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Roger Cohen fires back

Dear Editors,

There have been a number of published reactions to my energy lectures of January 25 and 28, and I would like to make some general observations about their nature.

With the exception of Mr. Baumann’s dispute that energy consumption leads to economic growth (Letters, The Durango Herald, February 4, 2007), no technical information I presented has been challenged. Despite letter-writers’ refusal to acknowledge the implications of the data, the presented information strongly supports the following conclusions: CO2-induced global warming will be much smaller than advertised and far short of “catastrophic;” forcing a quick switch to emissionless energy would lead to huge negative consequences for world wealth, health, and political stability; centuries-long trends imply a transition to nearly emissionless energy by 2100, while stabilizing atmospheric CO2; new, lower cost market-driven energy technologies are needed to get us there; low-density energy technologies such as solar photovoltaics, wind, and biomass fuels face the challenge of competing with other uses for a vast amount of land; and ample hydrocarbon supplies exist to see us through.

Mr. Baumann states correctly that, according to simple statistics, the correlation between energy consumption and economic growth does not by itself prove that energy causes growth. However, his jump from that realization to an attempt to generally cast doubt on information I presented is a bit hasty. In advanced statistics, adding and controlling other relevant variables plus time series data analysis are used to establish cause and effect. Such techniques were employed in the study I described in the lecture. The result is that increased energy consumption leads to increased wealth, health, and peace in countries, not the reverse. To avoid the fallacy worrying Mr. Baumann – that progressing to higher mileage vehicles would seem to imply reduced economic growth – I carefully stressed in Lecture 2 how efficient conservation promotes growth, while reduced demand for energy-enabled goods retards it. There is no doubt that energy drives economic growth. To ignore the evidence and argue the opposite because we observe affluent people buying SUVs is an example of the4 provincialism I described earlier in these pages (TheDurango Telegraph, Jan. 18, 2007).

Unfortunately, a few letter-writers werecompletelyundeterred by fact. They ignored or distorted the4 information I presented in order to restate and then attack their standard and tired strawmen; fabricated bizarre “quotes” and attributed them to me, none resembling anything actually said by me; and served up a porridge of pseudoscience, raw assertion, and ideology as substitutes for fact. In Lecture 1, I mentioned social psychology’s finding that people can often hold beliefs so firmly that contradictory information is simply rejected out-of-hand, or even assimilated as supporting their paradigm. As Churchill noted, “Most people stumble over the truth, now and then, but they usually manage to pick themselves up and go on anyway.” Reasoned people will recognize this behavior as inhibiting rational debate.

Despite these anomalies, the lectures have stimulated healthy discussion and debate on energy, outcomes I had hoped for and find personally rewarding. I wish to thankThe Telegraph for providing a forum for me, as well as for those who disagree, to express our respective views.

– Roger W. Cohen, via e-mail

Pleasantly surprised in N.M.

Dear Editors: I recently had the great pleasure of holding a motivational/goal-setting workshop at the Casa Blanca Inn in Farmington. At first, I was going to book one of the other hotels when I remembered that Dave and Shirley Alford, owners of the exquisite Blue Lake Ranch in Durango, now also have this B & B in Farmington where I performed a wedding last summer, and so I decided to book there instead.

What a great decision! Not only is the Casa Blanca Inn tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, but Dave and Shirley have once again worked their amazing magic to create a uniquely warm yet elegant environment for their guests. A rambling, old adobe, drenched in Southwest history, minutes from downtown and City Hall, with views of town, mesas and golden sunrises, old world courtyards, romantic fountains, profuse gardens (in season), it’s easy to feel that you are visiting a sprawling Mexican hacienda in the foothills of Guadalajara. As usual, the Alfords’ eye for detail and decorating expertise doesn’t miss a beat as I continually was surprised by yet another aesthetic delight for my eyes and heart in every room. I was so happy that I decided to also spend the night before the workshop. What a great sleep and fabulous breakfast!

But perhaps even more important than the beauty and charm of the Inn, is the Alfords’ and their staff’s professionalism and generous, gracious hospitality. The Inn truly provided me with the exact intimate environment for my workshop. All the participants raved about it. And perhaps, most surprising of all, was that it made me feel something I never considered before as a Durangoan (and literally, a world traveler) – it can actually be magical and wonderful to vacation (and work) in Farmington!

– Warm regards, Susan Urban, Durango

Time to level the playing field

Dear Editors,

In what constitutes a new low in political double speak, Governor Ritter last week vetoed a labor bill, HB 1072, that would have eliminated state interference in the right of workers to organize. He vetoed the bill he had long supported because it was rushed through the Legislature, he said, without considering the feelings of the opposition. Then, in one of those head-scratching, Yogi Bera moments, he added that the opposition had practiced ugly tactics. Feel edified?

The bill was simple and should have received wide endorsement, for it saved taxpayers money by getting the state out of running union elections. We do not insist on establishing binding rules for running corporate board meetings. Neither do we insist that corporate boards achieve a super majority before they can adopt policy. But that is exactly what labor faces. To organize, a work place must have three votes, one to invite a union into the workplace for discussions, a second simple majority vote to become a union shop, and a third “gotcha” vote requiring a 75 percent super majority before it can really happen. Then the union still has to bargain with management over wages and benefits. The bill would have eliminated the super majority, triple-jeopardy vote, which is paid for with state taxes.

I voted for Ritter, for he impressed me in one limited conversation on resource issues as sincere and decent. But this veto troubles me.

He sure needs to remind himself that since the Bush crowd has been in office, 5.4 million middle-class Americans have slipped into poverty. Indeed, working families have not seen an increase in real buying power since 1999. All the while, bonuses on Wall Street have reached the $60 million threshold, while CEOs are receiving golden parachutes up to $400 million (Exxon), thanks in great measure to Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, the 1 percent who control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Governor, you need to respect the bottom 90 percent by helping level the playing field. And HB 1072 is the best of all possible worlds; it is budget friendly. I look forward to a favorable vote when a new labor-rights bill hits your desk this session. The top one percent can afford to bargain in good faith with those who have helped create and sustain their wealth.

Oh, and Governor, if you really want to help the folk out, veto the bill working its way through the Legislature that sets aside $19 million annually in a gift to the tourism industry. It will be an off-budget, recurring gift out of the Severance Tax. We voted this giveaway down by a huge majority a couple of years ago when it was a ballot initiative. It is the darling of the top 1 percent, the same bunch who cried wolf over worker rights.

– Phil Doe, chairman, Citizens Progressive Alliance