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.

What's New

Meat in your diet?

September 10, 2008 in Blog

Beef, its what's for dinner!  Not according to the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, who recently told The Observer, a British paper, that reducing consumption of meat would have a positive impact on climate change.  In fact, in The Observer he said:

"In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of brining about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity," said Pachauri. "Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there."

However, as silly as Pachauri's suggestion may sound, it is the conclusion in a column by Bryan Walsh in TIME that may have many Americans struggling to s!
wallow this idea.  Walsh writes in argument against Pachauri's voluntary solution, stating:

"Relying on individuals to voluntarily change their behavior is nowhere near as effective as political change aimed at speeding the transition to an economy far less carbon-intensive than our current one."

Relying on "political change" or the governmnet to supply us with the answers to problems has proven to be costly and often wrong.  While Pachauri's suggestion seems silly, at least it will be my choice and not the governmnet's decision of what is put on my dinner table.

Moving to Government-Owned Power

September 2, 2008 in Publications

This November, citizens in Jefferson, Island and Skagit Counties will vote on whether to continue receiving their electric service from a regulated, privately-owned company or from a public utility instead. Puget Sound Energy (PSE), a privately-owned utility, has been the longtime provider of electrical services in these counties, but the announcement that PSE might be purchased by an overseas investment group has caused many people to ask whether it would be better to set up a local utility district to provide electrical services.

Car-Free Days Are Seattle's Latest Eco-Fad, but Are There Any Real Benefits?

September 1, 2008 in Publications

As part of the Seattle’s Climate Action Now campaign, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has asked Seattleites to reduce the number of vehicle miles driven by 1,000 miles annually. The Mayor says citizens should do this to help the city reach its official global warming reduction goal. To force Seattleites to participate, the Mayor announced early this summer the closure of three streets, which took place on Sundays in August and September. These closures are part of a growing eco-fad known as Car-Free Days.

Air quality better even as standards tighten

August 19, 2008 in Blog

This past weekend the City of Seattle and surrounding areas violated the Federal Clean Air Act and if you read today’s coverage by the Seattle Times, found here, you might be alarmed by some of the claims that were made by Reporter Isaac Arnsdorf.  In his article, Arnsdorf writes:

Now that the region failed to meet the stricter standard, Washington's governor will have to report to the EPA in 2009 which areas of the state are too polluted. The EPA will then evaluate the governor's recommendation and finalize the designat!
ion in 2010, at which time local officials will have three years to develop and present a plan to clean up the air…The details of such a plan could range from tightening auto inspections to canceling Mariners' games on hot days.

In an email response to Arnsdorf, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Executive Director Dennis McLerran wrote:

I don't think anyone would consider cancellation of baseball games to be an effective strategy for reducing ozone precursors in the region. 

Additionally, the violation should come as no surprise based on reports last week from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency that cautioned Puget Sound area residents that ozone levels, commonly referred to as smog, could reach levels that would require the State to be considered a “nonattainment area”.  The term “nonattainment area” is a fancy way to say that there is too much smog in the air.

What may be a surprise to most is that the Seattle is in violation not simply as a result of increased pollution, but instead because of increased standards that were issued earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In March the EPA lowered standards of acceptable smog particles per million (ppm) from .08 to .075 ppm.  For their part the Seattle PI, seen here, wrote a fair article that expressed this point, unfortunately the Times article did not.

In 1992, the last time the State had a “nonattainment area”, the standard set by EPA was .12 ppm.  The three year average that put Seattle over the top this time was .077 ppm, barely breaking the allowable standard today, but nevertheless this shows the vast improvements made in our overall air quality since 1992.

Paper or Plastic? Seattle Mayor Nickels' Bag Tax

August 1, 2008 in Publications

The City of Seattle recently authorized a bag tax in an attempt to reduce Seattleites use of paper and plastic disposable bags. Why? Because according to city officials, disposable bags are harmful to the environment. This policy decision is based on disputed science that will, at best, levy an additional tax burden on Seattle area shoppers and businesses.

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.