When it comes to high speed rail, the Left tends to have a Santa Clause mentality. They want the rail, but refuse to even discuss its costs vs. benefits, as if it is going to be dropped in place by Santa Clause.
I have actually had pro-high-speed rail writers call me a dinosaur for taking a cost-benefit approach. After a reasoned article on why our rail system, with its focus on freight, makes more sense than China and Europe's focus on high speed passenger rail, Joel Epstein wrote me that I should get out of the country more, as if I am some backwoods rube that would just swoon if I saw a nifty bullet train. For the record, my actual experience on a high-speed rail train in Europe confirmed that it was a nice experience (I knew it would be) and that it was a financial mess, as my son and I were the only passengers in my car. I would be all for HSR if Santa Clause dropped in down from the North Pole, but it costs a lot of real money.
How much money? Well take the system in China that Friedman and Epstein and many others have begged the US to emulate:
The rail ministry that builds and operates the trains has an incredible 2.1 million employees, more than the number of civilians employed by the entire U.S. government. Moreover, the ministry is in debt to the tune of 2.1 trillion yuan ($326 billion), about 5 percent of the country’s GDP.
I often say that most government officials are not dumb or evil, they just have bad incentives that make them act that way, and they look dumb because they attempt to tackle problems that even a 250IQ can't solve (e.g. planning the economy).
But I may have been wrong. Evidence is mounting that people in Congress, at least, really are just plain dumb. From an interview on NPR:
[Congressman Henry] Waxman: Well, there have been scientists brought together to see if they could figure out the science and make it clear whether this is a danger or not, whether it's a danger that's a great one or one that we can postpone for a while, and the overwhelming consensus of all the leading scientists that have looked at this issue is there is a warming of the planet, it's manmade, caused by our burning of carbon fuels, and it's happening faster than anybody ever thought it would happen.
We're seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point - they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn't ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there's a lot of tundra that's being held down by that ice cap.
If that gets released we'll have more carbon emissions and methane gas in our atmosphere than we have now. We see a lot of destruction happening because of global warming, climate change problems, so we've got enough warning signals and enough of a scientific consensus to take this seriously.
Oh my heavens, we are certainly in good hands. Via Tom Nelson.
Postscript: For those who slept through high school science:
- North Pole ice melts, it does not evaporate (liquids evaporate). Occasionally a solid will go straight from a solid to a gaseous state (e.g. with dry ice) - that is called sublimation. Ice on Kilimanjaro, for example, sublimes rather than melts.
- There have been a number of years this century, including several times in the 1930's, when the Northwest Passage opened up in the summer, so a recent opening was far from the "first time."
- The ice cap does not hold down the tundra. The concern, as I understand it, is that large stretches of Siberia are essentially permanently frozen peat bogs. If the permafrost (which is under the tundra) melts, this allows the previously frozen organic matter to start to decompose, releasing methane which is a strong greenhouse gas.
- When Waxman refers to a tipping point, he means that a positive feedback cycle, much like nuclear fission, is created causing temperatures to accelerate rapidly. As an aside, such runaway positive feedback processes are rare among long-term stable natural systems, as at some point, given 5 billion years of history, they should have already run away by now. Why temperatures would reach a tipping point now when they did not in millennia past when both global temperature and CO2 levels were much higher remains unexplained by Mr. Waxman and other tipping point advocates.
- As of today, global sea ice extent is higher than the last 30 year average. (this graph is updated regularly)