The balancing act: Who are the real Luddites?

By From page A4 | April 03, 2013

Luddites were early 19th century English textile workers who protested against the industrialization of the textile industry. Machines and low-cost labor were about to cost them their job. Many people died in the ensuing fight against textile industrialization. Later the term became synonymous with a person or movement who was opposed to advancement or new technologies.

Early in March of this year, scientists in Japan announced that they may have developed a process that could release cheap energy for the entire world allowing the third, fourth and fifth world the ability to advance from heating and cooking with animal dung to natural gas. It could provide the energy for electricity for billions of people who have never seen a light bulb.

The breakthrough is the ability to recover natural gas from frozen methane hydrates located deep in the oceans of the world. Just off the coast of the Carolinas there is an area (about the size of South Carolina) of frozen methane hydrates that contains billions of tons of natural gas. And that is just scratching the surface. And as a side benefit of this new technology being developed by Japan, it sequesters the carbon dioxide that is used in the process of the methane recover. ConocoPhillips last year using a similar method of methane recovery as Japan from ice formations in Alaska produced methane for six weeks.

And electricity and heating are not the only uses for natural gas; it can easily be used by cars and trucks with little modification to the engine. Japan is excited about the process and potential energy source as natural gas is currently five times as expensive as in the United States. Japan would no longer be an energy barren nation. It is hoping that the mining of methane hydrates will be technically and commercially developed by 2019. The bottom line is that the methane hydrates off the coast of Japan could be a 100-year supply while the world supply could be measured by centuries or millenniums. And methane just isn’t about energy; it is an important feedstock molecule for many manufacturing processes.

But wait, isn’t methane a greenhouse gas? Yes it is, but it only comprises one to two parts per million. By comparison nitrogen is 780,000 parts per million. While it is allegedly a powerful greenhouse gas, its effect is insignificant and it has a very short half life of just seven years. But that doesn’t matter as the environmental activists have already announced their opposition to methane hydrate recovery with concerns about leakage and accidents. Sounds like the same wackos who are concerned about fracking. Any excuse for stopping progress.

Instead the environmentalists offer us the mantra “wind and solar.” Talk about the “dark ages,” wind power is an unreliable, centuries old technology (calling it a technology is being kind). It currently supplies less than 1 percent of the energy in the United States at a price three times as high as conventional energy like natural gas. It would not exist except for government subsidies. And what do you do when there is no wind, light candles? No, you still need conventional energy as most windmills operate about 25 percent of the time and those areas with wind are already full of windmills. Ever been through Altamont Pass?

Then there is solar, which provides less energy to the United States than wind “power.” It too is not viable economically and does not provide energy at night when you really need it. In another demonstration of its non-viability, one of China’s largest solar panel manufacturers, SunTech was recently forced into a billion dollar insolvency. Here in the United States, solar power cannot survive without huge giveaways of taxpayer monies. And even with the mammoth government largess, can you say Solyndra?

Electric cars are also Ludditable. Electric cars are archaic. The current crop of electric cars, which are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers (meaning you and me), are not in their first go-around. In the year 1900 electric cars had 38 percent of the car market without subsidies; by 1905 their market share had dropped to just 7 percent and that’s with all gasoline cars having to be hand cranked, resulting in many broken arms. Seven years later when the electric starter first appeared (1912 Cadillac), electric cars companies followed the way of the buggy whip.

Now with insidious government intervention (most notably California and the U.S. government through CAFÉ mandate coercion, sales requirements, bribery and billions in government handouts), the electric car is back. Whether in the form of the pure electric Nissan Leaf or the much touted (and very expensive) Tesla or even the plug-in Chevy Volt or the now failing Fisker Karma, sales are beyond dismal with Leaf domestic sales well below 1,000 units a month with an even greater subsidy reducing the price by about 20 percent.

And who is causing this throwback to reemerge? The environmentalists through political pressure and the mainstream media. The electric car is too expensive and cannot exist without taxpayer money.  The hailed A123 battery company has gone belly-up while consuming a quarter billion dollars of federal largess. Another battery company in Michigan, a subsidiary of LG Chem, went out of business without producing one battery and receiving a federal government grant of $150 million from the Obama stimulus program along with other state and local incentives totaling additional tens of millions of dollars.

Fisker car company is about to go under, leaving the government holding the bag on at least $129 million. It’s a good thing the entire loan package of approximately $500 million wasn’t fully expended.

In an interview with the director of Ford Electrification, after driving the prototype Ford Focus Electric car, I said, “If you could get a real 100-mile range (the Nissan Leaf at 70 mph on the highway has a real range of 60 miles) and sell the car for $15,000 you would have a salable car.” Her reply was, “If only the batteries cost that little.”

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity of taking things for granted.  That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

— Aldous Huxley

It’s time to ask “who are the real Luddites?”

Larry Weitzman is a resident of Rescue.

Larry Weitzman

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