Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Galileo and Oil

As too brief a respite from the turmoil on Earth - from the politics, from Islam, from the diminishing scope of men's concerns and the consequent meanness of their goals - I will go to Mars, to Venus, to the planetary systems of other stars via the Internet, but chiefly to planets and bodies in the solar system where Man has sent querying spacecraft and robotic investigators, just to see some evidence of success in his long-range endeavors.

Of course, I do not think our government should be conducting any kind of space exploration, except for military purposes, to maintain the nation's security. Since every potentially habitable body beyond Earth is uninhabited and therefore absent of any property status, space exploration rationally should be a private enterprise to develop a body's potentiality, and not just focus on mere "pure" scientific investigation and the acquisition of knowledge that can never be applied to sustain human life. But the magnitude of thought, planning, technological finesse, and commitment to achieving a rational goal required to put a single satellite in Earth orbit, never mind around Mars or Jupiter or Saturn, is something for which, for me, the words appreciation and admiration seem inadequate.

Launched during a space shuttle mission in October 1989, the Galileo probe reached its destination, Jupiter, in December 1995. Even though the craft was hampered by a faulty communications array, for almost a decade it transmitted data and pictures of Jupiter and probed the nature of some of its moons. The catalogue of Galileo's accomplishments is astonishing.

So, it saddened me to read late in 2003 that Galileo's mission was nearing an end, because, among other minor problems, its propellant, used to maneuver it in orbit around the planet, was nearly depleted. NASA announced that it was going to use the last of it to send the craft into Jupiter. The newspaper article reporting the decision said that this was to prevent Galileo from possibly crashing onto any of Jupiter's moons, especially Europa, and contaminating it with terrestrial organisms.

Why? I asked myself. Why not let Galileo remain in orbit around Jupiter as evidence of Man's achievement? I emailed the Galileo team that question. I received a brief iteration of the concern about contamination. I replied: Aside from the unlikelihood of Galileo falling onto one of the moons, so what if it crashed on Europa or Io? Given how thoroughly these probes and landers are scoured of all microscopic life before launch, "contamination" of another planet or moon would be as likely as algae growing in the super-hot oven of Venus or on sun-blasted Mercury as on frigid Europa or sulfurous Io. And that is not factoring in the fourteen years Galileo was exposed to life-ending solar radiation and cosmic rays coupled with the inhospitableness of a vacuum.

Further, why the bias against terrestrial life in favor of extraterrestrial, even if the latter were proven to exist on any of those bodies? Why the bias against it even if no life existed on them? If Western civilization lasts long enough to land men on Mars, will they be expected to immolate themselves to protect and ensure the existence of Martian microbes, or the pristine lifelessness of the Martian deserts?

I received no reply. Shortly after that exchange, Galileo was sent plunging into Jupiter, where it disintegrated and its parts were presumably vaporized by Jupiter's heat and their atoms sublimated into the roiling, lifeless atmosphere. I recall a Jet Propulsion Lab manager announcing, "Galileo is now a part of Jupiter."

Evidence erased.

What prompted me then to ask the Galileo team was something I remembered Ayn Rand wrote in 1969 at the end of her article on Apollo 11:

"If the United States is to commit suicide, let it not be for the sake and support of the worst human elements, the parasites-on-principle, at home and abroad. Let it not be its only epitaph that it died paying its enemies for its own destruction. Let some of its lifeblood go to the support of achievement and the progress of science. The American flag on the moon - or on Mars, or on Jupiter - will, at least, be a worthy monument to what had once been a great country." 1.
What moved NASA to deliberately destroy one of its most successful probes when there was no demonstrable point to it, or for any "earthly" value or reason?

In a word: environmentalism. Or an infection from it. Extraterrestrial life, hypothetical or real, benign or virulently destructive, had acquired the same elevated status as spotted owls, whales and wolves on earth, possessing some extra-human value equal to or above human existence. And in any conflict between human existence and other "life forms," it is human existence which is imperiled. Logically, ultimately, it is man who would be expected to erase himself from existence in such a conflict in deference to the defenseless, non-volitional species.

Of all the "life forms" that exist on earth (or in the solar system), man is the only one with the capacity for reason, and if he chooses to discard it, act on faith, and religiously commit suicide in conformance with that Kantian "virtue," it is because he is convinced that the "right" of other life forms to exist overrides that of man. If the meek shall inherit the earth, environmentalists want to guarantee that they will be animals, plants and rocks. There is a crucial link between religion and environmentalism. The environmentalists mean it. To them, man is a contaminator and a contagion. Their theological ancestors are the proponents of Original Sin.

And if men exhibit reluctance to commit slow or immediate suicide, environmentalism's vituperative priests and thuggish altar boys are here to remind them of their "duty," or to make sure that they perish even if it means committing murder. To claim otherwise, that man has no such duty to defer or die, is to commit apostasy and heresy vis-à-vis conventional "wisdom." Observe, for example, how scientists who "deny" man-caused global warming are shunned, ostracized, and ignored by the political and scientific establishments and the news media, and how the unthinking religious position on global warming is propagated and perpetuated in schools, in the press, in politics, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.

What has the fate of the Galileo to do with rising gas prices and the oil industry here on earth? Environmentalists wish to destroy the oil industry - and Americans' standard of living - in the name of their god, a nature unaltered and undisturbed by man. To say that they wish to reduce Americans to the standard of living of the Dark Ages is to grant them a partial life-premise; actually, they would prefer that "nature" reclaim the entire North American continent, and the whole globe, and that man, together with his ruins and all evidence of his existence, be sublimated and made one with nature - as a corpse.

No sooner had someone ventured that perhaps federal and state governments were responsible for rising gas prices because of taxes, environmental regulations, restrictions, and prohibitions, than the "greens" screamed foul.

"Four-plus dollar gasoline is forcing Americans to realize that increased domestic oil production is needed to meet our ever-growing demand for affordable gasoline. But even if the Greens lose the political battle over drilling offshore and in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), they're nevertheless way ahead of the game as they implement a back-up plan to make sure that not a drop of that oil eases our gasoline crunch."
So wrote Steven Milloy on June 12 in a Junk Science report, which describes just how dedicated the environmentalists are to squelching any expansion of drilling for oil and of any new construction of refineries or the expansion of existing ones. For example:

"The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) successfully pressured the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block ConocoPhillips' expansion of its Roxana, IL gasoline refinery, which processes heavy crude oil from Canada, reported the Wall Street Journal (June 9). The project would have expanded the volume of Canadian crude processed from 60,000 barrels per day to more than 500,000 barrels a day by 2015."
"Meanwhile, in California, Green groups are working through the state attorney general's office to block the upgrade of the Chevron refinery in the city of Richmond. The $800 million upgrade would essentially expand the useable oil supply by permitting the refinery to process lower quality, less expensive crude oil."
According to Milloy, the state attorney general (leftist ex-governor Jerry Brown) and the city of Richmond are pulling an expensive "carbon credit' extortion scam on Chevron. Its purpose, as he quotes an official saying, is to "protect low-income minority communities in the Richmond area, which already suffer disproportionate pollution impacts."

Long before gas prices in the U.S. began to climb this year, a Peak Oil News report of September 2006, "Oil Refinery Capacity Bottleneck," reported that "high oil prices [then at $63 a barrel] are still being propped up by a shortage of refinery capacity and there is little sign of the bottleneck easing until 2010, industry executives and officials discussing OPEC's future have warned."

"'The need for downstream capacity is just as important as other issues,' said Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency at a two-day conference...."
Which proves that even bureaucrats are minimally connected to reality. That article chiefly discusses the concerns of OPEC members, most of whom want oil companies to build sixty-six new refineries. Of course, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Venezuela and other oil "producers" have no environmentalists obstructing their plans, nor are they much concerned about carbon emissions or environmental "impacts." These are tyrannies or dictatorships that seized Western oil fields and refineries and are now lecturing especially the U.S. on the need to "conserve."

Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama has advocated a "windfall profits tax" on oil companies "profiting" from rising oil and gas prices, thus revealing his ignorance of - or indifference to - the state of the oil industry.

"In 2005, the head of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association testified at a House hearing that the rate of return on investment in refining averaged just five and a half percent from 1993 to 2003."
Regardless of the rate of return that the oil companies earn, here, for example, is Exxon's tax bill for 2007: $30 billion. That's just Exxon.


"Existing refineries have been running at or near full capacity since the mid-1990's, but are failing to meet daily consumption demands. Yet there hasn't been a new refinery built in the U.S. since 1976."
The Wall Street Journal of June 20 carried two interesting editorials that underline the environmentalist obstacles facing the oil companies and the nation. The first, "Bush's Drill Bit," discusses President George Bush's reluctant concession that "'leaving most of America's immense offshore oil-and-gas resources off-limits was 'outdated and counter-productive,' and he called on Congress to end its quarter-century ban." But the editorial also describes the natural and man-made obstacles to drilling for untapped oil:

"Federal law stipulates that an oil company must sink a producing well within 10 years or lose the lease; it often takes nearly a decade to navigate the geography, not to mention the long process of environmental and regulatory review. Or coping with multiple lawsuits from the green lobby."

The second editorial, "Judge Ahab and the Whales," reports that Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter has been sued by the NRDC "for conducting training exercises off the coast of California, as the Navy has done for 40 years."

"The NRDC claims the use of medium-frequency active sonar - a type of sonar especially useful for anti-submarine warfare - might harm whales, or at least confuse them."
Two courts have upheld the suit and the injunction against further training, thus hamstringing the Navy. The editorial stresses that both the suit and the courts are not only jeopardizing U.S. readiness, but also nullifying the Constitution's separation of powers for the sake of whales. As absurd as it may sound, would it not be an exaggeration in today's political climate to foresee the day, if the U.S. were attacked by China or Iran, when our military would not be allowed to respond before submitting an environmental impact statement for committee review? Of course, before the Navy or Air Force could even order its lawyers to compose a statement, we would be dead.

The environmentalists would not mind. Just as Muslims the world over cheered when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, environmentalists would welcome the destruction of the U.S., and through lawsuits and "eco-terrorism" are working to bring it about. One does not ever hear them commiserate with the survivors of natural catastrophes, when tens of thousands die in earthquakes, tidal waves, and typhoons. One would not hear them wail over the destruction of New York, or if Islamists invaded Washington, dynamited the Jefferson Memorial, and put a match to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (as they are doing now through financial jihad). Environmentalism is as much a religious ideology of nihilism as Islam.

Their mutual goal is to put an end to all Galileos.

1. "Apollo 11," in The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, by Ayn Rand. Meridian-Penguin softcover, 1990, p. 178. See also her "Epitaph for a Culture," p. 179, in the same volume, in which she discusses the beginnings of the environmentalist movement and the "theology of the earth."


Joe said...

It's frustrating to read how "insane" and self-destructive people can be... and when they wield the power of government force then we (all of us productive citizens) end up in the proverbial tower - imprisoned like Galileo himself - for the crime of attempting to exercise our right to produce, innovate, think and act for our own sakes.

Keep up the great work Ed.

Joe Kane
San Diego

Jeff Perren said...

Brits overwhelmingly (something like 80%) disbelieve the viro propaganda, even though they're soaked in it daily.

Americans, too, often are highly skeptical of the viros' claims, while they pay homage to the alleged 'protecting the environment' meme.

Given the fairly obvious injurious actions of the viros, coupled with thousands of articles exposing their errors, blatant falsehoods for political agenda gains, etc., one has to wonder exactly what it would take to reverse the trend.

Simply exhorting them to be more rationally self-interested doesn't seem to have made much of a dent over the past 50 years since the publication of Atlas Shrugged.

Sure, they'll complain about the high price of gas and favor opening up more drilling. That's a healthy response. But how to reverse the so-far successful tsunami of continuing viro propaganda and legal gains is an enduring puzzle.

Joe said...

I think we have to continue with educating people as much as we can, but beyond that continue to "invade" academia with pro-reason professors and graduate programs. Lot of progress is being made in this regard thanks to ARI and others... it's just still very early.