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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Environmentalist Clowns Threatening Human Life

Today's Colorado Springs Gazette published my op-ed, "Environmentalist clowns threatening human life," reviewing a November 18 talk by Keith Lockitch. (The online version is dated November 20, while the print date is November 21.)

See also additional quotes from environmentalists.

For the story about the environmentalists dressed up as clowns, see the Denver Daily or Denver Post.

Here is the entire piece:

Environmentalist clowns threatening human life

Climate change threatens our nation. Pollution is the cause. We must reverse course now to save future generations from misery.

Contrary to environmentalist hysteria, the problem is not carbon dioxide warming the earth. Instead, our political climate of freedom suffers the pollution of environmentalist controls of our industrial economy.

On November 18, environmentalists dressed up as clowns rallied at the state capitol to demand that Colorado shut down a coal-fired electricity plant.

That night, Keith Lockitch, an environmental analyst with the Ayn Rand Center, explained in a Denver talk why environmentalist controls threaten human life and well-being.

People need industrial energy to live and flourish, Lockitch emphasized. Indeed, modern energy enables us to respond to climate disasters and weather extremes, natural forces that have always threatened human life.

Throughout human history and still today in undeveloped regions, droughts, floods, freezes, and heat waves have devastated food supplies and caused wide-scale suffering and death. What allows the developed world to largely escape such dangers is our relatively free, industrial economy.

Consider the droughts of the 1970s, Lockitch suggested. While the weather caused massive death and starvation in undeveloped regions of Africa and India, the United States suffered “only minor economic losses.”

Americans respond to freezes by turning up their furnaces. If it gets too hot we turn on air conditioning. If one farming region suffers a freeze, drought, or other problem, we ship food from elsewhere. To learn about potential dangers, including bad weather, we turn on our electricity-powered televisions or computers.

Industrial energy allows us to live longer, healthier lives. If we get sick, we ride in oil-powered ambulances to electricity-powered hospitals. While people in undeveloped regions continue to die from smoke inhalation from cooking fires, we use clean gas or electric stoves. Yet many environmentalists would hamper industrial prosperity.

The political question, Lockitch said, is separable from the scientific question of climate change. Whether or not human carbon dioxide emissions will seriously contribute to harmful warming, free- market capitalism enables us as investors, entrepreneurs, producers, and consumers to respond to problems, whatever their causes.

Don’t environmentalists merely want us to change from fossil fuels to renewable sources? Lockitch pointed out that prominent environmentalists opposed solar farms in the Mojave desert and wind farms off the shores of Massachusetts. Many environmentalists oppose nuclear power. Their goal is to limit human activity regardless of the availability of energy.

Lockitch outlined the problems with wind and solar. Americans currently use around 600 coal-fired plants. It would take 1,000 wind turbines on 40,000 acres of land to replace a single plant. Their production would require enormous costs.

Coal plants can expand or reduce output based on demand. “You can’t turn on the sun, and you can’t turn on the wind,” Lockitch noted. At a coal plant the energy is stored in the coal itself. Wind and solar plants produce electricity at unpredictable times in uncontrollable amounts, and it cannot easily be stored for future use. What happens if you face an emergency during a blackout caused by low wind?

That’s not to say that Lockitch is committed to fossil fuels. He pointed out that Rand wrote a novelized account of a motor with cheap, clean, and abundant energy.

To Lockitch, the question is not ultimately about fossil versus renewable energy. It’s about freedom versus controls. On a free market, people can decide how best to use fossil fuels and what new energy sources deserve research and investment.

Does the future hold advances in nuclear power, solar collection, or some yet-unimagined source of energy? Free-market capitalism spurs productive development.

Environmentalists might enjoy clowning around and imagining a renewable-energy utopia. In the real word, our lives and well-being depend on modern industrial energy production. To protect ourselves we must defend free-market capitalism. That means we must clean up the economic pollution of environmentalist controls.

Ari Armstrong, the author of Values of Harry Potter, publishes

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Environmentalist Clowns

As environmentalists dressed as clowns protested coal-fired electric plants in Denver -- see the reports from the Denver Daily News and Denver Post -- Keith Lockitch prepared to give a talk at the Auraria campus that evening explaining the profound human need for industrial energy. (More on this soon.)

In the Q&A, Lockitch pointed to two quotes from environmentalists indicating that they don't want cheap, abundant energy, even if it is "clean" and "renewable."

Paul Ehrlich said, "Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun."

Amory Lovins said, "If you ask me, it'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."


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Monday, November 9, 2009

Low-Cost Tech Could Cool Planet

The following article originally was published November 9 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

If planet did warm, low-cost tech could cool it

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

In our last column we expressed skepticism that human-caused global warming will ever amount to much. We have little trust in the politically subsidized computer simulations responsible for most of the fuss. Obviously, natural causes play a major role in climate change, and historically carbon dioxide levels have followed -- not caused -- warmer temperatures.

The "precautionary principle" counsels us to act even if the risk is uncertain. Unfortunately, few environmentalists practice much caution regarding the economy. While the harms of climate change are speculative, the harms of widespread political economic controls are certain and severe.

But what if? What if the earth did warm from man-made (or entirely natural) causes, and what if this caused significant problems for people? If that were the case, then low-cost technology could quickly solve the problem, argue Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in SuperFreakonomics.

Levitt and Dubner have been accused of claiming a consensus for global cooling in the 1970s, misrepresenting other people's work, and other failings. We've read a number of these criticisms, and we've read the book. We conclude that various detractors are smearing SuperFreakonomics to suppress its information. Read the book and reach your own conclusions.

The book devotes the last of five chapters to climate change. However, Chapter 4 sets the stage by describing "cheap and simple" solutions to various problems. For example, better hand cleansing in hospitals dramatically decreased deaths. Forceps have saved the lives of babies and mothers. Fertilizing crops with ammonium nitrate has dramatically increased yields. The polio vaccine wiped out that disease. Seat belts curbed auto deaths.

The final example of the chapter is a proposal to control hurricanes. Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures developed the idea based on a plan of British engineer Stephen Salter. The proposal is to employ a bunch of "large, floating" rings in troubled spots of the ocean. Waves of warm water lap into the rings, pushing the warm water down a tube and bringing cooler water to the surface. Goodbye hurricanes.

The chapter on climate change focuses on two other ideas floating around Intellectual Ventures for cooling the earth. One plan involves pumping sulfur dioxide through a long hose into the upper atmosphere, mimicking the cooling effects of natural volcanic eruptions. This would quickly cool the earth, yet the effects would rapidly disappear if pumping stopped. The other plan is to seed more clouds over the ocean.*

Cooling the earth with sulfur dioxide would cost an estimated $100 million per year, less than what environmentalists spend fear mongering. Dramatically cutting carbon dioxide emissions would cost an estimated trillion dollars per year, or 10,000 times as much.

Moreover, cutting carbon emissions wouldn't accomplish much. Beyond the problem of getting developing nations such as China to curb emissions -- fat chance -- "the existing carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for several generations," Levitt and Dubner point out.

So, given that the sulfur dioxide pump is radically cheaper, safer, and more feasible, many environmentalists conclude that we should only limit carbon emissions instead. Al Gore thinks it's "nuts" to explore geoengineering solutions like the pump.

Environmentalists don't worry that volcanos emit sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, naturally cooling the earth. But many are dead set against humans doing the same thing. Why? Because, to the radical environmentalist, anything "natural" is good, and anything human is bad. Such environmentalists really don't care about the earth's temperature. What they care about is limiting human activity.

While geoengineering is the big take-home point, Levitt and Dubner challenge a number of environmentalist dogmas along the way. For example, "buying locally produced food actually increases greenhouse-gas emissions" because "big farms are far more efficient than small farms."

Myhrvold believes that wind and other alternative energies -- touted by our "New Energy Economy" governor as a pretext for corporate welfare -- "don't scale to a sufficient degree" to replace traditional energy. He adds that solar cells are not perfect: "only about 12 percent [of light] gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat -- which contributes to global warming."

Meanwhile, the authors suggest, we should not forget the benefits of modern energy. Before the gas-powered automobile, people used horses, and this generated a great deal of manure. Imagine vacant lots with manure "piled as high as sixty feet." Imagine manure "lining city streets like banks of snow." Thank human ingenuity for automobiles and the oil that powers them.

In the 1800s, American lights relied on harvesting thousands of whales each year. Our authors write, "The new oil industry... functioned as the original Endangered Species Act, saving the whale from near-certain extinction."

We worry a bit about the book's treatment of a few topics such as altruism. Yet, while SuperFreakonomics may be a fancy title for plain old economics mixed with clever research, it offers a wealth of fascinating insights.

* November 13 update: Here's something not mentioned in the book: one young scientist thinks CO2-eating rocks might help.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Radical Environmentalists Undermine Human Progress

The following article originally was published October 26 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

Radical environmentalists undermine human progress

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

The documentary Not Evil, Just Wrong apparently draws its title from an interview with an advocate of DDT, the pesticide sprayed in the U.S. decades ago to wipe out malaria by killing disease-causing mosquitos. Thanks to radical (and dishonest) environmentalists, such as Al Gore's hero Rachel Carson, international bans on DDT helped cause millions of deaths from malaria in developing nations.

The DDT advocate says that he doesn't think these environmentalists are evil, just wrong. Yet they advocated policies that caused misery and death for millions of human beings, and they continue to advocate policies that would devastate the global economy and cause more death particularly among the world's poor.

Your younger author attended a free screening of the documentary October 18 at an event sponsored by the Independence Institute. The same night the documentary also streamed online.

In addition to reviewing the history of DDT, the documentary also pokes holes in some of the major "global warming" claims, including the infamous "hockey stick" graph and claims that recent years have been the warmest on record. Indeed, even the BBC recently admitted that we seem to be headed into a relative cool spell.

The documentary also offers some historical perspective. The earth has gotten warmer and cooler many times over the ages for entirely natural reasons. And, since the beginning of human civilization, some people have been predicting the apocalypse. The global cooling scare is just a few decades old, the documentary reminds us, and some scientists quickly jumped from global cooling to global warming fear mongering.

Unfortunately, while the documentary is better than the work of, say, Al Gore or Michael Moore, it drops the ball on a number of important points.

The film should have offered more information about the earth's natural warming and cooling cycles, including theories attempting to explain them.

The film says that replacing coal with windmills and solar panels would be economically devastating, and we agree, but the film doesn't offer much detail on the matter. Nor does the film discuss nuclear power generation in Europe or, potentially, in the U.S.

The film doesn't even clarify its view on global warming. The film seems to alternately suggest that human-caused global warming is unreal or overstated, that some global warming might be a good thing, and that we'll be able to develop the technology required to deal with warming.

Critics will legitimately ask: if human-caused global warming is real, and if it will cause harm, and if we can deal with that harm technologically, then why can't we also explore new technology to reduce CO2 emissions in the first place?

The film plausibly argues that reducing U.S. CO2 emissions would merely shift emissions to China and other developing nations, where coal burning tends to be a lot dirtier. However, the film could have offered considerably more detail on the projected impacts on CO2 emissions from anti-industrial "cap-and-trade" proposals.

A better documentary would have clearly articulated these themes. Radical environmentalists grossly exaggerate human-caused global warming and the potential harms of it. Industry operating in relatively free markets has progressively created cleaner and more abundant energy, leading to dramatic improvements to human life, and it should have the freedom to continue. More political controls on energy will stifle industry and innovation while trivially impacting global CO2 emissions.

There is a broad sense in which we are practically all environmentalists. We all want to breath clean air, drink clean water, and eat healthy food. We all want to limit our exposure to dangerous chemicals. More broadly we want to live and work in comfortable homes and offices in a productive and economically expanding society. We want what's good for people, and we want an environment conducive to human life.

But radical environmentalists often see people as the enemy. Some environmentalists have likened people to a virus or plague, lamented the growing human population, and hoped for human-killing diseases and catastrophes.

Such environmentalists tend to make two basic errors. First, they see untouched nature as intrinsically valuable. They have no problem with natural climate change, smoke, or chemicals. They just dislike anything that people do to alter nature. Second, they see people as unnatural, as something apart from nature and disruptive to it.

We view nature as good for people. We enjoy wilderness areas for their recreational value. We enjoy the products of mines, tree farms, and factories. We see people as part of the environment, and our proper goal is to use and modify nature for our own benefit.

Radical environmentalists opposed human industry long before the global warming scare. If the earth cools again, they will soon offer some other pretext to destroy human development.

We do not know whether human-caused global warming will ever pose significant challenges for people. But we do know that radical environmentalists pose a grave threat to human progress and life.


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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reusable Bags Pose Health Risks

Recently I went in to the Whole Foods store at 92nd and Sheridan in Westminster. Upon checkout, the clerk informed me that the store no longer offered normal plastic bags. I had to take paper instead or buy one of the "reusable" bags. The clerk indicated that the policy was "for the environment," to which I responded something like, "Don't give me your pseudo-scientific environmentalist BS."

I have not been into a Whole Foods since. I proudly ask for plastic bags every time I go into Whole Foods's competitor, Sunflower. It turns out that when I go shopping at a grocery store, I'm there to buy food, not listen to some fact-challenged religious sermon.

As I reviewed in January, the Colorado legislature considered fining the use of plastic grocery bags. For the environment. Even though plastic bag crack-downs actually harm the environment (not that that's a primary reason to oppose the measure). Thankfully, the effort failed.

But it turns out that continually bagging up meats and unwashed vegetables in a "reusable," "environmentally friendly" bag makes it, like, all gross and stuff.

Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Center points to an article from the National Post titled, Back to plastic? Reusable grocery bags may cause food poisoning. The article reviews:

A microbiological study — a first in North America — of the popular, eco-friendly bags has uncovered some unsettling facts. Swab-testing by two independent laboratories found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags.

"The main risk is food poisoning," Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former chief of medical mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health, stated in a news release. Dr. Summerbell evaluated the study results.

"But other significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections," he stated.

The study found that 64% of the reusable bags tested were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than what's considered safe for drinking water.

Further, 40% of the bags had yeast or mold, and some of the bags had an unacceptable presence of coliforms, faecal intestinal bacteria, when there should have been 0.

The solution? Wash the bag. But as Lockitch writes, "What about all the water and energy consumed by the washing machine, not to mention all the evil detergents and chemicals that get washed down the drain?! No, laundering the bags will still have an environmental impact–it will still leave a 'footprint.'"

Give me the plastic. And if you want to hassle me about it I can always double-bag it.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Turn On Lights Saturday at 8:30 for Edison Hour

Remember to turn on all of your lights -- all of them! -- Saturday at 8:30 p.m. to celebrate Edison Hour. In fact, turn on all of your electrical appliances you can manage. Take an hour to appreciate the discovery of electricity and the invention of electrical power generation and the electric light. Say a silent "thank you" to the scientists, industrialists, businessmen, and producers who have made possible electrical power.

We no longer live in a dark and cold world. We can turn on the lights when it gets dark. We no longer have to rely on burning smelly oils or animal fats for light.

We no longer have to depend on burning wood or coal in home ovens (even in the middle of summer) to cook our food. We need merely turn the dial on the electric oven.

We no longer have to spend hours laboring to prepare food and clean up the mess. We can flip on the electric mixer or processor, then throw all the dirty dishes into the electric dishwasher. Then we can throw the leftovers into the electric freezer or refrigerator, where we keep milk, produce, and meat in an edible state for days and as long as months.

For entertainment and education, we can flip on the radio, television, or computer. For instance, we can watch an online video Thomas Edison discussing the electric light.

Of course Edison Hour is a response to Earth Hour, to which Keith Lockitch responds:

This blindness to the vital importance of energy is precisely what Earth Hour exploits. It sends the comforting-but-false message: Cutting off fossil fuels would be easy and even fun! People spend the hour stargazing and holding torch-lit beach parties; restaurants offer special candle-lit dinners. Earth Hour makes the renunciation of energy seem like a big party.

Participants spend an enjoyable sixty minutes in the dark, safe in the knowledge that the life-saving benefits of industrial civilization are just a light switch away. This bears no relation whatsoever to what life would actually be like under the sort of draconian carbon-reduction policies that climate activists are demanding: punishing carbon taxes, severe emissions caps, outright bans on the construction of power plants.

Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month, without any form of fossil fuel energy? Try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible. ...

The lights of our cities and monuments are a symbol of human achievement, of what mankind has accomplished in rising from the cave to the skyscraper. Earth Hour presents the disturbing spectacle of people celebrating those lights being extinguished. Its call for people to renounce energy and to rejoice at darkened skyscrapers makes its real meaning unmistakably clear: Earth Hour symbolizes the renunciation of industrial civilization.

In the name of industrial progress, in the name of life-serving energy production, in the name of technological advancement, in the name of a lighted path or book page or computer screen, turn on those lights, Saturday, at 8:30 p.m.


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Monday, January 26, 2009

Fines for Plastic Bags?

Last year I wrote about a proposal to fine the use of plastic shopping bags. Now it's back, this time with the support of the children, because when children support political economic planning it's so much cuter than when adults do it.

You can read about the story at 9News, the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, or various other Colorado news sources. The upshot is that State Senator Jennifer Veiga and Representative Joe Miklosi want to impose a six-cent fine on plastic bag use, half of which would go to government-run education (because it is so obviously free from propaganda).

There are two main reasons, and several minor ones, why this is a horrible idea.

How stores supply bags to customers is properly between those parties, not politicians. Grocery stores have the right to provide the bags they want and that they believe their customers desire. Shoppers have the right to use those bags or bring their own. This is a matter of property rights and freedom of contract, and Veiga and Miklosi would violate both.

A government that can micromanage our shopping bags can control every other aspect of our life as well. If the "problem" is that plastic bags create waste, don't we need political controls on all other sorts of waste? All around us there is wasteful driving, wasteful packaging, wasteful thermostat-setting, wasteful clothing, wasteful everything -- according to the environmentalist zealots. Maybe we should just let the sate seize total control of the grocery stores, shut down the wasteful ones, and ensure the stores sell only non-wasteful products, as defined by politicians and bureaucrats. Clearly that is a recipe for tyranny of the highest order.

Now for the minor reasons. Plastic bags are cheap and convenient. Many people use them for trash-bag liners or to clean up after their wasteful pets. (Maybe those should be banned, too -- just think of all the poop and food baggage they generate.) Cloth bags are a nuisance for those shopping on the fly. Besides, grocery stores such as King Soopers already provide a modest financial incentive for bringing your own bags.

This proposal is social-engineering. It is wrong. It is immoral. The very fact that it has been proposed and lavished with media attention illustrates how far our nation has moved away from the principle of individual rights. It is a great scheme by the environmentalists, though: they spend our tax dollars to propagandize to children, who in return propagandize for environmentalist causes which would expand funding for government-run schools. Brilliant. [Update: Kent Denver School, which features the children pushing for the fine, is a "non-profit, private independent school." This does not change the arguments, though it does indicate how widespread is the anti-capitalist, environmentalist agenda.]

Update, January 30, 2009: The Rocky points out in an editorial:

Merchants would keep half the fee; the rest would underwrite a state "plastic bag reduction education fund . . . for the purpose of educating consumers" about the other part of the bill: an outright ban on plastic bags taking effect July 1, 2012. ...

Because the 6-cent arbitrary charge appears to be a tax, it must be presented to voters for approval, according to TABOR.

I had been relying on this comment from 9News: "The other three cents would go back to the state to fund education."

I did try to look up the bill before posting this article. I could not find it in the listings on the legislative web page, so I called the state capital and learned that, because the bill had not yet been introduced, it was not available online. I am happy to correct the record now.

The "plastic bag reduction education fund" makes the bill even worse, much worse, as it would force consumers to fund environmentalist propaganda, adding to the violation of their rights an infringement on their freedom of speech, which entails the right not to fund speech one finds objectionable.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

John Lewis vs. EPA Tyranny

On October 18, John Lewis of Duke University will speak in Arvada. His topic: "A Call to Action: Understanding and Defeating the EPA's Plan for Environmental Dictatorship." The talk is sponsored by Front Range Objectivism.

Read the details, and rsvp by Monday, October 13.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Consumer Choice" Versus Liberty

The Rocky Mountain News surprised me with its call for more stringent federal controls on car designs. It's July 24 editorial starts out well enough, noting that "Washington's command-and-control approach to the promotion of ethanol and other biofuels has unleashed a host of unintended consequences."

But then the News concludes:

[W]e also hope lawmakers take a serious look at the Open Fuel Standard Act, a bill launched last week by Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Colorado's own Ken Salazar.

The legislation would require automakers to produce a greater share of flex-fueled vehicles over time. By 2012, half the new cars sold in America, of domestic and foreign origin, would have to run on both gasoline or a "renewable" fuel such as E85 (which is 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline)or biodiesel. By 2015, 80 percent of new cars would have to be equipped to handle either type of fuel.

The bill would not compel car owners to buy gasoline or E85; it would let them select the fuel they prefer, based in part upon price signals. And flex-fuel technology can reportedly be added when cars are built for about $100, or less than 0.4 percent of the average new car's price. ...

Washington would be genuinely expanding consumer choices, not compelling individuals to purchase something they may not want.

The first problem with the News's analysis is that, if the new standards genuinely would help consumers relative to the costs, people would rush to buy the flex-fueled cars without taking a beating by the federal stick.

More significantly, the News praises "consumer choices" outside of the context in which it's a good thing: the system of liberty.

Relevant is not only the choices of consumers but the choices of producers. People have the right to run their businesses the way they see fit, so long as they don't violate the individual rights of others. Consumers properly have the right to choose where to conduct business. What "consumer choice" is all about in the context of liberty is that buyers choose which goods and services to purchase, thereby rewarding the businesses that best meet their needs and allowing businesses that don't meet people's needs to fail. The federal controls violate the rights of property and contract.

To take a simple example, let us say that the Blue Shoe Company produces only blue shoes, and it has found a group of customers happy to buy its products for whatever reason. A federal control that forced all shoe companies to produce red and green shoes would be immoral, as it would violate the rights of the shoe producer as well as of the consumers who wish to do business with the company. An appeal to "consumer choices" would not change the moral status of the controls. The reason that there is not (so far as I'm aware) a company that produces only blue shoes is that most customers want a selection of colors, so shoe companies offer such choices. However, shoe companies often are highly specialized, some making only high-end formal shoes, some making only sneakers. The proper point of the law is to protect people's rights to control their property and contract voluntarily, not to superficially expand "consumer choices" by force.

Thankfully, the News published a reply by Justin Blackman on August 1:

The editorial stated that "consumer choice" would fix these problems and advocated yet another government mandate (the Open Fuel Standard Act) to "put motorists in the driver's seat." This piece of legislation would force automakers to manufacture flex-fuel vehicles.

Normally, "consumer choice" tells automakers what to sell.

Motorists will never be "in the driver's seat" as long as the command-economy mentality persists, and there will always be unintended consequences when the government restricts the freedom of individual consumers to choose what goods and services work best for them.

The solution to energy supply problems is to leave consumers alone and let us decide for ourselves where our money should go. After all, if flex-fuel vehicles are good products, wouldn't we buy them of our own free will?

So good sense prevails at the News in the end, as it so often does.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DNC Carbon Credit Fiasco

Congratulations to Face the State for breaking the story about a Colorado wind turbine used by the DNC as a carbon offset. There's just one little problem: the turbine doesn't actually work.

Face the State reports that the "wind turbine installed this year by the Wray School District RD-2... has never produced marketable energy due to massive equipment malfunctions." Nevertheless, both the governor and media reports have praised the "alternative" energy turbine.

Apparently the left cares a lot more about the "alternative" part than it cares about the "energy" part. (Though I do have to wonder how much oil, coal, and natural gas it took to erect this broken wind machine.)

Colorado Springs's Gazette had some fun with the story:

Religious indulgences involved paying the leaders of various religious institutions that claimed authority or expertise in the spiritual realm. In return for payment, church officials granted absolution for sins. ...

Carbon offsets work the same way. Some wealthy environmentalists pollute far more seriously than ordinary average folks, but they feel bad about it. ...

[Some Democrats] buy indulgences from a branch of the green church called NativeEnergy, a Vermont-based business that brokers carbon credits, or "offsets."

Howard said NativeEnergy paid the school district between $200,000 and $300,000 to issue "green tags," which it will use to represent the indulgence credits. How does one value supernatural green currency blessed by public school officials?

"It's strictly a matter of negotiating price," [Wray superintendent Ron] Howard said.

NativeEnergy officials asked Howard not to disclose the exact amount they paid for the green tags. And why is that? It's because NativeEnergy makes money by marking up the cost of indulgences. The seller (NativeEnergy) doesn't want the buyer (Democratic Party) to know the wholesale price. A freedom of information request will solve the mystery.

But before you laugh too hard, remember that these are the folks setting energy policy for the rest of us.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hillman Talks Energy

On Monday I criticized The Denver Post for its baseless assertion that "New Energy" is driving Colorado's economy. Mark Hillman also has pointed out the economic damage of energy controls:

As if paying $4-plus for gasoline isn't bad enough, some of Colorado's political leaders seem bound and determined to spread pain at the pump to the cost of heating our homes this winter -- and for decades to come... Democrats try to freeze traditional energy sources to make alternative energy economically competitive.

Hillman criticizes Senator Ken Salazar for standing in the way of oil-shale production. Unfortunately, Hillman does not specify how Salazar is doing this. Salazar praises a "research and development program that Congress created in 2005"; if that means subsidies, then such federal assistance is wrong. Salazar also fears "the Bureau of Land Management is trying to organize a fire sale of commercial oil shale leases on public land." Of course the central problem here is that the federal government has nationalized vast tracks of land. Short of the ideal policy of privatizing all of this land, the federal policy should be to lease land (though any lease set would be arbitrary for this socialized land) to whomever can independently finance operations. Salazar believes, "The governors of Wyoming and Colorado, communities and editorial boards across the West agree that the administration's headlong rush is a terrible idea." But what they think should make absolutely no difference. They are not the ones putting up the investment money or doing any of the work.

Hillman also blasts Congressman Mark Udall, who is currently trying to join the Senate, for scapegoating "price-gouging," conflating reasonable tax credits with subsidies, and mandating different ethanol.

Finally, Hillman notes, "Udall and Salazar team up with Gov. Bill Ritter to stonewall against responsible energy development on the Roan Plateau. Meanwhile, Ritter still expects the energy industry to provide more tax revenue."

The Democrats impose controls and taxes on economical energy and mandates and subsidies for uneconomical energy. Then The Denver Post pretends that such policies are the "biggest" reason for Colorado's relative economic success, rather than an impediment to economic growth.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Air-Powered Cars

As Americans see gas soar to the $4 per gallon range -- thanks to the environmentalist assault on energy production -- BBC News and Raw Story report that India's Tata Motors is gearing up to produce cars based on French technology of compressed air.

I have to admit this idea of running cars on compressed air had never occurred to me. You can pump air directly into the car or plug in the internal compressor. Tata is also working on a carbon-compression hybrid that BBC News reports can yield 120 miles per gallon. Clever.

Of course, as BBC also points out, the cars are light-weight and therefore, I suspect, quite a lot more dangerous than the cars to which Americans are accustomed. Still, they might be fine for slower-speed city driving. If they catch on a toll-road might even find it useful to create small-car lanes.

Obviously, compressing air is not free. It requires energy. I'm interested to learn how the Indians plan to compress the air. I'm also interested in what the energy loss is between the first power source and the power of the compressed air.

I wonder whether it might be possible to harness wind to compress air, rather than use wind turbines to generate electricity. (We may never know, because now all the subsidies are going to the turbines.)

A huge problem is that compressed air seems hard to transport. A nuclear generator could power the air compression, but unless we're talking about new, smaller nuclear plants it seems more effective to transport the electricity rather than the compressed air. That seems more promising for electric cars, if people can ever figure out how to produce better, cheaper batteries. I guess the question, then, is whether it's more effective to convert electricity to battery charges or to compressed air. And which system promises to provide the longest drives?

Even though the new technology runs into numerous immediate problems, it's interesting.

The best way to promote new technologies is to cut government spending and taxes, eliminate special-interest pandering, cut controls on production, and generally restore the government to protecting individual rights rather than mismanaging the economy.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Post's Push Poll

The Denver Post's online polls often are silly, but one from April 28 is especially ridiculous:

Did you observe Earth Day?
Absolutely - Every day is Earth Day
Yes - Took part, vowed to live greener
Sort of - Accidentally got involved this year
No - Meant to, but didn't
Never - Don't believe in climate change

Of the five responses, the first four imply support for the motives and political goals of Earth Day, while the last response describes a position that no actual person holds.

The Post would be hard pressed to find a single person who does not "believe in climate change." Anyone with at least an elementary education understands that, in the past, the earth's average temperature has alternated between ice ages and warming periods.

The three main issues in contention are these: does global warming pose a significant problem within the coming decades, is modern global warming significantly impacted by human behavior, and what, if anything, should be done about it?

For what it's worth, here's my reply to the Post's poll: "No, because I disagree with the environmentalist movement's bias against human industry and its advocacy of socialistic reforms."


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Friday, April 25, 2008

Apocalyptic Environmentalism

Ronald Bailey recently made some interesting comparisons between environmentalism and evangelical Christianity:

Environmentalism arose as a movement just a few years before the Moral Majority, with an end-of-the-world undercurrent that harked back to the millenarian sects of the Second Great Awakening. Green millenarians do not expect a wrathful God to end the corrupt world in a rain of fire; instead, humanity will die by its own gluttonous, polluting hand.

Such apocalyptic visions were limned in Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring, which predicted massive cancer epidemics as a result of chemical contamination of the environment. Paul Ehrlich asserted in his 1968 book The Population Bomb that in the 1970s "hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." And the Club of Rome's 1972 report The Limits to Growth announced the imminent, catastrophic depletion of nonrenewable resources. ... The Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind." Even the staid New York Times editorial page warned of the human species' "possible extinction." It wasn’t so far from the evangelists' fears of a literal Armageddon, embodied in books like Hal Lindsey's best-selling The Late Great Planet Earth (1970).

Although all those predictions failed, environmentalism still exhibits millenarian tendencies. Former Vice President Al Gore has warned that man-made global warming is producing a climate crisis that might "make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization."

Is it any wonder that evangelicals are turning increasingly green?

Despite environmentalist scare mongering, the Industrial Revolution has been the greatest boon to human beings.

It turns out that humans almost did go extinct once, about 70,000 years ago. Fox reports:

The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age. ...

The report was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. ...

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, commented: "Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction?"

What? You mean the whether used to change even when people had a miniscule "carbon footprint?" The difference was that, back then, people had no ability to deal with climate changes.

Anyone who doubts the amazing pro-human consequences of the Industrial Revolution need merely glance at a historical population chart.

It is ironic, but no coincidence, that the same environmentalist movement that warns of human apocalypse laments the causes of the population explosion.


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Monday, April 21, 2008

Gore Not Green Enough

As the environmentalist frenzy heightens, even Al Gore finds himself targeted for his un-green ways. A story from Fox reports:

Look out, Al Gore... People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says you are refusing to face one very "inconvenient truth."

On Monday, the animal rights organization launched the campaign (conveniently timed for Earth Day) in an attempt to counter the effects that they say the former vice president's meat-laden diet has on Mother Nature.

While reps for Gore had no comment, Pop Tarts confirmed with people who have worked with the ex-veep that he loves his steak and sausage, plus he was notorious for chowing down on the almost all-meat Atkins diet during his run for president.

A recent report published by the United Nations determined that raising animals for food generates about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world combined.

Of course, PETA is using green paint to coat its animal-rights agenda. PETA wouldn't approve of eating meat even if it reduced greenhouse gas emissions. But vegetarianism is also very much an environmentalist issue. It is telling that Gore, who has done more than perhaps anyone else to publicize global warming, is now the target of environmentalists.

Ultimately, environmentalism holds that it is a moral crime to be alive as a human being, for living as a human being requires the use of natural resources. If environmentalists succeeded at banning meat, then they would go after modern farming, which has vastly expanded the world's population while lifting much of the world out of poverty, for farming too has an environmental impact. It is no coincidence that some environmentalists yearn for the era when the earth's population of humans was a tiny fraction of what it is today, and humans lived barely above the level of the animals around them.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Let Them Drink Gas

Environmentalism continues to harm and kill people, especially the world's poor. The corn-gas laws have become a significant contributor to higher food prices and a widespread food shortage. Steven Milloy writes:

"When millions of people are going hungry, it’s a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels," an Indian government official told the Wall Street Journal. Turkey’s finance minister labeled the use of biofuels as "appalling," according to the paper.

Biofuels have turned out to be a lose-lose-lose proposition. Once touted by the greens and the biofuel industry as being able to reduce the demand for oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions, biofuels have accomplished neither goal and have no prospect for accomplishing either in the foreseeable future.

The latest research shows that biofuels actually increase greenhouse gas emissions on a total lifecycle basis. Add in that taxpayer-subsidized diversion of food crops and food crop acreage to fuel production has contributed to higher food prices and reduced food supply, and biofuels turn out to be nothing less than a public policy disaster.

Did you get that? The environmentalist corn-gas laws not only hurt the world's poor, but they worsen the environment, at least according to the environmentalists' own standards.

This is not merely an accident; this is the way that socialistic policies work. There are two broad problems inherent in the environmentalists' socialist agenda. First, political controls, by forcibly transferring resources and either banning or mandating certain actions, negate people's ability to apply their personal knowledge to the problems that interest them. Second, political wealth transfers and controls necessarily become mired in special-interest warfare, as various groups vie for the transferred resources and for protectionist legislation. Thus, socialistic measures to "protect" the environment are unlikely to do much regarding the environment, but they are very likely to waste resources and reward the corrupt.

Milloy notes that many environmentalists are doing everything within their power to halt energy production:

As the Sierra Club campaigns to shut down our coal-fired electricity capabilities, the Natural Resources Defense Council campaigns to prevent nuclear power from taking its place. ...

Millions in the developing world have died and continue to do so from the greens' campaign against pesticides such as DDT. Nothing less should be expected from their new campaign that threatens global food and energy production.

So long as environmentalism holds that untouched nature is the moral ideal, the necessary consequence is the sacrifice of people to nature. (Preserving tracts of nature for human enjoyment is a different story.) To the extend that environmentalism puts people first, it becomes something other than environmentalism. I don't much mind "environmentalists for nukes," as Mother Jones calls them, except that such environmentalists tend to fall into old-school, left-wing politics. Those with a sincere interest in environmental issues and free-market capitalism are an unfortunately rare breed.


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Friday, April 18, 2008

People Day

As some prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, I look forward to celebrating People Day. Yes, the earth is valuable -- for people. I love the earth -- because I get to live here.

Two great writers recently have taken on environmentalist hysteria.

The first is Vincent Carroll, a major reason why the Rocky Mountain News is the best newspaper in the region. Carroll writes:

In the global trajectory of greenhouse emissions, my conservation is meaningless. Yours is, too. What's more, even yours and mine together -- even combined with the conservation of every American who takes similar action - is not significant, either. ...

[M]ost of the world's inhabitants are still poor. They want electricity; they want mobility. And fulfilling their aspirations is going to boost greenhouse gases to a degree that utterly dwarfs any possible tempering of our own energy appetites.

Environmentalism is largely a religion because it encourages pointless acts to lighten one's guilt for the moral crime of living on earth. Much recycling is a waste of resources (particularly if we take time, the most important human resource, into account). Corn gas has done nothing to fix global warming, though it has contributed to a global food crisis. People spend thousands of extra dollars to drive hybrid cars -- some of which get worse gas mileage than my standard car, and which require more resources to produce. There might as well be an environmentalist Rosary.

Carroll concludes:

If there are environmental heroes among us, they are the scientists and technicians who someday figure out how the world can produce much, much more affordable energy -- which it is going to need -- without adding to greenhouse emissions. In that drama, most of us are fated to be spectators.

Craig Biddle has gone to the next step:

Because Earth Day is intended to further the cause of environmentalism—and because environmentalism is an anti-human ideology -- on April 22, those who care about human life should not celebrate Earth Day; they should celebrate Exploit-the-Earth Day. ...

Exploiting the Earth -- using the raw materials of nature for one’s life-serving purposes -- is a basic requirement of human life. According to environmentalism, however, man should not use nature for his needs; he should keep his hands off “the goods”; he should leave nature alone, come what may.

[I]f the good is nature untouched by man, how is man to live? What is he to eat? What is he to wear? Where is he to reside? How can man do anything his life requires without altering, harming, or destroying some aspect of nature? In order to nourish himself, man must consume meats, vegetables, fruits, and the like. In order to make clothing, he must skin animals, pick cotton, manufacture polyester, and the like. In order to build a house—or even a hut—he must cut down trees, dig up clay, make fires, bake bricks, and so forth. Each and every action man takes to support or sustain his life entails the exploitation of nature. Thus, on the premise of environmentalism, man has no right to exist.

Biddle is criticizing the essence of environmentalism: the view that the earth is intrinsically valuable, apart from the interests of people. Of course, there are self-proclaimed environmentalists who say they want to improve the human condition through better technology. For some environmentalists, this is just a cover, a way to package their statist, anti-human agenda in populist terms. But others seriously think humans should exploit the earth for their own well-being. But the fact that such environmentalists cannot admit to this shows that they are still operating from an essentially religious viewpoint.


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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Idiot Hour

I enjoyed my Productivity Hour very much. I thought about how much electricity benefits our lives and how the goal should be to produce dramatically more energy, not less.

I was pleased to read the following headline: "Denver hardly plugged into 'Earth Hour'." Downtown "most businesses remained brightly lit during a global effort to dim lights and raise awareness of climate change."

I especially appreciated the way that Denver Post reporter Kieran Nicholson interviewed critics of "Earth Hour." No, wait -- she didn't do that. Instead, she wrote a one-sided story that was basically a propaganda piece for the environmentalist religion. Nicholson presumed that those who refused to cow to this environmentalist nonsense were "operating in the metaphorical dark when it came to Earth Hour." It couldn't possibly be that some Coloradans realize that "Earth Hour" is insanity and intentionally turned on their lights in protest.

"Earth Hour" should have been called Idiot Hour, as the following passages from Nicholson's story illustrate:

Steve Hulsberg, 29, of Aurora... an information technology worker, attended the Denver International Auto Show at the Colorado Convention Center before walking over to the mall to see the lights dim. He's looking to buy a hybrid Ford Escape or Toyota Highlander, he said, in the interest of being "green." ...

Floridians Steven Darby and his son Rutland were spending spring break in Colorado to ski.

At the Hard Rock on Saturday, they were surprised -- but enthusiastic -- when the lights went low.

"I think it's a great concept," Steven Darby said.

It turns out that the Escape gets 22 to 28 miles per gallon, while the Highlander gets 18 to 24 miles per gallon. That's "green?" My non-hybrid car gets better gas mileage than that. But, hey, it's a "hybrid," so who cares about how much gas it actually burns! This is, after all, a cult, not anything that actually has anything to do with the real environment.

And how much energy did the Floridians consume traveling to Colorado? Or eating at a restaurant? Yes, anti-industrial environmentalism is a "great concept," so long as it's limited to an hour of a pleasant spring evening, and we can still sit in a plush, warm restaurant or contemplate gas-guzzling automobiles.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm happy that the participants of "Earth Hour" are, for the most part, a bunch of hypocrites. If they actually took seriously this nonsense about turning out the lights and not using energy, they would be thoroughly morally corrupt, rather than merely hypocritical.

Update: Someone suggested that critics of "Earth Hour" ought not be so harsh in their condemnations. So I'll grant here that, also for the most part, those who participated in "Earth Hour" (by turning off lights and other "non-essential" appliances) are well-intentioned, in that they want to maintain an industrial society, only one that reduces "greenhouse" emissions. Furthermore, these people can point to evidence (or at least widely purported evidence) that human activity significantly contributes to global warming (despite the fact that global warming is, historically, cyclical).

Nevertheless, I do maintain that pro-industrial participants of "Earth Hour" aren't noticing the implications of turning out the lights. "Earth Hour" suggests that the proper way to deal with global warming is to reduce human consumption of energy. Even if global warming is likely to continue over coming decades, even if it is significantly caused by human activity, and even if it would significantly harm people by century's end -- and in my view each of those propositions is shakier than the last -- the proper solution is not to reduce the production of energy. Reducing the production of energy implies less productivity overall, and fewer life-enhancing goods and services in the U.S. and more poverty globally. Forcibly reducing energy production would impose high human costs and yet fail to seriously address global warming. Such a move would hamper economic advancement, including potential advancements in energy production.

Instead, the proper solution is to allow people to act in an unfettered free market -- rather than in a political arena dominated by special interests and political favoritism -- to discover better ways to use and produce energy. Notably, nuclear power is clean and safe, yet many environmentalists continue to oppose it. I don't know whether nuclear power would win in a market over the coming decades, or whether some other source of energy would prove more effective and economical. But I do know that the political process has brought us such things as corn gas, which is essentially worthless in terms of addressing global warming (but great for enriching special interests and raising food prices). Thus I conclude where I began: the goal should be to produce dramatically more energy, not less.


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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Productivity Hour

Tonight I'll be celebrating Productivity Hour by enjoying as many electric-powered items as possible. Unfortunately, as The Denver Post reported,

Saturday at 8 p.m., residents of Denver will join environmentally-conscious people around the world in switching off lights and non-essential appliances, to give the Earth's energy resources a break. "Earth Hour," will be observed across six continents, with as many as 370 cities officially pledged to take part.

The event, created by the World Wildlife Fund, asks for volunteers to unplug for for one hour as a symbolic gesture in support of action on climate change.

Nicholas Provenzo points out, "As shown by [a] composite satellite image of the Earth at night, North Korean support for 'Earth Hour'... is near universal and extends throughout the year."

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Angry Little ELF

The Rocky Mountain News just reported:

WOODINVILLE, Wash. -- The radical environmental group responsible for the 1998 fires at Vail's Two Elks Lodge apparently has struck again -- in the form of fires at four multimillion-dollar show homes north of Seattle.

The sign -- a white sheet that had the initials of the Earth Liberation Front in scraggly red letters -- mocked claims the luxury homes on the "Street of Dreams" were environmentally friendly, according to video images of the sign aired by KING-TV.

"Built Green? Nope black!" the sign said.

The blazes are suspicious because they were set in multiple places in separate houses, said Chief Rick Eastman of Snohomish County District Seven. ...

No one was hurt in the arson at UW, but its Center for Urban Horticulture was destroyed and rebuilt at a cost of $7 million.

I just can't believe that ELF was responsible for these fires; think of all the air pollution!

Assuming a real connection, though, this shows that, ultimately, environmentalists are not interested in "green" production; they are interested in no production, for any production necessarily involves the use of natural resources.


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Friday, February 29, 2008

Sunshine Payola

Now that Peter Blake has taken his retirement package from the Rocky Mountain News, he seems to writing for the paper for free. But, whether or not he's not being paid for his work, his articles remain invaluable. His February 28 article describes the case of a Rick Gilliam, who pushed for mandates for solar power before cashing in on... solar power. Here is the story as Blake tells it:

Amendment 37, an initiative approved by voters in 2004, was designed by renewable-energy advocates. It specified that 10 percent of the power generated by the state's largest utilities had to come from renewable sources by 2015. Most will come from wind, which, though unreliable as a baseload source, is relatively cheap. But solar, although far more expensive, has its advocates, and they must be appeased. The initiative specified that 4 percent of the 10 percent [meaning 4 percent of total energy] be generated by the sun.

The voters chose in 2004, but three years later the legislature was so confident that renewables were popular it decided to kick up their share to 20 percent, by 2020, without a referendum.

Rick Gilliam of Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit environmental group, was the principal author of Amendment 37 and its registered representative. In 2005 and 2006, after Amendment 37 passed, he won major environmental awards.

But in January 2007 he... join[ed] SunEdison of Baltimore as director of Western states policy. SunEdison had just landed a contract from Xcel to build the largest "solar electric farm" in Colorado, near Alamosa. Designed to produce 8.22 megawatts capable of powering 2,600 homes along the Front Range, it cost $60 million. It went online late last year.

In other words, Gilliam is responsible for the forced transfer of wealth to solar-electric producers -- including himself. Neat trick! But this is hardly new: who do you think pushed for the corn-gas laws? Or the mercury-bulb laws? Rent seeking is the second-oldest profession in human history, if not nearly as honorable.


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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Negawatt

The "negawatt" is a symptom of the insanity of the environmentalist movement. Indisputable is the fact that energy production has enhanced and prolonged our lives in countless ways. Modern transportation allows us to move ourselves and goods around our towns, nation, and world. Electricity powers our household appliances, factories, offices, lights, computers, medical equipment, and on and on. But the environmentalist movement wishes to subvert human well-being to "unblemished" nature. While many environmentalists reluctantly acquiesce to the use of "alternative" forms of energy, which today almost always costs more, environmentalists most forcefully push for energy reduction. As two environmentalists recently explained for The Denver Post:

Investing in energy efficiency is a better deal for consumers and the environment. As Gov. Bill Ritter has stated, "The cheapest watt of electricity is the watt that isn't consumed at all. It's called the negawatt."

In other words, we are supposed to spend our time and resources, not expanding our production of energy, but contracting it. Rather than produce, we are supposed to reduce. Rather than seek out ways to provide more watts of energy, we are to actively use less. We are to measure our success not by the megawatt by by the "negawatt."

Obviously, people in a free market continually strive to produce more and better products for lower costs, which means finding more efficient means of production. If a factory's owners can produce the same amount of goods in the same amount of time by spending less on energy, then, other things being equal, those owners will freely and happily make the change. If consumers can purchase a lightbulb that works at least as well but costs less to operate without causing other problems, producers will be able to persuade consumers to act in their own interests. Politicians need not hold a gun to people's heads or otherwise threaten force to get people to do things that are efficient in the full sense of the term, which accounts for preferences and time as well as energy use. Economic efficiency often entails energy efficiency, which properly means that an expanding pool of energy becomes available for other uses.

Yet the environmentalists exuberantly call for the threat and use of physical force to change people's behaviors. They call for "renewable" energy mandates (but for bans on nuclear power), mandates for bulbs that some people don't like and fear are toxic, forced wealth transfers for corn gas, and so on. Environmentalists measure "efficiency" in terms of restricting human use of natural resources, and they generally ignore the most important natural resources: human life and time.

As a release from the Ayn Rand Institute points out, environmentalists are becoming more brazen in their demands to impose economic controls:

Many people are calling for drastic political action to cope with climate change. But the authors of a new book, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, go much further, claiming that global warming can be effectively dealt with only by "an authoritarian form of government."

Environmentalists argue that humans are the primary cause of global warming and, absent a wide-scale political take-over of the economy, global warming will advance until it causes catastrophic problems. Yet the degree of human involvement in warming and the magnitude of future problems are matters of politically-motivated guess work. To reach their alarmist conclusions, environmentalists pretend to predict not only the weather but the stock market -- for a century into the future.

Even assuming the environmentalist case about carbon dioxide and the future consequences of global warming, the further assumption -- that this problem requires expansive political force in the economy -- is hardly warranted. Indeed, it is only an unfettered free market that could ably handle the potential problems of warming while ensuring the maximum advancement of human life.

Consider just two recent news reports. Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that "the technology needed for collecting and storing [sunlight] is about to emerge as the field of solar energy is going to advance exponentially" over the coming decades. If this is true, then the best thing the government could to is to return to its proper function of protecting property rights and freedom of production. Maybe solar energy won't turn out to be the best way to go. Maybe it will be some sort of nuclear power, or even something not yet invented. But threatening to send in the storm troopers to non-authorized production plants and throw people in jail for declining to subsidize the projects favored by special-interest groups is hardly the way to go, though it is the way favored by the typical environmentalist.

Other scientists think that they can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If global warming actually worsened over the coming decades and actually started to cause the sorts of wide-scale catastrophes that environmentalists scream about, then many people would be quite willing to spend a bit extra on fuel or even voluntarily contribute to carbon-dioxide removal factories.

But the simple fact is that today's politicians do not know what the future climate holds or what the best response to any change would be. Nor are their political aspirations typically in consonance with such lofty concerns. What is certain is that subjecting people to political force wastes resources (in the full, economic sense of the term) and prevents people from applying the full force of their minds to the problem of improving methods of production and adapting to changing circumstances of all varieties.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Straw Men in Warm Phone Booths

Colorado State Representative Kevin Lundberg said that Governor Bill Ritter's Climate Action Plan is "predicated on junk science," according to The Denver Post.

It would be somewhat easier to take Lundberg's pronouncements about science seriously had he not also claimed that "most of our laws" have a "religious foundation."

Nevertheless, the environmentalist response is no more persuasive. The Post continues:

Jim Martin, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and one of the plan's authors, said the carbon dioxide/global warming connection is widely accepted as scientific fact.

"You could have a convention of all the scientists who dispute climate change in a relatively small phone booth," he said.

Martin has created a straw man. Nobody disputes "climate change." Everybody grants that the earth's climate has long cycled between warm and cool periods. Nor does anybody doubt a "connection" between carbon dioxide and warming. However, one point in serious dispute is whether increased carbon dioxide causes or follows warming. Another point in serious dispute it to what degree industrialization has contributed to modern warming.

However, even if Martin were correct that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming and that the trend will eventually generate serious problems, his "solution" -- to further socialize the economy -- is hardly defensible (though it's terrific if you're a special-interest group looking to line your pockets with tax dollars and political favoritism). The best way to enable people to cope with nature, and to promote the sorts of technological innovations that will eventually create serious alternatives in energy production, is to achieve a free market.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fees for Bags

I expressly ask for plastic bags at stores because my wife and I reuse them to clean the kitty box and to line our trash cans. I even have particular uses for particular bags from different stores. I do, however, joyfully throw these bags in the trash whenever they become punctured. Thank goodness I don't live in Denver. The Rocky Mountain News recently reported:

Paper or plastic?

It really doesn't matter because either one might cost you a dime more under a proposal making the rounds at Denver City Hall.

An organization called BetterBagsColorado is lobbying the City Council for legislation to charge grocery store shoppers 10 cents for every plastic or paper bag they use to carry their goodies home.

The proposal, which would affect supermarkets with annual revenues of $2 million or more, is intended to help protect the environment by reducing the plastic and paper bags that end up in landfills.

First, there's a group called BetterBagsColorado? Deborah Hart of BetterBagsColorado told the News, "The only way you're going to change your behavior, really, is to have a little ouch at the checkout because you get enough ouches and you'll make a new habit out of it."

The article sensibly continues:

But Keith Christman, senior director of packaging for Progressive Bag Affiliates, a trade organization that represents manufacturers and recyclers of plastic bags, said such fees only make people buy more plastic trash bags or sandwich bags.

"We know from studies that we've done that 92 percent of consumers report that they reuse their plastic bags for things like disposing of waste around their house, litter bags in their cars, picking up after their pets and taking their lunch to work," he said.

The paper also lists other regions that have banned or restricted plastic grocery bags: 80 British cities, San Francisco, Melbourne, Ireland, China, and Bangladesh.

God forbid that grocers and their customers be able to decide on bag policy without political intervention.

This example proves once again that environmentalists consistently ignore the most important resource: human time. Often I swing by the grocery store unexpectedly or purchase many items I hadn't planned to buy. If the policy spreads, will I really have to keep bags on hand, just in case? Will I really have to make en extra effort to purchase other plastic bags for my needs, or figure out how to do without? Even though the local grocery store promises to recycle plastic bags (though I'm not sure how effective that is), I don't collect punctured bags for recycling simply because I have better things to do with my time. But, for environmentalists, no amount of wasted human time matters in the context of a miniscule contributor to landfills and global warming. Call it death by a thousand-thousand "ouches."

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