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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Old Saws and Old Growth

February 17, 2008 in Blog

BcoldgrowthAn "old saw" is a hackneyed or tired bit of wisdom that seems true but is really quite useless. One such old saw is the claim that we are destroying "old-growth forests" as a justification for policies of one sort or another.

Last week the green-building coordinator at the Department of Ecology, Rachael Jamison, used this justification to argue for using Forest Stewardship Council certified timber in green buildings. FSC was created by environmental activists to encourage companies to use more restrictive standards when harvesting. She says green buildings that use FSC can "stimulate the growth of a new market within Washington's timber industry."

Chief among the reasons to use FSC certified wood is, in her words, that harvests following its rules "Do not contribute to the destruction of old-growth forests." Whenever I see this claim, it is very clear to me that the person making the claim knows very little about forestry in Washington.

The understandable reason people express concern about old growth is that there is very little left. The creatures that rely on old growth forests have difficulty adapting to other types of forest habitat.

But applying the simple rules of supply and demand also says that when something is scarce, like old growth timber, it is also very expensive. A builder looking to use old growth for construction would be needlessly increasing their costs with little, if any, benefit in quality. In fact, there isn't a single major mill in Washington state that can even handle the large logs that come from such forests anymore.

I wanted to demonstrate how expensive it would be to use old growth as compared to standard timber. Currently, timber is selling at about $250 per thousand board feet. When I went to find out how much it would cost to use old growth, however, I hit a wall. I called two people who routinely sell timber in Washington state and neither of them even knew where I could get such information. We simply don't harvest old growth in Washington under FSC rules or any  other set of rules.

This isn't the first time we've taken Rachael Jamison to task for inaccurate claims. Relying on tired, old saws about old growth harvesting to justify policies demonstrates that they don't know much about the area they are looking to regulate and policies justified on that basis are likely to be costly and ineffective.

Planetary Emergency

January 31, 2008 in Blog

GlobalwarmingAl Gore refers to climate change as a "planetary emergency."

Here is a state emergency announced today:

Meanwhile, Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency this afternoon for more than a dozen counties as a result of the "relentless" snowstorms that have been pounding mountain passes and Eastern Washington for days."

This is not normal. And it just goes to show that Greg Nickels was right in 2005:

At first, Nickels said he was not distressed by these trends. "I think like most Americans I sort of said, 'So what? It would be nice if it were a few degrees warmer.' " But then he learned more about how Seattle's water and electricity supplies could be hurt by a shrinking snowpack. In meetings with Seattle's water and electricity department chiefs, Nickels said he heard repeated forecasts for below-average snowpack. Eventually he said he realized "we're never going to get average again."

dir="ltr">We're certainly not getting average this year. In 2005 when we didn't have average, the Mayor decided to launch the US Mayors Climate Conference to combat global warming. What will the Mayor do this year?

Analysis of SHB 1032: Adding Subsidies for Renewable Energy Production

January 30, 2008 in Publications

With the push to reduce Washington’s carbon emissions, the legislature is looking for ways to subsidize the creation of renewable energy sources. A bill, SHB 1032, which would tax families and businesses to create a subsidy for new renewable energy sources, raises a number of concerns for taxpayers, ratepayers and for efficiently reducing CO2.

The New Consensus on Climate Change

January 25, 2008 in Blog

Hurricanekatrina_midsize Global warming activists often refer to the scientific "consensus" on climate change as a justification for the costly government programs they advocate. The science, however, is still evolving, as is evidenced by this new study done by NOAA indicating that climate change may actually reduce the severity of hurricanes.

But even if there isn't a scientific consensus on the impacts of climate change, K.C. Golden of Climate Solutions and a member of the Governor's Climate Advisory Team cited another group whose testimony persuaded him when speaking to the State Senate last week.

"...our federal government has not stepped up and provided very satisfying answers to those questions. I was reminded as we just heard the companion bill in the House when I heard the voices of the [children] who came up insisting on solutions in a very clear voice, it isn't right that the federal government hasn't stepped up and offered solutions."

At the next legislative hearing on climate change, expect to see fewer NOAA scientists testifying and more children.

We Pay You to Reduce CO2!

January 23, 2008 in Blog

Warningco2 Yesterday, we turned in our comments to the Washington State Climate Advisory Team.They released their draft recommendations in December, outlining their plan to reduce carbon emissions and strategies aimed at “transforming our economy and our lifestyles.” Washington Policy Center submitted our comments in three pieces: general comments; a discussion of jobs and the climate strategies; and a detailed analysis of one of the more expansive recommendations that calls for changes in growth management, building codes and even the name of the Department of Transportation.

You can read all three pieces here.

One serious flaw deserves attention. There is a summary chart in the draft listing the expected (although the draft says "guaranteed") reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It projects a reduction of 272.3 million metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG). It says that the net-present-value (costs - benefits, adjusted for time) of these reductions will be -$949 million, i.e. a savings of nearly $1 billion. They're practically paying us to reduce CO2! How can this be?

Well, one reason is that for some of the most expensive strategies they list the cost as "not quantified," and treat the NPV as zero. This, despite previously listing costs (slightly different from NPV) for three of the strategies at over $9 billion in November. In the December public draft these numbers are gone. Even if we accept that the NPV for these is difficult to estimate (which is the reason they give for removing the $9 billion), they should also remove the projected GHG savings for those strategies. They do not, leaving the impression that you can get 272.3 million metric tons of GHG reductions for the low, low price of negative $1 billion. This is misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

There are some elements of the proposal we believe are appropriate, such as the emphasis on looking at a range of incremental changes and the recognition that technology is key to reducing greenhouse gases.

The draft, however, is burdened by a very heavy reliance on political decisions and the hand of government. We have three general critiques of the draft:

  • It is incomplete, leaving the most significant area of carbon reductions, transportation, to future decisions and planning.
  • The economic estimates are very rosy. In a number of cases the cost estimates for the recommendations are low or artificially lowered.
  • The greenhouse gas projections are often only targets and others are unlikely to materialize. The projections often are built on the belief that government can more effectively choose the correct direction of technology and investment than the market – an assumption that has shown time and again to be unsupportable.

The CAT meets again this Friday to discuss next steps and the draft recommendations. We'll see how their discussion goes.

Is Government Spending Good for the Economy?

January 22, 2008 in Blog

We sent in our comments on the Washington State Climate Advisory Team's draft recommendations today. We will post a link to the complete comments tomorrow.

One thing we did not comment on, but deserves attention are the CAT's comments about the impact on transportation projects on jobs. They argue that "Transit capital investment is a significant source of job creation. This analysis indicates that in the year following the investment 314 jobs are created for each $10 million invested in transit capital funding."

The Seattle Times, provides a different, refreshing, take today. Regarding the President's plan to offer $500 checks, they say "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."

While we can debate the merits of the stimulus package, it is nice that the Times states clearly who really makes a difference in the economy. In the short-term these checks may help, but it may add to the debt if government spending does not decline.

Similarly, spending money on transit to "create" jobs doesn't really do that. It simply takes money from people who might have invested more efficiently elsewhere and steers it to transit. Thus, the CAT and others who make these claims, count the jobs created but ignore the jobs lost elsewhere.

In this way, 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.

So, when the Climate Advisory Team or others make the claim that increased government spending will "create" jobs, we hope the Seattle Times will remind them that the economy is not operated by government, but by all of us earning, saving, spending and investing.

2008 Agenda For Effective Environmental Stewardship

January 21, 2008 in Publications

Washington state’s residents pride ourselves on our connection to the marvelous natural resources that surround us. Farmers, foresters and fishermen work every day surrounded by nature, choosing those jobs because they enjoy the beauty of their surroundings. The rest of us reach out to our natural environment, enjoying the hiking, kayaking, sailing, hunting and beautiful views that the rolling hills, the mountains, forests and water provide.

A Sea Change in the Numbers

January 18, 2008 in Blog

Co2warning The Seattle Times today reported that a new analysis done by the UW Climate Impacts Group projected that sea level would rise 6 inches in Seattle by 2050, and would likely climb 14 inches by the end of the century. They said that sea level along the coast would not rise until 2100, when it would increase by 2 inches. The sea level rise there would be offset by the uplifting of the tectonic plates.

Sea level has been rising for centuries, although this would be a modest increase in the rate.

Whenever I see stories like this, I like to go back and see what had been predicted previously. I frequently refer back to two studies, one done by the Puget Sound Action Team in October 2005 and the other by the Department of Ecology in November of 2006.

The Puget Sound Action Team report, "Uncertain Future," said this about the rise in sea level: "This is one of the best understood and predictable components of future climate." In the report they predict, on page 21, that sea level will rise by 1 meter (3.28 feet) by 2100 and Seattle will see a sea level rise of over 2.5 feet. Neah Bay on the coast, they claimed, would see an increase of 1.3 feet. They called these projections the "mid-range."

The Department of Ecology also did a study. The purpose of that piece was to estimate the economic costs of climate change on Washington state.

In that report they said that "Sea levels in the northeast Pacific Ocean are projected to rise between 3 inches and more than 40 inches above current levels by the end of this century."They went on to say that "Tacoma can expect sea levels to rise between 5 inches and 20.6 inches by 2045 compared with present levels." Today's estimate, 6 inches, is at the lowest end of their previous projection.

To come up with their economic projections they used three scenarios. For that the "Department of Ecology has mapped the impact of modest (2’) and catastrophic (10’ and 20’) sea level rise on the state’s present-day shoreline." The new study shows that what was "modest" in November 2006 is almost twice the likely level of increase today. Today, catastrophic is 4 feet, which the Climate Impacts Group now calls "highly unlikely," or one-fifth of the Department of Ecology's previous estimate.

The most telling line, however, is that barely 14 months ago the Department of Ecology claimed that "Like other aspects of climate change, sea levels appear to be rising faster than earlier models had projected." Now that their projections are significantly lower, however, don't expect them to write "sea levels appear to be rising more slowly than earlier models had projected."

The error is in these documents is dramatic. The Puget Sound Action Team overestimated sea level rise by anywhere from 3 to 7 times. The Department of Ecology doubled the likely increase and inflated the worst-case scenario by a factor of 5. It is likely, however, that the Department of Ecology document will continue to be used to justify high costs of addressing climate change.

This data also makes clear how strong the bias is at the organizations writing the reports. Despite claims that their data is "scientific," the errors are always in the same direction. Such a consistent pattern of overestimation points to an obvious political bias.

These numbers show why climate alarmists' claims of "certainty" and "conservative estimates" sound increasingly like "I am not a crook."

A Sea Change In Sea Level Projections: 2005 Puget Sound Estimates Cut by Two-Thirds

January 18, 2008 in Publications

The rise in sea level is one of the most frequently mentioned potential impacts from climate change. Recently the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group released their latest estimate of potential increase in water level for the Puget Sound and the Olympic coast. The numbers are dramatically lower than were projected just two years ago by the Puget Sound Action Team and the Department of Ecology. This month’s Environmental Watch examines the old and new numbers as well and the implications for climate policy in Washington.

Climate-Advisory-Team-Of-Fortune!

January 16, 2008 in Blog

Wheeloffortune Reporting on yesterday's testimony of the Climate Advisory Team in Olympia, the Vancouver Columbian reports that when global warming hits, "A possibility that residents of the Evergreen State might one day need to seek refuge at 'public cooling centers' from heat waves like the one that took more than 30,000 lives in Europe in 2003."

Here, from Wikipedia, is a discussion of the causes of the deaths in France, which account for half of the total number and was hardest hit:

"The administration of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin laid the blame on: the 35-hour workweek, which affected the amount of time doctors could work; family practitioners vacationing in August (Many companies traditionally closed in August, so people had no choice about when to vacation. Family doctors were still in the habit of vacationing at the same time); families who had left their elderly behind without caring for them; The opposition as well as many of the editorials of the local press have blamed the administration. Many blamed Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei for failing to return from his vacation when the heat wave became serious, and his aides for blocking emergency measures in public hospitals (such as the recalling of physicians). A particularly vocal!
critic was Dr Patrick Pelloux, head of the union of emergency physicians, who blamed the Raffarin administration for ignoring warnings from health and emergency professionals and trying to minimize the crisis."

Temperatures reached 104 F. It is certainly clear that the French health system contributed seriously to the problem. But the implication is that some other cause was responsible for the death. Here (with the benefit of the letters R, S, T, L, N and A) is a hint about what politicians thousands of miles away are now blaming in order to justify an expensive and ineffective raft of regulations: _ L _ _ A L   _ A R _ _ N _.