Three Blind Men and the Elephant

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Just like the blind men in the popular story of perceiving the elephant, the three major constituencies participating in the energy debate have greatly different perceptions of the problem. The constituency that is worried about climate change believes the energy problem is caused by profligate use of fossil fuel that has dramatically changed our atmosphere. The energy security group sees dangerous reliance on foreign sources of oil increasingly held by countries hostile to the US. The economic vitality group sees high energy prices and their effect on the economy and our life-style. Just like the blind men, each of the ... continued below

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Long, J S February 13, 2007.

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Just like the blind men in the popular story of perceiving the elephant, the three major constituencies participating in the energy debate have greatly different perceptions of the problem. The constituency that is worried about climate change believes the energy problem is caused by profligate use of fossil fuel that has dramatically changed our atmosphere. The energy security group sees dangerous reliance on foreign sources of oil increasingly held by countries hostile to the US. The economic vitality group sees high energy prices and their effect on the economy and our life-style. Just like the blind men, each of the three constituencies perceives a different problem. And just as with the blind men, while each perspective is right as a piece of the elephant, it takes all the perspectives together to actually solve the problem. Environmentalists focus on solutions responding to the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases are creating rapid climate change. The tipping point has come: it is now a consensus position among scientists the global warming is being affected by anthropogenic activity to 90% certainty according to the last IPCC report. Although they still struggle with the prediction of how much global temperatures will rise if we do nothing--is it 5 deg or 10 under BAU? This group believes that we cannot afford to take a chance because we get only one chance. We can not afford to do this kind of experiment with the Earth. Any choice which decreases our CO{sub 2} footprint is favored, even if it means a decrease in standard of living. The energy security constituency sees the geo-politics of oil becoming increasingly dire. They look at oil money being used to fund anti-American activities of groups such as the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the infamous Al Qaeda. They quip that the Iraq war is the first war where we are paying for both sides. They note Iran and the Shia throughout the Middle East seeing the possibility of controlling 2/3 of the world's oil. They see oil and gas being used by Russia to exert political power using the gas tap and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela clearly anti-American and now a virtual dictator who controls 15% of our oil imports. Conflicts in Nigeria over oil wealth and corruption affected our oil supply. Countries such as China are at best unwilling to join political action against countries such as Sudan that supply them oil, and at worst, selling them arms in order to cement their relationships with respect to importing oil. This security constituency favors ending our vulnerability by ending our ''addiction to foreign oil''. This group thinks that there is no domestic source of energy that is bad. They will be happy to see our corn turned into ethanol; our coal turned into liquid fuel for transportation. No matter that the price of tortillas doubles in Mexico, we expand corn farming at the expense of the environment, our tanks and pipes in gas stations corrode and leak, or we make liquid fuel from coal, thus increasing the carbon footprint by 30% per unit of energy. The economic vitality group sees increasing international demand for oil occurring simultaneously with a peaking supply of light sweet crude. They see an oil market where higher prices drive more production of oil which is heavier and more sour (supply follows demand). However, fast growth in world-wide demand increases even faster and prices will go up. For example, China adds 10,000 cars per month, and there is an uncanny correlation between the price of oil and the amount of oil imported by China. The security contingent also worries about reliability of supply as affected by pipeline leaks in Alaska or hurricanes or potential terrorism. This constituency thinks the problem is one of capacity and favors solutions that will increase oil production, reservoirs, pipelines and refineries. They believe that the energy system will be determined by the market and want solutions that favor investment in capacity. What the environmentalists don't seem to get is climate change by itself will fail to gather broad enough support to achieve the environmentalists goals. People will not likely choose to shiver in the dark for a climate problem which is intangible to them. Where environmentalists have been successful they have built coalitions with other constituencies. As an example, the renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas etc. are supported by people who want to lower emissions to protect air quality, or protect the state from energy supply crises or promote economic development within the boundaries of the state. The adoption of an RPS addresses a coalition of interests. In Nevada, there was an effort to change the RPS to a low-carbon portfolio standard. The effort failed because those who were interested in economic development or energy security in the state saw no benefit.

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8 p. (0.2 MB)

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PDF-file: 8 pages; size: 0.2 Mbytes

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  • Presented at: AAAS, San Francisco, CA, United States, Feb 15 - Feb 19, 2007

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  • Report No.: UCRL-CONF-228099
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 902614
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc881354

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Office of Scientific & Technical Information Technical Reports

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  • February 13, 2007

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 22, 2016, 2:13 a.m.

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  • April 17, 2017, 2:07 p.m.

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Long, J S. Three Blind Men and the Elephant, article, February 13, 2007; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc881354/: accessed November 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.