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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International Conference on Climate Change: Part 1

March 12, 2008 in Blog

169pxvaclav_klaus_headshot_2 Over the next week and a half, I'll be posting some of the most interesting parts of the International Conference on Climate Change last week in New York. I spoke at the event about the interplay between science and policymaking - more on that tomorrow.

The best single moment of the event, however, was the speech of Czech President Vaclav Klaus. An economist by training, difficult in a formerly communist country, Klaus gave the keynote presentation on the final morning of the event. The most moving moment in his speech (which can be read here) was the following:

A week ago, I gave a speech at an official gathering at the Prague Castle commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1948 communist putsch in the former Czechoslovakia. One of the arguments of my speech there, quoted in all the leading newspapers in the country the next morning, went as follows: “Future dangers will not come from the same source. The ideology will be different. Its essence will, nevertheless, be identical -- the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good, and the enormous self-confidence on the!
side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice the man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality.”

He noted that the day after this comment appeared in the press, the Czech Green Party attacked him for the statement. He looked at the crowd and said, "I'm glad they knew I was talking about them."

...Not That I Condone It, But...

March 6, 2008 in Blog

When the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) firebombed the Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001, one environmental activist wrote to the Seattle PI, calling them "eco-patriots." He was, of course, careful to say that he himself didn't condone firebombing, but he certainly condoned their politics.

Now, the Stranger seems to be following in the footsteps. Erica Barnett writes this week in the Stranger that:

Obviously, I don't condone burning down houses (even unoccupied, unsold, multimillion-dollar "eco-dream homes")—for one thing, it obliterates the efforts of mainstream environmentalists to get the word out about the real, catastrophic climate impacts of choices like living in the suburbs. But the statement that ELF allegedly spray-painted on a sign at the arson scene—"McMansions in [rural cluster developments] r (sic) not green"—is neither debatable nor particularly controversial. ... Perhaps more importantly, there's no such thing as a sustainable suburban lifestyle."

Isn't saying that this makes it difficult for "mainstream environmentalists to get the word out" about this problem admitting that the ideology is the same, only the tactics are different?

Denny's v. The Sustainable Revolution

February 21, 2008 in Blog

Dennys_2 Yesterday the Governor's climate bill, which calls for a "sustainable revolution," passed to much fanfare from the environmental community in Seattle. Today, that revolution is imperiled...and it is all the fault of an abandoned Denny's in Ballard.

Days after Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels declared that Seattle would become the "green building capital" of the country, Seattle has protected a decidedly un-green building. Most ironic is that the building was going to be demolished to make way for high-density housing, known as condominiums.

The Governor's Climate Advisory Team's Interim Report calls for such increased density, noting that "Variants on the smart growth concept exist, but many call for clustering living units with easy access (often walking distance) to shops, schools, and entertainment and recreational facilities..." Instead of building housing in the middle of Ballard, the City of Seattle has brazenly ignored the threat from climate change and taken steps that require more housing to be built outside the city requiring long commutes and more CO2 emissions.

Nobody said the revolution would be easy.

We Can't Fix the Viaduct, but...

February 20, 2008 in Blog

"We're talking about remaking the economy of the nation, the whole globe."
- Becky Kelly, Washington Environmental Council, on the passage of the Governor's climate change bill at the legislative deadline yesterday, Seattle P-I, February 20, 2008

Conflating Science and Policy on Forests, Fish, Climate and the Environment

February 18, 2008 in Publications

Many who advocate efforts aimed at "remaking the economy of the nation, the whole globe" in the name of climate change often refer to the fact that "scientists say" we must act. Good science is critical if we want to address climate change or any environmental issue. Policymakers, however, need to be cautious about how they use science and scientists must take care that they not confuse their personal values with the science they provide. Scientists work to become expert in a particular specialty, narrowing their focus on the details of that area. This produces good science but it can also distort their values and priorities when it comes to policy recommendations.

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.