Friday, August 15, 2003

The Socialist Sun

Glenn Reynolds links to a National Review forum to quote the following gem, submitted in connection with the large scale blackout that hit the American northeast:

we’ve heard a lot about the need to move to a hydrogen economy and more renewable sources of energy like wind or solar. All of the Democratic candidates for president are calling for renewables targets or austerity measures designed to monkey with our modern technological and industrial resource base. In The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset captured their mindset perfectly:
As they do not see, behind the benefits of civilisation, marvels of invention and construction which can only be maintained by great effort and foresight, they imagine that their role is limited to demanding these benefits peremptorily, as if they were natural rights.
Maybe the blackout will prompt folks like Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Kerry -- or their comrade in arms in green causes Sen. John McCain -- to pause and register a moment of appreciation for a delicate technological infrastructure that didn’t just magically happen.

Steven den Beste has long pointed out that the role of oil-based products in modern industrial society is far more widespread than naive environmentalism understands. The chemical derivatives of oil, used as process chemicals, catalysts, lubricants, etc are the stuff around which whole systems are designed. You might not imagine that the MRI machine in your hospital requires oil-based products, but a glance at its ball-bearings proves that it does. Moreover, he argues, current civilization has a huge investment in producing internal combustion motors of all kinds, including reefers on containers, emergency generators in hospitals and the motive power that Third World countries rely on, whose sudden replacement would be astronomically expensive. Naive environmentalism has no grasp of the interconnectedness of modern industrial systems and cannot realize how existing systems are necessary to deliver necessities to the key nodes of our society. The connection between the gas pump and the food supply in an African village might be apparent to the Nigerian truck driver, but never to the Oxford educated Greenpeace activist. After all, the activist is educated.

Solar, wave and wind power will take their place in modern industrial systems as clever engineers and businessmen create products which can successfully displace their oil-fired counterparts. The process, in all likelihood, will be pioneered in the First World, where capital investment is easiest. And it will be gradual. The last survivals of oil-fired machinery will be found in isolated villages many decades after they have all but disappeared from the major cities.

Yet incrementalism in nature or engineering are political anathema to revolutionary movements, who by definition are in the business of proffering discontinuous change. The movement of glaciers, the evolution of species, the slow refinement of industrial systems and the stately procession of the celestial spheres cannot be reconciled with the dramatic needs of the barricade, which must always sharply separate the ancien regime on the one side with the 'world of tomorrow' on the other. There are no dramatic unities, no sudden bursts of song, no stirring intrusions of a fanfare in the actual workshops of the world. But they will be imagined. The blackout in the American northeast lasted a few hours. The blackout in the Leftist mind lasts forever.