Everything is Local for Somebody

March 11, 2009 in Blog

An ironic story in Crosscut talks about the number of "buy local" organizations popping up across the country. The purpose of these organizations is to make sure that none of the members of our buy local effort buy from any of the other buy local efforts. They're not local.

Such buy local efforts are silly for a number of reasons.

First, I don't like the us-vs-them attitude inherent in buy local efforts. I may root for the Huskies over the Cougars, but I'll buy Cougar Gold cheese because I like it and I tend to believe that my personal superiority over Cougars is limited to my choice of schools. Otherwise, I see no reason that I should choose someone from Seattle over someone from San Francisco, Lubbock or anywhere else. Any campaign to "support our own" is fraught with the definition of who is like us. That hasn't always been a positive impulse in history. This is more about excluding other communities than building your own.

Second, buying local doesn't mean it uses fewer resources or is good for the environment. Milk produced in King County may use more energy than milk produced in Yakima. More fuel is used shipping feed from Eastern Washington to King County cows than is used shipping milk from Yakima to King County consumers. Numerous studies demonstrate that distance between the producer and consumer doesn't always reflect the use of resources. In many cases, longer distances are also more "sustainable."

Third, for many buy local advocates, "buy local" means little more than "buy from me, not my competitors." One builder quoted in the article is excited about "buy local" because he is "working on how to approach weatherization, retrofitting and other items in Obama's package." In other words, he's excited about government programs that favor him. I am shocked.

Another "buy local" advocate in the story is a local book seller. His commitment to "buy local" appears to be based solely on his desire that people buy from him rather than Amazon or Barnes & Noble. On the book store's web page, the book seller lists his five favorite books. None of them is by a local author and certainly none of them are printed locally. He wants you to buy books that have been written and printed elsewhere and shipped to him rather than buying books that have been written and printed elsewhere and shipped directly to your home or to a major bookseller.

Some argue that local food tastes better. Others argue that local booksellers or hardware stores offer better service. Fine. In those cases, however, people aren't buying the "localness," they are buying taste or service. If those things are true, there shouldn't be a reason to start a "buy local" campaign. Too often, "buy local" is a misleading surrogate for other values. Worse, activists then look to government to mandate "buy local" rules, provide subsidies and other taxpayer-funded preferences that force consumers to adhere to the values of a few.

In the end, people should be free to buy what they want, whether their priority is taste, service or price, whether they get those attributes from a product made locally or elsewhere.

Shucking and Jiving: A Video Representation

March 9, 2009 in Blog

Bjorn Lomborg, last year's keynote speaker at the WPC environmental conference, has been trying to get Al Gore to debate the pros and cons of climate policy for years. Lomborg finally got a chance to ask a question of the former Vice-President at the Eco:Nomics conference in Monterrey.

Two things of note.

First, Gore refuses to answer the question of whether addressing climate change does more to improve human wellbeing than other policies, such as fighting malaria. He cites "scientists," but never mentions economists or any analysis of where limited resources are best spent. Which is better -- cap-and-trade or a stable carbon price? Should we spend money on stopping AIDS or expanding public transit? These are not scientific questions. They are questions of economics and values.

Second, he continues to ignore, and distort, the climate science while claiming to listen to scientists. At the end of the video, Gore says that for each 1 meter of increase in sea level there will be 100 million "climate refugees." This is wrong on two counts.

First, the UN agency on climate change, the IPCC, projects just over 1 foot of sea level rise during the next century. One meter is more than double the projection. So, Gore chooses an extreme example but passes it off as reasonable.

Second, this assumes that people would not move or adjust to the rise in sea level. As Lomborg mentioned in his speech last year, sea levels rose about a foot during the last century and we didn't notice it. It seems absurd to think that an addition 12-16 inches over 100 years would cause chaos.

Here is Gore ducking those key issues:

Obama Budget Director v. Washington Department of Ecology

February 20, 2009 in Blog

Washington State Ecology Director Jay Manning today told KUOW that cap-and-trade is "the most flexible and efficient way to reduce [carbon] emissions." He is pushing the legislature to adopt such a system in Washington.

I disagree that cap-and-trade is the most efficient way to reduce emissions. And I have friends in high places.

President Obama's Budget Director Peter Orzag has argued repeatedly that a stable carbon price, a tax on carbon-emitting energy, is more flexible and efficient (not to mention transparent) than cap-and-trade. Here's what he said in November of 2007 when he ran the Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office:

From that perspective, a tax has an important advantage: It allows more emission reductions to take place in years when they are relatively cheap. Various factors can affect the cost of emission reductions from year to year, including the weather, the level of economic activity, and the availability of new low-carbon technologies (such as improvements in wind-power technology). By shifting emission reduction efforts into years when they are relatively less expensive, a tax can yield a given quantity of emission reductions at a lower cost than can a cap-and-trade program with specified annual emission levels. In addition, by avoiding the potential volatility of allowance prices that might result from a rigid annual cap, a tax could be less disruptive for affected companies. Provided that the tax was set at a level that reflected the expected benefit of reducing an additional ton of CO2 emissions, the tax would provide a motivation for firms and households to reduce emissio!
ns up to the point at which the cost of doing so was equal to the resulting expected benefits.

The simple truth is that the economic impact isn't the primary concern of Manning and others who support cap-and-trade. They care primarily about the cap because they believe it guarantees a reduction in carbon emissions. This guarantee has proven to be false in Europe.

Manning and others should simply say they prefer the security of a cap, even if it is ephemeral, to the uncertainty of a system without a hard mandate. The problem is that in these economic times a glib approach to the costs of the system is no longer credible. That doesn't justify, however, mischaracterizing the facts about the economic impacts of cap-and-trade.

More Stimulating This Year than Last

February 13, 2009 in Blog

One year ago, in response to President Bush's stimulus proposal, I asked the question, "Is Government Spending Good for the Economy?" I expressed skepticism, saying:

...stimulus checks without spending reductions and government spending are similar. Both take money from people in the form of taxes and then put it back into the economy in the form of rebates or government spending. Rebates are better because they go where the economy needs it most (i.e. where demand is high) whereas government spending goes where politicians decide.

At the time, the Seattle Times agreed, saying in an editorial:

In fact, the economy is not a mechanism operated by the president. It is all of us, earning, spending, saving and investing. ... These problems are not going to be fixed with $500 checks. They will be fixed by people cutting their losses, replenishing their savings, adjusting their attitudes about risk and making better decisions.

They seem to have had a change of heart, however. Here's what they said today about President Obama's stimulus package, the economy and by whom it is operated:

A welcome jolt for Washington jobs.
The economic-stimulus package up for a final vote in Congress will infuse the Washington economy with money for jobs, infrastructure improvements and funds for a variety of assistance programs. A welcome jolt of help as the contours of an economic crisis are revealed. ... Beyond the infrastructure improvements themselves, infusions of jobs-producing money translates into mortgage and rent payments and all the usual consumer purchases that fuel families and communities.

Our opinion hasn't changed. Why the Seattle Times changed their mind is open to speculation.

Lincoln's Humble Approach

February 12, 2009 in Blog

Lincoln In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, I listened to an interview with Michael Beschloss who said that Lincoln was a "man of self-doubt." This approach is echoed in other notes written by the President during his time in the White House, one in which he noted that,

In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.

He did not always know whether his approach was correct and constantly questioned himself and sought the advice of others, hence the "Team of Rivals" he gathered around him.

Too often, the debates we have about policy focus on what policy will work best assuming that the perfect solution is merely a question of craftsmanship. We need to remember, however, that just as the knowledge and judgment of that great man was imperfect, our ability to craft perfect political solutions is limited, to say the least.

It is a reason that I have so many doubts about cap-and-trade, a policy that one environmental activist said would involve "remaking the economy of the nation, the whole globe." It is a quote I have used often to highlight the leap of faith required in adopting such massive, all-encompassing approaches.

A more humble approach puts people in charge of these issues, recognizing that only they can know how best to improve energy efficiency and find the best ways to reduce the environmental impact they cause. That's why these approaches are not only more moral by giving individuals control over the key decisions in their life but are consistently more effective than government approaches based on an arrogant, and inaccurate, belief in the expansiveness of their knowledge.

Jay Manning Gets It Wrong...Again...and Again

February 12, 2009 in Blog

Ecology Director Jay Manning is playing extremely fast and loose with the facts in his tour of legislative committees talking about climate change.

Last week he claimed that Europe was on target to meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets by 2012. This requires a great leap of faith. On Sunday, we highlighted the recent data from Europe showing that they are far from reaching the CO2 reductions.

Now there are two more claims which are either ignorant or intentionally misleading.

"We haven't seen any, that I know of, abuses of the market in Europe... We haven't seen any abuse that I am aware of." - Jay Manning before the Transportation Committee, February 9, 2009

This is a remarkable claim. There have been tremendous, well-publicized problems with the cap-and-trade system in Europe with regard to organizations gaming the system. For instance, free credits (i.e. permits to emit CO2 that can be sold) were allocated politically, leaving organizations who lobbied effectively, with extra carbon allocations to sell and a windfall, as we've highlighted before. The director of Germany's carbon trading authority commented last month that "It was lobbying by industry, including the electricity companies, that was to blame for all these exceptional rules," which "enabled companies to get allowances that did not reflect the real situation of their emissions."

In addition to the political gaming that has occurred, others have exploited the rules to sell carbon offsets that produced no real reductions. The US General Accounting Office released a report last November highlighting the many games being played with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which certifies projects designed to reduce CO2 emissions. The key question is whether the reductions are "additional" or whether the reductions would have occurred anyway. The GAO notes that

"significant challenges to ensuring credit quality exist. Many experts and stakeholders have suggested that a substantial number of nonadditional projects have received credits through the CDM, a conclusion supported by several studies."

In other words, there are a "substantial" number of projects that receive funding that do not deserve it. Isn't that the textbook definition of an "abuse?"

"It is a scientific fact that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at this point is about 360 parts per million. Pre-industrial revolution, which is easy to measure from tree cores and ice cores, it was between, for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, between 190 and 200. Incredibly stable." - Jay Manning before the Transportation Committee, February 9, 2009

Wrong. The chart below shows CO2 levels from ice cores going back 600,000 years. I've adapted this chart from a chart used by Al Gore found at a web page that promotes science arguing that climate change is real and significant. The chart starts with year 0, which is up to recent years and the time runs backwards 600,000 years as you move right.

CO2-Historical-Trends  Note that CO2 is not "incredibly stable." It has ranged from a low of about 180 parts per million (ppm) to about 300 ppm, a change of 67 percent. Mr. Manning's claim is simply false and is intended to make us believe that the only reason CO2 increases is due to human causes. He wants to discount any indication that CO2 fluctuates naturally, which it clearly does.

One thing Director Manning is right about is that CO2 has risen in the past several decades beyond what we've seen in the last several hundred thousand years. The chart does not show it, but we are at 360 ppm and increasing. I argued just two days ago in Olympia that I believed that taking carbon out of the ground (i.e. coal and oil) and burning them has undoubtedly contributed to this increase. Furthermore, I believe there is risk from increasing CO2. We are offering solutions to address that risk -- solutions that are more likely to actually reduce CO2 and improve energy efficiency than the system Manning supports.

One may argue that my argument here is a nit-pick. He is right that CO2 is increasing due to human causes. He said, however, that all of the change was due to humans. That is not correct. One may argue that this isn't an important distinction. Well, if it isn't important, don't bring it up. If you bring it up, get it right. Mr. Manning didn't.

There are judgment calls in any policy, especially a policy as expansive and complex as dealing with climate change. The errors Director Manning is making, however, are not judgment calls. They are errors of ignorance or are intended to mislead. These errors make it less likely that good policy will emerge on an issue that is likely to have a major impact on our environment and economy.

...but does it work?

February 8, 2009 in Blog

This week, the Senate will again hear testimony on the state's proposed cap-and-trade legislation, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the first round of hearings, there was a great deal made about the potential economic costs and benefits of cap-and-trade. Setting those aside for the moment, there was an assumption that,whatever the cost, cap-and-trade will work to reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, the evidence shows that it is unlikely to do so.

Ecology Director Jay Manning testified twice before the Legislature this year that Europe was likely to meet its CO2 reduction targets using the cap-and-trade system under the Kyoto Protocol. A quick look at the data from Europe shows this is not true. The most recent data, found on the EU Environment Agency’s web page, show that the emissions reductions they have achieved under cap-and-trade are almost nonexistent.

First, while the Kyoto Protocol measures emissions against 1990, the agreement was signed in 1997 and has been in effect since then. Emissions reductions prior to 1997 are due to other factors including the collapse of the communist bloc and the economies of E. Europe in the early 90s and the UK’s switch from coal to natural gas in the early 90s. Thus, cap-and-trade is only responsible for emissions reductions since 1997. From 1998 to 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available), emissions of greenhouse gases have declined only 0.42%. Nearly 90 percent of CO2 emissions in Europe occurred before Kyoto was signed. The note below, which highlights this point, is taken from the EU report.


Second, for Europe to meet the goals it would require a sudden reduction of 5 percent in CO2 emissions during the final five years of the protocol (i.e. from 2007 to 2012). As you can see in the chart below, following existing measures, Europe will fail to meet the targets. Adding “additional” measures gets them close but still fails. Only when Europe aggressively pursues carbon offsets from China and elsewhere do they meet the target. Ironically, the EU recently tightened the rules on offsets, meaning that such offsets are likely to decrease, not increase.


Additionally, as is evident, the 5-year average of emissions, represented by the black line, would leave Europe with emissions only slightly below 1990 levels, missing even the projections for the existing measures. Only a sudden downturn not evident at any time up to this point would leave Europe in compliance. The argument that EU is on track to meet their goals is wishful thinking at best. There is no reason to believe that the WCI cap-and-trade system would be any different.

Finally, as a result of the failure of Kyoto in Europe, countries are facing a large penalty,on the order of $46 billion. This cost will be paid by the economies and taxpayers of Europe.

Put simply, cap-and-trade has not lived up to its promise and alternatives are needed. Whatever you believe about the economic merits or disadvantages of cap-and-trade, if it doesn't work, why would we adopt it?

Who Needs Science? We Have a Bandwagon!

February 5, 2009 in Blog

"Within a span of 13 months, we had two 100-year floods,” [Gov. Gregoire] said, evidence of climate change.
- Gov. Gregoire, quoted in TVW Capitol Record, January 29, 2009

"President Obama may be in the White House, but we're not out of the woods yet!  The wheels are falling off the old economy, I-5 has been closed by floodwaters 2 years in a row... Governor Gregoire has just introduced a bill to cap and reduce global warming pollution and put Washington at the forefront of building a new energy economy."
- Kerri Cechovic, Environmental Priorities Coalition, e-mail to supporters on the need for a cap-and-trade bill to address climate change, February 2, 2009

"How many times have you heard that severe windstorms and heavy rains will increase in the Northwest under global climate change? The truth is, there is no strong evidence for these claims and the whole matter is being actively researched. Some portions of the Northwest have had more rain and wind during the past decades, some less. And initial simulations of future Northwest climate do not suggest heavier rain events."
- University of Washington atmospheric scientist Clifford Mass, Seattle Times editorial, January 13, 2009

A Crisis Like This Demands Flip Answers

February 2, 2009 in Blog

Last Friday, the House Ecology and Parks committee heard testimony on HB 1718, which is 159 pages of ways we can reduce greenhouse gases, including growth management, restrictions on transportation, green buildings and other new regulations and fees.

We outlined a number of concerns about the bill, specifically that the green buildings elements of the bill are likely to be ineffective and that energy efficiency improvements are best made by families and businesses rather than mandated from above.

On the other hand, Miguel Perez-Gibson from Climate Solutions testified in favor of the bill. I can only describe his comments as non-serious. He talked about the evidence of climate change and the need for action. And what did he cite? Our recent record snowpack? Snow in Dubai or London? Recent downward trends in worldwide temperatures? Nope.

He said that evidence could be found in the Sierra Nevadas where rainfall was one-third normal this year. This is not a credible comment from anyone who claims to be serious about the issue of climate change. In any given year we can cite parts of the planet which are unusually warm or unusually cold. There are always places where rainfall is above normal and those where drought is present. Cherry picking data is the tactic of those who will grasp at any piece of evidence, no matter how unscientific.

Last year, KC Golden of Climate Solutions cited the fact that children were "insisting on solutions in a clear voice" as a reason to take action on climate change. Now, Miguel Perez-Gibson cherry picks one piece of data as a reason to demand action. Either the folks at Climate Solutions don't know any better or they feel they can simply get away with these fundamentally flippant comments because thoughtful arguments simply aren't being demanded.

Accountants v. CO2

January 28, 2009 in Blog

Next week, the legislature will hold simultaneous hearings on the Governor's cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions. Among the many problems with cap-and-trade is that the accounting required is so complex that it virtually invites people to game the system. We wrote about the incentives to cheat in one aspect of cap-and-trade previously.

Recognizing the many ways that cap-and-trade can be gamed and the dangers of price volatility, the bill asks the Department of Ecology to write rules preventing those problems. Here is the section:


Sec. 10.


(1) The department shall consult with other jurisdictions in the western climate initiative, Washington state agencies with expertise on markets, and other states and federal agencies that have designed or implemented a market for regulating air pollutants to design a trading market that includes provisions to prevent market manipulation and ensure a functional and efficient market. The design provisions must include:

 (a) Requiring or conducting audits, investigations, and surveillance of the market;

 (b) Actions to prohibit conflicts of interest between emitters, verifiers, monitors, auditors, investigators, or surveillance persons;

 (c) Establishment of measures to address market emergencies;

 (d) Prevention of fraud to the greatest extent possible;

 (e) Prevention of speculators from unfairly affecting the price of allowances in the program to the greatest extent possible;

 (f) Issuance of orders, and penalties established by rule, sufficient to address market manipulation; and

 (g) Other conditions or provisions necessary to prevent market manipulation.

 (2) The department shall provide a report to the legislature by December 31, 2010, on the design of the market that includes an explanation of how manipulation and excessive speculation will be avoided.

 (3) The department shall refer the most egregious violations to the attorney general or the county prosecutor for consideration for criminal prosecution or to federal authorities for federal prosecution.

So I have many issues with this. First, color me skeptical that more regulation can make a market more "efficient."

Second, the accounting rules to ensure all of these various goals, ("prevention of fraud," "address market emergencies," "prevention of speculators," etc.) will be extremely complex, written in a political manner and be navigable only by those who have money to hire lobbyists, accountants and lawyers. There are certain to be many who take advantage of the rules to their own benefit and the costs will be borne by consumers.

Third, the key elements of this are subjective and undefined. This is my favorite: "Prevention of speculators from unfairly affecting the price of allowances..." There are no definitions for "speculators" or "unfairly." These are simply subjective judgments of a regulator. Is anyone who buys a carbon credit today in anticipation that the price will go up in the future a "speculator?" Doesn't that increase in price, caused by "speculation," encourage more carbon reductions? Isn't that the goal? Isn't that what "market-based" means? If someone wants to sell a carbon credit and someone else wants to buy, both with their own money on the line, why should regulators tell them they can't engage in a voluntary exchange?

So when the Department of Ecology decides to "refer the most egregious violations to the attorney general or the county prosecutor for consideration for criminal prosecution," how will they determine whether a violation has occurred?

Efficiency requires predictability, transparency and flexibility. Cap-and-trade, by way of contrast, is subjective, opaque and rigid.

Which Way on the Environment for Obama - Advisors or Politics?

January 20, 2009 in Blog

As Barack Obama assumes the Presidency he will begin to deal with the challenge every president ultimately faces: who do they listen to when making key decisions? Much has been made about the advisors he has selected and there is good reason to be pleased. The question is will he listen to them on key issues or will he follow the political winds from interest groups or Capitol Hill?

Cap-and-Trade vs. Carbon Tax
Obama has selected an economic team worthy of praise, but he seems to be going in a different direction from virtually all of his economic team on the key issue of how to address climate change. Virtually all of his advisors from his top economic advisor Larry Summers to the head of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orzag favor a carbon tax. They note cap-and-trade's many shortcomings, its failure in Europe, high costs and other accounting problems. Unfortunately, Obama is being pressed by environmental groups to favor cap-and-trade. The experts note that given the choice between the two, a carbon tax is more efficient, creates fewer politically-manipulable loopholes and is more transparent. We'll see whether politics trumps the experts.

Precautionary Principle
This is the "heads I win, tails you lose" principle applied by environmentalists to say that when in doubt, they win. We've written about the faulty logic and high costs of the precautionary principle and climate change in the past. Along those lines, Obama named University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein to oversee regulatory changes. Sunstein has written extensively about the nonsense of this principle, including an entire book on the issue. He argues that the principle is useless because it leads to contradictory conclusions. (Interestingly, he writes about a common Obama mantra in Laws of Fear, saying "With respect to hope, those who operate gambling casinos and state lotteries are well aware of the underlying mechanisms. They play on people's emotions in the particular sense that they conjure up palpable pictures of victory and easy living.") Sunstein seems to have some unorthodox views on animal rights, but on the precautionary principle he is spot on. Let's hope that when environmentalists come calling for new regulations based on the precautionary principle, he sticks to his guns and Obama listens.

Ecofads and the Economy in 2009

January 18, 2009 in Blog

This year the World Economic Forum is holding a contest on YouTube, inviting people to answer one of four questions about the state of the world in 2009. The question I answered is "Will the environment lose out to the economy in 2009?" I answer "no," but you'll have to watch to find out why.

The topic of my video fits with one of the five elements in our "Agenda for Effective Environmental Stewardship" we are presenting to the legislature. We call for a more aggressive effort to remove barriers to salmon habitat on Department of Transportation projects.

After you watch it, go to the YouTube page and rate it. I am simply looking for feedback and this is in no way related to the fact that those with good videos and strong ratings may be flown to Switzerland to attend the conference. I deny that categorically.

Filling in the gaps on climate change and famine

January 8, 2009 in Blog

The Seattle Times today writes about a study arguing that "Global Warming May Cause Famine." The reporter, Sandi Doughton, does a good job of reporting, drawing out comments from the authors and others. A closer look at the report, its authors and the claims is revealing.

When searing temperatures blasted Western Europe in 2003, more than 50,000 people died and harvests of wheat, animal fodder and fruit fell by up to a third.

While Europe did see tens of thousands of deaths from heat in 2003, it had more to do with the failure of the health system and lack of air conditioning. Similar heat waves have hit the US without the huge mortality. Further, there are far more deaths annually from cold than heat, so even if people don't adapt (which they always do), an increase in heat will probably reduce the number of temperature-related deaths.

"I'm not worried about Greenland sliding into the sea. I'm not worried about sea levels going up," said UW atmospheric sciences professor David Battisti.

Don't expect to hear this quote again in the future. Just one year ago, the Times wrote a story about a study on sea level rise from climate change where "even a rise of 6 inches" would increase the threat of flooding and damage. Al Gore spends quite a bit of time in An Inconvenient Truth dramatizing the threat from sea level rise. The Climate Action Team cites sea level rise as a significant concern. It will be interesting to watch climate alarmists embrace this report but dismiss this quote.

"We are headed for a completely out-of-bounds situation for growing food crops in the future," said report co-author Rosamond Naylor, director of Stanford's Program on Food Security and the Environment.

What credibility should we put in the claim of Ms. Naylor? Probably the same amount we should put in the words of her colleague and occasional co-author Paul Ehrlich who said in 1969 that "By 1980 the United States will see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million" and "I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Predicting catastrophe is a habit that dies hard.

"You're talking about hundreds of millions of additional people looking for food because they won't be able to find it where they find it now," [Battisti] said.

This indicates that crops will grow in some places where they don't now. In other words, this is an issue of trade. Further, the UN and others predict that in 2100 the average income in developing countries will be about $60,000 a year, higher than the US average currently. Thus, their prediction only comes true if the world makes no economic progress during the next century. Compare 2009, for instance, to 1909 to see how ludicrous that notion is. Realize also that even as world population has grown, the absolute number of people in poverty has fallen showing how dramatic economic growth has been, especially in developing countries.

Michael Glantz, a political scientist who studies the social impacts of climate and climate change, said the study raises some good points, but the developing world faces so many immediate problems it's difficult to worry about what will happen in five decades or more. "When I think about 2100 and climate-change impact on food security, I just glaze over," said Glantz, who directs the Consortium for Capacity Building at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A voice of reason. What is behind Glanz's statement is a recognition that government policy has more to do with famine and poverty than climate change will. The major famines of the last century have been politically created, from the millions in Ukraine who died during Stalin's forced collectivization to the current conflict-created famine in Darfur. Climate change is a challenge, but the notion that we can predict the impact of 2.5 C of warming 100 years from now and how it will impact countries after a century of political and economic change is dubious.

Scientists should continue to offer sound estimates of future climate change and the potential changes that it will cause. When it comes to making decisions about how to deal with those challenges, however, it is a question best addressed by applying values, politics and economics.

One Down, Four to Go

December 31, 2008 in Blog

Yesterday, we made Seattle's decision not to salt the roads Washington's #1 Worst Environmental Moment of 2008. Today, the City announced it was changing the policy:

...the city kept using only de-icer and sand, saying salt could be harmful to Puget Sound. That policy was adopted by the city in 1998 "with the best of intentions," the mayor said, but the last weeks' weather proved the city should amend its plan.

So, a decade-old policy was thrown out in a week. This means either a) the original decision was made without science (but with good intentions) or science that could be thrown out after a week of consideration or b) the new decision confounds science but is being done under political duress.

This is the problem with so much environmental policymaking. Policies too often lack a scientific basis and are done more for political appearances than environmental benefit. Now if they promise not to try "Car Free Days" again, we'll be making progress.

Washington's Five Best Environmental Moments of 2008

December 31, 2008 in Blog

Yesterday we listed the five worst environmental moments of 2008 in Washington. Today, to end the year on a more cheery note, we're listing the best moments. I will say that 2008 was more bad than good, but there are hopeful signs on the horizon.

Honorable mention:

  • The 9th Circuit Court ruling noting that asking judges to substitute their judgment for the scientific judgment of the Forest Service "is not a proper role for a federal appellate court." Let's hope there are more courts who take this approach.
  • The Washington Court of Appeals struck down King County’s critical area ordinance (CAO) that required rural property owners to set aside up to sixty-five percent of their property without compensation. The Appeals Court ruled that this one-size fits all approach amounted to a, “tax, fee or charge” on !
    property owners.

5. Everyone is a "free-market" environmentalist. Environmental activists now feel compelled to call their actions "market-based," because the public is tired of command-and-control approaches they traditionally favor. Washington's Climate Advisory Team, its successor the Climate Action Team and the Western Climate Initiative all claim that their efforts are "market based." Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed in Portland earlier this year that he supported free market appro!
aches, although I am skeptical of the claim. This is a recognition that market forces that harness the individual creativity and actions of millions of people making decisions about their own lives are powerful, not to mention consistent with the American ideal of personal freedom. The claim that these approaches are market-based isn't always true, but it is a good step.

4. Supreme Court ruling on wind farms in Ellensburg. Some who normally agree with me may not agree on this one. The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision (which says something), ruled that the county could not use zoning laws to stop landowners, like farmers, from leasing their land to site a wind farm. Two things stand out. First, the reason cited by the county commissioners for rejecting the permits were the "visual effects." How did they determine the impacts? Commissio!
ners suggested setbacks based on their personal "observations of noise and 'looming' impact..." That unscientific approach is no reason to violate property rights. The second reason is,
as we've argued in the past, that government should avoid zoning that significantly damages private property values for a public purpose. This decision doesn't address that issue directly, but it fits that approach and should be applauded. Wind farms are not a panacea, but they are a part of the effort to diversify energy sources and increase domestic energy supply. Honoring property rights is good for personal freedom, prosperity and the environment.

3. Growing support for alternatives to cap-and-trade. Earlier this year we called for a package that would cut sales and investment taxes and replace them with a modest carbon tax. The result would be a tax cut that encouraged individuals to improve energy efficiency and find ways to conserve. The free market is the most powerful way to improve energy efficiency and efficiency has nearly doubled in the last 25 years without government intervention. Now there is a broad consensus (the climate alarmists' favorite word) that carbon taxes are far superior to cap-and-trade and they put power in the hands of individuals to choose rather than government. This approach has a wide range of supporters!
60;including the
Democratic-run Congressional Budget Officeand the head of Obama's National Economic Council Larry Summers and conservative economists and thinkers like former head of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors Greg Mankiw, founder of supply-side economics pan style="FONT-SIZE: 13px; COLOR: purple; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">Art Laffer
 and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. Let's hope this weakens the support for the costly and ineffective cap-and-trade approach being pushed by environmental activists.

2. Bill Gates and the "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg. The meeting of the richest man in the world and a man who has one of the clearest visions for how to improve the wellbeing of the planet and people can only produce good results. Gates has shown a true, and intellectually honest, commitment to doing what is best to help people across the world. Lomborg brought together perhaps the finest collection of economists, including Nobel laureates, to find ways to make the most positive impact on the world. After speaking at our environmental luncheon earlier this year, Lomborg met with Gates to discuss ways to work together. We are proud to have helped put this meeting together. In the past we&!
#39;ve written that
the priorities of Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus and the priorities of the Gates Foundation were similar. The combination of these two dedicated and clear thinking minds can only produce great things.

1. Approval of permits for the construction of a dock on Maury Island. There is no better example of environmentalists substituting hype for science than the "controversy" about the construction of a dock to ship gravel off the island. Every scientific agency who looked at the issue, including the Department of Ecology, the Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and King County, approved the project. The Democratic-controlled Legislature refused to stop th!
e project twice. Environmental activists, however, set all that aside and hoped that
political theater would substitute for science. Two aspects stand out. First, the crusade against the dock was led by those on the island and the motivation was NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard), not the environment. The evidence? The water quality problems around Vashon/Maury Island are caused by the failing septic tanks of the island residents themselves, not the project they protest. The most polluted place on the island is far from the new dock but is surrounded by homes. There is also an irony that residents, who ride ferries twice a day, claim to be worried about a barge traveling to and from the island. Second, opponents of the dock cited general science from !
the Puget Sound Partnership, saying that overdevelopment can i!
mpact water quality. True enough, but they chose to ignore the specific science on this dock which said otherwise. Put simply, this issue was about politics, not the environment. Activists criticized Republican Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who granted the final permit, but never criticized the Democrats in charge of Ecology, Fish & Wildlife and King County who granted earlier environmental permits. They also failed to attack the Democrats who control the legislature and could have stopped the project. The more Washington bases environmental decisions on political theater and partisan politics and ignores the science, the more long-term damage we will do to the environment. That's why the approval of the permit for the dock on Maury Island is not only good for jobs and prosperity, it put environmental science ahead of environmental theater.

Best wishes for the new year and let's hope that these positive trends strengthen in 2009.