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George Will nails the difference between conservatives and progressives

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"George Will nails the difference between conservatives and progressives"

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In his column last Sunday, conservative pundit George Will wrote:

Obama recently said he would “require that 10 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources by the end of my first term — more than double what we have now.” Note the verb “require” and the adjective “renewable.”

Will called this “comic” and a “fairy-tale promise.”

But back to requiring this or that quota of energy from renewable sources. What will that involve? For conservatives, seeing is believing; for liberals, believing is seeing. Obama seems to believe that if a particular outcome is desirable, one can see how to require it. But how does that work? Details to follow, sometime after noon, Jan. 20, 2009.

Actually, Obama has spelled out the details in his energy plan (see “A real energy plan for America: Efficiency now, 10% renewables by 2012, and one million plug-in hybrids by 2015“), but I wouldn’t expect Will to bother using Google to find it.

In any case, Will has nailed a key difference between conservatives and progressives:

Conservatives believe that if they haven’t seen something happen yet (in this country), it can’t possibly happen. Progressives believe that government can help make things happen that haven’t already.

I’m guessing that if George “No we can’t” Will had been a columnist at the time, he would have mocked JFK’s infinitely more difficult challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years. I guess he would have been proslavery and trashed the Emancipation Proclamation:

Mr. Lincoln seems to believe that if a particular outcome is desirable, one can see how to require it.

Ironically, Will is mocking Obama for wanting an additional 5 percent of total U.S. electricity to come from all forms of new renewable energy in five years. Yet Pickens is certain that 20 percent of all U.S. electricity could come from wind power alone in 10 years. I would note that even the Bush administration itself believes we could get 20 percent of all US electricity from wind power alone in 20 years (see “Must read: Bush DOE says wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs“).

Why does such troglodyte get a national opinion column and a major spotlight on ABC news?

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32 Responses to George Will nails the difference between conservatives and progressives

  1. Brewster says:

    Conservatives believe that if they haven’t seen something happen yet (in this country), it can’t possibly happen.

    I particularly believe they have trouble with the (in this country) part – in my feeble efforts as part of the choir, I have run into that time and again – if something works fine in Europe, Canada or Japan , then by definition it won’t work in the US.

  2. hapa says:

    “what dothey know? they use the metric system. i can’t even remember how to convert measurements — that’s how much more sophisticated we are.”

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    We need a good site that presents all the data on renewables for easy consumption.

    People like Will couldn’t get away with making up data if the real stuff was easy to find.

  4. Paul K says:

    Will is obviously unaware of the tremendous growth in wind and solar taking place in America. The only thing preventing us from already exceeding Obama’s future alternatives goal is the lack of transmission lines. Recent posts at dotearth the the Wall Street Journal indicate opposition to grid improvement is very problematic.

  5. Greenbandit says:

    “Conservatives believe that if they haven’t seen something happen yet (in this country), it can’t possibly happen.”

    Except, of course, when it comes to change they want to impose on countries outside our borders. If you wanted to give conservatives some benefit of the doubt (and that’s a big if), you could say that what they really believe is that government should not force private industries to make changes, and use the “implausibility” argument to back up what is, at it’s core, a philosophical difference.

  6. Carl says:

    10% of our energy coming from renewables in 5 years? I hope everone here likes rolling blackouts. Thats change I can beleive in.

  7. Dano says:

    Carl, thank you for your opinion, which is stuck in the 19th century and the premise that we must rely on antiquated grids over distributed energy. And thank you for thinking that all our energy needs are supplied by a grid, and not a gas station or pipe.

    Best,

    D

  8. Mauri Pelto says:

    Good point Brewster offshore wind in Denmark and Germany and UK could not work here. Although as Joe has noted you do not have to leave the country what works in CA cannot be accepted as practice in the rest of the nation.

  9. Dano says:

    For conservatives, seeing is believing; for liberals, believing is seeing.

    Will saw Obama’s clarion call.

    The American Dream is believing something and going for it. This Conservative argumentation effectively says ‘why bother dreaming about something’ to conservatives.

    It is this small-minded lack of vision that has put us in this situation in the first place.

    Best,

    D

  10. rpauli says:

    But will climate miraculously stabilize before the very power of their ideas?

    Try harder George.

  11. john says:

    It almost seems as though the pre-requisite for getting a column or air time these days is to have been wrong on everything. the NYT Times added William “wrong again” Kristol; the Washington Post added Gerson (axis of evil).

    Meanwhile, you still see neocons and Iraq hawks get air time.

    Serious guys like Clark, (Wesley and Richard), Zinni, Feinstein etc. are rearely heard from.

  12. Will has told us that conservatives don’t want a political imagination. Imagination is to be confined, perhaps, to profit making enterprises who want to sell a product or service.

    However, there are apparently now ideological rifts in the conservative camp, at least in Britain. Some are calling for a rejection of free market absolutism. Certainly unregulated markets do not conserve the natural environment, community life, and our climate.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/21/conservatives.economy

    Not sure what the practical implications of this are but it’s interesting nonetheless.

  13. Why does Will have a following and a column?

    Most columnists, at least in the US, run permutations and plausible versions of what people recognize as “common sense”. Will is just intoning a particular type of “common sense” that, it turns out, is belied by history. Nevertheless, he is a skillful packager of this untruth.

    Most news organizations, unfortunately, are interested in the packaging of ideas more than the quality of the ideas offered. It sells more soap. If people start to realize what kind of crisis we are in, the market for more challenging, reality-based news and reporting may grow.

  14. Jay Alt says:

    It isn’t clear to me from his campaign website just what Obama is using as his basis. Here is an EIA page from ’06 -

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/page/prelim_trends/rea_prereport.html

    It says 6.9 % of total energy used is from renewable sources. Now use the blue link to jump to the section on ‘Renewable Electricity Generation and Capacity’. The last line of 2nd paragraph states that 9% of electricity generated is renewable, (mostly hydro). What am I missing here?

  15. Earl Killian says:

    In my opinion, the people that call themselves conservatives are actually radicals (it would be better to call them Republicans, not conservatives). Republicans want to try social and physical experiments of great risk (e.g. privatizing social security, or changing the CO2 level of the atmosphere and the pH of the ocean, or introducing new chemicals into the biosphere, or deficit spending forever). To say that “Conservatives believe that if they haven’t seen something happen yet (in this country), it can’t possibly happen.” is therefore not correct. However, they are quick to complain about changes they don’t like as “impossible”.

    In my opinion, it is the Democrats that are actually the conservative party (according to the normal, non-political dictionary definition). They are trying to preserve the status quo of 1930s-1970s (including atmospheric levels of CO2, social security, etc.).

  16. Earl Killian says:

    Where does this 5% renewables figure for today come from? Currently 9.4% of our electricity is either hydro (7%) or “other renewables” (2.4%). Either we’re already at 10%, or we have a factor of four to go to get to 10%, depending on whether you count hydro (I think it is clearly renewable, though not particularly environmental, which is why it is often put separately). I guess they are calling electricity half our energy (the other half being petroleum)?

  17. Pangolin says:

    George Will doesn’t need no facts to keep his position. In fact he’s allowed to flat lie. It’s an absolute fact that there is more energy available for heating and cooling under US homes than is supplied by all the nuclear power plants in the US today.

    George W. Bush, John Kerry and Al Gore have geo-exchange heating and cooling systems and if the rest of us had them also we’d be closing coal plants and melting down heating oil trucks. They are so efficient that they put the heating and cooling loads of your average home well within the solar electricity that can be collected off your average roof with thin-film solar panels. That’s more energy right there than Obama is looking for.

    Nanosolar alone has the equipment to produce many, many megawatts of solar capacity yearly and that’s still more expensive that concentrating solar power. Mirrors are cheaper than PV every time.

    When the sun doesn’t shine the wind blows and there is more than enough wind blowing in the US to power the whole nation on that source alone.

    Since there is more than enough proven capacity available in geothermal, solar and wind to supply 100% of our energy needs if we install the equipment and the amount of recoverable oil under ANWR is still a very suspect estimate at this point it’s clear George Will can’t find his ass with both hands on energy issues. The man’s still promoting nuclear power for Dog’s sake. Hell, even Idaho couldn’t get a nuclear power plant built in ten years with 100% government money.

    Capacity you can install tomorrow beats capacity that requires ten years every time. Solar beats nukes, wind beats nukes, geothermal beats nukes.

  18. red says:

    A lot of the generalizations in the comments here about conservatives sure sound just like mirror images of George Will’s generalization about liberals.

    Let’s be realistic. Conservatives aren’t going away. They are not a monolithic army. They’re not particularly less or more intelligent, experienced, educated, corrupt, or motivated by special interests than liberals. Just because Bush has high deficits on his record doesn’t mean high deficits are a conservative principle – it just means Bush and Congress like spending more than fiscal responsibility. And so on …

    You could fight conservatives as hard as possible on every point. However, if you actually want to achieve results, you’re probably better off finding areas where you agree with conservatives, or can couch your proposals in ways conservatives will go for. Otherwise you’ll not only have to continually fight the conservatives politically, but you’ll also have lukewarm support among conservative businesspeople, car drivers, house owners, etc. You’ll need these people on your side – there are a lot of conservative business people, etc. So, concentrate your main efforts on the areas you can find agreement with (many/most of) them, and make mild efforts in the rest. Save the big push in those areas for later.

    The climate areas where you can probably get conservatives on your side are those that can be couched in the framework of “energy independence”. Lots of conservatives are skeptical about AGW, seeing it as exaggerated and politically inspired by liberal interests that want the U.S. to weaken itself, increase regulation, increase taxation, and so on. Fighting that battle will be akin to banging your head against the wall, at least for now. However, energy independence appeals to a lot of conservatives. Most of them don’t like the economic drag of high fuel prices controlled by OPEC. They don’t like having a national security weakness (tanks need fuel too, and there are vulnerabilities in our oil-based fuel supply). They don’t like the prospects of oil revenues being filtered to fund terrorism. So, right now there’s a great opportunity for progress on energy independence consistent with climate progress (promoting things like FFVs that support methanol and ethanol, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, higher CAFE standards than how planned) if the proposals are packaged in a way that isn’t too bitter a pill for conservatives to swallow.

    Having beaten or co-opted the oil and car industries, it will be a lot easier to take on coal in full force later.

  19. red says:

    CP: “I’m guessing that if George “No we can’t” Will had been a columnist at the time, he would have mocked JFK’s infinitely more difficult challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years.”

    This is an interesting example because JFK didn’t pick it because we needed to get to the Moon to solve some physical or economic problem like climate change or energy independence. He picked it because his advisors told them it was something we could probably accomplish, but was also something difficult and long-term enough that we could beat the Soviets (who were ahead in space technology) to. The point was simply to beat the USSR.

    George Will might very well have criticized it not because it couldn’t be done, but because it wouldn’t make fiscal sense. We wouldn’t be able to sustain the trips to the Moon to really get the scientific and economic benefits because we’d eventually have to cancel it. As it turned out, we did get a lot of benefits – a large technically-educated component to our workforce, a number of useful space technologies, some political and science benefits, etc. However, the big payoffs were lost.

    Now NASA is trying to get back to the Moon in 16 years instead of 10, and probably wont be able to do it (IMHO) in spite of the past accomplishment, an existing space infrastructure, etc.

    There are probably some lessons in there for any “Energy/Climate Apollo” effort.

    I’m currently reading “Return to the Moon” by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmidt. Schmidt is the only Apollo astronaut who was a scientist. His PhD is in geology. He probably took the “Whole Earth”/”Blue Marble” photo that fed into the environmental movement. He was a also a Republican Senator. The book is on energy, and his overview of the energy situation would probably raise some objections here in a few spots. He’s a fusion researcher now, and he proposes mining the Moon for Helium-3 as a fuel for a compatible variant of fusion reactors.

    I haven’t finished the book, but of course I wouldn’t count on fusion to solve our energy problems at this point. Even if the clean fusion reactors were already designed, built, and economical given the He-3, though, the criteria for success he gives just for developing the lunar transportation system seem wildly unlikely to me. He requires total reform of NASA’s dysfunctional (IMHO) manned space program (like having mostly 20′s engineers and 30′s managers, etc).

    The main point, though, is that Schmidt is clearly a conservative that believes that government can make something happen that hasn’t already happened.

  20. Carl says:

    Dano, when you are reading your copy of the Utne reader by candle light 5 hours a day come talk to me then … better be sure its a letter though. As one who has worked in the power industry for over 20 years, the level of ignorance I see with regard to this subject is staggering.

  21. Bob Wallace says:

    You know, Carl, as someone who has lived “off the grid” for the last 20 or so years I can attest to the fact that you’re full of it.

    I know that one can have a full and easy life while not depending on the old energy structure. And since no one is suggesting that we dump the grid your “stuff” makes even less sense.

    What we will do is gradually replace dirty, non-renewable generation with clean, less expensive generation. We’ll do this as we are currently doing.

    We’ll build wind farms, thermal solar farms, put PV on rooftops and continue to improve the grid to move power from excellent solar, wind, geothermal, and ocean sites to where it is needed. And we’ll build storage close to point of use to take additional load off the grid.

    It’s not a “my way or the candle” future.

    The largest problem we face is not “ignorance” but stubborn old roadblocks who won’t pitch in and do their part.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Of course we can start using torrefied wood instead of coal right away.

  23. red says:

    Somewhat off-topic, but not completely so: Obama’s answers to a number of questions on climate change, energy, ocean health, space, and a number of other topics related to science and technology, and climate and energy in particular, are available at http://www.sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php?id=40

    McCain’s answers are expect later, so we can compare and contrast those progressives and conservatives.

  24. Dano says:

    Carl, I repeat:

    And thank you for thinking that all our energy needs are supplied by a grid, and not a gas station or pipe.

    The premise of your argumentation is faulty. It relies on one form of energy.

    Oh, and I’m with Bob Wallace except for the fact that the GF doesn’t want to live off-grid. I was on the design team for two super-insulated and highly green buildings, one commercial and one residential, and consulted on another. It can easily be done. WA State code – using IBC – is very energy-thrifty. R-19 walls are a great start, as is whole-house fan idea.

    HTH.

    Best,

    D

  25. Ronald says:

    ’10 percent of our energy in 10 years.’ Apparently up from 5 percent now.

    I could see where it’s easy to think that statement means electrical power from the grid except all sources of energy which might include heating of buildings with wood or something like that.

    Just as a side comment, 100 percent of all buildings are solar heated and 97 percent of all heating in buildings is solar heating. If it wasn’t for the sun, the earths temperature would sink to 2.7 degrees Kelvin (270 degrees below Celsius, 460? degrees below zero fehrenheit, about 5? degrees Rankine) Of course, the solar heating (sun) is what makes the day 15-20 degrees warmer than the night and summer warmer than winter.

    I’ve thought it’s useful to think of that when designing or at least advocating the use of passive solar for keeping a house warm. My goal when designing a passive heating system is to use solar energy collecting, heat storage and house insulating so I don’t need other heating systems for that last 3 percent that everybody gets 97 percemt of naturally anyway.

    So when we talk about energy use, we many times only talk about those things that we are measuring. There isn’t talk about the whole system which might include natural capital, negawatts and alot of other things.

  26. I consistently argue that this epic battle between the right and the left over climate change is a North American construct. In the UK, Conservatives like Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, are leading the fight against global warming. The Conservative party is criticizing the Labour government for not going far enough. In Germany, a coalition government led by right-wing Angela Merkel is promising 40 percent renewable energy by 2020. And so it goes.

    Only in North America do the lines seem to be drawn so rigidly.

    And for Carl… Where are the rolling blackouts in countries like Denmark and Sweden where renewable energy already comprises a significant part of power generation? How have they managed to do what you suggest the US cannot do? Are they smarter, or more industrious?

  27. Ronald says:

    It seems that there are a few things that aren’t always universally accepted in the United States such as the Evolution/Creation debate that are accepted around the world. Although I think that Creation is the accepted belief in the Muslim middleeast which isn’t a surprise to me.

    Which are we, thruth seekers or comfort seekers? That is an important question we should ask ourselves when trying to figure our how the world really is. In some and many things that always doesn’t matter, but when it comes to screwing up the planets atmosphere on which we want future generations to live, it’s a little important.

  28. David B. Benson says:

    Richard Levangie — Maybe also in Australia?

  29. Mark says:

    “Conservatives believe that if they haven’t seen something happen yet (in this country), it can’t possibly happen.”

    Many conservatives subscribe to the fallacy that we need fossil fuels or else our standard of living will be drastically lowered. Since fossil fuels were a major part in a strong increase in our standard of living, they conclude that a reduction in fossil fuels will bring us back to the horse and buggy days. completely oblivious to progress.

    “Progressives believe that government can help make things happen that haven’t already.”

    It’s a rational belief too, since there are demonstrated success stories – from energy efficiency standards in California to CAFE standards. If the government sets standards, or a price is placed on carbon, some the best minds and resources are allocated towards new technologies. It’s not a guarantee, but the chances of technological improvements are increased greatly.

  30. shop says:

    Conservatives believe that if they haven’t seen something happen yet (in this country), it can’t possibly happen. Progressives believe that government can help make things happen that haven’t already.

  31. porno says:

    Which are we, thruth seekers or comfort seekers? That is an important question we should ask ourselves when trying to figure our how the world really is. In some and many things that always doesn’t matter, but when it comes to screwing up the planets atmosphere on which we want future generations to live, it’s a little important.