5. The Louisiana Sister

Where Memories are Made

New Orleans.  “The Big Easy.”  A place where the slow and relaxed tempo of Southern living combined with a unique French and multi-cultural flair.

The City’s motto was “Laissez les bons temps rouler”, let the good times roll.  The annual Mardi Gras, which reflected the motto, was known worldwide for its immoral excess and constant revelry.  It attracted upwards of a million people each and every year.

The French Quarter of New Orleans held particular reverence for Joe Barristar.  Although he had been born in the Northeastern part of the United States, he loved the freewheeling and bawdy behavior of the population.  From the alcohol hazed strip joints on Bourbon Street to the hung over crazies who practiced walking on their hands on the edge of a two hundred year old stone bridge, this heart of New Orleans had its own unique beat.

Unfortunately, this weirdly happy but “sinking” City always seemed to be the bull’s eye for some type of disaster. Although New Orleans was protected by levees, Hurricane Katrina quickly breached them and turned many areas of the City into swampy death traps.  People who were foolish enough to ignore the warnings of disaster were stranded for weeks surrounded by filthy water and constantly under assault by vermin of all kinds.

When the Gulf oil spill happened, it was no surprise that New Orleans would be among the first to experience its impact. Within a few days, oily ooze crept ever closer to the City and the coast of Louisiana.   New Orleans fishermen immediately experienced the mess that would shut down their livelihoods and devastate many places on the Gulf coast.

Cajuns and some Creoles

The history of the Cajun is a bit unique.  In 1765, the British exiled the French-speaking ancestors of these folks from Acadia, known today as Nova Scotia.  In the greatest mass migration in colonial American history, thousands of survivors of the French and Indian War trekked to Louisiana and areas in and around New Orleans.

Cajuns and their Creole cousins shared a similar French foundation.  However, the Creoles considered themselves to be civilized city dwellers, the la crème de la crème of New Orleans society.  To the bitter end, which came about the time of the Civil War, they stubbornly held on to their French connections.  The Cajuns, on the other hand, considered themselves to be rugged self-sufficient country folk.  They settled along the bayous and swamps, and avoided city society.  These distinctions did blur overtime, but the best of both French cultures were preserved.

Cajun Accident

Early in his early engineering career, Joe did some work around the levees and learned the meaning of “everybody is everybody’s cousin”.  It was a phrase reverently and fondly used when referring to the clannish behavior of Cajuns.

His work involved a couple of good ole Cajun boys who fell out of their home built flat-bottom fishing boat, and then drowned.  Folks standing on the nearby levees saw the accident and provided great detail:

Apparently, the first good ole boy was steering the boat’s small outboard motor when he made a sudden and unexpected turn.  Speculation was he saw some fish and wanted to get into position.  After all, catching fish was key – but you had to watch out for those huge self-propelled barges that magically appeared going back and forth in and around New Orleans.

The second good ole boy, with fishing pole in hand and nothing to hang onto, fell into the water.  The first good ole boy then jumped in to save him.  One problem, in his haste to rescue his buddy, he forgot to turn off the outboard motor.

What happened next was predictable.  Without an operator, the outboard motor did what outboard motors do, – and the boat locked into a hard turn to the right.  Both fishermen were now trapped inside what boating experts call the “circle of death” created where water is being churned up with air from the spinning propeller.  Since people can’t swim in an air water mixture, both good ole boys sank below the surface to be seen later by the local coroner.

Cajun Litigation

In one respect, the Cajun culture wasn’t a whole lot different from the rest of the country.  Lawsuits for just about everything were the norm, and a double death case promised big money for the families of the deceased, the community “cousins”, and the local lawyers.

Cousins do come in handy.  The attorney for the families of the deceased fishermen was somewhat of a distant relative.  However, what was important was that the sheriff was related by marriage to one of the deceased and was the brother of the “other”.  The judge, generally oriented to reaching into the deep pockets of industry anyway, was also related to the “other” deceased.  Simply put, whenever the plaintiff attorney wanted or needed something he got it without question.

The first major plaintiff request was for a test to see if it was possible to replicate the accident.  The original boat and original motor were available, but it was hard to get an accident perspective because of the location.  No problem, the sheriff loaned out the department helicopter under the guise that it was training for his deputies and useful in promoting boating safety.

During the test, Joe was in a helicopter looking straight down at the circling accident boat.  The test was going well.  The instruments were working.  Then the unexpected happened.  The helicopter slowly spun around and comfortably settled in an open field.

The operator of the “copter” was cussing and Joe heard some new French versions of well known English curse words. However, the words that had the most impact were “this is the 7th time I’ve crashed in one of these “bubble” copters, and I ain’t flying ‘em again”.  That was when Joe knew that being only 100 feet up in the air was much preferred to being 1000 feet up.

A meadow along side the levees was the crash site.  The pilot had succeeded in putting the damage bird down about 50 feet from a major highway and less than 100 feet from the crowd of folks watching the test.  He had also avoided a water landing which almost certainly would have resulted in injury or death, – particularly if a barge just happened to pass by.

Joe started to get out of the copter because there was some concern about the extent of the damage and maybe fire, but the pilot told him the field likely contained poisonous snakes and to best tread carefully.  The phrase “Damned if you do or damned if you don’t” perfectly described the situation.

Normally, an aviation accident makes headline news.  However, this accident was so rapidly hushed up that it never even made the back pages of the local newspaper or a broadcast on the local radio or television.  Joe’s suspicion was that the editor of the local newspaper, who just happened to be the owner of the lone radio and television station, was related to someone on the plaintiff side.

For all intents and purposes, the crash was turned into a Cajun legend probably to be told to children to impress upon them that “flying isn’t safe – and maybe you should hang on when you’re fishing and the boat is moving.”

The entire incident was an impressive demonstration of how family ties affect politics and life in and around New Orleans.

Louisiana

With everybody being everybody’s cousin, Louisiana had some of the most diverse and wildly interesting history in the United States.

Louisiana and the immediate surrounding region was originally an American Indian tribal area.  Then in 1528, the Spaniards “discovered” it.  In 1543, Hernando de Soto explored the area and used the Mississippi River as a waterway to the Gulf of Mexico.  However, after these initial forays, the Spanish more or less abandoned further investigation and concentrated their efforts on Florida.

In the 17th century, the French, under the leadership of Robert de La Salle, arrived and laid claim to the entire region as well as massive amounts of the American continent up to and including Canada.  La Salle named all of the claimed territory “Louisiana” in honor of King Louis XIV.  In 1722, France made New Orleans the capitol of this enormous Louisiana territory to protect its military and economic interests.

After the French and Indian War, the 1763 Treaty of Paris curtailed French sovereignty in North America.  Only New Orleans and the immediate surrounding region remained in French hands.  The rest of Louisiana feel under Spanish control.  Great Britain, France and Spain now held overlapping and confusing claims to various parts of the Louisiana territories.

In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte reacquired all of Louisiana for France.  In 1803, he sold the Louisiana Territory with its jewel, New Orleans, to the United States.  Shortly thereafter, what is now Louisiana became the 18th state of the American Union.

Throughout much of the 18th and early 19th century, piracy, smuggling, illegal importation of slaves and other nefarious activities were staples of Louisiana’s culture and economic well being.  Infamous pirates such as Jean and Pierre Laffite were given privateer status by the United States, thus allowing them to capture enemy ships and property.

The last major battle of the War of 1812 was fought in New Orleans.  Andrew Jackson, later a United States President, collected a rag-tag band of pirates, gamblers, woodsmen, slaves and town militia to fight a numerically superior force of British regulars.  Jackson and his misfits beat them badly.

When the American Civil War broke out, Louisiana seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America.  In a little over a year, the state was captured by Union forces.  Interestingly, even though Louisiana had seceded, it was quickly turned back into a Union state.  While the secession had been popular at the time it happened, a large segment of the population had opposed it.  Most Louisianans, and particularly the citizens of New Orleans, were happy that trade and economic relations could resume unaffected by strife.

In the 1870s, Louisiana experienced its own version of the Civil War when Democrats used violence and assassination to remove Republicans from office and to suppress the black population.  This violent reaction to the Confederacy’s defeat led to the segregation and disenfranchisement of the one of the largest black populations in the United States.

Joe was well acquainted with the fact that political violence never really left Louisiana.  A couple of young political acquaintances were attacked under the cover of darkness and seriously injured by a gang of leftist agitators who were screaming such colorful and imaginative phrases as “Kill the Republican bitch”.  The local police were called in after the attack, but, as one might expect, they utterly or deliberately bungled the matter by treating it as an “accident”.  By the time the State Police investigators were called in, evidence had been lost.  The crime was never solved.

Interestingly, the description of the lead attacker perfectly fit a photo that was widely circulated.  After all, how many scruffy red haired guys about 6 foot 6 inches in height, wearing an orange tee shirt with the words “Anarchy Rules” would you expect to find in a small town?  Apparently thousands.

The Great Depression ushered in the colorful and dictatorial reign of Governor Huey Long.  His public works initiatives were popular because they provided jobs.  However, his plans for wealth redistribution combined with the autocratic and corrupt nature of his rule were not.  Turmoil led to the end of his governorship, and his life, when the relative of a political rival shot him.

Because of its segregationist policies and history, Louisiana was one of the focal points of the 1960s civil rights crusade.  Civil rights legislation was passed in 1964 and 1965 ending the sordid era of legal Jim Crow segregation in the South.  In subsequent decades, New Orleans elected a number of black mayors and an Indian Governor.

Sister Savannah Taggart

Savannah Taggart was born in Louisiana, and grew up in and around New Orleans.  Her childhood involved great wealth passed down from her Creole ancestors, but also a severely alcoholic father who while not physically abusing his children left them with terrible emotional scars.

Joe had dated Savannah for about a year, but the tension in her family and changes in his life caused them to split up.  Joe was initially quite surprised to hear that she had become a Catholic nun.  His memory of her was of a pretty blond with a lusty and outgoing personality.

Her spiritual conversion became much clearer when Joe read a news story about a hunting accident.  It seems that Savannah’s fiancée had died when a loaded shotgun he was holding between his legs was jolted into firing a blast of pellets into his face.  Apparently the off road vehicle he was riding in hit a large enough pothole to actuate the sensitive trigger.

The great and final love of Savannah Taggart’s personal life had been suddenly and irrevocably removed from the Earth, – and a Sister of the Church was born.

The Church and Environmentalism

“What would Jesus Do?” was a phrase often used within the Christian community to remind the clergy and congregants of their spiritual principles.  However, this phrase could be interpreted as a religious duty imposed upon the individual or upon the group.

To Sister Savannah, the duty to the environment was an individual responsibility.  The planet was God’s gift to the human race – and every man, woman and child was expected to be a caring custodian of its resources.  She also believed that each individual in the Christian faith was connected one on one with God, and that Jesus had inspired ancient crowds with the ideals of love and caring for all of God’s creations.  For his revolutionary, largely pacifist ideas, Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified by the Roman government in power at the time.

To her alter ego Sister Taggart, the duty to the environment entailed collective salvation.  Essentially, the government was needed to protect the Earth regardless of individual needs, wants and responsibilities.  Unfortunately, to follow this approach, a Christian would have to believe that Jesus, rather than appealing to the masses as unique individuals, would have appealed directly to the Roman government for additional crowd control laws.  Had this been the case, Jesus would have more than likely ended up as a rabbinical leader in the local Jewish hierarchy rather than a counter-cultural thorn in the side of Rome.

Joe knew that these fundamental differences in religious outlook would cause considerable conflict within the Sister’s mind.  The Catholic teachings were clearly individualistic in nature, but Catholicism had, over the centuries, adopted positions that blended local customs and Catholic teachings.  As a result, a small but substantial percentage of Catholic churches had reinterpreted Christian doctrine to be consistent with the collectivist thinking of the environmental movement.  In these churches, Christian fundamentals weren’t just subject to adaptation but to changes that stood Catholic fundamentals on their head.

Sister Savannah Taggart’s cognitive and spiritual dissonance was a source of discontent to those environmentalists who were zealously committed to doing whatever was necessary to preserve the Earth.  When her Sister Savannah personality resisted the population control arguments associated with abortion and euthanasia, she was considered out of touch.  When she noted that many businessmen and women had acted as God’s good stewards, she was criticized as being a religious shill for the corporations that raped the planet of its resources.  When she expressed uncertainty about global warming, and that politics had invaded climate science, she was shunned and not invited to key meetings of the environmental faithful.

Kor, however, liked the fact that someone of faith had enough courage to ask the tough questions and demand well supported scientific arguments.  The global warming scandal had set the environmental movement back a decade because nobody had had the audacity to challenge conventional wisdom and whether data had been fudged to make a point.  Had Sister Savannah been fully involved rather than treated as a sometime pariah, a lot of political problems might have been avoided.

Over time, Kor and the Sister became very good friends and fellow travelers.  Her mix of Christian principles focused on the needs of mankind complemented Kor’s environmental agenda.  Both could give good and compelling speeches.  Both almost always led an audience to appreciate the complexities associated with environmental issues.

Oil:  The Spiritual Bogeyman?

The Sister shared Kor’s dislike of oil drilling, and was particularly angered by the Gulf oil spill.  Her church related activities had received substantial charitable donations from wealthy oil magnates, and she was grateful for the help.  However, as a good steward of the planet, she had always demanded assurances that the money was not “blood” money earned by risking God’s planet.  When disaster struck, she strongly chastised the oil industry and became a crusader against further drilling.  This action, of course, came at a cost to her ministry to the poor.

One of the problems with any religious activity is that it can involve the pursuit of perfection.  The flaws of mankind can be buried, hidden by the search for the Holy Grail of the cause.  Joe understood the human conflicts.  He knew that many people searched an entire lifetime for but one moment of miraculous revelation.  And he knew that “To Err is Human;  To Forgive, Devine”.

Unlike Kor and the Sister, Joe’s perspective was that oil was no different than fire in the “good-bad” duality of its nature.  Before oil, civilization was a slow and uneven thing.  With oil, the advance of civilization quickened and generations of humans were profited by a much better and longer life.

If there was a substitute for oil that proved to be less polluting and as effective, then any good Christian would support its development under the assumption that this new energy source would give greater glory to God.  However, as with oil, every advance has built within it a dual nature – and this was the case with solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal power sources.

Oh God our Help in Ages Past

With the passage of time, the Sister’s commitment to the environmental movement matured and strengthened.  Her view was that the Earth and its people were inextricably intertwined, and that leaving the planet any time soon to explore for other habitable planets was the stuff of science fiction.  She put her faith in God, and her prayers were often focused by one of the church’s great hymns:

“Oh God Our Help In Ages Past.  Our Hope For Years To Come.  Our Shelter From The Stormy Blast.  And Our Eternal Home.” As it was in the beginning.

“Under The Shadow Of Thy Throne. Still May We Dwell Secure. Sufficient Is Thine Arm Alone.  And Our Defense Is Sure.” Is now.

“Before The Hills In Order Stood.  Or Earth Received Her Frame. From Everlasting, Thou Art God.  To Endless Years The Same.” And ever shall be.

“A Thousand Ages, In Thy Sight.  Are Like An Evening Gone.  Short As The Watch That Ends The Night.  Before The Rising Sun.” World without End.

“O God, Our Help In Ages Past.  Our Hope For Years To Come.  Be Thou Our Guide While Life Shall Last.  And Our Eternal Home.” Amen.

Psalm 90, the biblical basis for the hymn, was known as the prayer of Moses, – the man of God who brought down the plagues on Egypt, led the ancient Hebrews to freedom, brought forth the Ten Commandments, and was the founder of the nation of Israel.

The Spill and Religion

For all intents and purposes, the preachers of America had been silent on drilling in the Gulf.  By accepting the status quo, they ignored the risks to their congregations and to the environment as a whole.  After the oil spill, most were content to pick up the pieces of disaster by providing whatever aid and comfort could be afforded.

Joe knew from his readings of the founding documents that religion was to provide the moral foundation for the American Democratic Republic and its citizenry.  By refusing to condemn the pride of the environmental movement, the lust for power of the politician and the greed of the oil companies, preachers had failed in their duty to sacred America.

In fairness, religion had been marginalized, driven from the public square in direct contravention of the Bill of Rights. Once the leaders of their community, preachers had been cowed into silence and even forced into accepting immorality.  Rare was the religious figure who stood in defense of Almighty truth, and in defiance of government abuse and cultural destruction.

Clearly, the America’s Judeo-Christian religious principles had been sacrificed on the altar of political convenience and correctness.  Unfortunately, secular progressive humanism, which dominated so much of American political thinking, undermined basic civility and had to be propped up by an increasing plethora of flawed and convoluted laws.  Joe wondered what continuing damage would be caused by the absence of a religious and moral foundation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

4. The Oil Grange

The Seven Sisters

Italian Politician Enrico Mattie described the post WW-II dominant oil companies as the “The Seven Sisters”.  Through acquisitions, mergers and competitive practices, they eventually became Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Gulf, Texaco, Shell, and BP.  For a number of decades, the “Seven Sisters” were able to dominate and control most “Third World” oil producers by using consumption based price controls.  The oil producing states responded by forming a cartel known as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC.  The uneasy truce between consumer and producer lasted until the late 1960s.

After the 1967 Six Day War between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria; the Arab members of OPEC formed the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.  Their intention was to exert pressure on the United States and Western Europe to limit future assistance to Israel.   The 1973 Yom Kippur War, which featured a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria, created tremendous tensions within the Arab world because the Western powers again provided emergency support to Israel.  To show their displeasure, the Arab countries suspended oil shipments to the United States and Western Europe.  The post war result was that the Arab-Israeli hostilities had transformed OPEC into a political organization with sufficient power to hold the world hostage to both limited oil supplies and a massive jump in the price of oil.

Joe remembered the gas rationing, and the long waits in line for fuel. Gas stations indicated their availability to pump using a flag system.  Green was plenty.   Yellow was some gas in the underground tanks but you take your chances if there is a line.   Red was no gas.  Not surprisingly, gas rationing led to accidents and even violence when people tried to cut into the line or beat someone to a particular pump.

Joe’s DMV provided license plate number was “7qxp4”.  The “4” was key to getting gas on an even date.   Joe scheduled weekly and sometimes every other day visits to the gas lines to make sure that his automobile was filled up at every opportunity.  He topped off even when he had a nearly full tank because he could not be certain if rationing would get worse.

The gas crisis was a dominant feature of Joe’s life at the time because the recession triggered by the OPEC action had caused him to lose his job.  The company that employed him at the time had a first hired, first fired policy – and he was both a new college graduate and a new hire.

The Drive for Energy

Like it or not, civilization depended on the availability of energy.  Regardless of source, the world thirsted and competed for access to energy resources.

The various oil companies’ and their support base of specialty contractors focused on exploring, drilling, transporting, refining, distributing, wholesaling and retailing petroleum products.  Each of them did this in a different way and often in different parts of the world, but their business survival depended on access to oil bearing properties.

Joe knew that peak oil had been a concern for a number of decades.  Simply put, “the assumption” was that demand for oil was outpacing both the currently known and potentially discoverable oil-bearing properties.  Joe was unsure of the reliability of peak oil forecasts because much oil-bearing property had been removed from the market to meet the concerns of the environmental movement. He knew that this drove the oil companies in two directions.

First, and most obviously, they began to diversify into many different forms of energy.  For example, Transylvanian Oil was just a subsidiary of a much larger diversified Russian energy company.  Second, because so much easily available oil-bearing property had been sequestered by environmental politics, oil companies had been driven to take greater production risks just to survive.

Transition to Oil

Throughout most of history, mankind had been stuck with wood as a source of heat, power, and energy.  Coal was an advance when its widespread use was developed in England.  However oil, with its ability to flow smoothly through pipes and to be refined to produce a wide variety of substances, changed the world.

US energy consumption , by source 1850-2000

Vertical axis in quadrillion BTU

Oil’s dominance as a fuel for use in America, and for that matter the world, exploded into prominence as a result of the build up to and combat in World War II.  Hitler’s drive toward the mid-East oil fields and Japan’s decision to enter WW-II were based on a need for a reliable, nationally controlled oil supply.  Fortunately, America was blessed with oil as a naturally abundant and easily protected resource.

Jeeps, tanks, trucks and airplanes used diesel or gasoline fuel and oil based lubricants.  Warships could use coal, but oil had a number of clear and compelling advantages.  Oil contained more energy per unit volume.  Ships, therefore, could travel farther and faster.  Oil could be stored easily in tanks built into ships and refueling at sea was possible. Oil produced less smoke thus reducing an enemy’s ability to find a ship or fleet.  The difficulties associated with moving coal and manning ships were substantially reduced when oil was substituted.

Discoveries of oil in the mid-East turned desert sheikdoms into monumentally wealthy kingdoms.  Technology advances allowed oil to be extracted from below the sea and ocean floors.   Wells were drilled miles deep through water and earth.  Wells, such as the one that exploded and fouled the Gulf of Mexico, began to appear everywhere just to meet the world’s insatiable and exponentially increasing demand for oil.

Wood and other Biomass

Mankind’s use of wood, grass, leaves and even dung go back to prehistoric times.  When man discovered that fire was useful rather than just dangerous, the game was on to find whatever burned.  Since wood was readily available in most parts of the prehistoric world, wood was burned to the point at which entire forests were destroyed.  The Sahara desert was once a forest.

Joe had used wood to partially heat his house in winter.  He quickly came to the conclusion that there was a lot of drudgery involved in tending a fire and keeping it going for a number of days.  There was an art to picking a log to start a fire and there was equally an art to picking the right logs to burn through the night.  A stove burned longer and hotter than an open fireplace.  Some woods, like apple and cherry, emitted a pleasant smell.  Wet wood, newly mowed grass and wet leaves did not start fires easily and the smell was anything but pleasant.  The thought of burning dung as a fuel was about as unappetizing as possible.

The growing scarcity of wood and the rising needs of the industrial revolution led to the replacement of wood with coal, a fuel that contained more energy per unit volume.

Although scrap wood was still used as commercial or industrial fuel, wood logs were used for romantic fires in home fireplaces, for bonfires at sporting events, or for light and heat at an overnight campout.

Biomass and Biofuels in the Continental United States

Trash was also a useable fuel source.  Electric power plants separated glass and metal from otherwise burnable paper or garbage.  Many large cities and even small towns required people to separate their trash from their garbage.  “Recycling” was a necessary and often profitable venture for businesses and local governments.

Coal

Coal was the dirtiest of fuels.  Mining it involved working in difficult conditions.  Coal mining was dangerous work, – and the occasional explosion and loss of life reminded everyone just how dangerous.  Nevertheless, coal was an essential energy source and one that was economically irreplaceable.

Coal could be liquefied.  NAZI Germany, a nation with substantial coal but no oil reserves, used coal based diesel fuel to power the “blitzkrieg” war machine.

Having grown up in Pennsylvania coal country, Joe had seen the ecological damage done by abandoned bituminous and anthracite coal mines.  Lignite and anthracite predominated in the South and up near the Canadian border while subbituminous dominated the mid-West or West.

US Coal Regions in the late 20th Century

The colors represent different types of coal

Each type of coal burned differently, and it was important to know what coal was being bought.  Improper usage could lead to a destructive fire or death by carbon monoxide intoxication.

Unlike wood and other biomass, coal could be cheaply and predictably used in electric power plants and large industrial facilities.  Virtually all coal usage in the late 20th century was for electric power generation.

Natural Gas

If coal was the dirtiest of hydrocarbon fuels, natural gas was the cleanest.  When Burned, natural gas produced only carbon dioxide and water.  Thus its exhaust did not contain the byproducts of coal or oil that led to acid rain or toxic fog.  Natural gas, like oil, flowed through pipelines.  Unfortunately, natural gas was not as dense as oil and had to be transported under pressure or in liquid form.

Natural gas might have been a real historical competitor for oil except for one significant historical event:

In 1944, an above ground liquefied natural gas storage tank failed and allowed natural gas vapors, some of which were heavier than air, to enter the Cleveland, Ohio sewer system.  Eventually the gas ignited and explosions occurred, but were contained within the sewer system.

A few hours after the first tank failure, a second above ground tank exploded and destroyed the entire tank farm.  Natural gas liquid and vapors poured into the sewer system once again.  But this time of sufficient amount to flow into the unprotected sewer drains of homes within a square mile of the tank farm.

Individuals at home, thinking themselves still safe from the fire and explosion, suddenly found themselves in the middle of a conflagration.  The death toll was well over 100 Cleveland citizens.

The impact of the disaster was that liquefied natural gas storage tanks, previously placed above ground, suddenly had to be eliminated and the gas stored underground.  In addition, the public became skeptical of natural gas as a residential fuel.  Potential customers appropriately reasoned that it was better to use slippery oil and dirty coal, than to be blown to bits at home.

Joe had worked on a natural gas explosion.  An individual with an obviously poor sense of smell entered a long closed machine shop.  He did this because someone else with a good sense of smell had reported a foul order of decomposition.  Unfortunately, the odor was not “decomp” but the “rotten egg” odorant put in natural gas to make it more detectable.

One flip of the light switch, and the machine shop exploded, – insuring that the individual with a bad sense of smell never had another worry.  This left a clear lesson for all to observe.  When going into a dark building that hasn’t been used for a while, use a flashlight that doesn’t act as a source of ignition.  And by no means flip a switch or use a lighted candle.

Although the Cleveland disaster had been a major set back for the natural gas industry, the advance in natural gas management and the passage of a number of generations of people without a memory of the Cleveland disaster led to increased natural gas usage among residential and commercial customers.

Natural gas production in the World’s nations

cubic meters per year

As of the turn of the 21st century, natural gas usage was equally distributed among electrical power generation, industrial usage, and commercial and residential consumption.  Its entry into the world of transport, however, was limited to school and transit bus fleets that returned to a central locations for servicing, or to areas in the country where a network of compressed natural gas stations could service taxi and delivery fleets.

Cheap and abundant natural gas was a power player in the overall energy market.  It was clearly a challenger to oil.

Oil

Coal was the dirtiest of fuels.  Natural gas the cleanest.  But oil was the most flexible of fuels.  As such, it was used as the energy source for virtually every sector of American society.   And oil absolutely dominated all forms of transportation.

Oil was particularly important to the automobile industry.  The American people loved their cars and could not live without them regardless of every type of political attempt to move them onto mass transit.  Cars meant freedom to go places and do things.  And cars moved almost exclusively on oil based asphalt highways and roads.  A technological leap to something other than oil was going to take a long time and the environmental movement’s idea to return to a simpler less mobile life was simply not in the cards.

Although not heavily used in the generation of electrical power, oil matched natural gas as a fuel for industrial use.  To Joe, this made a great deal of sense because production and construction depended on oil being just in time at the work site.

Hidden by the Gulf oil spill was the fact that the technology associated with oil had advanced tremendously.  Blowout preventers had worked thousands of times to limit or prevent oil well disasters.  Anti-pollution devices like catalytic converters had succeeded in wiping out car and bus based smog in cities.  Pollution control scrubbers in stacks removed waste particles and gases from industrial exhausts.

Joe had worked on the design of a number of Japanese supertankers.  Virtually everything was tied down by such redundancies as double hulls and automatic oil transfer shutdown valves.  About the only thing left to chance was Mr. Fukui, the Japanese representative, who said “yes” to everything.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fukui’s “yes” all too often meant “yes I understand, but no I disagree”.  He was too culturally polite to voice disagreement until the design was about to be finalized.  This led to delays and the eventual replacement of Mr. Fukui by Mr. Arishe, a Cambridge University graduate engineer from Tokyo who spoke perfect English and knew how to say “no” in a timely fashion.

The Future of Fuel – Green and Nuclear

For all intents, the future of “green” involved solar and wind energy even though, to be complete, geothermal and tidal energy were in the mix.  However, when an environmentalist yelled “Go Green”, he or she was normally screaming about wind and solar as if there was no downside to them.

There was always a dispute about what “green” actually meant.  To some like Kor, it meant renewable, non-polluting and environmentally friendly.  Thus, biomass, “green” to some, was not “green” to the environmental purist.

Congresswoman Newman professed environmental purity, – but because of the agricultural nature of her district, she was given to promoting biomass experiments.  It was politically expedient to be both “green” and farm friendly.

“Green” was seldom applied to the myriad of support technologies that improved the efficiency of wind, solar, and the other forms of power producing equipment.  Superconducting transmission lines reduced the losses in the electric power grid.  Advanced batteries led to the success of electric and hybrid electric cars.  They were “green” just not the sexy “green” of a windmill or solar panel.

Global Renewable Energy Investment Growth

“Green” had a love and hate affair with nuclear.  While nuclear fuel was the atomic stuff that powered the sun, nuclear materials were capable of remaining radioactive for centuries no matter where you put them.

Joe had worked on the first nuclear commercial ship ever constructed, the N.S. Savannah.  Since he had dated a “Savannah” at the time, he had a ball with double entendres.  “Broad in the Beam” could apply to the ship or to his girlfriend.  As far as the ship was concerned, it cost more to build and operate than it ever returned in fees.  It was essentially a show case for the use of nuclear power at sea.

Red Grange

Reginald Edward Depew Granger was born in Oxford, England to parents who were respected professors at Oxford University, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.   Because his parents were well connected in the upper echelons of the English elite, Granger was destined not only for a fine education but superior positions in business or government.

Granger was a natural engineer as well as superior intellect.  He selected petroleum engineering as his field of study and graduated with the highest honors.  His extracurricular activity, when he had time from his studies, was sailing.  At the age of 20, he started his career in the North Sea oil fields.

In his late twenties, R.E.D. met a musically talented Russian maiden with gorgeous grey eyes.  They were soon married.  Children quickly followed in the traditional sense of marriage before children.  R.E.D. was, if nothing else, the traditional Englishman.

His wife brought with her a very interesting connection.  She was the oldest and most beloved daughter of a Russian oil billionaire.  Essentially, she was a Russian mafia chieftain’s prized child.  Whenever help was needed to advance R.E.D.’s career, a phone call would move mountains.  Nobody in Transylvanian Oil got in the way of Granger.  By his mid thirties, he was the CEO of the Company.

Granger, although stationed in England, was a world traveler.  He cycled regularly between England, Russia, the mid-East and the United States.  His swift and decisive decision-making style fit quite well in the fast moving circles of American finance.  His New York City associates, using a play-on-words, nicknamed him Red Grange after the great football player.

Joe, a rabid fan of American football, immediately understood the Red Grange analogy.  In 1924, Grange produced one of the great miracles on the playing field.  He scored 4 touchdowns in 12 minutes in a Nebraska rout of Michigan.  The media, looking for a way to describe the man, called him “ The Galloping Ghost”.  This English version of Red Grange was equally adept at producing miracles – only in the boardroom not on the football field.

When the Transylvanian Oil well exploded and the spill began, Red was on the hot seat from day one.  Somebody had to be the spokesman and eventual “sacrificial lamb” for the company.  The job fell to the Chief Executive Officer.

After being thoroughly savaged by the American press and Congress, Red was re-assigned to handle Russian oil relations.  His replacement was as non-descript as possible.

Oil Companies as Energy Companies

Constant attacks on oil production by politicians, attorneys, and environmental groups increased business risks.  The oil companies had responded by diversifying, and it was natural that they diversified into other forms of energy or energy use.

Most large oil companies either purchased or internally developed subsidiaries that explored the use of natural gas.  Virtually every oil company had a stake in wind and solar farms as well as geothermal and tidal areas.  Frankly, oil companies were among the few businesses capable of undertaking massive industrial projects and changing the face of the world’s energy structure.

Significantly, the petroleum needs of a wide variety of customer continued to provide the economic floor from which alternatives for the future could be researched and developed.  Frankly, there was no substitute for oil on the planet.

Powering Civilization

The differences between the most civilized of nations and the horrifically underdeveloped world was not just government and customs, but the type and amount of energy used.

In America and Western Europe, the most advanced forms of energy had been developed and employed.  In the poorer nations of Africa, Asia, and South America, biomass was still the predominant energy source.  Stymied by a lack of technological and economic advances and all too often limited by dictatorial or tribal cultures, the underdeveloped nations were stuck in an earlier less prosperous time in history.

The critical issue for the entire world was how to solve the problems of underdevelopment without damaging the most developed nations.  Those who believed in the inventive genius of individuals wanted to free that genius by reducing the impact of government in every day life.  Countering this freedom agenda was politicians who believed in the need for government to control the world and its growing population.

Joe knew that the energy companies were caught in the middle.  International socialists desired to shape world events through the use of a massive framework of laws and regulations.  This meant that energy companies, dependent throughout their history on rugged self-motivated individuals, were in danger of becoming large, government controlled utilities.

The Spill and the Energy Companies

In spite of extensive regulations and a basic recognition that a massive spill would be bad not only for one company but the entirety of the Seven Sisters, safety standards and practices had slipped.  Joe recognized that the curse of engineering arrogance had reared its ugly head one again.  There was a failure to properly account for risk in the pursuit of cost control and timely delivery of product.

Sloppiness had set in simply because day-to-day operations were consistently without incident and the overwhelming majority of oil spills, when they occurred, were small and easily cleaned up.  Unfortunately, when the rare substantial spill occurred, the energy company involved ended up fighting the “clean up” problem with limited and often unsatisfactory tools.

In addition, the offending energy company invariably spent huge amounts of money not only on the clean-up but also on individual claims and litigation.  While such defensive activities sapped the strength of the company, bankruptcy was usually avoided by finding and exploiting the world’s remaining oil reserves.

Joe figured that the transition from oil to diversified energy production was a logical hedge for any oil company.  There would come a time when new oil was not only difficult to find but far too risky.  The question was when would that point be reached.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

3. The Federal Newman

America’s Foundation

The two greatest documents in the history of America were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  For over a hundred years, these documents were revered and used as the basis for political decision-making in the United States.

The Declaration of Independence was a statement of grievances and the rationale for separation from the English monarchy.  It was a cry for the dignity and freedom of mankind against the abuses of a tyrannical government.  Significantly, 27 specific grievances were listed against the British crown.

The Constitution was the framework that governed the relationships between the federal government, the various states, and the American citizenry.  It described how government was to function in America’s new Democratic Republic. To prevent the federal government from amassing too much power and control, the Constitution contained a system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.  Enumerated or limiting powers were spelled out as well.  As a final gesture to liberty, America’s founders added a Bill of Rights that gave specific rights to citizens and states.

The founders of the United States of America had built the central government on the premise that the government that governs least governs best.  They had built a government based on the rule of law and trust in the decency and wisdom of individual citizens.

But the Constitution stood in opposition to the appetite of politicians, and a central government with virtually unlimited power grew well beyond constitutional limits.

Joe knew that America’s founders would have been shocked but not surprised at this course of events.  History had demonstrated time and again the tendencies of politicians to concentrate power and distance themselves from the people.  However, the founders would have been particularly dismayed that the American citizenry had tolerated attacks on the Bill of Rights.  They should have known that this was dangerous to their “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Political Parties

From the beginning of the American democratic republic there had been contentious debates about the size, scope and intrusiveness of the central government.  Within short order, differences of governing philosophy led to the rise of political parties and partisan political warfare.  By the time of the Gulf oil spill, the political landscape was dominated by two major political parties.

The Democrat Party consistently favored an ever bigger federal government.  Taken over the by progressive movement, its politics were focused on creating and maintaining a social welfare state that not only “cared” for the American citizenry but the world at large.  As such, redistribution of wealth, global environmentalism, international unionization and the dominance of favored groups over individual interests was at the core of the Democrat Party ideology.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, “functioned” to defend the limited government and traditional ideals of the founders.  Republicans favored free markets and individual liberties along with a strong national defense.  They believed that America’s citizens should be served not subjugated by the actions of government.  Unfortunately, many Republican office holders acted like their Democrat counterparts when it came to spending, borrowing, taxation, – and the exercise of arbitrary power.

Partisan Games

At the time of the spill, the federal government was utterly controlled by a Democrat President and Congress.  A key feature of the President’s political agenda was opposition to oil drilling and the promotion of “Green” initiatives both nationally and internationally.

The governors of the Gulf states were Republicans.  Their interests were in cleaning up the spill and getting their oil, fishing and recreation industries repaired and back to normal quickly.

Partisan warfare erupted when the Democrat administration placed a six month moratorium on all Gulf drilling.  To Gulf state governors, this was a devious and politically motivated assault on their economies and citizens.  Individuals employed by the oil industry were suddenly thrown out of work.  Already depleted state unemployment funds took another major hit.  More small businesses shut down.  It appeared that a federal government constitutionally mandated to support and defend the people was operating as an impediment to the people.

Joe realized that behind all of the partisanship was a very important question.  How could an ever larger and more bloated federal government handle sudden unpredictable future events?  The most obvious answer was that it couldn’t.  Nothing happened easily or quickly at the federal level, and much that happened was counterproductive.  Essentially the founders had it right.  Get government out of the way of the American people and let them solve the problems that arise.

Congresswoman Janine Newman-Cortez

The oath of office for an elected Congressman is as follows:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Joe knew that very few elected officials honored that oath, and Congresswoman Janine Newman-Cortez was no different.  And if truth be told, she found it less than useful when the occasional constituent reminded her of the meaning of that oath.

The Congresswoman had “arrived” in Congress through a combination of hard work, a bit of luck when her predecessor died suddenly of a stroke, and a marriage that gave her a very useful last name.  On every ballot in her largely Hispanic district, she would list her name as J. N. Cortez.  It worked every time to get her elected to the U. S. House of Representative from the State of California.

Long-term office holders bothered Joe.  From his experience, Joe knew that most of the best ideas of a “new hire” came to the fore within the first few years of employment.  Not only was a new employee learning a job, but questioning established corporate rituals and pre-conceived notions.  Conversely, long term employees often became comfortable and complacent in their work, – and then developed a sense of job entitlement.

Notably, Congresswoman Newman-Cortez motivation was to stay in power and enjoy the fruits of office.  And thanks to the knowledge accrued through decades in office and an excellent staff, she won her office almost every time with at least 70% of the vote.

Newman-Cortez in Government

Newman-Cortez had few friends in Washington circles.  Those who claimed friendship knew she was good at making speeches “with lots of sound and fury signifying nothing” and providing constituent services to those she favored.  To anyone who paid attention, however, she was untrustworthy.  The kind of friend to be carefully watched.

Her enemies in the Congress, and there were many, referred to her as “Newman” after the post office mail carrier from the long running and successful “Seinfeld” comedy show.  The imagery fit like a glove as she was both devious and given to bizarre emotional outbursts.

Newman as a Green

Although the Congresswoman represented a district heavily dependent on agriculture, she was also a member of the “Green” caucus that advocated solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy.  The “Green” agenda fit the Congresswoman’s progressive Democrat ideology because it favored the ideas of international governance as the only way to control environmental destruction.

“Newman” constantly railed against dirty coal and big oil.  The fact that oil and coal had saved hundreds of millions of lives over the past few hundred years was forgotten or deliberately distorted in her quest to “Stop Global Warming”.  As such, she was a reasonably reliable vote against drilling or mining anywhere in the United States and its immediate surrounding waters.  She had seen to it that off shore drilling was well away from the Gulf continental shelf.

The Congresswoman was silent on nuclear power because in the early days of her political career she had been ardently against nuclear power plants.  Since it was unclear which way the political winds would shift in the future, she viewed it best to stay away from the issue.  In any event, a proposal for a nuclear power plant would take at least a decade for the environmental approvals and construction to be completed.  She would be retired by then and enjoying her very luxurious federal pension and substantial wealth.

What concerned Joe about “Newman” was that she demonstrated the very problem he had predicted some decades earlier.  The politics of the environment had proved to be an excellent way to beat up an opponent and appeal to an uneducated and emotionally propagandized populace.  After all, how could anyone disagree with a cleaner and safer planet?

The Politician and the Bureaucracy

The average American citizen was unaware that legislation had little meaning until it was turned into regulation.  It was regulation, and of course money, that caused action to occur.  And in that transition, strange things could and did happen.

Joe knew from personal experience that it was not unusual for a Congressional action to be transformed magically by regulation into something unrecognizable or even the opposite of what was intended.  This translation problem was why Congressmen and women had large staffs, and Congress itself an extensive bureaucracy.

Congresswoman Newman-Cortez seldom followed the creation of regulations.  After all, if she didn’t read the law she signed, then things were best left to the bureaucrats and lobbyists. About the only time she got involved was when some well-heeled campaign donor complained that a particular regulation was causing some type of business or personal distress.

It became particularly interesting when the distress related to a conflict between agriculture and the environment. If the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency were in conflict, the question always was which one was more important politically to her and to the folks who kept her supplied with money and votes.

“Newman” had to tread carefully.  She had seen the environmental movement attack and the EPA then regulate 30,000 farmers and farm workers out of business over a small fish.  To make sure that she was protected to the greatest extent against an environmental misstep, “Newman” relied on Kor for information about the interests of the environmental movement.

The devil’s bargain with Kor was that she had to be the strongest possible advocate for government funding of environmental initiatives.  If the EPA budget was large and growing, Kor would see his Federation of the Earth prosper and grow. Between, government grants, corporate contracts, and individual donors, Kor was a success by virtually any and every measure – and he knew the success was at least partially tied to the Congresswoman.

The Politician and the Press

The first amendment to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Joe knew that the reason for this amendment’s focus on the press was that the founder’s knew their experiment in individual liberty demanded an openly informed populace.  Citizens who could not easily be fooled or bribed by politicians would act to correct problems with government.

The wisdom of the founders was often seen in other countries where a free press did not exist and where “dear” leaders kept their own reporters and news organizations.  In these oppressive countries, it was not unusual for media opposition to be forced underground, jailed without trial, or killed off.  Dissent was not to be tolerated when the central government controlled all things and all people.

The founders also understood that the average politician would try to co-opt the press.  However, they expected that “freedom of the press” in the Bill of Rights would encourage the press to “speak truth to power”.  Unfortunately, over time, it became easy for the politicians to coerce the press into accepting a trade where political access for the news reporter was tied to increased exposure for the politician.

Joe knew that the worse part of this trade was that most news reporters shared a particular ideology and promoted politicians who shared that ideology.  When forced by circumstances to cover a politician with an opposing point of view, reporters asked much tougher and biased questions in hopes that a “gotcha” moment would occur.  Over time, politicized news reporters mixed opinions, lies, known mistakes, and improperly vetted information with facts.

If caught in an abuse of the news, a reporter would quickly cover bad behavior by simply letting the story die or finding a “more” important story.  Move it along was the comfortable way to escape individual and corporate responsibility and accountability.  Rare was the reporter who was fired or forced to apologize.

This whole set of behavior angered Joe. The press, in whom so much trust had been placed by the founders, had become lazy, sloppy and biased. Their behavior skewed the views of America’s citizenry and forced the Constitution more and more into the background of American politics.

To Joe, a propagandized citizenry was not the enlightened citizenry envisioned by the founders. The press’ pen that was supposed to be mightier than the government sword had shamefully bowed in allegiance to it, thus abdicating its sacred duty to the American republic.

The Politician and the People

The most often quoted words in the Declaration of Independence are:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

However, there is another set of words that immediately follow and these words carry the power of the People when it comes to the very nature of government itself.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it“.

The relationship between the American people and the American politician was historically one of mutual suspicion.  Very few national figures enjoyed legendary status, and George Washington was certainly the greatest of them.  Among the amazing leaders in world history, Washington disavowed the opportunity to be a king.   Instead, he trusted the American people to do the right and moral thing by allowing them to select the leadership for their new country.  For this act of service he was voted into office as America’s First elected President.  After two terms in office, he refused to run again and retired into private life.

With the rare exception of great men like Washington, the individual freedoms of speech, assembly, self-defense and religion were always a problem for the politician. It was not unusual for a constituent to lambast an elected official in a town hall meeting, through a letter, or in the news media. When citizens assembled to condemn a politician or political action, removal from office and disgrace was a real possibility.  Self-defense meant that citizens were armed, and could potentially threaten revolution.  Religion and God constituted an alternative form of power unreachable by the politician.

To combat these citizen created problems, politicians and the courts nibbled away at the edges of the Bill of Rights:

Not only couldn’t someone yell fire in a crowded theater, but the nebulous concept of hate speech was placed into law as a crime with punishment attached.  As might be expected, Newman favored the hate speech laws because her progressive philosophy was based on victim’s rights.  Joe knew that the founders would have been angered at this turn of events. They would have pointed out that one man’s hate speech was almost certainly another man’s cry for liberty.

Citizen assembly was restricted through the use of quickly granted public permits for favored groups – or delays and costly fees for politically incorrect groups.  This abusive political “game” was especially directed at religious events and patriotic groups.  Joe had seen this up front and personal when a patriotic group he was working for had been stymied to the point of near abandonment of their event.  In the end, although the event took place, it cost thousands of dollars to do what should have cost virtually nothing.

The right of self-defense was hammered continuously by anti-gun politicians and their judicial allies.  This in the face of overwhelming evidence that the police could not reliably stop a crime in progress even when it was reported.  Of course, Newman was anti-gun even though she carried a gun and was well protected by trained and armed security guards.  Kor was anti-hunting but he too carried a gun for self-defense.  Joe noted the astounding hypocrisy.

Religion is a powerful force.  It stood when governments rose and fell.  It offered things that no politician could offer – an eternity with a living God and an earthly set of moral principles to live by. As a result, Congresswoman Newman despised religion.  It was clearly a threat to the secular socialist ideals of progressives.  She particularly disliked individual and private charity as it competed favorably with the government’s failing welfare system.

Joe remembered the warning from the past.  It came in 1840 from then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Robert Winthrop:

“Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them, either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man, either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”

The politician controlled the bayonet.  Would he or she succeed in taking away the Word of God?

The Spill and the Politician

Many politicians had benefitted greatly from oil company money, and others from the support of the environmental movement that opposed the oil companies.  Lost in the ongoing debate between these two well-funded sides were real risks and costs to the country as a whole.  Thus when the spill occurred, it did little good to “close the barn door” by firing a few bureaucrats, creating numerous well-financed study panels, holding hearings, and making a bunch of speeches.

Joe recognized that far too many elected officials had defaulted to the use of a quasi-socialist model of government.  Rather using the government structure defined in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the political elite had contrived an overly complex, stifling and confusing government that perverted the press, undermined the religious and moral foundation of the country, and treated citizens as ignorant inconveniences.  The result was that government officials had nothing but a shifting foundation upon which to make clear decisions about and provide straightforward answers for the spill.

Joe realized that the political foundation of the country had become disconnected from and opposed to the needs and desires of the citizenry.  Was this obvious to the American people – and, if so, how long could such a situation endure unchecked and unchallenged?  He wondered if the American people had the will to fight another revolution if it came to that.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2. The Environmental Kor

Temperance Revisited

All great reform movements start the same way – with the best of intentions.  The temperance movement began when a small, dedicated group of people, primarily women and religious figures, condemned the immorality of alcohol and its ties to alcoholism.  Because the hue and the cry over “demon alcohol” could not be quieted, federal officials took the most extreme action.  The result was the 18th amendment to the Constitution.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Within a few years however, it was obvious to all that good intentions backed by law could not prevent individuals from consuming alcohol, –   and that crime related to illegal whiskey trafficking had become a national threat.  The “prevention of alcohol” amendment to the Constitution was repealed by the 21st amendment to the Constitution.

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

The road to hell was paved with good intentions, and in many ways the environmental reform movement suffered from the same problems.

Environmental Idealism

The Earth is but a small speck in the universe, and man’s earliest adventure into near space shows just how small.  Small, however, does not mean insignificant for “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”.

Joe Barristar recalled the day he sat in a large auditorium one row behind a first group of environmental engineering graduates.  Dressed in white gowns and wearing surgical masks, these first timers represented the heady days of environmentalism.

Each new environmental engineer marched forward to get his or her degree to the cheers of family, friends and other students who saw in them the hope for a better world. The agenda was to clean things up and give every man, woman and child a healthier and less dangerous life.  When the hallowed group finished marching forward to get their degrees, Joe, who was to receive his second engineering degree, did the same march forward but to much less cheering from the crowd.

Joe liked the environmental mission, but he also demanded that science remain true to its factual and challenging roots.  As such, he rejected the unquestioning zeal of many who professed to be environmentalists.  This got Joe in some hot water when he wrote a number of articles about environmental extremism, – and a local newspaper published them to stir up the readership.  When Joe called the environmental movement more belief than science, he was called bigoted.  When he pointed out that the global warming scandal exposed the political abuse of science, he was called ignorant.  And when he pointed out the massive size and scale problems of wind and solar farms, he was called anti-green.

By the time of the Gulf oil spill, Joe had lived long enough to see the environmental movement transition from one that would help mankind to one that considered mankind some type of vermin in need of control .  To Joe, it was of great concern that the humanitarian missionaries of the environmental movement had lost their way.

Practical Environmentalism

As with the temperance movement, the environmental movement grew rapidly, driven by the likes of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, a book that described the connection between widespread pesticide use and the damage to wildlife and humans. However, to experienced engineers, the environmental movement all too often demanded the irrational or even impossible.

Perfectly pure water without any chemical contamination required special filtration and bottling processes, and there was considerable question about whether “zero” water without any mineral content was healthy.  Large community water treatment plants that recycled waste water  and converted brackish, reservoir and surface well water into something drinkable could not achieve such perfection.  And even if they could, the water that ran through the pipes to homes and businesses would leach out chemicals.

The demand for pure water expanded into lakes and streams, and to the protection of fish and unique aquatic animals.  Far too often this demand was used against man even when man thirsted for water and food.

Perfectly pure land was impossible.  The process of purifying an acre of land in one place required the relocation of  pollutants to another place.  In some instances, cleanup costs were so great that the land was abandoned as useless for mankind.

Perfectly pure air without any chemical contamination was yet another impossibility.  Utility plants, heavy industrial facilities and many small businesses burned oil or used coal.  Cities were choked by smog and air pollution.  Fortunately, exhausts could be partially cleaned up by catalytic converters or smokestack scrubbers.

The valued green initiatives of solar, wind, geothermal and tidal created their own unique problems.  Wind farms were affected when the wind died or birds migrated.  Solar farms became heat producing extinction zones.  Geothermal and tidal facilities were highly location dependent, and no one knew what the massive use of these technologies would have on climate.

An over abundance of people meant a massive drain on the Earth’s resources as well as a major source of the world’s pollution.  Therefore, population control became a necessity to the environmental movement, –  and the elimination of “unwanted” babies and “unproductive” aging or handicapped adults became a priority.  Joe wondered if the number of children per family would come under strict government control.

Eventually, the Earth’s entire ecosphere became the subject of concern.  The great environmental question was whether global warming existed and how to control it without destroying civilization.  Joe knew that the  answer of the radical environmentalist was all too often “to hell with civilization.  We are here to save the world.”

What bugged Joe the most about the environmental movement was its all too often short sighted and dogmatic behavior.  He had seen the stubborn conduct of many environmentalists, and an attendant increase in risks and ill conceived choices.   In the case of the Gulf of Mexico, the result was evident to all who bothered to think.

The Ecstasy

In its early years, the environmental movement was realistically a disorganized collection of misfits.  However, every great idea has its time and place, and the environmental movement was no different.  It garnered power, recognition and resources from individual citizens, private businesses and institutions, and the government.

The result was that many dumps and toxic sites were cleaned up and turned into beautiful places for human use.  Rivers, lakes and streams were changed from toxic and malodorous swamps into pristine waters.  Clean air meant better health and a longer life for city dwellers.  The result for American citizens was an amazing improvement in their quality of life.

The Love Canal is the pre-eminent environmental success story.  It began with a developer’s dream for a beautiful and modern community.  Unfortunately, the dream was shattered by economic troubles and advances in technology.  By 1910, the only thing left of the developer’s once visionary idea for a new 20th century community was a ditch.

In the 1920s, the ditch became a convenient dumping ground for every type of waste.  For the next 30 years, it was used as an uncontrolled landfill.  In 1953 the Hooker Chemical Company covered the ditch with dirt and sold it to the local municipal authorities for virtually nothing.

In the late 1950s, about 100 homes and a school were built over the earthen covered Love Canal ditch.  It took another 20 years for the ticking time bomb of environmental disaster to show itself when badly corroded chemical waste disposal drums and chemical contaminants rose to the surface of the ground.

Trees, flowers, bushes and plants of all kinds died. The air smelled and people choked.  Home and school grounds were saturated by liquid toxins.  Children foolish enough to play on those grounds suffered chemical burns and injuries.  Birth defects, miscarriages and leukemia statistics were higher than for the average population elsewhere around the nation.  All of this was caused by over eighty different chemical compounds, eleven of which were considered to be carcinogens.

Eventually, the citizens of Love Canal were relocated.  Both New York State and the federal government provided emergency funding to aid with evacuation and to compensate departed residents for the loss of their homes.  Unfortunately, the birth defects continued to plague these families.  Not only were mothers and children affected, but grandchildren, born well away from Love Canal were victims as well.

The Agony

Environmental change, however, did not come without a downside.  Aging heavy industrial and manufacturing plants belched smoke and dumped pollutants.  When required to clean up, many simply shutdown, abandoned the work site, and disappeared into history, – or to China and other oversees destinations where the regulations and cost of doing business were considerably less.

The secondary effect of deindustrialization was the loss of America’s skilled and well-paid workforce.  Within a few decades, the American middle class saw a decline in their incomes. This led to the rise of the two-income family and less children per family.  Single women with children had difficulty prospering, and became dependent on government.  Thus a vicious cycle of ever higher taxes and ever greater demand for government services sapped the entrepreneurial spirit and determination of the American citizenry.

Pittsburgh is a classic example of the negative impact of the environmental movement on heavy industry:

By 1911, Pittsburgh produced as much as half of the nation’s steel.  The population, mostly immigrants from Europe and blacks from America’s South, grew to over half a million – making Pittsburgh America’s 8th largest city.

During WW-II, Pittsburgh produced nearly 100 million tons of steel for the war effort.  Unfortunately, this came at a tremendous environmental cost because of smog from the constant coal burning that supported steel production.

After WW-II, Pittsburgh began the process of cleaning up the air and improving the quality of living.  The industrial base continued to expand until the 1970s and 1980s when the “smokestack” steel industry collapsed.  There were massive layoffs and steel plant closures.  Those jobs never returned.

Pittsburgh did transition from its heavy industry economic base to one that was supported by tourism, education, healthcare, and certain high technology endeavors.  However, it’s population never recovered to the level when the steel industry provided the economic base.  The environmental movement had effectively destroyed the American steel industry as an engine of national growth and success.

One other industry that was affected by concerns over the environment was the nuclear industry.

Essentially, the problem was that nuclear materials are radioactive, and if radioactive materials were somehow released into the environment as a result of an accident or attack, a very long-term environmental disaster could occur.  The Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant malfunction in America in 1979 and the much more serious collapse of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine in 1986 did not help the cause of the nuclear industry.

Decades passed before a serious re-examination of nuclear versus fossil fuel occurred.

Kordule

Kordule Callahan was a rugged naturalist with a twinkle in his eye.  And he was the Chief Executive Officer of the “Federation of the Earth”, one of the world’s leading environmental organizations.  Early in the environmental movement’s history, he caught the wave of concerns about the future of the planet.   Thanks to a growing coalition of fellow travelers, power hungry politicians, moneyed interests, and activist lawyers and judges, Kordule had become a national and international power player and consultant for numerous governments.

Notably, Kordule’s background was typical of an environmentalist of the time.  He had no college education, and picked up his environmental knowledge by reading voraciously and doing practical experiments to test new ideas.

Kordule was an unusual name, and during his childhood it distinguished him from other children.  It was interesting how people would use the name.  To strangers, it was usually pronounced “cordial”, as in friendly or a liqueur.  To acquaintances, his name was often abbreviated “Kor” as in the core of the Federation.

Some of Kor’s closest friends knew the real meaning of his name.  Kor was a Klingon warrior from the original Star Trek television series.  Kor-du-le meant warrior of the lily or earth.  The name Federation of the Earth had come from Star Trek’s Federation of Planets.  Notably and appropriately for Kor, the Fleur-de-lis was one of the symbols of the Federation, – and to those who had read the Alexander Dumas novel “The Three Musketeers” it was the symbol of the book’s female assassin.

The Meeting

Joe first met Kor when he was speaking to environmentally aware future engineers at “No Doze” University, at least that’s what the engineering students called it when they were pushed to their physical, mental and emotional limits to keep up with the demands of technical courses.

Kor was a truly engaging speaker.  He was articulate, knowledgeable, and willing to fairly and unemotionally dialogue with individuals who disagreed with his positions.  This was the pleasant mask that hid his association with the Earth Liberation Front, a group of radical and violent environmentalists.

Kor’s lecture was on “global cooling”, the 1970s fashionable equivalent of “global warming”. Joe knew that the idea behind global cooling was that temperatures during a 30-year period starting around 1940 portended a new ice age.  The scientific community held this view with a mixture of skepticism, but for young and impressionable minds, it was a great place to start an environmental discussion.

The “lecture” was held at the student union, a place few engineering students had time to visit.  It was also the place where various types of socialist and anarchist radicals played ping-pong or discussed their next protest march or event.

During the question and answer period following the lecture, Kor was asked about overpopulation and its impact on the Earth.  Kor’s answer was that it was a problem of considerable importance and there would come a time when human reproduction would have to be controlled or that unspecified Draconian measures might be needed.

Significantly, Kor’s lecture occurred just before the “Roe v Wade” abortion decision of the Supreme Court and well before the use of genetics to determine whether a fetus would be born with a serious birth defect.  It also predated the national euthanasia debate by a couple of decades.

The “lecture” produced two noteworthy events.  In the first, and most serious, the enlightened student who had asked the question about population control killed himself.  In his suicide note, he stated that it was his intention to demonstrate the importance of population control by sacrificing himself to the cause.  The suicide made the news for about a day or two.

In the second, and somewhat humorous event, one newly hatched environmentalist from the ping pong crowd at the student union invaded the engineering dorm during a study period for a major exam.  Yelling “save the Earth” was not appreciated, and a huge engineering student grabbed the offending individual and threw him out of a second floor dorm window into some thorn bushed below.  The word got around quickly that you don’t mess with engineering students during study periods.

Joe had listened intently to Kor with an appropriate skeptic’s eye.  One thing he knew for certain was that Kor was addressing very large and complex issues supported by very little in the way of facts or, even more importantly, science.  This would change over time, but it was already obvious to Joe that the politics of the environment would create pressure to distort scientific inquiry.

Predictably, it happened when the global warming scandal broke and revealed that data and scientific methodology had been manipulated to fit political needs.

Oil:  The Environmental Bogeyman

The environmental movement was not just one giant group.  There were people who focused on animals, others who focused on the seas, still others on the air and land.  The most encompassing of these was Kor’s “Federation of the Earth”, which Joe reasoned could easily be expanded to the “Federation of the Planets ” if mankind somehow managed to survive and develop the technology to send himself to the planets and the stars.

One of Kor’s primary concerns was the use of hydrocarbons for energy.  Coal was dirty and raped the land.  Oil was smelly and required large facilities to process and store useful products.  Wood, although long abandoned for heat in the first world, was still a major source of heat and cooking fuel in the third world where a growing population of human beings was deforesting massive land areas year by year.

Kor had a particular dislike for oil.  As a boy, he had grown up near a refinery, and experienced the constant smells and not just a few accidents.  Kor knew that oil involved massive machines for drilling, giant sea and ocean platforms, huge pipeline networks, refineries, storage facilities, transportation hubs and, finally, local gas stations in every village, town and city in America.  Oil, unlike coal and wood, was obtrusive and in your face.

Kor did not find it difficult to undermine oil company initiatives.   The Arctic was a pristine wilderness to be left untouched by human hands. Drilling near shore areas could endanger fish and marine animals, and also the recreational activities of coastal towns.  Exploiting the gigantic Bakkan and Green River fields in the Northwestern and Western United States could leave a toxic residue and use far too much water.

After all the political posturing had ended, drilling way off shore in very deep water was the compromise reached to service the energy needs of the nation and preserve the purity of the its air, land and water.  Unfortunately, the result had been an environmental disaster.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environment Protection Agency was established in 1970 as a result of the lobbying of environmentalists such as Kor.  When he told the story of its creation and rise to prominence, Kor claimed considerable credit.  He considered the EPA to be one of his babies, and he jealously guarded it against all assaults on its integrity.

The EPA’s modern mission was to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment upon which life depended.  The EPA employed upwards of 20,000 people nationwide, half of which were engineers, scientists and environmental protection specialists.

Joe looked at the EPA as an inside government lobbying organization for a diverse collection of environmental groups.  From Kor’s Federation of the Earth to many other environmental justice groups, the EPA spoke for them.  The relationship, however, was seldom comfortable because legislation and government funding never perfectly aligned with the needs and wishes of the various private environmental groups.  “The best we could do under the circumstances was never good enough for Kor”.

Joe’s complaint about the EPA was that it had become typically bureaucratic over time – slow to react, often arbitrary and capricious, and certainly authoritarian.

The first of these complaints was manifest to the entire nation when it took weeks for the EPA to decide to allow dispersants to be used on the oily mess associated with the Gulf spill.  By scientific estimates, upwards of a million and a million and a half barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf while the EPA pondered what it would allow.

The second complaint involved the approval of a single golf course hole in Virginia.  To set the scene, the golf course was built in an upscale development between the York and the James River.  The development itself was in an area dominated by natural swamps and marshes.  Nevertheless, the EPA representatives, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, refused to allow the developer to build a small lake in the immediate vicinity of one of the eighteen holes on the course.

Instead, the EPA ruled that removal of swamp or marsh in one area had to be compensated for by the creation of an equal amount of swamp or marsh in another area.  This left the impression that the EPA was not only making arbitrary and capricious decisions, but its representatives were simply throwing their weight around because they could. To Joe, it was horrifying to think that the EPA was managing land areas of a few acres.  What was next?  Managing a farmer’s pond or even a local puddle after a rainstorm?  The whole thing seemed ridiculous.

The pre-eminent example of Joe’s final complaint occurred when the head of the EPA threatened the Congress with pollutant trading regulations.  Essentially, if Congress would not create and pass legislation, then the EPA would handle the matter without benefit of law.  This threat to the Congress amazed Joe because in his experience with the government, no agency or department had ever threatened the Congress that provided their funding.  Quite the opposite as the general rule was when a Congressman called, the bureaucrat responded as expeditiously, truthfully and compliantly as possible.

This threat and subsequent regulatory action was a display of authoritarian and even dictatorial bureaucratic power unprecedented in the history of the American Republic.  The implications of this entire episode were, unfortunately, lost on a Congress more interested in self-preservation than exercising their constitutional mandate to control national spending and the rapidly expanding bureaucracies.   Kor, on the other hand, was elated by the likelihood that he could bypass the legislators who took up far too much of his valuable time.

Joe knew that the power of the environmental movement extended well beyond the EPA.  Virtually every department of the federal government had some environmental requirement imposed upon it or acted in accordance with a requirement.  The states and localities, likewise, were affected by a myriad of environmental regulations.  Even individual property owners were affected when the discovery of some supposedly endangered rodent or insect led to an environmental restriction that destroyed the property’s value and marketability.

The Spill and Environmentalism

The environmental movement had succeeded in driving oil drilling into the off shore depths.   However, in achieving its success, it had failed in its ultimately mission to protect mankind and the Earth.  The real world needed oil, and it would get it regardless of the risk.

In meddling in a lot of mankind’s endeavors, the environmental movement took on the appearance and action of a religion.  In doing so, it lost sight of its scientific foundation and hid its mistakes behind a mask of righteousness.  In becoming a belief system, it lost the credibility needed to persuade people and avoid skepticism.

The environmental movement ignored the American constitutional principles that were necessary for the development of good public policy.  As with the Salem witch trials, the rule of law was sacrificed to the desired ends.  Tragically, with its one world focus, the environmental movement had become contemptuous of the America that had given rise to its successes.

Joe wondered if the American people understood just how dangerous this movement had become.  Would they act to defend their way of life and correct the situation – or succumb to the pressures of worldwide environmental justice politics?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1. The Return to Salem

The Abuse

A few years earlier, Joe Barristar had visited the town of Salem, Massachusetts and sat in the communal house where the witch trials took place.  Although a relatively small building by modern standards, it was an imposing and foreboding centerpiece of the town.  As Joe listened to the story of the trial, he wondered how people could get so far off track.  It was obvious that fear had been at play but what other human emotions would drive an otherwise moral and disciplined people into a frenzy of condemnation and even murder.

These memories of Salem flooded into Joe’s consciousness as he watched a Congressional hearing on the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The hearing featured a great deal of hostility.  Congressman after Congressman threatened or leveled accusations at a man seated at the witness table.

Only one Congressman had the audacity to suggest that due process under the law was being ignored and that a shakedown by the government was in progress.  He might have added that mob rule was in play — but he did not.

The lone Congressman’s issue was the 5th amendment to the Bill of Rights.  The founders intended it to protect an individual’s personal property and effects against government tyranny.  This amendment reads in part:

No person shall — be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

From a study of the Constitution and many of the papers of America’s founders, Joe knew that the due process requirements within the Constitution preserved America’s rule of law.  When due process considerations were legally enforced there was at least some accountability to the citizenry.  On the other hand, when due process was sacrificed on the altar of political correctness,  much of importance was certain to be lost or deliberately hidden from view.

Unfortunately, by the time of the hearing, the Constitution had been shredded by progressive politicians and ideologues.  These individuals had turned this providentially inspired framework for American government into a “living” document that could be interpreted to suit the whims of whomever was in power.  Most importantly, the “living” document practitioners had piled restriction upon restriction on the Bill of Rights.  Thus individual liberty was undermined one decision, one regulation and one elected official at a time.

Joe’s attention was brought sharply back into focus.  Off to the side of the hearing room a woman started screaming.  Joe imagined that something like this had happened in Salem but at that time the devil was a spiritual rather than oily physical presence.  The woman was dressed in grayish clothes and a black substance was prominent on her hands and face.  She was reportedly a liberal activist and a political plant by some Congressman who was a known advocate for global warming and environmental politics.  She resisted arrest but was eventually subdued and removed from the hearing.  It was good theater while it lasted.

The hearing’s lone witness was a man ironically named “Red” Grange.  The witness table, which could easily accommodate 3, 4 or even 5 witnesses, was surrounded by dozens of photographers each snapping a picture at every word or gesture.  Television cameras were strategically placed throughout the room to capture the give and take during the exchanges between the numerous politicians and Mr. Grange.  The news media hoped to capture an insensitive expression that could be instantaneously broadcast worldwide.  Joe wondered how anyone could stand the stress yet alone think up an answer.

“Red” was the CEO of Transylvanian Oil.  English by birth, Russian by marriage, and a petroleum engineer with an MBA by education, he had moved up quickly through the ranks to the top executive position in the company.  He had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and thus was the “red meat” thrown into a lion’s den filled with power hungry politicians and frustrated Americans.

Grange was dressed in a well tailored business suit, although many in attendance at the hearing thought sackcloth and chains were more appropriate.  “Red” was lucky, however, as one Congressman of Japanese descent had suggested that he commit ritual suicide.

Joe kept looking around for a stake at which Grange could be burned, and chuckled at the thought that it was probably outside on the Capitol grounds where he imagined some Congressional aides were assembling kindling, logs and charcoal lighter fluid.  Joe figured it was possible that some ignorant aide would use gasoline to start the fire not knowing it was an explosive if mishandled.

It is important to note that Grange had previously admitted Transylvanian Oil’s monumental mistake and promised to pay all of the costs associated with the mistake.   The Company had taken direct action to pay for what were expected to be enormous costs by setting aside its annual dividend and creating a huge disaster reserve.  Of course, none of that mattered.  The hounds from hell were out for blood, and it was blood they must be served regardless of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Law, and even common sense.

Joe continued to watch the hearing until its very end.  He wondered if any Congressman would have the guts to expose the entire picture of graft, special deals, and hidden environmental politics.  Not surprisingly, the role of the government in the Gulf disaster was hidden from public view.

It would have been refreshing to have someone like Grange say that the insanity of forcing oil companies to drill in the middle of nowhere ought to be addressed.  However, the threats of dire government action that would have destroyed Transylvanian Oil, and the prospects of criminal charges associated with the spill, prevented such honesty.

Joe did not excuse Transylvanian Oil for its mistake.  He was probably more upset than the average citizen because what happened represented an avoidable professional failure.  In addition, Joe loved the Gulf and had lived in Florida during his formative years.  The idea of the Gulf being turned into a toxic wasteland was sickening, and Joe’s body reacted with unease and queasiness.  He reflexively pounded his fist on his thigh.

Joe’s perspective on the matter was “if the science, technology and engineering tools of oil drilling were not there, then the risk was too high.  And, by the way, the oil companies better not drill in much deeper water in the Atlantic Ocean until they had a plan to handle mistakes where no living man or woman could go and where it took months or potentially years to correct a mistake”.

Fundamentals

The Salem witch trial behavior by America’s political leaders frightened Joe.  In Salem, some of the women were judged guilty of being witches well before their trial began.  The same thing was happening in the Congressional hearings.

The implication was that America’s political leaders were condemning more than Red Grange and Transylvanian Oil.  Because of the righteous fear or anger or frustration of the American people, they were condemning the free enterprise system that had done so much to promote America’s prominence in the world.

Joe revered the rule of law and the Constitution that protected it.  If there was anything he feared it was the abuse of either for the convenience of the politicians.  He knew that individual liberty could easily be threatened as a result.

The founders had warned about the tendencies of politicians over 200 years earlier.  Were the American people listening?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment