Books by Zubrin, Robert

Zubrin, Robert Energy Victory. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007. ISBN 1-59102-591-5.
This is a tremendous book—jam-packed with nerdy data of every kind. The author presents a strategy aiming for the total replacement of petroleum as a liquid fuel and chemical feedstock with an explicit goal of breaking the back of OPEC and, as he says, rendering the Middle East's near-monopoly on oil as significant on the world economic stage as its near-monopoly on camel milk.

The central policy recommendation is a U.S. mandate that all new vehicles sold in the U.S. be “flex-fuel” capable: able to run on gasoline, ethanol, or methanol in any mix whatsoever. This is a proven technology; there are more than 6 million gasoline/ethanol vehicles on the road at present, more than five times the number of gasoline/electric hybrids (p. 27), and the added cost over a gas-only vehicle is negligible. Gasoline/ethanol flex-fuel vehicles are approaching 100% of all new sales in Brazil (pp. 165–167), and that without a government mandate. Present flex vehicles are either gasoline/ethanol or gasoline/methanol, not tri-fuel, but according to Zubrin that's just a matter of tweaking the exhaust gas sensor and reprogramming the electronic fuel injection computer.

Zubrin argues that methanol capability in addition to ethanol is essential because methanol can be made from coal or natural gas, which the U.S. has in abundance, and it enables utilisation of natural gas which is presently flared due to being uneconomical to bring to market in gaseous form. This means that it isn't necessary to wait for a biomass ethanol economy to come on line. Besides, even if you do produce ethanol from, say, maize, you can still convert the cellulose “waste” into methanol economically. You can also react methanol into dimethyl ether, an excellent diesel fuel that burns cleaner than petroleum-based diesel. Coal-based methanol production produces greenhouse gases, but less than burning the coal to make electricity, then distributing it and using it in plug-in hybrids, given the efficiencies along the generation and transmission chain.

With full-flex, the driver becomes a genuine market player: you simply fill up from whatever pump has the cheapest fuel among those available wherever you happen to be: the car will run fine on any mix you end up with in the tank. People in Brazil have been doing this for the last several years, and have been profiting from their flex-fuel vehicles now that domestic ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. Brazil, in fact, reduced its net petroleum imports to zero in 2005 (from 80% in 1974), and is now a net exporter of energy (p. 168), rendering the Brazilian economy entirely immune to the direct effects of OPEC price shocks.

Zubrin also demolishes the argument that ethanol is energy neutral or a sink: recent research indicates that corn ethanol multiplies the energy input by a factor between 6 and 20. Did you know that of the two authors of an oft-cited 2005 “ethanol energy sink” paper, one (David Pimentel) is a radical Malthusian who wants to reduce the world population by a factor of three and the other (Tadeusz Patzek) comes out of the “all bidness” (pp. 126–135)?

The geopolitical implications of energy dependence and independence are illustrated with examples from both world wars and the present era, and a hopeful picture sketched in which the world transitions from looting developed countries to fill the coffers of terror masters and kleptocrats to a future where the funds for the world's liquid fuel energy needs flow instead to farmers in the developing world who create sustainable, greenhouse-neutral fuel by their own labour and intellect, rather than pumping expendable resources from underground.

Here we have an optimistic, pragmatic, and open-ended view of the human prospect. The post-petroleum era could be launched on a global scale by a single act of the U.S. Congress which would cost U.S. taxpayers nothing and have negligible drag on the domestic or world economy. The technologies required date mostly from the 19th century and are entirely mature today, and the global future advocated has already been prototyped in a large, economically and socially diverse country, with stunning success. Perhaps people in the second half of the 21st century will regard present-day prophets of “peak oil” and “global warming” as quaint as the doomsayers who foresaw the end of civilisation when firewood supplies were exhausted, just years before coal mines began to fuel the industrial revolution.

December 2007 Permalink

Zubrin, Robert. The Holy Land. Lakewood, CO: Polaris Books, 2003. ISBN 0-9741443-0-4.
Did somebody say science fiction doesn't do hard-hitting social satire any more? Here, Robert Zubrin, best known for his Mars Direct mission design (see The Case for Mars) turns his acid pen (caustic keyboard?) toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with plenty of barbs left over for the absurdities and platitudes of the War on Terrorism (or whatever). This is a novel which will have you laughing out loud while thinking beyond the bumper-sticker slogans mouthed by politicians into the media echo chamber.

February 2004 Permalink

Zubrin, Robert Merchants of Despair. New York: Encounter Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-594-03476-3.
This is one of the most important paradigm-changing books since Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism (January 2008). Zubrin seeks the common thread which unites radical environmentalism, eugenics, population control, and opposition to readily available means of controlling diseases due to hysteria engendered by overwrought prose in books written by people with no knowledge of the relevant science.

Zubrin identifies the central thread of all of these malign belief systems: anti-humanism. In 1974, the Club of Rome, in Mankind at the Turning Point, wrote, “The world has cancer and the cancer is man.” A foul synthesis of the ignorant speculations of Malthus and a misinterpretation of the work of Darwin led to a pernicious doctrine which asserted that an increasing human population would deplete a fixed pool of resources, leading to conflict and selection among a burgeoning population for those most able to secure the resources they needed to survive.

But human history since the dawn of civilisation belies this. In fact, per capita income has grown as population has increased, demonstrating that the static model is bogus. Those who want to constrain the human potential are motivated by a quest for power, not a desire to seek the best outcome for the most people. The human condition has improved over time, and at an accelerating pace since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, because of human action: the creativity of humans in devising solutions to problems and ways to meet needs often unperceived before the inventions which soon became seen as essentials were made. Further, the effects of human invention in the modern age are cumulative: any at point in history humans have access to all the discoveries of the past and, once they build upon them to create a worthwhile innovation, it is rapidly diffused around the world—in our days at close to the speed of light. The result of this is that in advanced technological societies the poor, measured by income compared to the societal mean, would have been considered wealthy not just by the standards of the pre-industrial age, but compared to those same societies in the memory of people now alive. The truly poor in today's world are those whose societies, for various reasons, are not connected to the engine of technological progress and the social restructuring it inevitably engenders.

And yet the anti-humanists have consistently argued for limiting the rate of growth of population and in many cases actually reducing the total population, applying a “precautionary principle” to investigation of new technologies and their deployment, and relinquishment of technologies deemed to be “unsustainable”. In short, what they advocate is reversing the progress since the year 1800 (and in many ways, since the Enlightenment), and returning to an imagined bucolic existence (except for, one suspects, the masters in their gated communities, attended to by the serfs as in times of old).

What Malthus and all of his followers to the present day missed is that the human population is not at all like the population of bacteria in a Petri dish or rabbits in the wild. Uniquely, humans invent things which improve their condition, create new resources by finding uses for natural materials previously regarded as “dirt”, and by doing so allow a larger population to enjoy a standard of living much better than that of previous generations. Put aside the fanatics who wish to reduce the human population by 80% or 90% (they exist, they are frighteningly influential in policy-making circles, and they are called out by name here). Suppose, for a moment, the author asks, societies in the 19th century had listened to Malthus and limited the human population to half of the historical value. Thomas Edison and Louis Pasteur did work which contributed to the well-being of their contemporaries around the globe and continue to benefit us today. In a world with half as many people, perhaps only one would have ever lived. Which would you choose?

But the influence of the anti-humans did not stop at theory. The book chronicles the sorry, often deceitful, and tragic consequences when their policies were put into action by coercive governments. The destruction wrought by “population control” measures approached, in some cases, the level of genocide. By 1975, almost one third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age had been sterilised by programs funded by the U.S. federal government, and a similar program on Indian reservations sterilised one quarter of Native American women of childbearing age, often without consent. Every purebred woman of the Kaw tribe of Oklahoma was sterilised in the 1970s: if that isn't genocide, what is?

If you look beneath the hood of radical environmentalism, you'll find anti-humanism driving much of the agenda. The introduction of DDT in the 1940s immediately began to put an end to the age-old scourge of malaria. Prior to World War II, between one and six million cases of malaria were reported in the U.S. every year. By 1952, application of DDT to the interior walls of houses (as well as other uses of the insecticide) had reduced the total number of confirmed cases of malaria that year to two. By the early 1960s, use of DDT had cut malaria rates in Asia and Latin America by 99%. By 1958, Malthusian anti-humanist Aldous Huxley decried this, arguing that “Quick death by malaria has been abolished; but life made miserable by undernourishment and over-crowding is now the rule, and slow death by outright starvation threatens ever greater numbers.”

Huxley did not have long to wait to see his desires fulfilled. After the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, a masterpiece of pseudoscientific deception and fraud, politicians around the world moved swiftly to ban DDT. In Sri Lanka, where malaria cases had been cut from a million or more per year to 17 in 1963, DDT was banned in 1964, and by 1969 malaria cases had increased to half a million a year. Today, DDT is banned or effectively banned in most countries, and the toll of unnecessary death due to malaria in Africa alone since the DDT ban is estimated as in excess of 100 million. Arguably, Rachel Carson and her followers are the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century. There is no credible scientific evidence whatsoever that DDT is harmful to humans and other mammals, birds, reptiles, or oceanic species. To the anti-humanists, the carnage wrought by the banning of this substance is a feature, not a bug.

If you thought Agenda 21 (November 2012) was over the top, this volume will acquaint you with the real-world evil wrought by anti-humanists, and their very real agenda to exterminate a large fraction of the human population and reduce the rest (except for themselves, of course, they believe) to pre-industrial serfdom. As the author concludes:

If the idea is accepted that the world's resources are fixed with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race of nation. The ultimate outcome of such a worldview can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.

This is a book which should have an impact, for the better, as great as Silent Spring had for the worse. But so deep is the infiltration of the anti-human ideologues into the cultural institutions that you'll probably never hear it mentioned except here and in similar venues which cherish individual liberty and prosperity.

April 2013 Permalink