid-2008, the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, under the direction of General James Jones, USMC (retired) began to take a more prominent role in energy discussions. (Yes, by the way, the Jim Jones being rumored for a senior position in the Obama Administration (National Security Advisor?), an earlier rumored potential Obama Vice-Presidential selection, and a  McCain supporter/advisor.)

The Institute  has had a progression of documents, starting with a statement of principles, then Energy Security in the 21st Century; Facts, Choices, and Challenges (40 pages),  later the Blueprint for Securing America’s Energy Future (76 pages), and most recently A Transition Plan for Securing America’s Energy Future (27 pages).

This is the first (and purposefully) brief discussion of this effort. First off, let us be clear, there is interesting material within these documents and, well, even some elements to praise. Even so, writ large, these documents lay out a reckless vision for the future that represent an absolutely inadequate response to Global Warming.  As for that last, the documents significantly underplay the relationship between energy practices and global warming (oops, they use “climate change” exclusively) and the implications from catastrophic climate change. (See after the fold.)

There are foci and emphasized items which, well, would serve the nation, the globe, and the future if they were laughed off the table. And, throughout the documents there are both minor and major contradictions unresolved.

Even so … the nation’s future will not be strengthened without business engagement. Change is required from government, from individuals, and from all elements of the business community. That the Chamber of Commerce has chosen to engage with substance on energy issues and is mentioning (even if downplaying) climate change should be welcomed, even as their engagement merits serious examination and analysis … examination and analysis that will be forthcoming in these pages.

As to contradictions

As to the last, let’s look at some items: energy demand. Throughout the works and speeches about them, there are words along these lines:

Global demand for energy will increase by more than 50 percent between now and 2030 – and by as much as 30 percent here in the United States.

This is an absolutely reasonable, as long as one remains within traditional ‘business as usual’ (BAU) analysis about energy futures.

But …  but … a key element of the principles and all of the documents should call into question the BAU assumptions.

Yet, the top agenda item within all of the documents and the top principle: energy efficiency. With significant focus on and investment in energy efficiency, that thirty percent growth in energy demands in the United States would not occur.

The statements about energy demand growth are not forwarded or followed by “unless our recommendations are followed …”, but are simply stated as fact.

Or, let’s take a look at the Principles, as discussed by Joe Romm of Climate Progress.

Let’s start with the unbelievable confusion in the notion of giving industry “incentives for innovation in clean energy” when earlier in this short letter they had written “We need to resist the temptation to rely on taxes or subsidies as the solutions of choice to meet our energy challenges.” I hope you are listening next President — we need incentives for innovation that aren’t subsidies and aren’t targets for technology.

Calling for government-funded “incentives” while, pages later, talking against “taxes or subsidies”.  Hmmm, wanting to have the cake and eat it too?

Some word searching

Reading the Institute for 21st Century Energy sometimes feels like visiting an alternative universe, overlapping with reality but with a skewed lens sometimes distorting things nearly beyond recognition.  One path to check on this, a search within the 143 pages of Energy Security, Blueprint, and Transition Plan for key words relating to climate change’s system-of-system impacts.

  • Externalities“:  0 comments across the three documents.
  • Mercury:  One mention, within a table in the Transition Plan among a list of pollutants discussing the need for increased tax credits for pollution reduction.
  • Acidification: 0 mentions.
  • Extinction: 0 mentions.
  • Drought: 0 menions.
  • Temperature: One mention in the Blueprint amid a discussion of the need for better science to predict future temperatures.
  • Coral: 0 mentions.
  • Wildfire (and “Wild Fire”). 0 mentions.

Why this list of words? They are all related to implications of fossil fuel pollution and implications of (catastrophic) climate change.

At the core, the challenge of climate change is all about our failures to account for Externalities, especially (but far from solely) in the pricing of fossil fuel use. For the seller and buyer, CO2 pollution is free and thus not accounted for within the contract and not limited.

Acidification of oceans due to increasing CO2 absorption is perhaps one of the most terrifying implications of human-caused CO2 emissions that is not directly “climate change”/”global warming”. It is a core threat to the corals around the globe and threatens the extinction of innumerable ocean species.

Coal-fired electrical plants are the #1 human source of mercury, a poison affecting prenatal development (for example) and helping create the restrictions on the eating of tuna.

An absence of discussion of temperature and the temperature increases that are, according to sources like the IPCC, critical to avoid is, again, rather shocking. And, increased wild fires and drought around the globe (not necessarily evenly or universally) are examples of the types of impacts we are seeing due to rising temperatures.

Very simply, it is hard to imagine how any serious discussion of energy issues can not have any accounting or discussion of these sort of key issues and implications from fossil fuel pollution. Accounting for these (including externalities within the contract costs) is a core part of any serious attempt to move our energy system to something resembling that which can support a prosperous and climate-friendly society. Accounting for these costs, these ‘externalities, is the very sort of critical step that the US Chamber of Commerce has fought (is likely to continue fighting) tooth-and-nail. Unless (or until) their work has meaningful discussions of these issues, then it is hard to see their engagement as truly productive.
A note about blog coverage

While regretting that I have yet to give serious coverage to the Institute for 21st Energy, its principles, its work and how to discuss its principles and concepts, I thought to look to some of the many authors and sites that are worth turning to regularly in the domains of energy/environmental issues. Turns out that my failure to turn a blogging / investigative eye to this effort is not, sadly, in isolation.  Here are some sites worth having on the ‘check frequently’ list and their coverage:

To be clear, these are all sites worth reading and if the above is critical of them, this site/this author is equally (if not more) open to any criticism. It is, again, notable how the Institute’s work seems to have escaped serious examination.

PS: And a brief mention of something else.  Jim Jones shares a resume line with a recent National Security Advisor: Chevron board membership.

Tags: Energy · analysis · business practice · government energy policy

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