Opinion

The war on fossil fuels will have middle-class casualties

|
Photo - coal storage
coal storage
Opinion,Op-Eds

In October, battery-maker A123 became the latest government-backed alternative energy firm to file for bankruptcy. The company, which was awarded a $249 million federal grant to build electric car batteries in Michigan, is yet another reminder that even highly subsidized alternative energy sources still have trouble competing with oil, natural gas and coal. That hasn't stopped anti-fossil fuels crusaders from pushing their economically infeasible ideas.

A new campaign to cut off investment in the fossil fuel industry is the latest example of just how far green extremists will go to further their nonsensical agenda. Not only are they putting America's energy security at risk, they are threatening to deal a blow to our already shaky economy.

This ludicrous crusade to attack fossil fuels is run by Bill McKibben, whose group 350.org, is waging war against the fuels that power America. Not content with our government's policy of propping up failing green energy firms, McKibben and company have launched "Do the Math," a campaign that urges churches, universities, pension funds and individuals to sell their investments in companies that produce fossil fuels.

The goofy logic behind this campaign is that, by encouraging divestment in fossil fuels, 350.org can get oil companies to leave 80 percent of known oil, natural gas and coal reserves buried forever and, in the process, slow climate change.

The real goal of the scheme is to put investor-owned oil, natural gas and coal companies out of business. And they are willing to cripple the American economy to do it.

Fossil fuels remain the most efficient, reliable and affordable energy around. They allow average, middle-class Americans to travel, heat their homes and cook their food without paying an arm and a leg for the privilege. The companies that produce the fuels, meanwhile, support millions of American jobs.

Hamstringing these firms will only lead to higher unemployment, higher energy prices and higher trade deficits, not to mention plummeting tax revenues, fuel shortages and mass closings of American factories.

The negative consequences don't stop there. If the divestment movement succeeds in bringing down investor-owned fossil fuel companies, foreign government-owned companies will step in to sell us their fuels -- at a significant markup.

Not only are such government-owned companies immune to silly divestment campaigns, they also have a healthy supply of these fuels.

Today, the 10 companies with the largest oil and gas reserves in the world are all government-owned. Together, these firms own 71 percent of proven reserves. By contrast, BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron together have drilling rights to less than 2 percent of proven reserves.

Rather than prompt American consumers to start driving electric vehicles or using alternative energy sources -- solar, nuclear, hydroelectric or biofuels, for instance -- a successful divestment effort would simply force American consumers to get a much bigger chunk of their fossil fuels from government companies in other nations.

The inconvenient truth about alternative energy sources is that they are simply too expensive, too inefficient and too impractical to replace fossil fuels anytime soon. Electric cars, for example, are in their infancy. They remain costly and unable to travel long distances.

The good news is that our dependence on gasoline is already diminishing due to exciting technological advancements and existing government regulations.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, our nation's gasoline consumption peaked at 9.3 million barrels per day in 2007 and averaged about 8.5 million barrels per day in the first quarter of this year. Consumption will no doubt drop further, and electric cars may one day rule the road.

But rather than boycott fossil fuels before a viable alternative exists, we should let consumers judge what energy source best meets their needs. It wasn't a divestment campaign that drove the typewriter and the rotary telephone out of American homes. Similarly, fossil fuels will be replaced only when something better comes along.

In the meantime, middle-class Americans can't afford to go broke just so some political activists can make a point.

Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, or TPA, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government. Visit TPA online at protectingtaxpayers.org.

View article comments Leave a comment