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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Happy Planet...Unhappy People

July 9, 2009 in Blog

This week the New Economics Foundation published its Happy Planet Index of countries worldwide. They note that "the index combines environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives." Like many such analyses from the environmental left, it glorifies poverty and repression.

The Index combines "Life Satisfaction," life expectancy and "Ecological Footprint."

The Index rates Costa Rica as the #1 country in its list. The US comes in at 114. Additionally, the following countries rank ahead of the US (I've also added the country's political rights as rated by Freedom House - 1 - full rights, 7 - no rights)

  • Vietnam, 5th - 7
  • Cuba, 7th - 7
  • Bhutan, 17th - 6 (32 percent below poverty line)
  • Laos, 19th - 7
  • Mexico, 23rd - 2
  • Pakistan, 24th - 6
  • Bangladesh, 31st - 5 (42 percent below poverty line)
  • Tajikistan, 34th - 6
  • Venezuela, 36th - 4
  • Syria, 38th - 7
  • Burma, 39th - 7
  • Haiti, 42nd - 4 (Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, 80 percent below poverty line)
  • Uzbekistan, 45th - 7
  • Yemen, 50th - 5
  • Palestine, 56th - 5
  • Iran, 90th - 6 (The 2009 ranking is due out soon, and we can reasonably expect a 7)
  • Belarus, 104th - 7
  • Malawi, 107th - 4 ($800 annual average income, 53 percent below poverty line)
  • Chad, 109th - 7 ($1,600 annual average income, 80 percent below poverty line)
  • Lebanon, 110th - 5
  • Congo, 112th - 6
  • United States, 114th - 1

The results mirror other studies showing that some believe that greenness requires poverty. Sadly, such poverty is seen too often as "quaint" by wealthy Western environmentalists. As filmmaker Phelim McAleer says "quaint may be the most evil word in the English language."

These results are not surprising since they are based on the work of Herman Daly of the University of Maryland. In his 1996 book Beyond Growth he outlines his approach to the problems of growth and development, which he describes in one chapter as "Marxian-Malthusian." In describing the economic and environmental challenges in Northeast Brazil, he writes:

A Marxian-Malthusian definition of social class, in terms of control versus non-control of both production and reproduction, fits the Northeast, and offers a possibility for integrating the valid insights of both traditions. This is important because with the current rebirth of Marxist economics in Brazilian universities, Malthusian insights are in danger of being lost or discarded... The democratization of control over reproduction is no less (and no more) important than the democratization of land ownership in the Northeast.

The "New" Economics Foundation sounds like some very old economics that led not only to vast human misery but unfathomable environmental destruction.

BC's Inefficient Car Trade-In Program

July 9, 2009 in Blog

Two weeks ago we looked at the Cash for Clunkers program and the high price it paid to reduce a small amount of CO2 emissions. British Columbia has a different version that is praised by the Sightline Institute in Seattle.

They praise the program because it not only applies to cars but to bikes and buses:

The Scrap It program is focused on energy efficiency and reducing CO2. The best way to do that is to incentivize better miles per gallon along with alternatives. Most people won’t trade a clunker that is the sole mode of transit for a bike, but many people would get rid of a second car in the driveway for a bike.

The question is, does it make sense as a way to reduce CO2? The answer is that it is better than the Cash for Clunkers program, but is still a poor way to reduce CO2.

The program has a calculator that measures the reduction in CO2 and then determines if you qualify to receive an incentive payment of $1,250 or $2,250. For example, I found that had I traded in the car I bought when I graduated from college, a 1993 Saturn SC, for a Prius today, I would qualify for the $2,250 and reduce CO2 emissions by 2.25 metric tons (tonnes) a year. Assuming I would have kept my Saturn for another ten years, I would reduce my total emissions by 22.5 tonnes. Under those (extremely favorable) circumstances, the program pays $99.56 per tonne of CO2, more than five times the going rate for CO2 on the European market. If the car lasts only five years, the calculation gets much worse, costing nearly 11 times the going rate for CO2 emissions reductions.

Just to test the limits of this idea, let's say I traded in my Saturn for a bike and didn't drive a car for the next 10 years. The BC government will give me $1,200 to trade a car for a bike. Even in those wholly unrealistic circumstances, the program spends $31.58 per ton of CO2, or about 66 percent more than the going rate for CO2 on the European market.

Those who truly care about the environment need to remember that waste of money is waste of resources. By ignoring the cost of projects, we spend money poorly that could be used to promote other environmental projects.

This is a problem with so many politically-picked solutions. The judgment about whether the program is worth supporting is not based on effectiveness or bang-for-the-buck but on a political calculus about whether it sounds good and rewards constituents with taxpayer money.

Al Gore channels Churchill in global warming fight!

July 7, 2009 in Blog

According to The Times Online, an England based publication, Al Gore, while speaking at Oxford's Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment, sought to invoke the words of Winston Churchill to bolster the political fight against global warming.  In his remarks Gore said:

“Winston Churchill aroused this nation in heroic fashion to save civilisation in World War II. We have everything we need except political will but political will is a renewable resource.”

Gore continued:

“The only way politicians will act is if awareness raises to a level to make them feel that it’s a necessity.”

Meanwhile, back on this side of the pond, the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee held the first of what is expected to be many hearings on a national cap-and-trade system.  However, the Wall Street Journal reports that, “the political climate for the cap-and-trade system remains tough in the Senate,” despite the Democrat’s 60-seat majority. The Journal wrote, “The cap-and-trade system makes even some Democrats nervous, especially those from states that extract energy and minerals and rely on heavy industry.”

The challenges in the Senate have the makings of a triumphant return for Gore to his old stomping grounds, where once again he may call up on the words of Churchill, with his own global warming twist.

Perhaps Gore will say:

“Even though large tracts of Congress and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of their constituents and all the odious apparatus of those opposed to Cap and Trade, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, and we shall cap them at their businesses, we shall cap them at their schools, we shall cap them at their churches, we shall cap them at their homes - we shall never stop capping until in God's good time, the global warming prophets, with all their power and might, step forth to the rescue and liberation of the Earth from its pesky human inhabitants.”

Despite Gore’s push for climate action, recent polling shows that a majority of Americans don’t want to pay to fight climate change.  In fact, some small businesses have even take exception to Congresses move toward a national cap-and-trade system.

2009 Environmental Indicators

July 6, 2009 in Publications

A common theme promoted by environmental activists is that the quality of our air, water and other environmental measures are constantly declining. According to activists the state of the environment is always declining, never improving. We frequently hear calls for costly new regulations to address these perceived and growing threats to our environmental health.

2009 Environmental Indicators

July 6, 2009 in Publications

A common theme offered by environmental activists is that the quality of our air, water and other environmental measures are declining. We frequently hear calls to address these growing threats to our environmental health.

Planetary treason – Krugman has lost his head!

July 1, 2009 in Blog

In his latest writings, syndicated Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman takes aim at more than two-hundred members of Congress for their no vote on federal legislation promoting a national cap-and-trade policy.  Krugman opines:

“…most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.  And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason – treason against the planet."

Krugamn’s accusation of planetary treason, though laughable, shows how far alarmists are willing to go in order to pervert the global warming debate.

The assignment of treason attempts to delegitimize all other positions within the climate debate, except the position which Krugman himself holds as an alarmist.  Krugman believes, “we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself.”  His message: Anyone who disagrees with me is a traitor.

So, if members of Congress are guilty of treason, what does Krugman have to say about the 56% of Americans who, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, don’t want to pay for the costs to fight climate change or the 63% of people who believe creating jobs is more important that fighting global warming?

The extreme position taken by Paul Krugman makes me believe that he is the only one losing his head!

Passenger Rail: not so good for the envrionment

June 30, 2009 in Blog

A new study by two professors at the University of California, Berkeley argues that when assessing the environmental impacts of a transportation system, one should include life cycle costs of infrastructure, fuel production and supply chains, not just the simple measure of tail pipe emissions.

In doing so, the researchers conclude:

We find that total
life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63% for
onroad, 155% for rail, and 31% for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation.

Why is rail so much more harmful to the environment than other modes?

          Ranges in passenger occupancy can easily change the relative
performance of modes.

This means transit modes that don't carry a lot of people are more harmful to the environment when compared to other transportation modes that are more efficient, like air travel or private vehicles. This is the point we try to make in our analysis of Sound Transit's Light Rail system and High Speed Rail.

Yet rail advocates continue to push for greater public spending under this false premise of environmental stewardship. Consider this statement from the campaign folks supporting the 2008 ballot measure to expand light rail in the Puget Sound:

="margin-left: 40px;">"One thing that really struck me is, when people get a sense of the
greenhouse gas levels that will be reduced, that will be a compelling
argument," said Alex Fryer of the group Mass Transit Now.

Yet our analysis shows ST2's poor ridership would only reduce CO2 emissions by 1.11%. Randal O'Toole made similar findings in his remarks about High Speed Rail. And these don't even include the life cycle costs of infrastructure or supply chains that the Berkeley researchers count.

You can find the full U.C. Berkeley study here.


Congress Follows in Jefferson's Footsteps

June 27, 2009 in Blog

There has been much made of the fact that Congress voted yesterday on a bill of greater than 1,000 pages without reading it. One historian, however, notes that the same was true of the Declaration of Independence.

Author and "historian" Dave Barry notes in Dave Barry Slept Here, which may one day become a history textbook, that Thomas Jefferson didn't expect people to actually read all that he wrote. To prove his point, Barry cites the text of the Declaration:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that they should get some sleep. Because I have been up for two nights now, declaring independence, and I may be a lanky Virginian but I am not a machine, for heaven's sake, and it just doesn't make sense to sit here scrawling away these compound-complex sentences when I just know nobody's going to read them, because nobody ever does read all the way through these legal documents. Take leases. You take the average tenants, and you could put a lease in front of them with a clause about halfway t!
hrough stating that they have to eat toasted moose doots for breakfast, and I guarantee you they'll never read it. Not that it would make any difference if they did, because tenants ignore most of the rules anyway, such as the rules about not flushing inappropriate objects down the toilet. Ask any landlord what he spends most of his time doing, and the odds are he'll answer "Pulling inappropriate objects out of tenant's toilets." I know one landlord who found a gerbil in there. Who the hell would do a thing like that? A cat, yes. I could see that. I could see giving a modest rebate for that. But not a gerbil. I gotta lie down.

As Congress heads into its 4th of July recess, we would do well to remember these words.

Weird but Green

June 26, 2009 in Blog

A recent report from a Spanish economist noting that their effort to create green jobs has backfired, killing 2.2 jobs for every one created, elicited an interesting response from Presidential Spokesman Robert Gibbs. He called the analysis into question, telling the White House press corps:

It seems weird that we're importing wind turbine parts from Spain in order to build -- to meet renewable energy demand here if that were even remotely the case.

It may be weird, but Washington State has another name for it: "green." The 2008 Washington State Green Energy Jobs report counts "Tank Car, Truck, and Ship Loaders" as green jobs, saying that we have 30 people working in that category doing "green" work. In Washington some of these ship loading jobs are related to unloading wind turbines from overseas.

One person's weird job is another's "green" job.

Cash for Clunkers the Model of Inefficiency

June 26, 2009 in Blog

Recently, Congress passed legislation, called "Cash for Clunkers," that offers funding to those with old cars so they can upgrade to new cars with better fuel efficiency. The Seattle Times editorialized against the legislation citing a number of problems with the bill.

We hadn't previously examined the legislation, but a reporter asked today what we thought about it, so we took at look.

One of the questions we typically ask (but policymakers too seldom do) is how much a particular climate policy spends to reduce one metric ton of CO2. This is the standard unit of carbon as a commodity. Currently, a tonne (metric ton) of CO2 costs €13.40 (about $19) on the European Climate Exchange. If a policy spends more than that to reduce a tonne of CO2, then they could do more for the environment by putting the funding elsewhere.

How does "Cash for Clunkers" do using this approach? Put simply, very badly.

The typical car travels 15,000 miles per year. If that car averages 18 MPG, it will use 833 gallons in a year. If someone trades that car in for a new car that averages 22 MPG, they receive $3,500 from the government and will use 682 gallons. So, the government spends $3,500 to save the emissions from 151 gallons, about 2,939 lbs of CO2, per year. That is 1.34 tonnes of CO2.

Even if that car lasts 10 years, the government is spending $261.96 per tonne, or 13.8 times the price available on the European Climate Exchange.

The numbers are slightly better if you buy a car that gets 10 MPG better than your old car. The government provides $4,500 to you in that circumstance. But they are still spending $204.12 per tonne, or 10.75 times more.

Some environmental activists may respond that the cost doesn't matter because the issue is so important that it is worth the cost. Wasting money, however, is wasting resources. By wasting money we are losing the opportunity to do much more for the environment and are wasting 90 percent of the funding. Imagine what we could do with that money.

It is ironic, to say the least, that legislation seeking to improve efficiency is extremely inefficient.