"Energy Policy: Above all, stop doing harm!"
So I got an email invitation to this American Enterprise Institute event tomorrow:
An Address by John Rowe, Chairman and CEO, Exelon Corporation
Rowe is quite a reasonable guy (see Rowe: Low gas prices and no carbon price push back nuclear renaissance a “decade, maybe two”). AEI, not so much (see “AEI: Still crazy with denial and delay after all these years“).
The title of the talk is absurd. The primary goal of energy policy right now should not be “Do No Harm.” It should be to “Stop doing harm — immediately!” (see Life-cycle study: Accounting for total harm from coal would add “close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated” and The Lancet‘s landmark Health Commission: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”).
The latest climate science makes clear that simply continuing our current energy policy risks multiple, simultaneous catastrophes, any one of which would be reason to dramatically change our energy policy, but combined they represent an existential threat to modern human civilization that creates a moral imperative for abrupt policy change (see “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice“).
The talk title plays off what many people think is a quote from the famous Hippocratic oath many doctors take. But it struck me that “Above all, do no harm,” doesn’t actually reflect modern medical practice — which is constantly doing harm to people, through the side-effects of drugs, surgery, and the like, in an effort to save people from far greater harm.
So I looked it up, and, indeed, that isn’t what the Hippocratic oath says.
The “original, translated into English” (via Wikipedia), contains this line:
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
That is quite different. Our energy policy certainly fails that version.
Here is a “Classic translation of the English”:
I will apply dietic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
#Fail there, too.
Then, “In the 1870s, many American medical schools chose to abandon the Hippocratic Oath as part of graduation ceremonies, usually substituting a version modified to something considered more politically and medically correct…. A widely used modern version of the traditional oath was penned in 1964,” which drops the ‘harm’ line, but has this relevant sentence:
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
#Fail squared [factorial?].
No, thanks to conservatives, our energy policy is more, like, some overweight smoker comes into the hospital with early stage diabetes and emphysema, and after a full evaluation, the hospital administrator says, “well, 99 out of 100 experts in your condition say that by straightforward changes to your lifestyle, you could fully recover and live a long and healthy life. But since you’re not dead yet, and since you’re going to die no matter what you do, just keep doing what you’re doing…. Oh, and we’re also going to cut funding for developing any treatments or for helping you deal with the progression of your untreated disease” (see Conservatives oppose adaptation, too).
Where does the phrase, “Above All, Do No Harm” (Primum non nocere) come from? It appears that no one really knows for certain, but there is a long discussion here. While it doesn’t appear to have come from Hippocrates but perhaps from a different source that, when translated, read something like “As to diseases, make a habit of two things–to help, or at lest TO DO NO HARM,” which actually gets to the heart of the matter of what the title of the AEI talk is so inane.
Wherever the phrase originated from is far less important than when it came from — a time long before medicine actually consistently helped people more than hurt them. A long time ago, it was probably good advice “to help, or at least do no harm,” since doctors did a lot of harm back then. Now it’s certainly true that doctors can do harm these days, but for treatment of seriously ill patients with curable or preventable diseases, especially those who are actively hurting themselves, no rational medical policy could be based on “Above all, do no harm.” Same for entire civilizations and their energy policy.
- Top medical groups warn Americans of health risks posed by climate change
- EPA white paper spells out the health and employment costs of the Republican Dirty Air Act
- 4,500 health professionals and scientists urge Congress to implement and enforce Clean Air Act
- American Enterprise Institute pushes European zombie attacks on clean energy jobs
- Brookings embraces American Enterprise Institute’s climate head fake along with right-wing energy myths