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Energy expert Mark Mills talks...

Energy expert Mark Mills talks monomaniacal pursuit of alternatives to oil

By: Frank Corder - November 30, 2023

Author and senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute Mark Mills says he and coauthor Peter Huber didn’t anticipate the “magnitude of mania for maniacal spending to avoid burning hydrocarbons” when they wrote their 2005 book.

Earlier this month, Mark Mills, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, sat down for an interview with Ashby Foote with Bigger Pie Forum on the Future of Energy.

Mills and Foote discuss the realities of electric vehicles, the impact of green energy on the mining industry, and the energy costs of AI and computing, among other topics.

Mills, who served in the White House Science Office under President Ronald Reagan, began by talking about the dramatic rise in oil prices in the 1970s and the easing that followed in the 1980s but not to the level they were before. Mills said the “expensive oil world” caused some to believe the nation was running out of oil.

“We weren’t running out of oil. We were running out of friends, in effect,” Mills said. “If you are simplifying the policies of the United States and the world, we began 50 years ago with hundreds of billions of dollars in spending at the federal level, that much again at the state level, to avoid using oil, to look for alternatives to oil. And what the private market did was produce more oil.”

Now, Mills said, the U.S. is in a different stage, when some think the nation is burning too much oil, monomaniacally pursuing alternatives to oil.

“So, the two eras are linked by the same thing – the hope and belief in the spending of massive amounts of federal taxpayers’ dollars on alternatives to oil and gas and coal, but oil is sort of the pinata of the environmental movement,” Mills explained. “They hate big oil, they hate oil, they hate everything about oil, and yet if you look at the stretch of modern history or all of human history, the single most remarkable thing that’s happened to humanity is we’ve not only improved the ability for people to live and function for civilization to operate with cheap energy, we’ve done it for so many more people that it’s literally unprecedented in the affairs of history. It’s on the backs of hydrocarbon machines burning oil, gas and coal.”

Mills said those facts and benefits have not changed, but what has arisen is the new mantra that society should not be burning oil or coal.

“We’re now being told that the new stuff is cheaper and better. Electric cars are cheaper and better. Solar panels and wind turbines are cheaper and better. And so, let’s just accelerate this inevitable revolution to cheaper, better magic,” Mills said.

Mills coauthored The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy with Peter Huber in 2005. In their book, the two wrote a chapter on climate change and global warming. But as Mills tells it, neither of them anticipated the “magnitude of mania for maniacal spending to avoid burning hydrocarbons.”

“We probably naively thought the train would run out of steam before we got to a level of insanity, and now I think we’re at a spending level that’s borderline insane,” Mills said.

Listen to the full conversation with Mills on the Bigger Pie Forum video podcast below.

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: