Report from the U.S. House of Representatives on Energy & Morality

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Submitted by The Atlas Society on Tue, 2008-08-12 23:06

Report from the U.S. House of Representatives on Energy & Morality

By Dr. Edward Hudgins

August 8, 2008 -- I spent an extraordinary day in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, sitting in seats normally reserved for members of Congress but with members sitting right in front of me. No, I was not elected to that august body.

On that day and all that week policy junkies, activists, bloggers, and tourists had the rare chance to sit in the literal seats of power. They were the often-cheering and often-on-their-feet-with-standing-ovations audience for Republican members who all day, each day addressed them the way they would address their fellow members of Congress when they were in session. But they were out of session. So why weren't they back in their districts for summer recess like their Democratic colleagues?

The Republicans had wanted a vote on a bill that would have lifted some of the federal government restrictions on offshore energy exploration. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, would have none of it. Perhaps fearing passage of the bill, she had the House adjourn without a vote. She had the CSPAN cameras and microphones turned off and the lights were dimmed. Guards were under strict instructions to allow no cameras or recording devices in the chamber. Incensed, many Republicans vowed to stay, to make an issue of the need to drill here and drill now.

The day I attended, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the great fighter against over-spending, acted as master of ceremonies as one member after another spoke their piece. Members pointed out that Congress had had time to name post offices and even debate the rights of monkeys but not time to address the pressing issue of energy. They had dozens of charts outlining America's energy situation. Most popular was a map of the United States including off-shore areas, with huge areas labeled "The No Zone" where the government bars exploration or extraction of oil, natural gas, and other resources, even as energy prices rise.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt from Kansas pointed out that restricting energy exploration in this country is a "war on the poor." After all, it is the least prosperous of our population who are harmed the most by high fuel costs that, in this case, are in part preventable if Congress would only permit greater energy exploration.

Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania observed that oil shale in the United States could contain some two trillion barrels of oil. His congressional district includes Shanksville, the community in which Flight 93 crashed after passengers overpowered the terrorist who were flying the plane to attack Washington, D.C. on 9/11. Shuster is keen to have America tap its own reserves as much as possible rather than to be dependent on the part of the world from which such terrorists come.

Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana also addressed the national security aspect of bans on drilling in America, which also makes the country more dependent on Russia and Venezuela.

And Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia observed that the Cubans are granting permission to China and Venezuela to drill in the parts of the Gulf of Mexico under their control even as American companies are barred from drilling in nearby areas.

I had the opportunity to speak to a number of the members and congressional staffers who I knew. I gave them copies of the September issue of The New Individualist, which features pieces on the battle by many environmentalists against sound science, economic prosperity, and even free speech.

And I gave them copies of my thoughts on the current discussions of energy policy (see below). The current debate over energy is one over moral fundamentals: Is human life the standard of all values? Should our survival and flourishing as individuals be our personal goal? Do we need to use our minds to create the means of meet our goals? Should the purpose of government be the protection of our rights? The current energy debate is an opportunity to offer Objectivist principles as the best guides for living life on this earth.


Energy & Environment: The Moral Battle of Our Day
Dr. Edward Hudgins, Executive Director
The Atlas Society- The Center for Objectivism

U.S. House of Representative, August 8, 2008 -- I am Dr. Edward Hudgins, executive director of The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism here in Washington, D.C. Although I've testified many times before Congressional committees, I now find myself here on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The circumstances today are very unusual. Members of the Republican Party wanted a vote on legislation that would open up government-controlled offshore areas to energy exploration. The Democratic leadership adjourned the House to block this vote. The CSPAN cameras are turned off and there is a strict ban on any video or audio recording devices here on the floor. But many Republicans have stayed in Washington and in this chamber to stage a revolt to highlight one of the crucial issues of our day.

My organization does not endorse any particular political party or piece of legislation. But I will comment on the philosophical and moral battle being fought in this country and that is manifest here in Congress.

Let's start with the moral.

The moral purpose of any individual's life should be to survive and flourish, to realize the values and joys that are open to us.

This means that we must use our minds to understand how the world works and to use the knowledge we acquire to create the physical means of our survival and flourishing as unique individuals.

This means we must transform the material world around us and unleash energy to create the things that we value. A literal as well as symbolic step in our evolution to becoming fully human was the harnessing of fire. The Greek myth of Prometheus imagined that great god bringing fire to humans. It is by using the material and energy in our environment that we create food and shelter, farms and cities, science and medicine and everything that has taken us out of the caves and made our modern world.

To achieve these goals requires that each individual have the right to utilize the material and energy in our world, which means to own and control private property.

And these goals and requirements in turn define the purpose of governments. No one defined this purpose in words better than Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence at this country's founding: we are endowed "with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed."

In past decades, many public intellectuals argued that the world was running out of resources, that the government, rather than protecting our individual liberty and property rights, should restrict our freedom as a means to conserve scarce resources for the good of future generations. But both the moral and factual premises of this argument are wrong.

To begin with, we each as individuals live here and now, and it would be ludicrous for each of us to sacrifice our own values and dreams today for a future we will never live in. After all, this view would require individuals in future generations in turn to forgo using the bounty we leave for them for yet other future generations.

But the assumption of limited recourses is factually wrong. The great Julian Simon explained why in the title and content of his book, The Ultimate Resource, which referred to humans. We are the creators of the material means of our survival.

Ayn Rand explained that in fact there is no such thing as a "natural resource." There are only the materials in the world that we humans with our minds discover how to put to our use. After all, a farmer 150 years ago would curse his luck if his property were seeping oil; how can one grow crops in such soil? Oil only became a resource when human minds figured out how to use it for fuel.

Today the moral and political foundations of humanity's future are directly threatened. Many environmentalists now argue not for conservation for the sake of future humans or even for clear air or water to benefit us here and now.

Rather, they turn the very concept of "value" on its head. No longer do they speak of things being of value to humans. They implicitly and, often, explicitly assume that the material world is in some way of intrinsic value, and that we humans should make ourselves subservient to the environment rather than using it for our purposes.

This immorality is seen clearly in the ban on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. That refuge is as large or much larger than ten of our states. South Carolina would just about fit into it. The proposed drilling facilities would be about the size of an airport. If you were deposited in this region without a map it would take you days or weeks to even find the facility. So why ban drilling in this area? This ban literally puts the good of frozen mud and mosquitoes ahead of the good of humans.

This is a view of value that would have humans feel guilty for the very act of living since our existence "interferes" with the so-called natural world. Our very act of breathing out carbon dioxide is seen as a threat to the environment. This view of value in fact negates the very concept of "value" since its logical consequence is the elimination of the valuers and creators, that is, we human beings.

Government bans and this immoral philosophy would not be such an important issue but for the fact that the federal government, rather than protecting private property and the rights of owners to do with it as they see fit, whether drilling for oil or keeping their property as a private nature preserve, owns or controls much of the property in this country. Government, rather than acting as the protector of our rights so we can create the means of our survival and flourishing, ties our hands and leaves us to suffer and die.

The battle over resource use is a larger battle over what moral philosophy humans should live by and, by extension, what form of government we should live under. And the key word here is "live" for this is a literal choice between a philosophy of life or death.

Only the living, not the dead, have values. We must fight this battle on moral grounds and the only ground for morality is individual human life.

The Atlas Society : Your Center for Objectivism

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