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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Peer Review Raises Serious Questions about State Climate Advisory Team’s Recommendations

in Press releases

Seattle – A third-party peer review of the state Climate Advisory Team’s recommendations found serious flaws in economic projections of costs and benefits.  Washington Policy Center’s study, a cost-benefit analysis by The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston, has concluded that the state Climate Advisory Team’s (CAT) report on addressing climate change in Washington made significant errors, such as overcounting some benefits and ig

"Driving" Green Jobs to King County

July 25, 2008 in Blog

Last week I attended a public meeting to discuss bringing "green" jobs to King County. Three things stood out at the meeting.

First, those in the audience were not asked if this was a good idea, but merely what were the obstacles to bringing green jobs here and how we could overcome those obstacles. Before the public was asked for their opinion, there was a panel of "experts" all of whom praised "green" jobs and efforts to create more of them. There was a bit of unintended candor, however, that caused a ripple through the room. Bob Markholt, the Program Coordinator of the Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Training at the Seattle Vocational Institute said he felt there is "not a nickel's worth of difference between a green job and a regular job." We have written in the past, making precisely that argument -- a low-paying green job isn't better than a high-paying job in health care, manufacturing, technology or anywhere else.

Second, the panelists admitted that global warming wasn't really their concern. It was simply the latest reason to achieve traditionally leftist goals. Jessica Coven of Climate Solutions said that she wasn't really interested in global warming until Hurricane Katrina. She said it made her realize that "global warming is a social justice issue." She went on to say that a "sustainable economy is more equitable." She did not provide any evidence of this, especially since efforts to drive the price of energy up disproportionately impact low-income families.

Finally, the County appears to continue to believe that government can best determine the direction of the economy. This, of course, never works out as intended but the temptation for politicians to believe they can run every aspect of the economy is often too overwhelming. The bill developed by King County staff will "drive investment into the green economy." Given the bill's authors, it is not surprising that this misguided perception holds sway. The bill was developed by "unions, job training programs, community colleges and 'progressive' businesses." One of these "progressive" businesses was McKinstry, an engineering firm that specializes in "green" building. The President, Doug Moore, made a claim I think is probably inaccurate.

He said that building "green" has a longer timeline for return on investment than businesses typically like. "Green" elements have a 7-10 year return on investment as opposed to the more typical 5 year return timeline businesses like (I doubt the 7-10 years based on my analysis of green schools, but OK). He then added that the "green" sector was recession proof, saying that demand for his services didn't fall off during the economic slowdown during 2001. So he seems to be saying that at a time when investment capital is least available, during an economic slowdown, companies continue to invest in projects that have a lower return on investment but shelve investments that provide a return more quickly? It might be true that companies would invest in efficiency if that was the best available investment, but there is no reason why, in a situation where capital is tight, that companies would keep investing in "green" projects with a 7-1!
0 year ROI timeline but fail to invest in traditional projects with a 7-10 year, or better, ROI timeline.

It may be true that in 2001, demand for his services did not fall because "green" building was a niche or emerging industry at that time. Niche products can do better than mass-marketed products and services in a recession. When those products become mandatory or more common, they are likely to suffer the same economic pressures as all other types of investment.

The very real problem with setting up a one-sided discussion, with input only from supporters and those who have a stake in a particular outcome and hoping that government can effectively "drive" the individual decisions of millions of people is that it sets the stage for failure. Such a narrow view and unrealistic claims have led to problems with biofuels, green schools, subsidies for electric cars and other eco-fads. People, making individual choices, will far more effectively improve efficiency, cut CO2 emissions and create sustainability.

Which Will Come First?

July 18, 2008 in Blog

Al20gore America achieves 100% renewable energy:

[Al Gore] said the goal of producing all of the nation's electricity from "renewable energy and truly clean, carbon-free sources" within 10 years is not some far-fetched vision, although he said it would require fundamental changes in political thinking and personal expectations. "This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative," Gore said in remarks prepared for the conference. "It represents a challenge to all Americans, in every walk of life — to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers and to every citizen.&quot!
;

Or, Al Gore reduces his energy use:

In the year since Al Gore took steps to make his home more energy-efficient, the former Vice President’s home energy use surged more than 10%, according to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. ... In the past year, Gore’s home burned through 213,210 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, enough to power 232 average American households for a month.

I'm taking bets.

Seven Costly Ideas: Sierra Club Book Revisits Old Ideas in New Package

July 18, 2008 in Publications

As part of the campaign to reduce CO2 emissions, groups like the Sierra Club advocate a number of lifestyle changes designed to reduce our carbon footprint. These proposals, however, are often costly, meaningless or even counterproductive. Often they are built on outdated and discredited philosophies of environmental impact. Former Seattle Times reporter Eric Sorensen's new book, published by the Sierra Club, recycles many of these old myths. The July Environmental Watch looks at the flawed approach taken by Sorensen and the consequences of following his approach.

Prevent Asthma: Pollute the Environment!

July 17, 2008 in Blog

Asthma rates have become a surrogate for a number of environmental statistics. The reason is that the quality of air, water and other environmental metrics is improving, so environmental groups mention asthma instead, hoping you will focus on asthma rates rather than actual pollution data. A growing number of children have asthma and these groups claim that the increase is due to pollution, including indoor and outdoor air quality. For instance:

"Automobiles are the number one source of Washington’s air pollution and are a major factor in asthma rates in our cities. Kids in Seattle and Spokane suffer from asthma at a rate higher than the national average." - Washington Environmental Council, January 2005

"Why Green Building? Health. ... Increased asthma rates, EPA ranks poor indoor air quality as one of the top 5 health risks in the U.S. today." - Presentation of Rachel Jamison, Department of Ecology, January 2008

We've addressed these problems in the past. For instance, air quality has significantly improved in the past few decades at the same time asthma rates are climbing. Further, the link between green buildings and asthma is purely speculative.

So, am I arguing that a clean environment causes asthma? Well...maybe.

Today's Scientific American says that clean water and prosperity may be causing the increase in asthma. They noted that children who have a certain stomach virus have a lower rate of asthma (before we go crazy and start injecting the virus in kids we should note that the virus also causes increased ulcers later in life). What has caused the decline in the prevalence of this virus? Here's what they say:

H. pylori is acquired during childhood, usually from close contact with parents and siblings. Beginning in the early 20th century, clean water, smaller families, better nutrition and the widespread use of antibiotics in industrialized nations led to a dramatic decline in this microbe. Only about 5 percent of children in this study who were under 10 years of age were found to harbor H. pylori compared with developing nations, where most children test positive.

So, clean water causes!
asthma? Since the environmental community is so worried about asthma, I'm sure they'll jump on doing something about this issue immediately.

2008 Environmental Conference and Luncheon

July 16, 2008 in Blog

Bjorn_award_sm1 Yesterday we hosted the 6th annual Environmental Luncheon and for the first time hosted a half-day conference on climate change and eco-fads. More than 330 people heard The Skeptical Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg talk about his new book Cool It and the best way to deal with climate change and why the Kyoto Protocol is expensive and ineffective. We awarded him with our annual Environmental Innovator Award for his contributions to creative thinki!
ng about how to improve the environment and the well-being of people across the globe (here I am handing him the award).

The first panel in the morning featured a lively debate between Dr. Don Easterbrook from Western Washington University and Dr. Cliff Mass of the University of Washington on the issue of climate change, its causes and effects. You can see Dr. Easterbrook's PowerPoint here and Dr. Mass's PowerPoint here.

The second session featured Dr. Matthew Manweller of Central Washington University who spoke about the unintended consequences of environmental regulations and how well intended, government-mandated approaches can actually do serious environmental damage to the very areas regulations were designed to save. You can read his op-ed published previously by the Washington Policy Center on this issue here.

He was joined by the President of the Cascade Policy Institute John Charles who discussed a range of eco-fads that have been tried over the years in Oregon. For example, he cited numerous problems with carbon offsets mandated by the State of Oregon. You can read his research on this in an excellent article called "Money for Nothing."

Thanks to all who attended, asked questions and made the event a success. For those who could not attend, we will be posting the video of all speeches in the near future.

Center for the Environment Annual Luncheon

July 15, 2008 in Events
Date: 
Tuesday, July 15th, 2008
Time: 
8:00 am - 1:30 pm
Place: 
The Westin Seattle
Seattle, WA

On July 15th, WPC was pleased to have acclaimed author Bjørn Lomborg as our keynote speaker. Mr. Lomborg’s best sellers include Cool It and The Skeptical Environmentalist. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2004 and one of the "50 people who could save the planet" by the UK Guardian in 2008.

Bjorn Lomborg Keynoting Environmental Policy Luncheon Tomorrow

in Press releases

Seattle – Bjorn Lomborg, best-selling author of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, will keynote Washington Policy Center’s annual Environmental Policy Luncheon and Conference tomorrow at the Seattle Westin.  More than 300 people will be in attendance.

The Carte Blanche Way to Reduce CO2 Emissions

July 11, 2008 in Blog

Yesterday I attended a presentation on how "Smart Growth" can reduce CO2 emissions and vehicle miles traveled. Reid Ewing and Jerry Walters are authors of "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change." They spoke at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Kirkland City Hall. The press release for their new book says "The findings show that people who move into compact, 'green neighborhoods' are making as big a contribution to fighting global warming as those who buy the most efficient hybrid vehicles, but remain in car-dependent areas." They argued that government planning can achieve these goals and that these compact communities are what people want anyway.

They provided a range of statistics on how much these strategies could reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Interestingly, they noted that a doubling in transit service would reduce VMT by only 6 percent.

One statistic they did not provide was the cost of this approach. So I asked if they had calculated the cost of these strategies to society per ton of CO2 reduced. This would allow us to compare growth management to other CO2 reduction strategies. Their answer? "Nobody has calculated the true cost and who is paying it."

Put yourself in the position of a policymaker. Experts have just presented you with a strategy they say will be successful at achieving a particular goal. When you ask how much this will cost they respond that they don't know what it will cost and who will pay. Would you a) adopt their approach, or b) suggest that they go back and do more work? Which approach do you think Washington's policymakers are adopting?

Scientists Wear White. Judges Wear Black.

July 7, 2008 in Blog

SupremecourtLast week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that judges should not act as scientists when it comes to environmental lawsuits. The Associated Press reported:

The court said environmentalists had asked it "to act as a panel of scientists that instructs the Forest Service how to validate its hypotheses regarding wildlife viability, cho!
oses among scientific studies in determining whether the Forest Service has complied with the underlying Forest Plan, and orders the agency to explain every possible scientific uncertainty," Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr., wrote. "This is not a proper role for a federal appellate court."

Scientificmethod14This is a very encouraging decision. We've written here!
and elsewhere about the important difference between policymaking and science when it comes to environmental issues. Both policymakers and scientists like to pretend that value judgments are based on "science," when, in fact, they are not. Judging which risks we are more comfortable with, the risks of climate change or nuclear power, cannot be settled by a scientific formula. Nor can questions about which is more important, personal freedom or a reduction in CO2 emissions. Those are value judgments.

Now the court has agreed that scientists do science and judges do law. That's why their robes are different colors.