Holdren’s bizarre 1975 essay on the perils of cheap energy.
The essay appeared in The Windsor Star of August 1975 under the title Too Much Energy, Too Soon, A Hazard and was an attack personally penned by Holdren against the idea of trying to provide plentiful, cheap energy for the future. This, he said, would be totally the wrong move, and begins his article by handing down the following warning:
The United States is threatened far more by the hazards of too much energy, too soon, than by the hazards of too little energy, too late.
The Windsor Star. Aug. 1975. Too Much Energy, Too Soon, A Hazard.
Of course – all those foolish people worrying about what they’d do if the aging power stations weren’t replaced should’ve been worrying about too much cheap, plentiful energy. We all know how dangerous that can be, right? Holdren lists some of these dangers as:
. . . diverting financial resources from compelling social needs, making hasty commitments to unproved technologies, and generating environmental and social costs that harm human welfare more than the extra energy improves it.
And it doesn’t get much clearer than that, I’m afraid, not least because there’s not really much of an argument here to start with. Holdren’s basic position, I think, is that rather than investing in silly things like power stations and infrastructure, the nation should be investing in social goods like modern dance workshops and radical art seminars that are a real investment for the future.
What, for example, can we make of the following warning?
Mounting evidence suggests that the United States is approaching (if not beyond) the level where further energy growth costs more than it is worth.
Don’t forget, Holdren was writing this in 1975, not 2011. Too much energy in 1975? I guess that must’ve been why Jimmy Carter was wearing the sweater in the White House then and talking about “malaise”. The good old days.
Now pay attention, because after the waffle of the first few paragraphs of his article, Holdren starts to reveal his real animus towards modern America (as it then was). He is aware that people will think his ideas smack of “primitivism” but fires back that this sort of objection is just what you would expect of a decadent capitalist society:
In a society that uses its 5,000 pound automobiles for half-mile round trips to the market to fetch a six-pack of beer, consumes the beer in buildings that are overcooled in summer and overheated in winter, and then throws the aluminum cans away at an energy loss equivalent to a third of a gallon of gasoline per six-pack, this “primitive existence” argument strikes me as the most offensive kind of nonsense.
Elitist? Not at all. All Holdren is demanding is that you walk to the organic fruit and veg farmer’s market to buy your carrot juice, refrain from heating your own home in winter, or turning the air-con in summer and recycle everything.
But if even that doesn’t convince you, then hang on, because Holdren has a killer argument that he has saved until last: less energy means more jobs –
Finally, less energy can mean more employment. The energy producing industries comprise the most capital intensive and least labour intensive major sector of the economy. Accordingly, each dollar of investment capital taken out of energy production and invested in something else, and each personal consumption dollar saved by reduced energy use and spent elsewhere in the economy will create more jobs than are lost.
Hey, it makes perfect sense when you’re John Holdren. This is the guy, don’t forget who forecasted a jump in temperature for the United States of ten degrees if CO2 doubled from the pre-industrial average.