Tuesday, December 28, 2004


There was a lot a campaign talk about our nation's energy policy, and Bush and Kerry offered their own competing energy plans. With Bush's victory and increased Republican majorities in Congress, the long-stalled energy bill may finally reach passage. But in truth, we don't really need a new national energy policy so much as we need to end our current anti-energy policy.

Too many politicians and far too many regulators believe the federal government's duty is to oppose energy infrastructure. Goaded by environmental activists and like-minded media, they have treated oil and natural gas wells, pipelines, refineries, electric power plants, transmission lines and the like as bad things that need to be stopped, or at least severely limited.

This was particularly true during the Clinton Administration, whose only real contribution to the nation's energy infrastructure was to launch several high-profile legal crackdowns on it. And, despite more pro-energy rhetoric from the current administration, not much has actually changed. Is it any wonder our energy future seems bleak?

Domestic oil production has been declining in recent years, and only part of the reason is limited reserves. Many promising new fields are currently off limits-including the 5.7 to 16 billion barrels estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to lie beneath Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Likewise, new natural gas production has been held up, as has much-needed natural gas pipelines. And, despite abundant supplies of coal, all but a few new coal-fired electric power plants have been blocked by the federal government.

To the extent this philosophy constitutes our national energy policy, we would be better off without one....

The federal government has made it hard to maintain the nation's existing energy infrastructure-much less build the necessary additions to it-without running into environmental objections. A few of these objections are legitimate, but most are exaggerated. For example, ANWR drilling would only disturb a very small part of ANWR's 19 million acre expanse. Furthermore, the strong environmental record achieved in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, where drilling has occurred since the 1970s using technology far less environmentally sensitive than that available today, gives additional reason for optimism. Likewise, state-of-the-art coal-fired power plants are far cleaner than those built decades ago and could be added in significant numbers without jeopardizing the declining trends in air pollution.

More here


There is big news from the Middle East that is unusual in several ways: It's positive, involves a scientific advance, and comes from a developing country. Researchers at Cairo's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute have shown that by transferring a single gene from barley to wheat, the plants can tolerate less watering for a longer period of time before their leaves wilt. This new, drought-resistant variety requires only one-eighth as much irrigation as conventional wheat, and actually can be cultivated with rainfall alone in some desert areas. It could literally make the desert bloom.

Agricultural shortfalls around the world, especially in developing countries, are being aggravated by the potential catastrophe of water shortages, not only for agriculture but also for basic human needs. As groundwater dwindles, millions of wells throughout Asia and Africa are drying up. Bureaucrats and aid workers long have searched for solutions. Gene-spliced, drought-resistant crops might provide one-so long as unfounded fears and flawed public policy don't block progress.

Modern biotechnology, also known as gene-splicing or genetic modification (GM), offers plant breeders the tools to make old crop plants do spectacular new things. In the United States, Egypt and at least 16 other countries, farmers are using GM crop varieties to produce higher yields, with fewer resources and reduced impact on the environment. In spite of activists who have resisted research and governments that have overregulated it, some GM crop varieties specifically tailored to aid the plight of poor countries' farmers are in the development pipeline, and a few are nearing commercialization.

Most of these new varieties are designed to resist the particular pests and diseases that ravage crops in the poor tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Others improve nutritional quality. But the greatest long-term boon to food security in the developing world may be the enhancement of the ability of new crop varieties to tolerate periods of drought and other water-related stresses. In most of central Africa, for example, farmers have no access to water for irrigation, so the development of crop varieties able to grow despite low moisture or temporary drought could both boost yields and lengthen the time that farmland is productive.

Aside from new varieties that use less water, the pest- and disease-resistant GM crops that are widely cultivated by North American farmers indirectly make water use more efficient. Much of the loss to insects and diseases occurs after the plants are fully grown-that is, after most of the water required to grow a crop has already been applied. Therefore, using GM varieties that experience lower post-harvest losses means that the farming (and irrigation) of fewer plants can produce the same total amount of food. Merely by planting some of the insect-resistant GM varieties now grown in America, African subsistence farmers could control the stem-boring insects that destroy as much as half their corn and cotton crops. In other words, more consumable crop for the drop.

There is an impediment to this rosy scenario, however. Unscientific, overly burdensome regulation in the U.S., and by agencies of the United Nations and the European Union, has raised significantly the cost of producing new plant varieties and kept most crops from ever reaching the market. This flawed public policy-which flies in the face of scientific consensus that GM is essentially a refinement of earlier techniques for crop improvement-adds tens of millions of dollars to the development costs of each new GM crop variety. Those extra costs, as well as the endless (and gratuitous) controversy over growing these precisely crafted and highly predictable varieties, discourage research on new varieties of subsistence crops such as millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes. Not surprisingly, it is primarily the most commercially profitable species-commodity crops grown at vast scale-that have emerged from the research and development pipeline.

Biotechnology applied to agriculture can help the poor by sowing a second Green Revolution, but only if politicians create public policy that enables it to flower.

More here


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

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