I have spent the past couple of hours reading the first hundred pages of Thomas Friedman’s influential new book titled “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. It is thought provoking and worth reading if you want to understand some of the discussions and actions that may result in the next few months. People in positions to make decisions are reading the book and thinking about how they fit into the problem statements and the solution sets.
One page early in the book offers up the opportunity for some serious critical thinking because of the inclusion of two statements that Friedman does not clearly link together. After all, his lens for viewing the world, as a well connected, well travelled journalist is not the same as mine, a former nuclear submarine engineer, aspiring atomic entrepreneur and energy history buff. Here are the two statements that caught my attention and screamed out for greater investigation.
“Meanwhile, the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station ended any hopes of expanding our nuclear industry. Then Detroit introduced the sport-utility vehicle and successfully lobbied the government to label these as light trucks so they would not have to meet the 27.5 miles per gallon standard for cars, but only the light truck standard of 20.7. So we became more addicted to oil.”
…(later on the same page)
“Big Oil and Big Auto used their leverage in Washington to shape the market so people would ask for those cars that consumed the most oil and earned their companies the most profits – and our Congress never got in the way. It was bought off.
These were the years the locust ate – brought to you by a bipartisan alliance of special interests with Democrats supporting the auto industry and their unions and the Republicans supporting the oil companies…”
Friedman, Thomas, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2008 p. 17
Here is the food for thought – what if those same Big Oil interests lobbied the government to label the inconsequential – from a public safety perspective – TMI event as a terrible accident and worked with other coalition partners to establish federal, state and local rules that favored the construction of power plants that used the most of another item in their product line – natural gas? If you can believe Friedman’s analysis of the former actions to increase sales, why would you automatically doubt the second, even if it took place in a realm that is not as visible to average consumers.
There are many reasons to believe that the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II administrations – along with the Congress – had financial incentives to support natural gas sales by oil companies. During the period of explosive growth in SUV’s, the market share of natural gas fired turbines in the new electrical power plant market was even higher than the market share of SUVs in the personal vehicle market.
Anyway, back to reading. Just thought this comment was worth taking a little break.