"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Afghanistan: what we need to do to win, and why; PLUS - who knew? - "green collar" = costly and inefficient

One thing both presidential candidates seemed to agree on was that Afghanistan needed a "surge" of its own to correct that country's downward spiral. Many in the military and various think-tanks have observed that it's not necessarily possible to try and fit the Afghan peg into the Iraqi hole, but we can still apply a stronger counterinsurgency approach. Michael O'Hanlon argues that we need a much more rapid and extensive expansion of native security forces, and more support from our NATO allies to accomplish this (good luck). Even if NATO waffles, however (and, with a few notable exceptions, namely Canada and Britain, they have and will), the U.S. must step things up, because of incidents like this. This tragedy is a useful reminder of the enemy we face in the Taliban and what will happen if we allow control of Afghanistan to revert to them. If we fail there, maiming young girls for the crime of attending school will only be the beginning of that nation's new dark age.

On the climate change front, enviro-conomist Bjorn Lomborg has a timely piece here about using the "green" sector to jump-start our slowing economy. The bottom line is that sure, pumping cash into the alternative energy sector will create new "green collar" jobs; but it will also require massive subsidies for minimal return on the investment. We're in a debate right now about throwing money at our failing, inefficient car industry; the green industry should not be immune from this debate simply because it's in vogue right now. Besides, we've already seen what can happen when we subsidize alternative energy simply for the sake of doing so: it's been overshadowed by Wall Street's meltdown, but remember not so long ago, when food prices started climbing and there were food riots in poor parts of the world? And the reason prices were rising on staples like, oh, corn, were because the green lobby was so successful in getting farmers to turn wheat fields into pseudo-oil fields in the pursuit of the ethanol pipe dream. Ethanol has been a supremely poor investment, and the plowing-under of otherwise productive farmland has had tangible negative effects on the world's poorest poor. The last thing we need to do is throw good money after bad simply to feel warm and fuzzy about going 'green'. There are ways to pursue alternative, non-fossil fuel energies (nuclear power, for example, which could create many new jobs, is a proven technology, and would provide cheap, highly reliable power) and to address the effects of global warming at large (for more of these, I again recommend reading Lomborg's Cool It). Let's just not put the brakes on economic growth when we need it most merely to placate the green lobby (which is surely salivating over the prospect of subsidies because otherwise they're horribly uncompetitive in the open market).


Meghan said...

I love how people think that nuclear power is the best thing since sliced bread, but NO ONE has a reliable plan on what to do with the nuclear waste it will produce. (one of the so called "plans" I saw included shooting it out into space. Okay, we've trashed our own planet, let's start in on space!) Until that has been figured out, I fail to see how that is a clean source of renewable energy.

Cincinnatus said...

No one is arguing that nuclear waste is "clean"; yes, it will be toxic long after we're dead and gone. However, the overall footprint of nuclear power is very small. The plants themselves take up far less physical space than sprawling wind and solar farms, which require a huge amount of land to generate comparable energy levels. And the waste they generate, while more toxic than CO2, can be captured in its entirety, sealed, and buried in an area smaller than a city landfill. The Yucca Mountain storage facility would take nuclear waste stored in over 120 locations around the country and store it in one place in the middle of nowhere (given NASA's track record, I would not advocate launching nuclear waste into space. Perhaps, though, if we ever develop a working space elevator...).

It's also worth noting that building more nuclear plants would not only provide non-fossil fuel energy at a constant rate (without having to worry about whether the wind will be as brisk tomorrow as it was today, or whether it's cloudy or not), but it would provide much more quickly while creating new jobs more rapidly. It's a proven technology. Instead of spending ten years on R&D trying to find the next best thing, we could use that time to build something that is guaranteed to work. Or, spend those ten years doing all the research into solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal that you want; but build the plants just the same so we have a stopgap. As to a reliable plan on how to deal with the waste, we've had one ever since the Yucca Mountain project was proposed way back in the 80's, and the only reason it hasn't come to fruition has been the knee-jerk opposition of lobbying groups and certain members of Congress.

Cincinnatus said...

One other point about alternative energies like wind and solar. Apart from the vast amount of acreage it takes to generate electricity using those technologies, the locations that might provide the most efficient wind and solar generation also happen to be in remote areas with little or no access to the current transmission grid. So not only would we have to sacrifice great swathes of land to building the solar/wind farms, we'd also need to cut through more land to build the transmission lines necessary to get that power to customers. Given that environmental groups already have a stated opposition to developing the land required for the transmission grids (a great deal lies in protected natural parks), we're at an impasse. Nuclear plants can be built anywhere as they don't depend on environmental conditions, which means they can be built much closer to transmission grids already in existence and thus get power to more customers more quickly.

Matt said...

Okay, we'll try this again. Blogger apparently has issues with me commenting. I had a nice list of points on ethanol/Afghanistan but now I'll just mention that ethanol isn't the result of the environmental lobby. Ethanol is the result of the agrobusiness lobby. Environmentalists, by and large, don't like ethanol as an alternative energy solution; argobusiness lobbyists and plain states senators like ethanol for pork production value. Blaming environmentalists for ethanol would be like blaming the Israeli lobby on the cost of F-16s; it looks like there could be a relationship there, but it's really more the result of an industrial-legislative interaction than any particular malice on the part of the non-business interest group.

Meghan said...

"sprawling" wind and solar farms don't leave behind any nuclear waste. Zero nuclear waste is the only acceptable amount. I don't want my children's children to have to clean up our mess because no one can think past right now.

Nuclear waste should not be stored at 120 locations around the country. We can't just store nuclear waste like that. It doesn't go away - eventually someone will have to do something about all of our waste. Yes, we will be dead, but why should future generations of humans have to clean up after us?

With modern technology, your electricity is not going to turn off in a non-windy or cloudy day. Both wind and solar farms are meticulously researched for the optimal locations. And both resources can power a grid. No one is going to spend a lot of money on solar or wind turbines if they aren't going to yield any results.

Also, the Yucca Mountain project hardly has a reliable solution for the waste. That plan is controversial at best, sheer stupidity at worst. Burying nuclear waste isn't a good option - the arid climate, erosion, earthquakes etc, - they all pose a threat. There's also concerns over how to transport nuclear waste to the facility - I don't blame anyone who doesn't want the nuclear waste traveling through their state. I wouldn't want it either.