Environment

WPC's Center for the Environment brings balance to the environmental debate by promoting the idea that human progress and prosperity work in a free economy to protect the environment.

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If Europe Jumped Off a Bridge...

June 20, 2008 in Blog

Today's Seattle P-I has a story about the Blue-Green coalition which is asking government to subsidize the creation of a "green" sector here in Washington state. I am quoted criticizing this effort.

"We're going to end up spending tax money and increasing costs to consumers just so we can say we have an (renewable energy) industry here," Myers said. "I don't think we should turn Bill Gates into a windmill manufacturer unless that's what he's best at. Bill Gates should sell software and buy lots of windmills, rather than making them in his back yard."

The response, in the article, is interesting. Environmental activists argue that Europe is ahead because of government subsidies, and that we now need our own subsidies. My question is, who pays for and who benefits from those European subsidies?

The answer is that Europeans pay and we benefit, both in terms of increased prosperity and environmental quality.

First, when we purchase a windmill from Denmark, the price is lower than it would normally be because the Danish government subsidizes the cost. Instead of costing $1 million, let's say, it costs $800,000. Danish taxpayers are putting $200,000 in our pocket.

But what about jobs? Aren't they taking jobs away from American workers? No. We now have more money (thanks again Denmark, Germany, et al.) and can hire workers to do other jobs, like in biotechnology or other industries. We may not meet an artificial target of 25,000 jobs in a particular sector, but we have more money and more jobs in the state, but in different sectors.

Finally, this is also good for the environment. The lower the cost of the windmill, the more windmills we can buy and the more renewable energy we can generate. That's a good thing.

But won't we forgo all of the profits that the green sector will create? If the green sector is truly as prosperous as some claim, venture capitalists will put their money there. If, however, the Europeans continue to subsidize these technologies, we should continue to happily take their money and invest it effectively in other sectors.

Some say it is "unfair" that Europe gives its "green" sector a leg up with these subsidies. In reality, however, they are giving American consumers a leg up by paying part of the cost of those technologies. Foreign subsidies are essentially a rebate to American buyers. If you still think this is unfair, I encourage you to reject the manufacturer's rebate the next time you buy a car -- accepting it would be unfair to other car companies.

The problem with politicians picking and choosing technologies is that they are often severely myopic and fall prey to fads. The desire to pay more and get less when it comes to "green" technology is a good example of that trend.

It's Pronounced "Nuke - yu - lur"

June 19, 2008 in Blog

Did climate change cause the floods in Iowa? ABC sure thinks so. But then again, they also think we burn fossil fuels in nuclear power plants. Look for the "fossil fuels we burn" at 52 seconds into this ABC news report: http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/index.php?cl=8400633

With that one exception, I'm sure everything else in the story is well thought out.

Selective Sophistry

June 17, 2008 in Blog

Leah Ceccarelli of the University of Washington today writes a piece in the Seattle Times today calling on "defenders of science" to protect science from the sophists who question them and she cites "global-warming skepticism" as one example. This is a common refrain from those who favor particular government policies (Ceccarelli is a professor of communications, not a scientist), arguing that anyone who disagrees with them is ignoring the science.

Three things come to mind.

First, science does not dictate policy. Policy is set by weighing our value priorities and understanding the economic incentives used to achieve particular ends. Science informs the goals but often does not determine the tactics. For instance, if we agree with Ms. Ceccarelli that climate change is a concern, does science say a carbon tax or cap-and-trade is better? It doesn't. Sometimes, however, those who preach the primacy of science pretend it does. I wrote about this in February.

Second, in recent years it has been the left preaching the manta of "following the science," but their desire to do so is selective. Follow the science, they say, when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to DDT or preservatives in vaccines. With DDT and Thimerosal, a vaccine preservative, recent studies have shown definitively that there is little threat from the chemicals used to fight malaria or reduce the cost of vaccines, but in both cases the environmental community continues to ignore that science in favor of sophistry. The environmental community often cites theoretical science but ignores the empircal science ("worldwide temperatures haven't increased in a decade, but the models say they should").

Finally, if you want to see anti-scientific sophistry at work, watch this video of a recent effort to ban another dangerous chemical: dihydrogen monoxide.

Wishful Thinking Motivates Drive for "Green Collar" Jobs

June 17, 2008 in Publications

The article in April started this way: "...[Aberdeen] was hemorrhaging jobs. Mother Jones tells it like this: 'Families were break-ing up and moving out. There were suicides. It was really a hard time.'" The author goes on to note that "Grays Harbor and four other Washington counties are exemplifying another new trend in small-town America: life expectancy is declining among the rural poor."

The Bonfires of Insanity

June 6, 2008 in Blog

Bonfire (I am in Hong Kong this week at the Pacific Rim Policy Exchange Conference. You can read about our discussions here: http://www.pacrimpolicyexchange.com/)

Does Mayor Nickels really care about climate change? The next few days will truly tell the tale.

Seattle Parks & Recreation has announced that they want to ban or limit bonfires on Alki Beach to combat global warming. According to the Seattle P-I, a memo from Parks & Rec argues that "Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to reduce climate-threatening pollutants 'begs the question of whether Seattle Parks is acting responsibly ... to systematically reduce controllable contributions to global warming..."

Bonfires, however, don't contribute to climate change. One reason the City of Seattle and other climate activists promote biofuels (which include "biomass" i.e. wood) is that the life-cycle carbon impact is zero. Wood and crops remove carbon from the atmosphere. The wood is then burned and the carbon is released back to the atmosphere. The next tree, however, pulls the carbon out of the atmosphere, and the cycle continues. The impact of this cycle on carbon in the atmosphere is zero.

In fact, Seattle touted this very process when it announced that Seattle Steam would use waste wood to generate energy for Seattle. In the City's "Green Ribbon" Commission report from 2006, they note that "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Guidelines generally state that there are zero net emissions from burning wood waste; in essence, because the natural cycle of vegetation is to absorb CO2 when growing and emit CO2 when decaying, burning vegetation only accelerates this process as opposed to being a source of CO2 emissions." Seattle Steam announced its plan to burn wood waste to generate energy and the City counts this as zero net emissions.

Instead of creating energy, bonfires create heat and entertainment. Is there any difference between burning wood for that purpose or for creating energy so I can watch the yule log on TV?

If the City does not shoot this nonsense down immediately, it will demonstrate that all of the climate activists' talk about science is meaningless and that climate change is merely an excuse used by the City and bureaucrats to increase their control over people.

Update: 4:20 pm

The PI is now reporting that "Seattle Parks and Recreation has backed off on considering restrictions on bonfires this year, and on possibly banning or charging fees for them at Alki and Golden Gardens beaches next year."

They did not do so, however, because their logic was flawed. A spokesman for Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher said that "He thinks things are working just fine" and so they didn't need new restrictions.

We should still get a straight answer from the Mayor and his staff about whether bonfires contribute to global warming and if this is the kind of science on which they are basing climate policy.

Cap and...?

June 5, 2008 in Blog

Hong_kong_2 (I am in Hong Kong this week for the Pacific Rim Policy Conference. You can read the highlights of the panels here: http://www.pacrimpolicyexchange.com/)

One can't visit Hong Kong without recognizing the power of trade to create prosperity. The Hong Kong Special Economic Zone has no tariffs except on four items: cars, fuel, cigarettes and alcohol. The prosperity that has been created as a result of this completely open trade policy is so great that China has had to institute strong immigration limits. Police can ask any person for their Hong Kong passport and if they turn out to be from China, they are sent back immediately.

Thus, it wasn't surprising to me that when one of the policy experts from Hong Kong was asked what three policies developing countries should adopt to increase prosperity, free trade was the first one he mentioned.

Trade also can play a big role in environmental policy, but even Washington politicians who repeat the mantra that we are "the most trade dependent state in the nation" reflexively restrict trade in the mistaken belief that it will improve the chances of success.

For instance, environmental activists call cap-and-trade a "market based" system because the trade element allows emitters to trade carbon allocations, allowing the most efficient emitters to benefit from their efficiency by buying fewer carbon allocations or selling the ones they have more cheaply. But where cap-and-trade has been used, there has been a steady trend toward limiting trading options. One example is the increased restrictions on carbon "offsets" which have a spotty record of actually reducing CO2. Wanting to make sure the total amount of CO2 emitted is truly capped, the Western Climate Initiative is looking to limit the type of offsets that can be purchased.

Offsets are used because they increase the number of options an emitter has to reduce emissions. Remove that option, however, and you limit the ability to trade and increase costs of compliance. The less trade, the higher the cost.

Activists quickly jump to such conclusions, throwing trade overboard, because they tend not to be comfortable with trade as a general concept, but also because they care much less about the cost of the policy than the cap. The more we move in this direction the more the policy is simply another regulatory cap without the market's advantages of increasing choice and prosperity.

And, if you want to understand the difference trade can make in controlling the costs of reducing greenhouse gases, compare Hong Kong (per capita GDP of $29,149) to China (per capita GDP of $2,460). That's the cost of restricting trade.

Special Evening Reception for Our Whatcom County Area Supporters

June 3, 2008 in Events
Date: 
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008
Time: 
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Place: 
Bellingham, WA

This special reception and wrap-up of the 2008 Legislative Session was for our supporters and those interested in learning more about our work.  The recently completed Session was discussed, with a focus on how it will affect you and your business.  WPC’s president and research center directors gave reviews of their work during Session, including publications on the state budget, taxes, health care, transportation, the environment and ways to improve the business climate.  They also presented the top issues to look for during the remainder of this busy election year and previ

How Incentives to Cheat Undermine Cap‐and‐Trade

June 2, 2008 in Publications

Imagine buying a car only to find it was a lemon. You would probably go back to the seller in an effort to get your money back. Contract and consumer protection laws are set up to mediate this relationship between buyer and seller. In most cases the power of one balances the other creating fair transactions that are mutually beneficial.

Not Evil, Just Wrong

May 29, 2008 in Blog

Last year, the luncheon speakers at the Environmental Luncheon were Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney who showed part of their film "Mine Your Own Business." It is a really excellent film highlighting the condescension so many Western environmentalists have for the poor in developing countries.

Now they are about to release their new film on climate change and DDT, "Not Evil Just Wrong." I got a preview at the International Conference on Climate Change in New York earlier this year. It is excellent. Phelim and Ann are at their best interviewing environmental activists and drawing out their thought process and often-unspoken beliefs. Some of the interviews they do with leading environmental activists will leave you shaking your head.

You will also recognize Patrick Moore in the film, who provides a voice of reason and was our luncheon speaker the year before Ann and Phelim.

You can see a preview for the film on YouTube. I encourage you to leave your impressions and thoughts.

Despite the fact that "An Inconvenient Truth" proves less and less accurate every day, quality filmmakers on the other side of the issue have trouble being taken seriously. Every bit of publicity and support helps overcome that barrier.

Gee, Why Don't Conservatives Get More Credit on Environmental Issues?

May 27, 2008 in Blog

Jitcrunch Here's one reason...

"Conservative grassroots group Grassfire.org wants people to waste as much energy as possible on June 12 by 'hosting a barbecue, going for a drive, watching television, leaving a few lights on, or even smoking a few cigars.' " - Information Week

Can someone te!
ll me how "the other side is doing something stupid so we will do something even dumber" helps? Individuals with freedom making informed choices improve efficiency, reduce environmental impacts and increase prosperity. I'm not sure how reducing efficiency and wasting wealth helps build support for that concept.