WE'RE inured to long-winded, sometimes egg-headed, pronouncements from academia. These are usually of the liberal persuasion. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the closely spaced conclusions of two academics that go against the grain.
On April 16, Harvard professor Jeffrey Frankel concluded that the primary reason for a dramatic decline in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions is hydraulic fracturing. Last week, Stanford professor Daniel P. Kessler wrote in an op-ed that Obamacare's rollout “is going to be rough” and the health care law will “administer several price (and other) shocks to tens of millions of Americans.”
What are the George Soros-loving citizens to do with this information? We expect them to dismiss it or link the messengers to the Koch brothers or some such demonization. Let's instead examine the findings.
The crossing of the trend lines
Frankel, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, was a member of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers. Noting that carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 were back at the levels they were when Clinton was president, Frankel concluded that the primary reason for this is horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to recover deposits of shale gas. “No other factor comes close to providing a plausible explanation” for the emissions decline, Frankel says.
Fracking has opened vast reserves to exploration and production, causing a drop in natural gas prices and an incentive to use it to make power. Since 2007, the role of gas in generating electricity has increased by 37 percent while coal's share has dropped by 25 percent. By the way, 2007 was the year that carbon dioxide emissions peaked.
Sometime in 2010, the trend lines showing sources of primary energy production crossed. The coal line continued its decline while the gas line trended up. Meantime, the trend lines for various renewable fuels remained pretty much flat; renewables still account for less than 5 percent of the total, compared with more than 30 percent for gas.
This isn't happening in other countries, many of which (unlike the U.S.) signed the Kyoto Protocol and promised to reduce emissions. In Europe, coal's share has increased rather than fallen. The switch to a cleaner fuel here is paying off, but environmentalists aren't celebrating. They're uneasy about any fossil fuel. For them, “frack” is a four-letter word. Resistance to fracking in Europe, combined with increasing unease about clean nuclear power, is boosting the coal industry.
A David-versus-Goliath narrative
Kessler is a professor of business and law at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he warned of the pitfalls in the coming launch of Obamacare. This is actually good news for Obamacare opponents because it could impel its repeal or a substantial modification.
“In total, it appears that there will be 30 million to 40 million people damaged in some fashion by the Affordable Care Act — more than one in 10 Americans,” Kessler wrote. “When that reality becomes clearer, the law is going to start losing its friends in the media, who are inclined to support the president and his initiatives. We'll hear about innocent victims who saw their premiums skyrocket, who were barred from seeing their usual doctor, who had their hours cut or lost their insurance entirely — all thanks to the faceless bureaucracy administering a federal law.
“The allure of the David-versus-Goliath narrative is likely to prove irresistible to the media, raising the pressure on Washington to repeal or dramatically modify the law.”
Apparently, the ivy covering the walls of academia doesn't always choke out the expression of free thinking and objective analysis — even when the usual conclusions are “left” behind.