All Commentary
Tuesday, July 1, 1980

Book Review: Power Grab: the Conserver Cult and the Coming Energy Catastrophe by James A. Weber

(Arlington House, 333 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06880) 1979 • 407 pages • $12.95 cloth

The author contends that the energy crisis confronting the United States today is not due to insurmountable scientific or technical problems, nor is it the result of dwindling energy sources. The energy crisis is in large measure attributed to a power grab by an ideological “Conserver Cult,” which serves a variety of constituents ranging from utopians envisioning a low-energy, low-technology future to those who would erect a totalitarian police state in the present. Since the United States must either grow in domestic energy use or go down the drain of history for lack of energy capabilities, the wrong energy policy would be catastrophic in its result for the American people.

The Conserver Cult is said to be fueled by the aversion of elite, upper class members of society to anything which might adversely affect their positions and comforts, including advancement of people lower than themselves on the socio-economic ladder. Having already attained a high standard of living, most of the conserver cultists see little gain for themselves if others should improve their economic standard. Those who can afford the hot tub under the trees, pastoral sequestration, and installation of solar energy provisions may find it virtuous for others to trim the fat off their hoped-for consumption; but note that the clamor for doing without energy is not heard from blacks, the poor, the elderly, or the retirees—people for whom self-denial is imposed as a steady, grinding, daily way of life.

It is, of course, one thing to select a lifestyle for oneself, quite another thing to impose a lifestyle on someone else who neither chooses nor desires it. What changes would the Conserver Cult impose on America? Mr. Weber quotes a recommendation—typical of its silliness—of a “Low Energy Scenario for the United States: 1975-2050,” which envisions the “phase out of fast food services and other ‘junk’ commerce. The popular fact that McDonald’s hamburger chain uses enough energy a year—largely for packaging—to provide electricity for the cities of Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco illustrates the American penchant for throwaway containers.” Defending the youngsters who happen to like hamburgers with all the trimmings, Weber asks, “Who would have thought that Ronald McDonald was an enemy of the people?”

Weber comes to factual grips with such issues as the Carter policy on energy, the realities of “hard” energy and “soft” energy, energy and environment, energy and safety, energy and price controls, energy and conservation, the turning off of growth in the production of domestic energy in the United States, and the motivation of the elitist elements who would summarily turn off growth in hard energy production.

Insofar as government has instituted laws, regulations and controls which have retarded energy development, it has hurt the American public by denying them needed and vital energy resources. The author examines the techniques, vision, ideology, and programs of those who would squelch energy production, and provides a convincing argument that “the price of the Conserver Cult utopia is not only the throttling of future energy production but the end of our free society.”