Posts tagged ‘Environment’

The LEED Scam

The new Bank of America building near me has all kinds of plaques inside about how it is LEED certified.  How?  Well, I don't know the whole plan, but out front there are four reserved parking spaces for electric vehicles.  There are not any charging stations mind you -- those might cost money -- just parking spots for electric vehicles, right next to the handicapped spots.  LEED is a points based system and you can score a lot of points doing mindless, useless, zero-value stuff like this.

So I am not at all surprised to read this:

ashington, D.C. may have the highest number of certified green buildings in the country, but research by  Environmental Policy Alliance suggests it might not be doing much good.

The free-market group analyzed the first round of energy usage data released by city officials Friday and found that large, privately-owned buildings that received the green energy certification Leadership in Energy Design (LEED) actually use more energy than buildings that didn’t receive this green stamp of approval.

LEED is the brainchild of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a private environmental group.

Washington, D.C.’s Department of Environment made the capital the first city in the nation to mandate LEED certifications in the construction of public buildings. The standards are now being phased in.

The results are measured in EUI’s, a unit that relates a building’s energy consumption to its size; the higher the number, the more energy is expended by a smaller building.

Take the Green Building Council’s Washington headquarters. Replete with the group’s top green-energy accolade, the platinum LEED certification, the USGBC’s main base comes in at 236 EUI. The average EUI for uncertified buildings in the capital? Just 199.

Certified buildings’ average comes in at 205 EUI, still less efficient than that didn’t take home the ultimate green trophy.

“LEED certification is little more than a fancy plaque displayed by these ‘green’ buildings,” charged Anastasia Swearingen, LEED Exposed’s lead researcher on the project. “Previous analyses of energy use by LEED-certified buildings have consistently shown that LEED ratings have no bearing on actual energy efficiency.”

Hilariously, the problem cited with the certification program by government regulators is not that it is ineffective - after all, they can't admit that after requiring LEED certification in DC buildings.  Their only problem is that it is a private program outside of government control.  I am sure the folks who gave hundreds of millions to Solyndra would do much better managing the program.

The problem with LEED is the same problem that many ISO 9000 programs had -- it puts too much emphasis on process an inputs, and not enough on results.

Postscript:  One wonders why if there is a perfectly good "output" metric like EUI why people even bother with input-based systems like LEED.  If the government really wants to regulate here, the lightest touch would be to require architects and builders to estimate EUI of buildings for clients.  Then the owners themselves can decide if they are comfortable with their potential energy bills or want so more design work.

Business Advice: Getting Loans in the Current Environment

I originally started this blog as an advice column for small business, and though I have diverged pretty far from that most of the time, I still like to share some of the things I have learned.

The last year have been difficult for a growing business that needs capital to survive.   A lot of our growth is on leased land in the form of leasehold improvements that revert to the landowner when the long-term lease expires.  This has always made getting funding difficult -- as bankers want to slap  a lien on something -- but of late it has been impossible.

The one exception has been in equipment financing -- I get almost more calls from lenders looking to do equipment financing than I do from companies selling printer supplies.  So I began thinking about how I might be able to redevelop a campground using as much equipment financing as possible.

One large expense in any construction project is rental equipment.  But on this job we have bought a bunch of equipment - up to and including large construction equipment.  We equipment-financed the machinery, the payments on the loans are less than the rental charges we would have had, and we hopefully can sell the equipment at the end of the job if we have no place to redeploy it.

But we still were facing a large expense for buildings.  I asked my equipment finance guy - will you finance a modular building?  "Sure," he says.  So we started rethinking the whole design using factory-built buildings.  We combined three modules to make the store and office:

honeycomb-store-2

honeycomb-store-1

The entry / gatehouse was entirely factory built:

gatehouse

In another location at Burney Falls, California, we equipment financed 24 cabins by, you guessed it, having them factory built rather than built on-site.  They came out pretty well:

cabin1

cabin_inside_1

I was really amazed at how well they came out.  Modular has really come a long way.  And since in many locales they are permitted different, some of the paperwork and approvals and inspections were streamlined as well.

Vampiric Regeneration

How can you get free power?  Well, one way is to steal it from other people.  And if you steal it in small enough bites from a lot of people, they may never notice.

This seems to be the basic idea in this article in the Guardian, whose author clearly attended lots of journalism classes while studiously avoiding any class that might have made mention of the first law of thermodynamics.

"Green" speed bumps that will generate electricity as cars drive over them are to be introduced on Britain's roads. The hi-tech "sleeping policemen" will power street lights, traffic lights and road signs in a pilot scheme in London that could be rolled out nationwide.

Speed bumps have long been the bane of motorists' lives, but these will capture the kinetic energy of vehicles.

Peter Hughes, the designer behind the idea, said: "They are speed bumps, but they are not like conventional speed bumps. They don't damage your car or waste petrol when you drive over them - and they have the added advantage that they produce energy free of charge." An engineer who formerly advised the United Nations on renewable energy sources, Hughes added: "If it [the energy] wasn't harnessed by the speed bumps, it would go to waste."

The ramps - which cost between £20,000 and £55,000, depending on size - consist of a series of panels set in a pad virtually flush to the road. As the traffic passes over it, the panels go up and down, setting a cog in motion under the road. This then turns a motor, which produces mechanical energy. A steady stream of traffic passing over the bump can generate 10-36kW of power.

OK, I am willing to believe that you might be able to recover some net energy from a system with this kind of dynamic speed bump replacing an existing static bump  (but I am skeptical, and would want to see the math).  Of course, if you really have a road with a speed bump and so much traffic that it will generate this much power and repay a large investment, then you probably have a road/traffic design issue.

But the article seems to be positing that towns could install these as flat devices --"virtually flush to the road" --  that drivers would hardly notice.  Power from these devices would help the town power its lights and other devices.  But unless these guys have invented the perpetual motion machine, there is no free energy to be had here.  In fact, due to that nasty old spoil-sport, the second law of thermodynamics, there has to be a total system loss.  The device might only steal the equivalent energy of a thousandth of a gallon of gas from each driver, so the driver of each car won't really notice, but the total system expenditure of the thousands of drivers who power the device will still be there, just hidden.  This is a new stealth tax on drivers, dressed up in green clothing.

Next up:  Britain proposes to put windmills on the roofs of electric cars as a power source.  After all, when you are driving at 60 miles per hour, all that wind energy coming past your car is just lost, right?  Once you got the car up to speed, it would just generate its own electricity.  LOL.  I shouldn't laugh, there is probably a billion or so for this in Obama's stimulus bill.

via Tom Nelson.

Wealth and the Environment

I have often argued that environmental cleanliness and wealth tend to follow a U-shaped curve.  Early industrialization tends to make air and water quality worse, but increases in wealth and technology over time tend to lead to an improved environment.  For example, nearly every air and water quality metric in the US has improved substantially over the last 40 years. 

To this end, I saw this chart in another context (Dr. Pielke was discussing the effect of land-use on regional climate changes) but I thought it was an interesting one to illustrate this point, and perhaps start to convince all those 20-somethings of the Obama generation that the world is not, in fact, spiraling ever downwards into economic decay.  This is a map of leaf area, bascially an index of forestation, for the Eastern US over the last 400 years.  Note the trend reversal since 1920.

Fig8lai

I have argued for a while that trying to slam a halt to China's development as part of some misguided environmental effort may in fact achieve the opposite effect, locking China into the low-point of the U-shaped curve just at the point when increasing wealth may be pushing them to start cleaning up.

San Francisco City Government Outspends Exxon on Climate Advocacy

A bunch of media outlets credulously ran a Greenpeace press release as a news story last year, hammering on Exxon for donating a cumulative $2 million dollars to "skeptical" climate researchers.  Never mind that no one could explain what was so ominous about an American company exercising its free speech rights.  I and other pointed out that this $2 million was a trivial amount of spending compared to the billions that had been routed to global warming activists. 

This week, we get a great example.  While over a period of a decade, the great Satan ExxonMobil spent $2 million on climate issues, it turns out one city government, in San Francisco, spends this much each year on global warming activism:

In his quest to make San Francisco the greenest city in the nation,
Mayor Gavin Newsom recently created a $160,000-a-year job for a senior
aide and gave him the ambitious-sounding title of director of climate
protection initiatives.
...
But officials in the Newsom administration say that even 25 people working on climate issues is not enough and that having a director in the mayor's inner circle is necessary to coordinate all the city's climate initiatives."

If
there are 25 people working on climate protection issues for the city,
that's a good start," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. "Ten years
ago [when the "globe" was still "warming"], there probably weren't any.
It's smart policy to have one point person at the highest level of city
government to coordinate all 25 of them."

The city has a climate
action plan, issued by Newsom after he took office in 2004, that aims
to cut the city's greenhouse emissions by 2012 to 20 percent below
1990's level.

In addition to the director of climate protection
initiatives in Newsom's office, San Francisco has an Energy and Climate
Program team of eight people in the Department of the Environment, who
combined earn more than $800,000 a year in salary and benefits,
including a "climate action coordinator." At least 12 San Francisco
Public Utilities Commission staff members work on climate issues
related to water and energy, including a $146,000-a-year "projects
manager for the climate action plan."

Also in the name of
climate control, the Municipal Transportation Agency has a "manager of
emissions reductions and sustainability programs" who works on making
Muni's bus fleet greener, and the San Francisco International Airport
has a "manager of environmental services" who oversees such projects as
the installation of energy-efficient lighting and solar panels.

The
list doesn't include the scores of staff members who work on broader
environmental policies, like the recently hired $130,700-a-year
"greening director" in Newsom's office, or Jared Blumenfeld, who earns
$207,500 a year in salary and benefits as the head of the city's
Environment Department, which has a staff of 65 and annual budget of
about $14 million.

It borders on journalistic malpractice that nearly every article on skeptics delve into their funding sources but no reporter ever seems to have ever asked climate alarmists about their funding sources nor delved into these funding issues.

Environmentalists Want Us To Celebrate Squalor

I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist.   For years people have accused me of over-reading  the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)

Is infinite growth of some meaningful
  quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think
  so, but economists habitually make this
  claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I'm, an
  economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's
  worked until now".

Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite
  nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island
smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't.
The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic
theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs.
What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? ...

The
  whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft
  landing is down
; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just
  to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology
  but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita
  impact but can target it.

Decline isn't bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching
your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity
beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already
passed that point? Could the time where we'd all be better off with a
gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the
folks who say we should keep climbing, that there's no way we can run
out of fuel, that we'll think of something?

So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation.  These folks want economic decline.  That's a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."

I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.

The Zero Sum Fallacy

Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar.  Of course they are always wrong.  Why? 

Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind.  And the world of ideas has no capacity limits.   This is an  issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly.   Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don't apply.  (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn't bad news in an airplane).

Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world's resources.  By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth's mass.  In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun  (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun's energy).  We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun's energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here.  And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.

Wealth Benefits the Environment

Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment. 

We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA.  The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades.  Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever -- in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol).   No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US.  Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired. 

I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so.   Similarly, I don't think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems. 

Here is a simple test:  Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems?  Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.

Growth / Climate Tradeoffs

For the sake of argument, let's assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening).  Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century.  3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.)  So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them.  Hmmm.  Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia.  This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer

I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive.  They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change.  Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles.  So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural.  I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity.

More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.

Postscript:  Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem:  Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad?  Or did Mr. Tobis previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world's population would reject?  The answer to this question is a window on why 1)  the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2)  no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer  (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy)  and 3)  why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.

Environmentalists Want Us To Celebrate Squalor

I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist.   For years people have accused me of over-reading  the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)

Is infinite growth of some meaningful
  quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think
  so, but economists habitually make this
  claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I'm, an
  economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's
  worked until now".

Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite
  nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island
smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't.
The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic
theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs.
What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? ...

The
  whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft
  landing is down
; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just
  to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology
  but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita
  impact but can target it.

Decline isn't bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching
your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity
beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already
passed that point? Could the time where we'd all be better off with a
gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the
folks who say we should keep climbing, that there's no way we can run
out of fuel, that we'll think of something?

So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation.  These folks want economic decline.  That's a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."

I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.

The Zero Sum Fallacy

Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar.  Of course they are always wrong.  Why? 

Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind.  And the world of ideas has no capacity limits.   This is an  issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly.   Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don't apply.  (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn't bad news in an airplane).

Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world's resources.  By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth's mass.  In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun  (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun's energy).  We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun's energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here.  And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.

Wealth Benefits the Environment

Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment. 

We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA.  The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades.  Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever -- in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol).   No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US.  Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired. 

I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so.   Similarly, I don't think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems. 

Here is a simple test:  Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems?  Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.

Growth / Climate Tradeoffs

For the sake of argument, let's assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening).  Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century.  3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.)  So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them.  Hmmm.  Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia.  This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer

I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive.  They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change.  Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles.  So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural.  I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity.

More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.

Postscript:  Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem:  Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad?  Or did Mr. Tobis previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world's population would reject?  The answer to this question is a window on why 1)  the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2)  no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer  (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy)  and 3)  why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.

Environmentalists Want Us To Celebrate Squalor

I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist.   For years people have accused me of over-reading  the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)

Is infinite growth of some meaningful
  quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think
  so, but economists habitually make this
  claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I'm, an
  economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's
  worked until now".

Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite
  nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island
smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't.
The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic
theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs.
What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? ...

The
  whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft
  landing is down
; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just
  to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology
  but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita
  impact but can target it.

Decline isn't bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching
your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity
beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already
passed that point? Could the time where we'd all be better off with a
gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the
folks who say we should keep climbing, that there's no way we can run
out of fuel, that we'll think of something?

So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation.  These folks want economic decline.  That's a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."

I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.

The Zero Sum Fallacy

Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar.  Of course they are always wrong.  Why? 

Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind.  And the world of ideas has no capacity limits.   This is an  issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly.   Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don't apply.  (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn't bad news in an airplane).

Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world's resources.  By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth's mass.  In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun  (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun's energy).  We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun's energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here.  And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.

Wealth Benefits the Environment

Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment. 

We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA.  The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades.  Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever -- in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol).   No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US.  Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired. 

I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so.   Similarly, I don't think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems. 

Here is a simple test:  Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems?  Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.

Growth / Climate Tradeoffs

For the sake of argument, let's assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening).  Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century.  3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.)  So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them.  Hmmm.  Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia.  This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer

I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive.  They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change.  Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles.  So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural.  I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity.

More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.

Postscript:  Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem:  Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad?  Or did Mr. Tobis previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world's population would reject?  The answer to this question is a window on why 1)  the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2)  no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer  (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy)  and 3)  why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.

Al Gore vs. the Environment

Yesterday, I noted Al Gore bragging that he played a critical role in passing current biofuel mandates, making him the father of ethanol, not just the Internet.  The great goddess of irony is having a field day:

Environmentalists are warning against expanding the production of
biofuels, noting the proposed solution to global warming is actually
causing more harm than it is designed to alleviate. Experts report
biodiesel production, in particular, is causing the destruction of
virgin rainforests and their rich biodiversity, as well as a sharp rise
in greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents of biofuels read like a Who's Who of environmental
activist groups. The Worldwatch Institute, World Conservation Union,
and the global charity Oxfam warn that by directing food staples to the
production of transport fuels, biofuels policy is leading to the
starvation and further impoverishment of the world's poor.

On November 15, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior unfurled a large banner
reading "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate" and blockaded a tanker
attempting to leave Indonesia with a cargo full of palm oil.
Greenpeace, which warns of an imminent "climate bomb" due to the
destruction of rich forests and peat bogs that currently serve as a
massive carbon sink, reports groups such as the World Wildlife Fund,
Conservation International, and Flora and Fauna International have
joined them in calling for an end to the conversion of forests to
croplands for the production of biofuels

"The rush to address speculative global warming concerns is once
again proving the law of unintended consequences," said James M.
Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland
Institute. "Biofuels mandates and subsidies are causing the destruction
of forests and the development of previously pristine lands in a
counterproductive attempt to improve the environment.

"Some of the world's most effective carbon sinks are being destroyed
and long-stored carbon is now being released into the atmosphere in
massive quantities, merely to make wealthy Westerners feel like they
are 'doing something' to address global warming. The reality is, they
are making things worse," Taylor noted.

Environmentalists are Anti-Change, Not Pro-Environment

Here in Hawaii, much of the talk is about the Hawaiian Island ferry service that was supposed to start up this summer.  Most of you who have not spend much time here would probably expect that there already exists some kind of ferry service between the islands.  But for some reason, there is no such service.  Lacking you own boat, the only way to get to the island that I can see right across the water (I can see Maui right now from the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii) is for me to drive forty miles south to an airport, get on an airplane, fly to the Maui airport, and then drive tens of miles to my destination.  Those of you who live in San Francisco, imagine if the only way to get to Oakland were by airplane.  One would think a ferry service would not only be a great service for residents and tourists, but would be a huge environmental benefit, giving folks an alternative to driving and flying.

Well, not according to the Sierra Club,
which has sued to block the ferry service on environmental grounds.  Of course, absolutely everything Hawaii uses comes in by ship, and there are always ships coming in and out of port, not to mention hundreds of fishing boats.  But we just can't have this one extra boat.  It makes much more environmental sense to the Sierra Club that people drive miles and miles to an airport and fly between the islands than to take a sensible ferry.

Note, by the way, as an added libertarian bonus, the ferry service seems to be entirely for-profit and does not appear to involve any major government subsidies.  Though I could be wrong about that, there are always hidden ways to subsidize such efforts.

Update: The main reason for opposition is that the ferry will make it easier for "undesirable" people to come to Maui and make the place less, uh, desirable.  First, it is unclear to me why the ferry service should be held accountable for future environmental damage that might be committed by its passengers - certainly airlines are not held to the same standard.  Second, this is snobbery, not environmentalism.  It is the same argument that prevented the red line in Boston from being extended to Lexington -- the upscale residents didn't want an easier path for the undesirables to get in.  So now Lexington residents have to drive for miles if they want to ride the train.  My sense is that this kind of faux environmentalism has become a very popular way for the reach to keep the middle class and poor at bay.  See:  Hamptons.

From the Correlation does not Equal Causation Files

On this blog, I have often felt the need to point out that correlation does not equal causation.  For example, if X increases at the same time Y increases, it is not necessarily true that X causes Y or Y causes X.  The correlation could be a coincidence, or it could be that both X and Y are related to a third variable Z that drives their movement.

Anyway, I see this mistake all the time.  What I did NOT expect to see was that someone would have to explain that non-correlation does not equal causation.  But that seems to be the wacky world that environmental science has descended into, via the Commons Blog:

EPA's new report "America's Children and the Environment" notes that
air pollution declined, but asthma prevalence continues to rise. One
possible conclusion from this is that air pollution is not actually a
cause of asthma. In fact, that's the most plausible conclusion. Every
pollutant we measure has been dropping for decades pretty much
everywhere, while asthma prevalence has been rising pretty much
everywhere. This is true throughout the entire western world, not just
the U.S. In fact, asthma incidence is highest in countries with the
lowest levels of air pollution. Asthma is rare in developing countries
with much more polluted air. Asthma incidence is simply unrelated to
air pollution. Asthma attacks are probably unrelated as well. But even
if air pollution can cause asthma attacks, it is a minor cause,
responsible for less than 1% of all asthma attacks.

Despite these two trends going in the opposite direction, environmental activists still insist that large increases in asthma rates are driven by pollution:

A report by E&E News
(subscription required) makes it clear that what's in EPA health
reports doesn't actually matter. The story opens with "While the number
of children living in areas violating ozone and particulate matter (PM)
standards has declined in recent years, adolescent asthma that results
from exposure to such pollutants continues to rise, according to new
U.S. EPA statistics." The journalistic goal is to raise health alarms,
whether warranted or not. Thus, the news story itself says air
pollution, the presumptive cause of asthma, went down and yet asthma
prevalence went up. However, the reporter claims air pollution is
responsible for rising asthma just the same.

Wow.  These guys could be the poster-children for refusing to adjust their beliefs in the face of actual facts.  They even acknowledge that pollution and asthma are going in opposite directions and still they insist on their causation theory.

P
ostscript:  I am willing to believe, maybe, that there is some unknown, unmeasured and unregulated pollutant out there that is increasing and is causing increases in asthma.  However, that is not the argument these folks are making - they are using asthma increases to lobby for tougher standards on known pollutants.

Update:  The best guess I have for the increase in asthma in this country, and the strong positive correlation between asthma and economic development, is that it has something to do with indoor pollution.  The spike in asthma cases seems to parallel the rise in energy prices.  Beginning in the 1970's, we began sealing up houses tighter and tighter to conserve energy.  Increasing penetration of air conditioning simultaneously caused people to close the windows.  I am convinced its something inside, not outside.

125th Carnival of the Vanities

Welcome to the 125th edition of the Carnival of the Vanities.  Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals at these sites:

February 16th - Soccer Dad
February 23rd - Pundit Guy
March 2nd - Belief Seeking Understanding
March 9th - Solomonia
March 16th - Bird's Eye View
March 23rd - CodeBlueBlog
March 30th - Eric Berlin
April 6th - Incite
April 13th - Yea, Whatever

Future dates are open to anyone interested in hosting.  While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do here.

OK, enough of the introduction, on with the show.  As is traditional, we have taken all comers regardless of their point of view.  I have exercised my editorial license only in selecting the first post:

Continue reading ‘125th Carnival of the Vanities’ »

Anatomy of a Tax Increase

Via the Club for Growth:

[San Francisco's] Commission on the Environment is expected to ask the mayor and board of supervisors Tuesday to consider a 17-cent per bag charge on paper and plastic grocery bags. While the goal is reducing plastic bag pollution, paper was added so as not to discriminate.

"The whole point is to encourage the elimination of waste, not to make people pay more for groceries," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

Environmentalists argue that plastic bags jam machinery, pollute waterways and often end up in trees. In addition to large supermarkets, other outfits that regularly use plastic bags, including smaller grocery stores, dry cleaners and takeout restaurants, could eventually be targeted.

Officials calculate that the city spends 5.2 cents per bag annually for street litter pickup and 1.4 cents per bag for extra recycling costs.

What might have started out as a desire to change behavior or pay for a specific problem has become, as is typical, a general revenue grab.  Note two things:

  • They want to reduce plastic bag use, but put the tax on all bags.  Therefore, it will have no effect on behavior in the market when someone asks "paper or plastic" since they still will cost the same.  If they had put it only on plastic, then people might well have shifted en mass to asking for paper - I certainly would, as I am usually indifferent as to bag type.  But someone probably pointed out that if they only taxed plastic, everyone would shift to paper and they would get no extra revenue, despite the fact that the behavior shift was what started the proposal in the first place.
  • If they really only wanted to pay for cleanup costs, which presumably were calculated based on plastic since paper biodegrades pretty fast, they would not have made the tax 2.5 times their calculated cost.  What is the extra amount over 6.6 cents for?  General revenue of course.

If you think I am reading too much into this, ask how much of the cigarette taxes imposed by the tobacco liability settlement really went towards education and the health care costs of smoking-related illnesses (the original intent).  The answer is well less than half, and in some states, none.  In fact, the tobacco settlement has become such a strong general revenue source for states that some states are now supporting legislation to protect the business of large tobacco companies in the settlement. 

By the way, in a story only related because it involves taxes in California, all I can say is go, Arnold, go.

Private Land Trusts and the Environment

I have written that many forms of environmental regulation, such as pollution limits, are not in conflict with property rights, but are in fact essential to their preservation.

However, one area where statist environmentalism and property rights do conflict is over "preservations".  Whether it be preserving species or habitat or forests or open space or wilderness or whatever, preservation is often used as an excuse for raping property owners.

Which is a shame, since there are very viable free market alternatives open to environmentalists as a substitute for state coercion.  I have supported the Nature Conservancy for years, because it (generally) works to bring together private funds to purchase lands for various preservation goals.  This organization and other sets up private land trusts, generally using private money but sometimes with a public contribution to buy out landowners.  The blog Nature Noted focused on the activities of these trusts, including this recent deal in Michigan.  This deal in particular is cool, because we run most of the public campgrounds in this area.  Thanks to the Commons for the link to this site.

Fisking the NEA's Improvement Ideas

In my previous post, I took a look at the absurdity of the metrics in the NEA's recent schools report.  In that post, I ran out of room to Fisk the NEA's suggested areas of improvement for better school performance (keep scrolling).

Here are their improvement areas with my comments.  I always try to differentiate the NEA as a group from teachers individually.  The rants in this post are aimed at the NEA as a group.  Many teachers as individuals have my fondest regards.  Note I have helpfully put a big green dollar sign by every recommendation that boils down to "spend more money":

Continue reading ‘Fisking the NEA's Improvement Ideas’ »

Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 2

This is the second part of a two part post. Part 1, with more general background on my libertarian point of view on the environment, is here.

Because hell is freezing over today, and because the Russions just ratified the Kyoto Treaty, apparently putting it over the top for it to get started, I wanted to talk more specifically about the Global Warming and the Kyoto Treaty.

First, recognize that, whatever one's views are of Global Warming, Kyoto is a flawed treating from the United State's perspective. Leaving out the validity of global warming or the cost-benefit issues (which we will discuss below) the Kyoto treaty is a thoroughly anti-American document, crafted by other countries to put the vast vast majority of the cost on the US.

Why? Well, first, and most obviously, the entire developing world, including China, SE Asia, and India, are exempt. These countries account for 80% of the world's population and the great majority of growth in CO2 emissions over the next few decades, and they are not even included. If you doubt this at all, just look at what the economic recovery in China over the past months has done to oil prices. China's growth in hydrocarbon consumption will skyrocket over the coming years.

The second major flaw is that European nations cleverly crafted the treaty so that among developed nations, it disproportionately affects the US. Rather than freezing emissions at current levels or limiting growth rates, it calls for emissions to be rolled back to 6-8% below 1990 levels. Why 1990? Well, a couple of important things have happened since 1990, including:

a. European (and Japanese) economic growth has stagnated since 1990, while the US economy has grown like crazy. By setting the target date back to 1990, rather than just starting from today, the treaty is effectively trying to roll back the economic growth in the US that other major world economies did not enjoy. This difference in economic growth is a real sore spot for continental Europeans.
b. In 1990, Germany was reunified, and Germany inherited a whole country full of polluting inefficient factories from the old Soviet days. Most of the factories have been closed in the last decade, giving Germany an instant one-time leg up in meeting the treaty targets, but only if the date was set back to 1990, rather than starting today.
c. Since 1990, the British have had a similar effect from the closing of a number of old dirty Midlands coal mines and switching fuels from very dirty coal burned inefficiently to more modern gas and oil furnaces.
d. Since 1990, the Russians have an even greater such effect, given low economic growth and the closure of thousands of atrociously inefficient communist-era industries.

A third flaw is that Kyoto refused to accept increases in CO2 absorption as an offset to CO2 emissions. For example, increasing the amount of forest cover in a country can have the same effect as reducing emissions, since the forests lock up atmospheric carbon. The only logical reason for disallowing this in Kyoto is that it is an area where North America has a real advantage. Contrary to what most people might guess given all the doom and gloom environmental talk about sprawl and deforestation, the acres of forested land in the US has been steadily increasing since the 1920s.

It is flabbergasting that US negotiators could allow us to get so thoroughly hosed in these negotiations. Does anyone really want to roll back the economic gains of the nineties, while giving the rest of the world a free pass? Anyway, as a result of these flaws, and again having little to do with the global warming argument itself, the Senate voted 95-0 in 1997 not to sign or ratify the treaty unless these flaws (which still exist in the treaty) were fixed Note that this vote included now-candidate John Kerry and previous enviro-candidate Al Gore.

These gross and obvious flaws in Kyoto could let us off the hook from arguing the main point, which is, does global warming justify some sort of international action like Kyoto. So lets assume that Kyoto was all nice and fair and some reasonable basis was arrived at for letting countries share the pain. Should we be doing something?

To see if a treaty like a modified-to-be-fair-Kyoto makes sense to sign and adhere to, one must evaluate at least five questions:

1. Has the world been warming, and is this due to man's activities and specifically CO2(rather than natural cycles)
2. Do increasing CO2 levels lead to global warming in the future
3. Are man-made actions substantially increasing CO2 levels, and what kind of temperature increase might this translate into
4. How harmful will the projected temperature increases be
5. How much harm will CO2 limitations create and how do these stack up against the harms of global warming.

Continue reading ‘Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 2’ »

Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 1

As a libertarian and strong believer of individual rights and free markets, I often get "accosted" by folks saying that I must want the environment just to go to hell. Actually, no. Beyond my personal enjoyment of the outdoors, having "the environment go to hell" would be a disaster for my business, which depends on outdoor recreation.

This confusion about libertarianism and the environment falls in the category of what I call being pro-property-rights-and-markets and being pro-business. Many politicians, particularly traditional conservatives, who say they are the former and are in fact the latter. "Pro-business" politicians often support many things (subsidies, using eminent domain to help developers, building publicly funded stadiums) that bear little resemblance to libertarianism or truly free markets. This confusion also stems from differences in how much people trust individual action and incentives rather than command and control government programs. The Commons is a good site dedicated to market solutions to environmental issues, as is the environment section at Cato Institute. Virginia Postrel frequantly writes on the more general topic, beyond just the environment, of bottom up systems driven by individual choices vs. top down command and control.

In fact, environmental laws are as critical to a nation with strong property rights as is contract law. Why? Imagine a world without any environmental legislation but with strong property rights. What happens when the first molecule of smoke from my iron furnace or from my farm tractor crosses over on to your land. I have violated your property rights, have I not, by sending unwanted substances onto your land, into your water, or into your airspace. To stop me, you might sue me. And so might the next guy downwind, etc. We would end up in an economic gridlock with everyone slapping injunctions on each other. Since economic activity is almost impossible without impacting surrounding property owners, at least in small ways, we need a framework for setting out maximums for this impact - e.g., environmental legislation.

But I do disagree with a lot of environmentalists today. The conflict between free market supporters and environmentalists usually come in four flavors:

1. Disagreement over standards. The discussion above implies that environmental laws create a framework for setting out the maximum impact one property owner can have on others. But what is that maximum? Rational people can disagree, and do. This is a normal part of the political process and won't go away, as different people value different things. I generally don't have any problem with people who disagree with me on these standards, except perhaps for folks that want to argue for "zero" -- these people usually have anti-technology and anti-capitalism goals that go way beyond concern for the environment.

2. Disagreement over methods. Consistent with the framework I presented above, I believe that the government should as much as possible set overall emission standards, and allow individuals to make choices as to how those standards are reached. A good example of this are emissions trading schemes. Statists are uncomfortable with these approaches, and prefer to micro-manage compliance, down to the government making detailed choices about technologies used.

3. Use of One's Own Property. By the reasoning for environmental regulation above, the regulation is to limit the impact of one property owner on others. But the flip side is that property owners should be able to do whatever they damn well please with their own property if it does not affect others. Environmentalists will disagree with this vociferously. I have had literally twenty different people give me the exact same response to this: "If you let people do whatever they want, they would all trash their own land and dump toxic waste all over it". Huh? I swear I get this response constantly and it makes no sense. Why would they do this? We have no regulations that people should keep their house looking nice and shouldn't trash it, but most people keep their house up anyway. Why? Because it is in their own obvious self-interest to do so. If other people don't want you building on a piece of property or want it saved for some specific use (or non-use), then they should buy it. That's why I support the Nature Conservancy -- I personally value having some wide open pristine lands and preserving some habitats, but unlike others, I don't expect other people to pay for my wishes, usually in the form of some luckless landholder who suddenly can't use his property the way he wants. Through the Nature Conservancy, private donors who value having certain lands set aside from development pay to achieve that goal privately. This is similar to environmental groups buying up emisions credits. If all the money spent on whining about and lobbying over the Brazilian rainforest had instead been spent buying tracts of it, it would probably be a big park by now.

4. Priority of Man. This is the up and comer in the world of environmentalism. In its extreme form, proponents argue that animals have the same rights as man (though in practice it seems it is just the cute animals like dolphins and harp seals that get the attention). I don't buy it. While there is no defensible reason to allow cruelty when it can easily be avoided, taking the step to put animals on the same level as man, if followed to its logical extreme, will not bring animals up to our level (how could they?) but will knock man back down to the level of animals (see Rush song here).

In my second post on this topic, I will move on to a more specific topic, with a brief roundup on Global Warming and the Kyoto treaty.