Letters to the Editor
We invite you to fully participate in on-going discussions relevant to the environmental community. Our goal is to provide a public forum to promote discussion of environmental topics, and we believe that the progress of environmental protection is furthered by healthy debate in a free society. Our only gate-keeping function is to avoid publishing statements that are libelous or not relevant to the topic under discussion.
Stevens Publishing Corporation is not responsible for the accuracy of the data or the validity of the readers' opinions expressed herein.
Please send your comments to Angela Neville, JD, REM, at email@example.com.
Driving the World's Economic Engine
Having read your recent column "Great Expectations," October 2002, see www.eponline.com, under Archives inspired me to comment against another anti-capitalism, anti-progress liberal mindset which pervades contemporary journalism. Once again, we are made to believe the U.S. is at fault, along with other productive societies, for causing the socio-economic problems which plague "developing" (read: poor) nations, when in fact, most of the poorer nations have brought the very conditions you describe upon themselves through dictatorial or tyrannical rule and a disdain for free enterprise.
The Johannesburg Summit was a failure and another attempt to impose UN-type sanctions upon the U.S. for everything from global warming to pollution initiatives, ad nauseam. President Bush was correct in not attending, since the target of the meeting was the U.S. and the free enterprise system in general. Just as the Kyoto treaty was aimed at the U.S. for "global warming," this meeting was destined to bash the U.S. and similar societies for being successful at best.
Granted, the U.S. and similarly productive societies do consume a majority of resources, but these resources provide for most of the goods and products designed to take these "developing" societies into some semblance of improved standard of living. The biggest problem facing them is their political instability and archaic governmental systems which are usually the result of dictators who have subjugated the populaces into existences rivalling pre-1700 America.
Western science and technology has vastly improved conditions around the globe in all areas of resource management, pollution reduction and other environmental disciplines. Our technology has improved life expectancies and quality of life in nearly all countries around the world including those "developing" nations you mention. If the leaders of these nations would adopt some of the capitalistic ideals and practices, their nations would benefit from some of the same ideas our forefathers and visionaries had in developing this great nation. However, most nations want the handout of U.S. aid, and are resentful and jealous of our place at the top of the world's technological and socio-economic totem pole, even as they accept our aid.
You mention the Biblical admonition, "From those to whom much is given, much is expected." We haven't been given anything. It was earned through hundreds of years of work, effort, discipline, invention and individual incentive. There's another admonition that if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat forever. We try to teach, but most of those efforts have failed because of political reasons. These countries need to accept the responsibility that their poverty is not a function of Western capitalism, but of their failures to adopt Western-style ideas in most areas of socio-economic, agricultural, and technological, inventiveness. To blame their problems on the West may increase the "continuing tension" as indicated in your column, but it won't solve the problems and it won't reduce the tension as long as those types of governments exist to subjugate their respective populations.
It takes energy to drive the world's economic engine and until that renewable source is developed, we need to keep the engine running as best we know how, with American ingenuity and the resources we have at our disposal. When the "developing" countries realize this, the whole world may enjoy the benefits.
Human Resources Director
Making It Better for the Children
I read your fine and sincere article "Great Expectations," October 2002, see www.eponline.com, under Archives this evening and have a few comments that you might consider before writing another of a similar nature.
First and foremost, everything single thing that this nation has ever accomplished -- down to the level of the lowest economic ladder rung, WE did it all by OURSELVES. The single time another nation ever helped us was the French in the Revolutionary War. Since then, NO ONE has ever "lent us a hand" or even cared about whether we continued to exist; unless of course, one considers the British and the accursed Soviets in WW2. Speaking editorially, please keep that in mind when you look about you and see what we Americans have done as a diverse people with one purpose in mind: "Making it better for our children."
1 -- The overriding problem of the less-developed/developing countries is quite simply stated: Too many people having too many people (read as "children"). Perhaps along with our technology, we can send them a shipload or two of condoms? Please do not be offended, let me continue. We and others of a similar mind developed the "Green Revolution" whereby farmers in India and other places in the world could raise a lot more rice WITHOUT the increased use of chemical fertilizers. However, what did they do? Why they have again outstripped their ability to feed themselves and provide water for themselves when it was within their grasp to get off the "poverty train". Their numbers are over one billion. WHY is that MY or YOUR problem? The situation in Africa is similar. Yes, my heart goes out to the children who did not ask to be born; however, they will have to wait until MY children are all cared for so I can obey God's words about MY family being first after Him. He also spoke very clearly to us about "taking upon your shoulders the burdens of another man." Not the sins as Jesus did, the "burdens."
2 -- Now, Angela, is this REALLY my responsibility? My country and yours is the most generous on this earth. NO other country has ever given away as much as it does to those in need. Yes, we have the technology -- and we DO sell and/or send it abroad- I am currently working with China on their wastewater treatment problems with my Chinese colleague (and Tai Chi master). Yes, I do consulting to them and want them to buy our technology to keep Americans working.
3 -- I agree with your quote from the Bible -- that in and of itself was refreshing to hear from a young highly intelligent person that we must help others. But, lest you forget the exact meaning of that quote -- one, right after God, has to take care of one's family FIRST -- be it your own personal family, then your friends, THEN and ONLY THEN, the widows and orphans of the aliens WHO DWELL AMONG you." THEN, we can send out our goods for those in need across the world. It is NOT OUR obligation to feed them, we do it out of the collective goodness of our hearts.
Then again, that effort is fine for the short-term -- we need to learn from the Chinese -- and, here follows a poor paraphrase: To give a man a fish you have to feed him every day; teach him how to fish and he can feed himself."
Setting aside some of the greedy children (not necessarily chronological) in charge of companies who would sell their own mothers short; I think that western science and technology ARE trying to play an integral role in the distribution of our technology and science -- "...in a politically unstable world." to finish your words. Therein lies still another layer of "the problem of too many people." With few exceptions in those under-developed or developing countries very FEW of the governments in those places are showing any real concern for the average person. "Joe Cameldriver" is the farthest thing from the arrogant upper classes' collective "minds." Foreign aid is sent by our mindless State Department and the ones on the top in those nations siphon it off, the regular guy sees but little if any, and then the person on top tells HIM that it is the fault of the Americans that he is so poor.
Want a case in point? Try the Saudi's -- that is a family and they were NOT elected to their positions, as is the case in Kuwait -- promises of a free society and democratic with the people's voices being heard and acknowledged -- same thing. Shall I go on?
In summary, while I DO support any effort to export our technology to help others, we must also be realistic in expecting to be paid at some point. NOT in hatred drummed up by those in charge, but in deep appreciation that this nation does care about others because most of us came from poor backgrounds at some point in our families' histories. Yes, American firms would be willing to donate some of their technology, but this is also a "quid pro quo" -- for these gifts. THEY have to assume the responsibility to control their numbers and their demands on their fledgling systems and NOT rely on the rest of the world to bail them out.
At the same time, it is NOT their "right" to expect us to come continuously to their aid for situations which they themselves have created out of ignorance or arrogance. Unless and until they collect the reins of their "government" in their own hands and replace it with one that allows even the poorest of the poor to register HIS vote. As an avid student of history, I am sorry to recognize that their overall situations show few signs of "getting any better."
Angela, if I may, I sincerely hope that I have not offended you. The magazine is excellent and very informative and PLEASE keep up the good editorials and articles, you all are to be commended.
Get to the Root of the Problem
While your October editorial "Great Expectations," October 2002, see www.eponline.com, under Archives discusses the problems facing the world in the areas of resource allocation and pollution prevention and while you even mention the enormous growth expected in world population, I notice that you do not address the root cause of the problem, overpopulation. Technologic solutions will only save us for so long, it seems that no one even wants to discuss the overpopulation problem, no less possible solutions. Until we have the courage to address the root problem we will never find a solution.
Robin D. McCoy, M.P.H.
The Case for More Secure Energy
For decades, western economies have been supporting Middle Eastern nations that essentially have one product to offer in trade -- oil. Our dependence on Middle Eastern oil is so complete that U.S. foreign policy and our national security is held hostage by the knowledge that if that region becomes unstable to the degree that oil no longer flows, Western economies collapse, energy prices skyrocket and the standard of living of the industrial world plummets. No other common energy source exists in enough quantity or form to replace oil.
In our deal with the devil to ensure stability in that region, we support governments whose state-sponsored press is very hostile to the West. A recent Gallup poll suggests many of the people in that region harbor deep anti-Western beliefs. Vast sums flow into this region in exchange for oil. This money is then made available for causes these governments find important. Governments like Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia have great wealth and, because of our dependence, political power. Is this really a healthy situation? Is there a practical alternative?
We have a solution to this problem that would allow us to pay a slightly lower price for petroleum than we do today, at the same time creating a two-year economic boom for most of the world. Why hasn't it been done? Put simply, it would require the U.S. government to put into action -- the largest single construction project the world has yet seen. But with all of its benefits, and at a lower petroleum price than today's, can we afford not to?
The United States currently imports 12 million barrels of petroleum per day out of our 20 million barrel consumption. This imported oil, roughly $110 billion per year at $25 per barrel, could be replaced entirely by the most ambitious program the U.S. has undertaken since the Apollo Project, by building "Gas-To-Liquid-fuels" (GTL) plants. This technology was used by the Germans during World War II to produce gasoline and other fuels from coal when they were cut off from their oil supplies. In short, giant plants use chemical catalysts to convert natural gas into a synthetic gas, which is further turned into refined products, such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Considerable advancements have been made in the cost and technology of these facilities over the last 60 years.
The economics of the plants are dominated by the initial construction costs, which would be just over $300 billion for 14 million-barrel-per-day facilities. Over a 20-year period, the revenues from the fuels would be over $2 trillion.
The major oil companies have teams working to be the first company to use GTL commercially. Exxon and Shell have each spent more than $500 million in the effort. Several are currently on the economic threshold, working to reduce costs and risks before making multi-billion-dollar investments. They are just years away, even without government support. Their entry, however, will not be large or fast enough to break OPEC or give us petroleum independence. Our ten largest oil companies, combined, could not finance $300 billion in new projects in just two to three years. Only the U.S. government can do this.
If a fraction of these plants were built and financed by private industry, the required price of petroleum products would be near today's prices. However, if these plants were financed directly by the U.S. government, the zero-subsidy prices of petroleum products would be lower than today's prices. In other words, we Americans could be paying the same price for our gasoline using our own GTL plants as we do now buying it from OPEC and others. At the same time, we could save our military the cost and burden of securing our oil supplies and no longer be hostage to many Gulf Arab political turns.
The price and payoffs look right, but what would it take to really do this? We need to procure several very large "stranded gas" fields. These are immense fields of natural gas which have been discovered, but which are too far from developed gas markets to have any value. Over one thousand of the largest class of these fields are already discovered. Our government would have to forge agreements with a few, "friendly" nations to purchase rights to produce some of this gas and convert it to liquid fuels on location. We would also require the right to protect the fields and plants on their territory with our own armed forces.
The construction of these plants would be the largest project ever undertaken -- roughly six times the construction cost of China's Three Gorges Dam. It would involve immense amounts of steel, equipment and labor. It would stretch the world's project management resources to its limit. It would also give the world a shot in the arm economically as the benefits of so much activity cascaded throughout the global economy.
The foremost benefit of such a plan is the control of our own energy supply. We would no longer rely on imported oil, nor on those countries which supply it. We as Americans, along with allies that joined the plan, would have physical control and sovereignty over the fields our petroleum was produced in, as well as the facilities used in refining it into fuels and products. We would no longer need to cater to the Saudis and other major oil producers. It is this effect, the decoupling from the Middle East and oil supply security, which will have profound political and economic benefits. Imagine how many tens of billions of dollars we could save every year in reduced military costs by no longer protecting Middle Eastern and other nations' oil reserves.
The greatest benefits come from reduced military costs and reduced costs from "event" shocks (such as the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, the war with Iraq, the oil price shocks of 1980-81). It is estimated that as much as a third of our military exists to secure our oil supplies abroad. Our armed forces would welcome the renewed focus on true homeland security and less Middle Eastern entanglements.
When the new fuels started coming to market, it would create a glut of oil production the world has never seen before. The worldwide price of oil would collapse to less than $10 per barrel. The extreme reduction in oil prices around the world would provide an economic boom for all nations except OPEC and other significant producers (such as Norway and Mexico) as producer prices and consumer fuel bills fall significantly. The wealth, along with the political power of OPEC nations, would vanish. Extremist groups would also lose some of their larger bankrollers.
A further knock-on effect of the plan would be a cleaner environment, through several means. First, through the reduced production from the Middle East and other producers of "dirty oil" and gas flarers. Next, through the reduced emissions from the cleaner fuels produced by the technology. The U.S. government classifies GTL fuel production as a "green" initiative, as they reduce the level of emissions considerably. Other 'green' initiatives include other alternative energy sources, which should proceed no slower than before. There would still be plenty of demand growth and aging production to absorb any alternative energy additions.
One last opportunity is the change in our industries as we adjust to the new energy economy. This creates new opportunity for new companies and industries to participate, as this would be the largest restructuring event we have ever undergone. Whole new industries will emerge, and many established ones will fall.
Moving the project forward takes several initial steps. The government would need to immediately begin negotiations to secure the gas fields, initiate discussions with other nations to join a Fuels Alliance, prepare foreign policy for the political reshaping, and initiate planning for the construction projects.
There are alternatives to the full project that carry most of the same benefits. We could produce half of our current imports and still break OPEC, without becoming self-sufficient. We could also use coal instead of natural gas as a feedstock, which would be easier politically but cost more. If Japan or Germany does the project before us, we would not be self-sufficient but would still get the benefits of fallen oil prices from a broken OPEC. We could even choose to subsidize them directly or indirectly through promised naval support.
Does our political leadership have the courage to undertake such a monumental task? Perhaps September 11 has given them renewed strength and purpose. Given the many benefits of our own fuel supply, at lower prices than today, let's hope so.
President, Universal Energy Consulting
V.P. Strategy and Investment, Conoco Global Power Inc., retired
Ignorance Is Not Always Blissful
As an REHS and working in California, I felt compelled to respond to Angela Neville's "From the editor" column ("Seeing Community Right-to-Know Laws in a New Light," December 2001, see www.eponline.com, under Archives) discussing community right-to-know (CRTK) laws.
In your editorial you quote two sources, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), regarding the dangers of CRTK policies. While I don't dispute the challenges of how to accurately and safely keep the public informed of Haz Mat issues in their area, I totally disagree with the quote you included from CEI's director, Angela Logomasini. She claims (my paraphrase) that this information only gets used for negative purposes and to foment fear in the public. Not a big surprise to hear this kind of comment coming from a lobbying arm of the industry; in fact, the horror of September 11 only gave CEI pundits an opportunity to practice exactly what she claims the other side is doing. Her comments seems to suggest that this information should never have been provided to the public since "...we can't make heads or tails out of all this technical information..." and will only be useful to terrorists. According to her, ignorance is bliss.
First of all, her biased opinion in favor of hiding information couldn't be further from the truth -- and your referencing the 1984 Bhopal tragedy represents a classic example of how ignorance leads to harm, not bliss. Sure, the chemical industry reps would like to keep their information secret -- information is power, and leads to questions that industry would prefer not to answer.
Second, whether you agree with her or not, presenting only one side of the story shows a bias in your column and detracts from meaningful dialogue about the issues of CRTK vs. public security. As an editor of a popular and informative environmental periodical (as well as an attorney), you should know better than to simply present one side to this complex issue.
You would serve your readers better in the future if you provide more than one perspective on an issue.
Editor's Response: In my article, I did attempt to present several sides to what you have correctly pointed out is a complex issue. I emphasize that we must strengthen our security, while at the same time fortifying the freedoms that have made our nation great. We must not let a false choice be made between our security and the freedoms that we enjoy as American citizens.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2002 issue of Environmental Protection.