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Things we say and do

Four years ago, in September 2007, I participated in a ministerial conference of OECD in Paris.  This conference was attended by the ministers of transportation and environment from the European Union, the U.S. observers, as well as a few invited industry people and faculty.

OECD stands for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was conceived as a counterweight to OPEC. The largest contributor to OECD is the United States, which provides nearly 24% of the budget, followed by Japan. As a consequence, the U.S. exerts some influence on OECD.

At that Paris conference, I was asked to make a dinner speech.  [Reading this topical speech is essential to your understanding of my arguments against the serious public confusion surrounding issues of big energy.]

Halfway through my speech everybody in the room stopped eating and you could hear a fly, because no forks and knives were clicking. There were but a few questions afterwards. It appears that this speech has disqualified me permanently from receiving further invitations by OECD. Perhaps I caused too much indigestion. Or, perhaps, the U.S. delegation, then headed by a person well known for saying "no" to anything that might be environmentally beneficial, had something to do with blacklisting me.

Later, I learned that the U.S. insisted on firing the two OECD employees, one Dutch and another American, who were in charge of organizing the conference. And why not?  Why was I allowed to put this paper into the record?  I have to confess that my paper had some impact on the EU policy towards the customary wanton rape and pillage of the poor countries in the tropics. This never-ceasing rape has been lovingly sponsored by the World Bank (and IMF and others).  The World Bank has been providing loans and loan guarantees to the local despots and transnational corporations, who then do the actual raping.

The World Bank loans have been fabulously lucrative to us.  Historically, the World Bank preferred to fund large projects: hydroelectric dams, roads, power stations, mines, etc.  Not only most of the construction and machinery would be handled by us, but much of the loaned money would be embezzled and sent back directly to us in big suitcases.  But never mind, the poor nations would still have to repay the loans and interest with their resources and environment.  Customarily, an American heads the World Bank, but now China wants in on the action. 

But I digress. So, back to the story.

In May 2007, at an earlier preparatory meeting to the ministerial conference, also in Paris, a representative of Denmark made some really stupid remarks that were a proof of either her gross incompetence or thorough dishonesty. Basically she was pushing the "second generation biofuels" for a company that was giving her money. A representative of Germany (a Ph.D. chemical engineer like me) and I did not try to contradict her, and, at the coffee break, a senior diplomat from Italy asked us why we did not point out the obvious inconsistencies in her remarks and did not debunk the false statements she made. That Italian gentleman then said to both of us something I would always remember. He said:

"Please understand that you may be the only people in the room, who understand the facts and the scientific truth. The remaining people are lawyers and politicians, like me, and they have no way of discerning whether something that was said was true or not. So if you do not react quickly, a lie will enter the record and will stand as fact for this audience and many others."

By the way, the superb German delegate I just mentioned was swiftly removed from his position in the German EPA, and no one from the German government attended the ministerial conference in September.  This outstanding German proposed the most scientific and radical policy that would govern international approach to biofuels. They say that "our girl,"  Chancellor Angela Merkel, was personally involved in his disposal. But who called Ms. Merkel?

After these two OECD meetings, of the six people who entered my story here, the only person who was not directly hurt was I, because I was a tenured professor from Berkeley. I also had a thick skin and an invaluable experience of opposing autocrats in the old communist Poland. Another professor from Berkeley, who was asked to present at the preparatory meeting in Paris an untenable position of someone else, committed suicide a couple of months later.

That someone else, yet another Berkeley professor, who is now a big wig at the World Bank, weaseled his way out of the May meeting in Paris by telling a touching but verifiably false story. He said that he would have to go to Mexico instead of Paris to help with a sudden death there of his graduate student.  Instead, he went to New York and gave a TV interview.  In Paris, the stakes were high, because arguments for California's "decarbonized" future economy were unveiled for the first time to the public. That "dry run" in Paris by a junior Berkeley faculty standing in for his boss was met with a great deal of skepticism.

Nevertheless, when they encourage you to think that tenure is bad, think twice. If it were not for tenure, I wouldn't be here to chronicle this forgotten story of the cutthroat, brass knuckles politics surrounding big energy.

Ever since that OECD conference, I felt obliged to challenge lies that were hurled in my presence at the unsuspecting public. For that whimsical custom of mine I paid a high price at Berkeley.

Next, I will describe the unbearable stupidity of some of the arguments surrounding supply of energy in the U.S. In this context, the famous Czech writer, Milan Kundera, would have a good laugh:

"This reconciliation [with the bottomless evil that we clearly recognize as such, TWP] reveals the profound moral perversity of the world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted."
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, page 4.

In a couple of short installments, designed not to bore you too much, I will build a foundation for my arguments against the sensational and propagandist articles, like the one on natural gas by Mr. Ian Urbina, a journalist, who writes for the New York Times. Such articles are too shallow to be meaningful and further confuse the already confused people.

What I said in that OECD speech four years ago is impacting today the lives of people who two years ago would never even think about energy. It takes a decade or so to enact an energy policy, and this policy may last for several decades. Thus, a bad energy policy, one which is based on false arguments, may end up hurting not only us, but also our children and grandchildren. Tomorrow is July the 4th, an auspicious day to ponder the state of this Union, in addition to drinking beer and barbecuing. So think about what I just said.

P.S. Here is some more of the brass knuckles politics, this time in the context of natural gas. Just think how difficult it will be to understand the truth behind a flood of contradictory statements. And we haven't even started yet.  Mr. Berman should grow a much thicker skin if he wants to stay in this game.

P.S.P.S.  Have you read  some of the diverse reader comments to an anonymous WSJ oped on hydrofracturing?  If you have, do try to make sense out of this emotionally-charged cacophony, will you?

P.S.P.S.P.S.  Only now the ethanol subsidy fiasco is coming to an end. How many times have I been publicly attacked and disparaged for saying the same thing over-and-over-again for the last 7 years or so?


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