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Book Review of: A Declaration of Energy Independence

How Freedom From Foreign Oil Can Improve
National Security, Our Economy, and the Environment

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Review of A Declaration of Energy Independence, by ABC (Hardcover, 2008)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Have you ever wondered why 80% of the cars in Europe have standard transmissions while 80% in the USA have automatics? While that question does not appear in this book, the answer does.

Jay Hakes is, by training and experience, a researcher and data cruncher. Given Hakes' background, I was surprised to find the text was so readable. I had expected wordy prose in passive voice, but it's not that at all. He presented a huge amount of information in the fairly tight space of 230 pages, and yet kept the narrative flowing.

Hakes uses his special qualifications to build the foundation for recommendations that are right on target. He also uses these qualifications to build the (strong) case for following those recommendations. While many people are in denial that there's an energy problem, the reality is we do have one. We also have a closely related pollution problem, largely from the same causes.

This book has one glaring flaw that I will discuss in detail at the end of this review. I don't want to start off discussing it because this book is, on the whole, an excellent work that provides a dose of reality and reason that is badly needed among our misrepresentatives in Congress as they go about their usual job of making poor public policy.

One of Hakes' core philosophies is that there is no silver bullet that will solve our energy problem. It's a complex problem with a myriad of causes. It requires a myriad of solutions.

One of those solutions is waste reduction. We can slash energy demand by simply being less wasteful. This doesn't mean extremist measures such as turning thermostats down to 55 DegrF in the winter, as recommended by Jimmy Carter. Other, more reasonable measures can cut energy demands significantly. Hakes provides an excellent overview of such measures. I won't list them here.

Millions of individuals and businesses are already implementing these (and other) measures to varying extents. There are economic and other pressures to make this happen. But even with waste reduction measures being increasingly adopted on a voluntary basis, there is plenty of room for improvement in this area--without becoming severe about it.

Hakes doesn't harp on conservation (buzzword today is "efficiency") as "the solution." Nor does he present some complex, integrated program or claim that only government or only the market can do the job. Instead, he presents several solutions that draw on government and the private sector, acting in their proper roles. Hakes is not a self-proclaimed expert with a personal agenda to push. Instead, he's produced a timely work of research that is, with the exceptions noted here, authoritative and well-substantiated.

So, what's actually in this book? It consists of three parts and fifteen chapters.

Part One consists of seven chapters, and it explains why our lack of energy independence is a problem. The first chapter explains how we got to the not very good position we find ourselves in now. Chapter Two shows how we won our energy independence in the late 1970s. Chapter 3 explains how we lost it again. I appreciate this particular sequence of chapters, as it builds the proper foundation for what follows.

Chapter 4 discusses the huge cost we pay militarily. What Hakes didn't point out is the USA spends more on its military than the next nine nations combined. Which explains quite a bit about why we are now the poorest nation in history, saddled with a debt approaching $10 trillion.

Chapter 5 doesn't belong in the book. I provide a detailed excoriation of it at the end of this review.

Chapter 6 explains, correctly, why "market solutions" alone cannot solve our energy problems. Chapter 7 explains why liberals and conservatives can come together on it. That's the horizontal plane of the political arena. The vertical plane, which Hakes doesn't mention, consists of the statists and the libertarians (not referring to the Libertarian Party). Hakes correctly explains the proper role of government in helping to solve the energy dependence problem.

Part Two consists of another seven chapters, each of which describes a path to energy independence. I won't list the actual recommendations, because doing so is a bit like revealing the plot of a movie before the other person has seen it. I will say the prevailing technical literature supports the economics and feasibility of his recommendations (some tweaking may be required).

Part Three consists of Chapter 15. Here, Hakes discusses what he feels we need from public policy makers and from voters. But he errs in advising people to make energy an election issue. If you look at the history of elections in the USA, you will see we really have a single-party system. No matter which arm of the Demopublican Party gets "elected," we still end up with massive over-regulation, egregious overspending, and wars. So, you don't have the power of choice at the ballot (at least, not on the federal level where the big money is in play). Your only power there is the power of objection, and to exercise that power you cannot vote Republican or Democrat.

To get our misrepresentatives in Congress involved in good public policy related to energy (or anything else), you have reach their actual employers: the special interest groups that hire the lobbyists. You may not personally be able to afford a $10,000 seat at a fund-raising dinner that gives you an audience with your misrepresentatives, but as a consumer you can lobby those who pay the lobbyists. You can vote with your dollars, for example, in buying a fuel-efficient car instead of an SUV and then send a letter (explaining your choice) to Public Relations at the auto companies you didn't buy from. That's just one example of the power you can wield to effect change.

Unfortunately, Hakes doesn't take this reality into account when he talks about public policy. That doesn't change the technical accuracy of his research or his recommendations. If he could wave a magic wand and make his recommendations simply happen, I'd be all for it.

Hakes and Global Warming

While most of the book reflects thorough research and reasoned analysis, Hakes does have the religion of "global warming." When he's writing in the throes of religious fervor, all reason leaves him--and I mean that literally. While the rest of the book carefully builds arguments and backs statements with facts, "global warming" is presented as a self-evident truth that only infidels do not accept.

Hakes devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 5) to this particular theology and yet the few facts supporting it are cherry-picked and he spews a few discredited statements such as those about "consensus of scientists." Rather than excising the material (which is unnecessary to the main points of the book), he defends this "faith-based" viewpoint by asserting such things as we don't really need the data and people pick on Al Gore instead of listening to his message (which, based on Al's behavior, is "waste as much as you can").

A huge danger in spreading this particular religion is it sets the stage for the carbon tax scheme, which will divert smart minds away from focusing on the problems of efficiency to focusing on how to game the new tax scheme. This diversion of rare resources is one of the big problems we have right now with that mess we call the Federal Income Tax (the tax code consists of 64,000 pages of absurdity). Anyone wishing to exacerbate our existing problems will find this new scheme very helpful.

Here are some facts not mentioned by Hakes:

  • Remember the August 2006 heat wave that killed so many people in Europe and the USA? We saw that heat wave coming, and not because of carbon dioxide levels. We knew it was coming because we could see a solar flare that was 50 earth diameters in size (the sun rotates, so we see some anomalies before we are in their path). That's an enormous amount of energy. Anything man can do is insignificant compared to that.

    The sun so dwarfs the earth that if you were to use a basketball to represent the sun, you would not be able to see the earth with the unaided eye (unless you can see something only 1 millionth the size of that ball). A little variation of the sun causes a lot of variation here (and on Mars). Energy from the sun reaches us in only 8 seconds.
  • Mars has shown warming signs similar to our own (yes, we do have warming--but also cooling). Read about Mars warming, and you will see this. What do Mars and Earth have in common? Hint: it's not SUVs.
  • We have had record cold at both of our poles in recent years. Just this year, the military had to cancel a training exercise due to record low temperatures. Last year, icebreakers opened an Antarctic migratory channel (the size of Texas, if I recall) that had inexplicably frozen over--biologists said failure to do so would have caused massive kill-offs of Antarctic life. Why doesn't Hakes mention such things in his proselytizing and explain them away? It appears we have more weather cycling between extremes, rather than global warming or, as some assert, an impending ice age. Since contradictory data can support either claim, maybe another theory makes more sense?
  • I read that 80% of the record high temperatures over the past two centuries occurred before 1950, but couldn't trace that back to an authoritative source. What's a fact is that 1,000 years before the invention of the SUV Greenland was actually green and didn't have ice--much warmer than today. The remains of the grass huts are still there. And a mile under today's glacier are the remains of a lush forest.
  • Carbon in the air does not explain why we are seeing volcanic activity under the ice at both poles or why the poles themselves are moving (you can find the pole movement history online).
  • Using core samples, we have found past eras with markedly lower carbon and markedly higher temperatures. What's the correlation between carbon and temperature?

Hakes refers reverently to the infamous Rio conference on environmental issues, with no mention of the enormous piles of waste that conference generated or the fact that Al Gore chose a chartered jet instead of saving fuel and flying commercial like everyone else. Gore's motivation has nothing to do with "saving the planet" and everything to do with sating the outsized ego of Al Gore (and, of course, adding even more millions of dollars to his millions of dollars of net worth).

Hakes tries to nullify any objection to Al Gore by remarking that people like to hate Al Gore and so don't listen to him. No, we hate Al Gore precisely because we have listened to him and are downright sick of his blatant and voluminous lies. In 2006, Gore inflicted the world with a fraudumentary that should have been named, "It's Inconvenient for Me to Tell the Truth." Various analysts have produced rebuttals identifying 40+ errors of fact or outright falsehoods. That's hardly a work of nonfiction.

From a June, 2008 issue of The Week: "Al Gore's energy consumption at his spacious Tennessee home rose 10 percent in 2007, despite the installation of solar panels and more efficient light bulbs. Gore still consumes 50% more electricity every month than the average American does in a year."

Looks like Al doesn't believe his own spiel. Who should know better than Al himself that he's peddling absolute nonsense? He's telling us this in no uncertain terms, which is rather sporting of him. Hakes should forget about global warming, and we should all forget about Al Gore. We do not need these "ignore the data" theories or "make Al Gore rich" programs to drive home the point that we need to be better stewards of our resources.

I say this as a person who, unlike Al Gore, has a negative carbon foot print (yep, I absorb more carbon than I release). I've been on the "save energy" bandwagon since I was a little kid. That's because my parents realized money doesn't grow on trees. They were taught Depression era economics as kids, and they passed that thinking on to their kids. Waste not, want not. I have so structured my energy-conscious life that I buy gasoline only once every six weeks despite living in a Midwestern suburb with no mass transit.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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