Welcome to Energy Week
Let the games begin!
From Claire—we seem to be slightly off-schedule this week. You all did a splendid job yesterday of pretending it was Sunday. May I ask you to keep up the pretense and assume today is Monday? I promise this won’t last more than a week.
Today I’m delighted to introduce Ronald Steenblik, who will moderate our discussion during Energy Week. I should explain that the Cosmopolitan Globalist has a kind of weird juju for attracting exactly the right person at exactly the right time. It’s as if some invisible hand believes in the Cosmopolitan Globalist’s mission and wants us to succeed. The friendly juju is such that the moment I think, “You know, I don’t really know enough about energy to moderate this discussion. We could really use a specialist. Like, someone who used to work for the International Energy Agency and produced the IEA’s first estimates of subsidies to European and Japanese coal producers. Or maybe someone who oversaw the OECD’s inventory of government support to fossil fuels. Someone like that. But where would we find that person, and how would we persuade him to moderate this forum? As a volunteer, at that?”
No sooner did I finish that thought when the DM flashed across my transom. “Hi Claire. My name’s Ronald Steenblik, and I … ”
Now that’s some weird juju, no?
As you can imagine, we are delighted—beyond delighted—that Mr. Steenblik has joined us and so glad that he’s agreed to moderate this discussion. In fact, because he knows so much more than I do about energy, I’ve asked him to take full command of the ship during Energy Week.1
We’ll forward any mail you send us about Energy Week directly to him (use the usual address). You can also reach him on Twitter at @RonSteenblik.
We very warmly welcome all of your contributions, comments, thoughts, and questions—indeed, they’re the very point of this exercise—but please don’t tax his patience by sending him rude emails like you send to me. We simply can’t afford to lose him. (I’m talking to you, Nancy. If the newsletter is too long for you, you don’t have to read it.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present your host: Ronald Steenblik. (Cue the round of applause.)
By Ronald Steenblik, Paris
Greetings fellow Cosmopolitan Globalists. My name is Ronald Steenblik, and Claire Berlinski has asked me to moderate this debate.
Since I’ve not posted here before, let me summarize my bona fides. I began working in energy when I was 19, delivering 50-kilogram steel bottles of liquid propane gas in Miami. Now I’m Nonresident Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
In between, I worked for a municipal power plant in northern Florida; had summer internships in graduate school at two US National Laboratories, Brookhaven and Argonne; worked as a young professional in the US Energy Information Administration; then headed to the Netherlands on a Rotary Foundation Scholarship, where I worked under the direction of the late Professor Peter Odell, a British economic geographer and expert on North Sea oil and natural gas.
In 1987, I joined the International Energy Agency here in Paris and produced their first estimates of subsidies to European and Japanese coal producers. I then shifted to trade policy at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In 2016, I took a sabbatical to serve as the Director of Research for the Global Subsidies Initiative of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, where I wrote and oversaw almost a dozen studies on subsidies to biofuels. After returning to the OECD, I supported the G20’s efforts to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels, oversaw the creation of the OECD’s Inventory of Government Support to Fossil Fuels, and chaired the first six peer reviews of G20 members’ fossil-fuel subsidy reform efforts. Since retiring, I’ve been writing about fossil fuel subsidy numbers, trade, and the environment.
My role in this debate is to play the neutral arbiter. I hope, too, to remind people of history. There are reasons, dating back to the 1970s, for the world’s heavy reliance on coal; there are reasons for the widely varying views about natural gas and nuclear power; and reasons, too, for the way rich and poor nations have divided the responsibility for putting the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions.
All of our readers are welcome—indeed, encouraged—to participate in this debate about the central question:
Omnibus perpensis, what’s the best way to provide energy for the globe’s 7.9 billion people?
We’ll be running excellent essays about fossil fuels, nuclear power, and green tech; we’ll be taking all questions from our readers—as well as submissions, should they wish to write at length; and at the end of it, we’ll wrap it up with a Grand Cosmopolicast Debate, followed by the announcement of a winner.
Among the essays in the queue is one by Adam Garfinkle, a member of the editorial board of American Purpose, explaining why former US President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change wasn’t the calamity that climate activists around the world insisted it was. By extension, he asks whether it makes any difference that President Biden has rejoined it.
For more than 40 years, nuclear power has frightened people, even though it’s the world’s best and most scalable source of clean energy. Robert Zubrin, author of the recent book, The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility, will make the climate case for nuclear power. In addition, Geoff Marcy, an American astronomer, backs him up, arguing nuclear power should be a major component in the electrical portfolio of developing countries, enabling them to raise their standard of living with a reliable, carbon-free source of electricity.
Casey Handmer, however, a physicist and software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will offer a Minority Report. He argues nuclear has already lost the market to solar.
Midweek, Alexander Hurst and Benjamin Wolf discuss Europe’s Greens: Are they the political future? Are their proposals any good? If they take power, can they govern? Could their worldview even supersede liberalism and global capitalism?
Next Gareth Lewis, a geologist and 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, spells out the unstated assumptions inherent to the vision of a green energy transition powered by renewables, and asks whether these assumptions are correct.
On the business side of things, the Cosmopolitan Globalist’s Editor-in-Chief Vivek Y. Kelkar will file a piece examining key concepts in the corporate world’s philosophy of climate change.
Finally, turning to geopolitics, our subscriber Alan Potkin, a professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University, shines a light on the shady connections between Myanmar’s armed forces and the country’s gas projects. Their outputs are destined for export to neighboring countries, and the Tatmadaw stands to obtain a lucrative cut.
From Claire—I’m delighted, too, to announce that the Cosmopolitan Globalists’ new resident climate expert will contribute. Dr. X, as we’ll call him for now, is a distinguished scientist who works on the mathematical modeling and computational simulation of ice flows and their interactions with the ocean and atmosphere. He’s also one of my old, dear friends, and just the smartest guy ever. Whatever he says about the climate, I’d totally trust it. (When last I asked him, about twenty years ago, how worried we should be, he said, “I’m not sure. The science is really hard.”)
I asked him if he would be kind enough to join the discussion this week to ensure none of us inadvertently descends into scientific illiteracy—since frankly, I wouldn’t know. This was his response:
I’d be honored to serve as a resident climate expert for the Cosmopolitan Globalist. I’d prefer to stay anonymous, at least for now, and to advise behind the scenes. It sounds like you’d be happy with short notes to the effect that Essay A is scientifically sound, Essay B makes some good points but neglects a key counterargument, and Essay C is rubbish. There probably will be areas where my knowledge is sketchy, but usually I know where to look things up.
It’s surprisingly challenging, as a climate scientist, to make oneself useful at anything other than science. Many people, maybe most, who work on climate mitigation and adaptation don’t need to know more science than would fit in a PowerPoint presentation. So it’s good to be asked to go deeper than that.
At the same time, life is full and I don’t want to over-promise. So let’s start with Energy Week and see how it goes.
I appreciate your attachment to the aims and ideals of the Enlightenment.
I hope very much that Dr. X will find the discussion so stimulating that he emerges from his occultation. Failing that, the Cosmopolitan Globalist is—always—impressed by good arguments, unimpressed by credentials. If Dr. X’s arguments are sound, they will speak for themselves absent his name; if they are not, no name and no fame can save him. Not here, anyway. (But they’ll be sound. Dr. X simply would not make an invalid argument, no less one that is unsound. Trust me: He’s the real deal.)
Welcome, Dr. X! So pleased to have you!
Back to Ron—We hope you enjoy the ride. If you have any issue that you wish particularly to see addressed, or a question about energy or climate change, please add them in the comments section, below.
In other words, he’ll do all the work. I’ll meanwhile devote the week to giving myself pedicures and playing Scrabble online. Have fun, Ron!