Krauthammer and Krugman

I began writing this thinking that I was going to accuse Krauthammer of suppressing evidence when he  argues for drilling in ANWR and lifting the moratorium on outer continental shelf drilling since at first glance he seems to completely ignore the environmental argument based on global warming.

His argument runs like this:

  1. Reducing dependence on foreign oil is in the national interest.
  2. Opening up domestic energy resources for development will reduce dependence on foreign oil.
  3. Therefore we should open up ANWR and the outer continental shelf for development.

Notice that this isn't McCain's silly and discredited argument that opening up these resources will address pump prices. Instead it looks like perfectly nice argument: A practical syllogism arguing for a means to an end. Presumably he is arguing that 2 is the best means to achieve 1. If that's so, then he should consider alternatives such as reducing our consumption of oil.

Consider: 25 years ago, nearly 60 percent of U.S. petroleum was produced domestically. Today it's 25 percent. From its peak in 1970, U.S. production has declined a staggering 47 percent. The world consumes 86 million barrels a day, the United States, roughly 20 million. We need the stuff to run our cars and planes and economy. Where does it come from? 

Skipping the results of several hours of reading DOE reports on the oil resources (see comments) it looks like the best case from opening up both of ANWR and OCS is around 1 million barrels of oil per day in the late 2020's. That's pretty significant given our current imports of 15 million barrels a day (7%)–roughly equivalent to the imports from Nigeria this year). So, it seems that we must grant as plausible that these measures would reduce dependence on foreign oil.

But the interesting part of the argument is this

The net environmental effect of Pelosi's no-drilling willfulness is negative. Outsourcing U.S. oil production does nothing to lessen worldwide environmental despoliation. It simply exports it to more corrupt, less efficient, more unstable parts of the world — thereby increasing net planetary damage. 

I had thought that he was just ignoring Pelosi's real concern with opening up these resources, that is, I believe, their contribution to anthropogenic global warming. He only focuses on "environmental despoiliation" which looks at first like the effects local to the extraction and transportation of oil, and not its consumption.

The assumption he makes is that the rate of consumption of oil will be unaffected whether we open up these resources or not. The question then is merely one of where the oil is extracted. And, if opening up these resources has as little effect on price as opponents of drilling say, then it can't be argued that not exploiting these resources will contribute to a reduction in consumption.

The argument opposed to drilling has three options it seems to me:

1. NIMBY (we just don't want to mess up our environment–we're happy to let others do it).

2. Detailed argumentation that opening up ANWR and OCS have a likelihood of greater local environmental damage than drilling in Nigeria etc.

3. The total carbon consumption argument. Any increase in access to carbon based fuels is undesirable because of the the dangers of climate change.

I probably believe that 3 is a good argument (1 is probably a good argument though it might have moral difficulties, and I don't know enough to judge 2). But, if we really believed it (generally) we would probably have to support capping of imports or bans on importing oil from new developments. We would have to either accept that oil prices should continue to increase or that the rest of the world should stop developing. 

Krugman attacks McCain's ridiculous claims linking the moratoria on OCS development and gas prices. But he draws a more significant lesson from this.

Hence my concern: if a completely bogus claim that environmental protection is raising energy prices can get this much political traction, what are the chances of getting serious action against global warming? After all, a cap-and-trade system would in effect be a tax on carbon (though Mr. McCain apparently doesn’t know that), and really would raise energy prices.

The only way we’re going to get action, I’d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral. Incidentally, that’s why I was disappointed with Barack Obama’s response to Mr. McCain’s energy posturing — that it was “the same old politics.” Mr. Obama was dismissive when he should have been outraged.

This doesn't address Krauthammer's security based argument, but it does point out that we are still far from ready to defend never mind implement the consequences of the total carbon consumption argument. To oppose ANWR and OCS exploitation on these grounds commits us to an argument that no new carbon fuel resources should be developed and that the only way to address rising fuel costs is to reduce demand worldwide.

If there is a flaw in the argument it is this: The argument that Krauthammer needs to address, however, is whether it would be a better means to energy independence to reduce consumption by those same 1 million barrels a day in 2030 than to open ANWR and OCS to drilling. 


6 thoughts on “Krauthammer and Krugman”

  1. So we consume 15 million barrels of foreign oil a day. About 2/3 of which comes from five countries (Canada (2.5 million), Sauda Arabia (1.5), Mexico (1.3), Venezuela (1.1), and Nigeria (1.1) (rough numbers from the DOE site–they don’t add up to Krauthammer’s but the point doesn’t depend on exact numbers)

    But the mean case for <a xhref=””>ANWR exploitation (again DOE info)</a> is in the neighborhood of 700,000 barrels a day (for the late 2020’s). Cumulatively it’s around 2.5 billion barrels of oil that we would get over a timeframe of 12 years. Not to be sneezed at.

    Similar point can be made about outer shelf drilling, only here we’re talking about 8-18 billion barrels (depending on whether CA keeps it’s moratorium, which seems likely) <a xhref=””>DOE analysis here</a> with an increase of the neighborhood of 200,000 barrels a day in 2030.

  2. What I don’t understand is why are the two (drilling & developing other sources of energy) mutually exclusive? Do we think that if we don’t drill we’ll be more motivated to find other sources of energy? Or that the demand will go down because the supply is low? Or make carbon fuel so expensive that we’re forced into other resources?

  3. I think that you’re right that they are not mutually exclusive. Obama seems to be willing to give in on opening these regions to drilling in exchange for concessions on other issues. That seems reasonable to me. Opposing offshore drilling because you are trying to “save the planet,” as Pelosi said, seems to overstate the consequences. It seems as though the opposition to drilling falls back into a version of NIMBY, or NIMPW (Not In My Pristene Wilderness), which is really what Krauthammer attacks.

  4. “The net environmental effect of Pelosi’s no-drilling willfulness is negative.”

    That is absurd, it seems to me. He’s tricking his own brain, perhaps, in trying to come up with some reason to be negative about Pelosi’s “willfulness” (as if only she is being willful in the debate and that it is a bad thing). 

    So, there are six (for example) oil wells. And not drilling one more “does nothing to lessen worldwide environmental despoliation?”

    It would, if the new well made one “foreign” one go away (which will not really happen), just move the despoilation to Alaska. (Were we Americans, less corrupt, more efficient, more stable, will not let it be so despoiling as those “foreigners?” Yeah, right. Certainly, Nigeria’s oil fields are despoiling their country, but drilling in the U.S. will never change that.)

    The only way to stop “worldwide environmental despoliation” is to stop drilling and digging fossil fuels. Like by phasing out the internal combustion engine (among other things) by 2020.

    How can Krauthammer remain a “pundit?”

  5. It’s a hard question. Let’s assume that regulation of oil wells and company interests in their publicity is stronger here than say Nigeria. If one oil well here replaced one there, then K.’s point would seem reasonable.

    But, his argument works the other way, not drilling in the U.S./coastal waters results in opening a oil well elsewhere assuming demand rises, and that foreign oil well, he claims will be more likely to cause environmental damage than a domestic one. (I don’t know whether this is true, but it seems plausible at least).

    So, he argues, the only reasons to be opposed to opening these areas to drilling (he concludes) is willfulness (assuming that you don’t believe that carbon consumption should be capped right now and no new supplies of oil should be developed–this last point he doesn’t make explicit, but seems to be assumed.).

    I think the argument is less silly than it appears at first, though I certainly agree that the only way to reduce environmental despoliation is phasing out the internal combustion engine. I think he is basically accusing Pelosi and others of NIMBY arguments as their real opposition to drilling (we want more oil, but we don’t want it taken from our wilderness/coastal waters, let’s let Nigeria wreck their environment).

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