Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, January 20, 2006
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Subsidize this!

Richard Burr has an excellent commentary in the Weekly Standard on the growing — and for some reasons puzzling — popularity of hybrid vehicles. Puzzling because these things don’t get the promised gains in fuel economy and don’t seem to work very well.

Imagine buying a Chevy Impala or a Toyota Camry and being told that you can’t run the air conditioner on high. Or you need lessons from the dealer on how to brake the vehicle in order to recharge the battery more efficiently. No, you couldn’t imagine that.

Burr, who is associate editor of the Detroit News editorial page, points out that the hybrid owner is really making a statement about his or her environmental sensitivity. What’s more, the government is subsidizing these manifestoes on wheels.

Hybrids have become the environmental equivalent of driving an Escalade or Mustang. Who cares if they deliver on their promises as long as they make a social statement? Taxpayers should. The federal government subsidizes hybrid fashion statements with tax breaks that benefit the rich. The average household income of a Civic hybrid owner ranges between $65,000 to $85,000 a year; it’s more than $100,000 for the owner of an Accord. The median income of a Toyota Prius owner is $92,000; for a Highlander SUV owner $121,000; and for a luxury Lexus SUV owner it’s over $200,000.

If the government wants to subsidize automobile purchases, may I suggest it add the 2006 Camaro Concept just introduced at the Detroit Auto Show to its list of favored vehicles? It has a 400 horsepower engine with cyclinder deactivation technology that, General Motors says, gets 30 mph on the highway. A nice little government subsidy might persuade GM to put this gorgeous car into mass production all the sooner.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Friday, January 13, 2006
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There’s interesting news on the global warming front in today’s Financial Times:

Everyone knows trees are “A Good Thing”. They take in the carbon dioxide that threatens our planet with global warming and turn it into fresh, clean oxygen for us all to breathe.

But now it seems we need to think again. In a discovery that has left climate scientists gasping, researchers have found that the earth’s vegetation is churning out vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent even than CO2. This is not a product of trees and plants rotting, which everyone already knew was a source of methane; it is an entirely natural side-effect of plant growth that scientists had somehow missed. Yet it is by no means trivial: preliminary estimates suggest that living trees and plants account for about 10 to 30 per cent of the methane entering the atmosphere.

(Via The Corner) The whole article is well worth a read. Perhaps it’s not such a great idea to destroy the global economy via Kyoto in order to save the planet from a phenomenon that may have much more to do with natural causes than climate change advocates have been willing to admit.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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Continuing the discussion of energy usage from yesterday, check out this review in the New York Sun of Children of the Sun (W.W. Norton), by Alfred Crosby, emeritus professor of history, geography, and American studies at the University of Texas.

Reviewer Peter Pettus says that Crosby “has written a direct and clearly expressed analysis of the energy problem without hysterics, apocalyptic threats, or partisan rancor.” These, of course, are the precisely the characteristics that are so often found in discussions of energy policy.

Crosby finds that the essence of the problem is this: “we cannot solve the growing problem of our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels by turning to such popular palliatives as wind farms and solar panels, because to do so would condemn millions of our fellow humans to inevitable death. The answer to this dilemma is (as always): We must somehow find new sources of energy. The question is: where?”

Crosby does not rest at simply raising the question, but attempts to find a solution. Must we find a new answer, some novel technology as yet undreamt of? No, for “it already exists: the nuclear reactor waits at our elbow like a superb butler.”

Blog author: mvandermaas
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
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Jeffrey Tucker at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute:

You might say that water needs to be conserved. Yes, and so does every other scarce good. The peaceful way to do this is through the price system. But because municipal water systems have created artificial shortages, other means become necessary. One regulation piles on top of another, and the next thing you know, you have shower commissars telling you what you can or cannot do in the most private spaces.

Has central planning ever been more ridiculous, intrusive, and self-defeating?

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
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Arnold Kling at the excellent EconLog says that “the government should empty its strategic petroleum reserve and buy energy futures contracts instead. At some point, the futures market has to be taken seriously.”

He concludes, “The government has all sorts of subsidies for alternative energy. However, the most efficient subsidy would be to buy oil futures contracts. If we must have an energy policy, it should consist solely of strategic futures market purchases.”

This on the heels of the announcement by Whole Foods Market Inc. that “the company is buying enough wind power credits to cover energy use at all of its U.S. stores, bakeries, distribution centers, regional offices and its Austin headquarters.” For Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley’s take on wind power, click here (and listen here for a radio interview [mp3] with Bradley on the subject). Read here about offshore wind farms.

I’m all in favor of the market determining what alternative energy sources there are and who decides to use them. Good for Whole Foods, I wish them luck. I’m not convinced, however, that I need to help pay for their switch to wind power, which government subsidies for such ensure that I do. Nuclear energy deserves a second look, and the harsh realities of energy markets is forcing even Europe to recognize this, as various European nations slate the construction of new nuclear reactors.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
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Check out this review of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic), which describes it as a “litany around the increasingly fashionable panic over oil depletion.” This paucity of oil will in large part contribute to a future in which “the best-case scenario is a mass die-off followed by a forced move back to the land, complete with associated feudal relations. As the title implies, this is to be an ongoing state rather than a crisis to be overcome – a sentiment that the US critic Susan Sontag described as ‘apocalypse from now on’.”

Kunstler in part attempts to rehabilitate the figure of Malthus, who he says was generally right, but who could not take into account the veneer of transitory economic advancement enabled through the use of fossil fuels. Kunstler’s book fits in with a newly ascendent genre of apocalyptic writing, which unanimously agrees that humanity faces extinction. “The core elements of the litany are predictable: climate change, disease, terrorism, and an-out-of-control world economy. Other elements such as killer asteroids, nanotechnology or chemical pollution can be added according to taste,” writes the reviewer Joe Kaplinsky. Indeed, the view is shared across ideological and religious lines. The Rapture Index, for example, is currently at its high point for 2006: 154.

He contends that in The Long Emergency Kunstler essentially views humans themselves as the problem: “He has long argued against suburbia and the car, in favour of a ‘New Urbanism’. In places it is perhaps possible to read The Long Emergency as a revenge fantasy. Embittered at his inability to convince others that they should change their ways, Kunstler takes refuge under the wing of Nature’s avenging angel. He can be ignored (he attributes this to a psychological flaw in his detractors); the inhuman laws of nature cannot.”

For an introduction to New Urbanism, check out the controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality on the question, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?” beginning with an essay by Charles C. Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and continuing with a response by Mark Pennington, lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London. As is typical of the controversies, there is then one more cycle of responses.

Kunstler continues, noting that “apparently, those who will suffer most terribly in the long emergency are the US Republican states whose culture is built on violence and fundamentalist Christianity. Neighbourhoods with spacious housing (‘McMansions’) and ‘poor street detailing’, a particular insult to Kunstler, are singled out for destruction. Europeans, by contrast, may pull through in better shape. There is an uncanny alignment between the supposedly objective, inevitable laws of nature and Kunstler’s prejudices. Perhaps the best summary of his views is found in the book’s epigraph: ‘I don’t know if the Gods exist, but they sure act as if they do.'”

The remainder of the review gives a lengthy examination of Kunstler’s underlying claims, evidence, and prejudice, including his view of the effects of “entropy,” and is well worth a read.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
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There are two good articles out there in today’s press about socialist thinking, which alas is all too prevalant, especially in issues concerning the environment.

The first is a tribute to Arthur Seldon in the Daily Telegraph. Some of Seldon’s friends and family are gathering in a London synagogue today to remember one of the founders of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The creed was capitalism, a concept about which Seldon wrote his most distinguished book in 1990, and which had been under sustained assault for much of the 20th century. Seldon’s work begins with this typically unapologetic statement: “Capitalism requires not defence but celebration. Its achievement in creating high and rising living standards for the masses without sacrificing personal liberty speaks for itself. Only the deaf will not hear and the blind will not see.”

The second is another hilarious take-down of environmentalists by Mark Steyn in The Australian.

While Seldon helped lauch free-market thought throughout the United Kindgom and the United States, it’s clear that the environmentalists still command headlines with their scare tactics and incoherent arguments. The world desperately needs more Arthur Seldons.

Topping today’s Science/Nature section at BBC News, “Population size ‘green priority'”, by Richard Black. The article focuses on the thoughts of Professor Chris Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, who contends that the “current global population of six billion is unsustainably high.” This is to say nothing of the growth rate and future generations.

Based on a column Rapley wrote for a new BBC feature, The Green Room, the article presents the view that “humankind is consuming the Earth’s resources at an unsustainably fast rate,” based on “a number of studies.”

The basis for Rapley’s concern, as you might expect, is carbon emissions, but he writes, “Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human environmental ‘footprint’, the truth is that the contribution of each individual cannot be reduced to zero.”

He concludes, “Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing.”

Rapley laments that there is a paucity of opportunities to discuss population growth, since it is not often discussed at global environmental summits. “Rare indeed are the opportunities for religious leaders, philosophers, moralists, policymakers, politicians and indeed the “global public” to debate the trajectory of the world’s human population in the context of its stress on the Earth system, and to decide what might be done,” he writes.

Rapley does seem to overlook the UN’s World Population Day, which is little more than a campaign for population controls. And the myth of humanity as a plague species has been fodder for London’s “The Human Zoo,” as well as happening to be the view of Agent Smith in the Matrix movies.

As we saw in a recent commentary by Acton research fellow Jay Richards, Rapley is certainly not alone in his concern. A letter to Richards about his book on intelligent design from a prominent scientist read in part: “Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!”

Perhaps some individuals have imbibed such a view, as birth rates in the developed world are not growing. A 2004 UN report showed that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050.” Most of the countries in the developed world which will account for the decline in birth rates belong to the EU. The US, on the other hand, is one of the eight nations that will “account for half of the world’s projected population increase.”

But part of the reason that Rapley’s concerns aren’t getting much attention beyond pop culture phenomena and some macabre colleagues is that the population explosion myth has been rather thoroughly debunked. The case of carbon emissions is simply the latest hook for population control advocates. For more on population and the environment, check out Acton’s policy section, which links to a number of helpful resources.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 30, 2005
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O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “For the Future of the Human Race,” (1979), p. 828

I cannot pass up this prayer without mentioning the announcement for an upcoming academic conference I saw recently. The Applied Global Justice group of the Research Training Network will be holding the “Environmental Justice, Sustainable Development and Future Generations” international conference at the Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), 24-25 February 2006.

What struck me about this posting was the idea of “intergenerational justice,” and especially the topic of a paper by Prof. Dr. Peter Koller (University of Graz, Austria): “Natural resources, environmental justice, and the rights of future people.”

“The rights of future people.” Here’s a phrase that ought to have implications far beyond the concerns simply of environmental justice.

Indeed, the right to life can be seen as the basis for all other rights, as it is the necessary condition for the actualization of other rights, whether they be conceived of as liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Declaration of Independence), liberty and security of person (Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights), or the right to respect for physical and mental integrity (Article 3, The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union).

The ability of future generations to realize the right to a sustainable environment is first contingent on the realization of the fundamental right to life. This must be the first and fundamental recognized right of future people.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, December 29, 2005
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At risk, thanks to environmentalism.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has yet another example of what happens when good intentions fail to connect with sound economics (or in this case, sound science).

Thanks to the nation’s housing boom, business has been good for the West’s sawmills for the past three years. But Jim faced an insurmountable problem: He couldn’t buy enough logs to keep his mill running. This despite the fact that 10 times as many trees as Jim’s mill needed die annually on the nearby Kootenai National Forest. From his office window, Jim could see the dead and dying standing on hillsides just west of the mill. They might as well have been standing on the moon, given the senseless environmental litigation that has engulfed the West’s federal forests.

Thanks to Jim’s resourcefulness, his mill survived its last five years on a steady diet of fire- and bug-killed trees salvaged from Alberta provincial forests. Such salvage work is unthinkable in our national forests, forests that, news reports to the contrary, remain under the thumb of radical environmental groups whose hatred for capitalism seems boundless. Americans are thus invited to believe that salvaging fire-killed timber is “like mugging a burn victim.” Never mind that there is no peer-reviewed science that supports this ridiculous claim–or that many of the West’s great forests, including Oregon’s famed Tillamook Forest, are products of past salvage and reforestation projects.

So the scorecard looks like this: One point to the environmental groups who have worked so hard to shut down sawmills; zero points to the sawmill workers who are now out of a job; zero points to the sawmill operator who can no longer make a return on his investment; and most ironically, zero points to the forests that will not be thinned and thus be at much greater risk of disastrous wildfires. Come to think of it, that might negate the point awarded earlier to the environmental groups, so let’s just say that nobody wins.

One more quote from that article:

Fifteen years ago, not long after the release of “Playing God in Yellowstone,” his seminal work on environmentalism’s philosophical underpinnings, I asked philosopher and environmentalist Alston Chase what he thought about this situation. I leave you to ponder his answer: “Environmentalism increasingly reflects urban perspectives. As people move to cities, they become infatuated with fantasies about land untouched by humans. This demographic shift is revealed through ongoing debates about endangered species, grazing, water rights, private property, mining and logging. And it is partly a healthy trend. But this urbanization of environmental values also signals the loss of a rural way of life and the disappearance of hands-on experience with nature. So the irony: As popular concern for preservation increases, public understanding about how to achieve it declines.”