Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The press of events

The news report you never heard:
(January 27, 1967 - the voice you hear is that of a local news anchor, perhaps that of a purring, aging sex kitten) Good news for beleaguered taxpayers, there has been a major setback in the space program. The destruction of the command module of the Apollo spacecraft during today's testing may well mean the slowdown of the project. While this may mean we lose the ability to fulfill the late President Kennedy's dream of reaching the moon in this decade, it promises a lower tax bite to consumers already strapped by the cost of the war in Vietnam. Of course, as we turn to Bluff Hearty with the weather, losing those three astronauts is unfortunate, but we are going to see warmer temperatures...
Of course, that is the same story we've heard the past couple of days, as those same news people have waxed rhapsodic over the downturn in gas prices. It isn't presented as a fact that viewers want to know, it's presented as an unalloyed "good thing," albeit with the same breathless tones and beaming smile that accompanied last week's story about how Americans are coping with the prices.

And here is the biggest challenge to the new energy, Al Gore types (as I wrote about Monday). The case for disrupting our society is built on two legs: that it is necessary to halt, even reverse, climate change, or the planet may cease to exist; and that the ever-rising cost of traditional energy makes the new world cost-effective.

The first idea is hard for most people to get their heads around. In part, it's because, despite the PowerPoint presentations and documentaries, climate change is a pretty abstract problem. It has long-term, perhaps multi-generational, effects; unless you live on a patch of ground that can no longer support corn, but does allow sugar cane, you probably aren't hit between the eyes with vegetation changes.

And, in no small part, it comes from a confluence of scientific illiteracy with uncertainty. We hear that the north polar ice cap will be gone in five years, 10 years, 50 years, who knows? Not only don't we know what this implies, we don't have any idea when it will happen; if the experts can't agree, it becomes easier to believe that it's all a matter of opinion, instead of fact.

At least as important is the concept that rising prices of energy make alternatives cost-effective. I don't think that's true, at least not to the extent that Mr. Gore does, but the numbers do become more favorable to changes when the status quo becomes less favorable.

We have seen some recognition of that. There has been some positive commentary about higher gas prices, as the claim is that they will push the citizenry toward different technologies (and some corresponding backlash, as other commentators have called out that joy as unseemly given the very real hardships experienced by some people). If you're Al Gore, you need higher gas prices to justify the 10-year, no-carbon-fuel effort, so you have a vested interest in seeing those pump numbers climb and climb.

But, at least as vital is the push to get other people to see the value in those higher prices. To have news anchors trumpet a drop in price must really grate, because it just puts off the day that people will deal with this issue in a hard-headed fashion, making the sacrifices that will be necessary.

And that's why the comparison of the current challenge to the race to the moon is so spurious, so dishonest. A setback in the space program wasn't seen as positive by anyone; a setback in the energy program, like lower gasoline prices, is seen by everyone as positive. Overcoming this is one of Gore's biggest problems.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics