Thursday, April 24, 2014

"We do not recycle. We teach our daughter not to recycle"

This letter was sent by Steven Landsburg, professor of economics at the University of Rochester and the author of several popular books on the subject, to his daughter's teacher. It concerns the school's attempts to indoctrinate the girl in environmentalism. The letter forms part of an article by Landsburg in which he discusses the need for pluralism and respect for those with different views, noting how these environmentalists seem to fail on both counts.

Dear Rebecca:

When we lived in Colorado, Cayley was the only Jewish child in her class. There were also a few Moslems. Occasionally, and especially around Christmas time, the teachers forgot about this diversity and made remarks that were appropriate only for the Christian children. These remarks came rarely, and were easily counteracted at home with explanations that different people believe different things, so we chose not to say anything at first. We changed our minds when we overheard a teacher telling a group of children that if Santa didn't come to your house, it meant you were a very bad child; this was within earshot of an Islamic child who certainly was not going to get a visit from Santa. At that point, we decided to share our concerns with the teachers. They were genuinely apologetic and there were no more incidents. I have no doubt that the teachers were good and honest people who had no intent to indoctrinate, only a certain naïveté derived from a provincial upbringing.

Perhaps that same sort of honest naïveté is what underlies the problems we've had at the JCC this year. Just as Cayley's teachers in Colorado were honestly oblivious to the fact that there is diversity in religion, it may be that her teachers at the JCC have been honestly oblivious that there is diversity in politics.

Let me then make that diversity clear. We are not environmentalists. We ardently oppose environmentalists. We consider environmentalism a form of mass hysteria akin to Islamic fundamentalism or the War on Drugs. We do not recycle. We teach our daughter not to recycle. We teach her that people who try to convince her to recycle, or who try to force her to recycle, are intruding on her rights.

The preceding paragraph is intended to serve the same purpose as announcing to Cayley's Colorado teachers that we are not Christians. Some of them had never been aware of knowing anybody who was not a Christian, but they adjusted pretty quickly.

Once the Colorado teachers understood that we and a few other families did not subscribe to the beliefs that they were propagating, they instantly apologized and stopped. Nobody asked me what exactly it was about Christianity that I disagreed with; they simply recognized that they were unlikely to change our views on the subject, and certainly had no business inculcating our child with opposite views.

I contrast this with your reaction when I confronted you at the preschool graduation. You wanted to know my specific disagreements with what you had taught my child to say. I reject your right to ask that question. The entire program of environmentalism is as foreign to us as the doctrine of Christianity. I was not about to engage in detailed theological debate with Cayley's Colorado teachers and they would not have had the audacity to ask me to. I simply asked them to lay off the subject completely, they recognized the legitimacy of the request, and the subject was closed.

I view the current situation as far more serious than what we encountered in Colorado for several reasons. First, in Colorado we were dealing with a few isolated remarks here and there, whereas at the JCC we have been dealing with a systematic attempt to inculcate a doctrine and to quite literally put words in children's mouths. Second, I do not sense on your part any acknowledgment that there may be people in the world who do not share your views. Third, I am frankly a lot more worried about my daughter's becoming an environmentalist than about her becoming a Christian. Fourth, we face no current threat of having Christianity imposed on us by petty tyrants; the same can not be said of environmentalism. My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin.

Although I have vowed not to get into a discussion on the issues, let me respond to the one question you seemed to think was very important in our discussion: Do I agree that with privilege comes responsibility? The answer is no. I believe that responsibilities arise when one undertakes them voluntarily. I also believe that in the absence of explicit contracts, people who lecture other people on their "responsibilities" are almost always up to no good. I tell my daughter to be wary of such people — even when they are preschool teachers who have otherwise earned a lot of love.


Steven Landsburg


There's no such thing as a natural world any more

Yesterday was Earth Day, a celebration of our planet and all of its natural splendor. There's a problem, though, with this conception of environmentalism, which, like Earth Day, was invented in the 1970s. And it's a big one: there is literally no such thing as “nature” anymore.

As Christopher Mims wrote for Motherboard a couple years ago, the natural world—independent of us—simply no longer exists.

[A]ny attempt to talk about the 21st century without acknowledging that every living thing on the planet will be altered by humans is intellectually bankrupt. There is no “nature” left — only the portion of nature that we allow to live because we imagine it serves some purpose — as a thing to eat, a place to reprocess our waste, or an idea that fulfills our dwindling desire to maintain “the natural” for aesthetic or ideological reasons.

Whether bulldozed or clear-cut, fished, farmed or warmed by greenhouse gases, every ecosystem on Earth is currently being shaped by humans and human technology. That's true now, and it's been true—to an ever-increasing extent—for thousands of years. At this point, believing that it's possible to restore a place to its original state by removing a dam, restoring a marsh or culling some deer requires a naïve interpretation of how ecosystems work.

In his assessment, Mims noted that the ecosystems of the future will not consist of the world, plus us, plus our technology. Rather, the global ecosystem will increasingly be guided, shaped and supported by us and our technology. This shift can already been seen in humanity's most prominent constructions: cities.

Writing for the Design Observer, Peter Del Tredici, a botanist and author, explores how cities are giving rise to novel growing conditions, and new, wholly anthropogenic ecosystems. Instead of rivers, marshes or forests, Earth now has chain-link fences, abandoned lots, highway medians and cracks in the pavement. These aren't devoid of life; they are new human-made ecosystems, and different types of life—what Del Tredici calls “spontaneous urban vegetation”—thrive in those environments.

Most people have a different word for "spontaneous urban vegetaition"—weeds. But these urban plants, Del Tredici says, are the symptom of change, not the cause. Instead of blaming weeds for existing and trying to restore a place to its original state, engineers working in ecological restoration focus on restoring “ecosystem services." These are jobs that keep an ecosystem working, and getting those positions filled is what matters most—something needs to keep the soil from being washed out by the rain (even if it is a "weed").

So, here's Del Tredici's idea: Instead of longing for some more “natural” ecosystem that is long-since lost, we should work with these new species to design ecosystems that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Rather than trying to fight the infiltration of plants in cracks and vines on fences, we can acknowledge and embrace the changes we've wrought.


No more onshore wind farms if Conservatives win 2015 British election

Local residents will get new powers to block all new onshore wind farms within six months of a new Conservative government taking office, the party will promise on Thursday.

No subsidies will paid to operators of new onshore wind turbines if the Conservatives win a Commons majority next May, they will promise.

The commitment to stop the erection of new onshore turbines – revealed in The Telegraph earlier this month – is the latest hardening of Conservative rhetoric on green energy.

Subsidies for existing onshore wind would remain in place and wind farms currently under construction or given legal consent would still be completed, almost doubling the onshore wind sector’s capacity by 2020.

But no more onshore turbines would be put in place beyond that, Michael Fallon, the energy minister, will say.

Under current planning rules, big onshore wind farms are handled by a national infrastructure regime that can ignore the wishes of local people.

The Tories would change those rules so that major sites would be processed by local councils, allowing local politicians to reflect the views of residents.

Planning policies would also be altered to give greater weight to local concerns about landscape and heritage.

If the Conservatives win the election next year, they would put new curbs on wind farms in place by November 2015, Mr Fallon said. The UK has “enough” onshore turbines he said.

“We remain committed to cutting our carbon emissions. And renewable energy, including onshore wind, has a key role in our future energy supply. But we now have enough bill payer-funded onshore wind in the pipeline to meet our renewable energy commitments and there’s no requirement for any more.

“That’s why the next Conservative Government will end any additional bill payer subsidy for onshore wind.”


Big Green’s environmental impacts

The environmental orgy known as Earth Day has come and gone.

Disney opened their annual Earth Day movie homage, Pinterest made available a slew of Earth Day activities for kids, and public and private schools have had their requisite ceremonies.

In all the celebration, the one thing that is seemingly never asked is whether or not environmentalist policies by the government are actually helping the environment?

Wind energy is just one example.  The United States government has provided billions of dollars of subsidies to the wind industry over the past twenty years, subsidies that have not yet been renewed in 2014 as the mature industry is being forced to stand on its own.

While wind might seem to be the ultimate renewable, the reality is that the giant windmill turbines that dominate some of the most scenic landscapes in America both destroy the aesthetic beauty of the land, while also having a devastating impact on the birds and bats of the area.

It is estimated that as many as 900,000 bats each year are killed by the giant wind turbines, a real boon for the insect populations which are naturally kept in check by these flying mammals.  Diminished bat populations means that farmers are likely to use more pesticides to keep the crop destroying bugs under control — now that’s an earth friendly solution.

On the bird front, the Obama Administration has given a bald eagle license to kill permit to the wind energy industry for the next thirty years, while at the same time using the formerly endangered bald eagle as the excuse for moving against lead ammunition.  The rationale is simple — killing bald eagles on the altar of renewable energy is good — but lead ammunition is bad because it could end up in game that is wounded, and an eagle might eat that animal that dies later and get sick from that exposure.  Make sense?  I thought not.

Right now, in celebration of Earth Day, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has embarked on a carbon dioxide emission spree touting the dangers of global warming as she jets between cities on a five day tour.  The promotion travel includes such environmental policy staples as McCarthy throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox-Yankees game in her home town of Boston.

Following the game, it is rumored that McCarthy plans to take a selfie with David Ortiz to increase her social media product placement ranking, thus enhancing her position as Obama’s leading eco-warrior over the usurping Secretary of State John Kerry who longs for the title.  Unfortunately, unidentified sources within the environmentalist community claim that John Kerry was not available for comment as he was busy again moving his yacht to Rhode Island to avoid taxes.

For all of those who are confused about what environmentalists mean when they say Earth Day, let this next example make it clear.   South Korea which burns coal to fuel its electricity craves U.S. coal at least partially due to its lower sulfur content which leads to less air pollution.  Western state coal producers want to sell their product to the South Koreans.  So what is the problem?  Environmentalists in the state of Washington are blocking the construction of a coal terminal to transport the more environmentally friendly American product overseas, all under the guise of protecting the planet.

Using specious arguments that coal trains will cause their streets to be covered in coal dust, and even claiming possible black lung disease ramifications for those living close to the railroad tracks, the supposedly educated people of Seattle and surrounding areas are doing everything in their power to block the terminal.

Earth Day really only means, our part of the Earth Day— as environmentalists across the nation engage in standard Not In My Back Yard political and legal tactics to the detriment of the world’s environmental health.

That’s why environmentalists can at the same time as they oppose the rail transport of coal, also oppose building the carbon friendly Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canadian oil to market in the lower 48.  When it comes to Canadian oil, they prefer that the oil be shipped using a steady stream of less environmentally friendly rail cars than flowing through a pipeline.

Apparently, for Canadian oil rail is the environmentally approved method of transportation, but for coal, rail is wrong.

Every Earth Day, the nation is asked to check its thinking caps at the door in celebration of the environment, and that is fine.  But on the day after Earth Day, critical thinking needs to be re-engaged and when put under the microscope, many environmental schemes do more harm to the environment than the ill they purport to try to cure.

Perhaps this year, Americans will take the blinders off and scrutinize the impacts of extreme environmental policies and the multi-billion industry that pushes them.  That’s the kind of environmental impact report that I would look forward to reading.


The 2014 state of wind energy: Desperately seeking subsidies

With the growing story coming out of Ukraine, the ongoing search for the missing Malaysian jet, the intensifying Nevada cattle battle, and the new announcement about the additional Keystone pipeline delay, little attention is being paid to the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy — or any of the other fifty lapsed tax breaks the Senate Finance Committee approved earlier this month. But, despite the low news profile, the gears of government continue to grind up taxpayer dollars.

The Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency Act (EXPIRE) did not originally include the PTC, however, prior to the committee markup hearing on April 3, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pushed for an amendment to add a two-year PTC extension. The tax extender package passed out of committee and has been sent to the senate floor for debate. There, its future is uncertain.

“If the bill becomes law,” reports the Energy Collective, “it will allow wind energy developers to qualify for tax credits if they begin construction by the end of 2015.” The American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) website calls on Congress to: “act quickly to retroactively extend the PTC.”

The PTC is often the deciding factor in determining whether or not to build a wind farm. According to Bloomberg, wind power advocates fear: “Without the restoration of the subsidies, worth $23 per megawatt hour to turbine owners, the industry might not recover, and the U.S. may lose ground in its race to reduce dependence on fossil fuels driving global warming.” The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report earlier this month affirming the importance of the subsidies to the wind industry. It showed that the PTC has been critical to the development of the U.S. wind power industry. The report also found: PTC “extension options that would ramp down by the end of 2022 appear to be insufficient to support recent levels of deployment. …extending the production tax credit at its historical level could provide the best opportunity to sustain strong U.S. wind energy installation and domestic manufacturing.”

The PTC was originally part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. It has expired many times — most recently at the close of 2013. The last-minute 2012 extension, as a part of the American Tax Relief Act, included an eligibility criteria adjustment that allows projects that began construction in 2013, and maintain construction through as long as 2016, to qualify for the ten-year tax credit designed to establish a production incentive. Previously, projects would have had to be producing electricity at the time the PTC expired to qualify.

Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance, which represents the interests of oil, coal, and natural gas companies, called the 2013 expiration of the wind PTC “a victory for taxpayers.” He explained: “The notion that the wind industry is an infant that needs the PTC to get on its feet is simply not true. The PTC has overstayed its welcome and any attempt to extend it would do a great disservice to the American people.”

As recently as 2006-2007, “the wind PTC had no natural enemies,” states a new report on the PTC’s future. The Declining Appetite for the Wind PTC report points to the assumption that “all extenders are extended eventually, and that enacting the extension is purely a matter of routine, in which gridlock on unrelated topics is the only source of uncertainty and delay.” The report then concludes: “That has been a correct view in past years.”

The report predicts that the PTC will follow “the same political trajectory as the ethanol mandate and the ethanol blenders’ tax credit before it.” The mandate remains — albeit in a slightly weakened state — and the tax credit is gone: “ethanol no longer needed the blenders’ tax credit because it had the strong support of a mandate (an implicit subsidy) behind it.”

The PTC once enjoyed support from some in the utility industry that needed it to bolster wind power development to meet the mandates. Today, utilities have met their state mandates — or come close enough, the report points out: “their state utility commissioners will not allow them to build more.” It is important to realize that the commissioners are appointed or elected to protect the ratepayers and insure that the rates charged by the utilities are fair and as low as possible. Because of the increased cost of wind energy over conventional sources, commissioners won’t allow any more than is necessary to meet the mandates passed by the legislatures.

The abundance of natural gas and subsequent low price has also hurt wind energy’s predicted price parity. South Dakota’s Governor Dennis Daugaard (R), in Bloomberg, said: “If gas prices weren’t so cheap, then wind might be able to compete on its own.” David Crane, chief executive officer of NRG Energy Inc. — which builds both gas and renewable power plants — agrees: “Cheap gas has definitely made it harder to compete.” With the subsidy, companies were able to propose wind projects “below the price of gas.” Without the PTC, Stephen Munro, an analyst at New Energy Finance, confirms: “we don’t expect wind to be at cost parity with gas.”

The changing conditions combined with “wide agreement that the majority of extenders are special interest handouts, the pet political projects of a few influential members of Congress,” mean that “the wind PTC is not a sure bet for extension.” Bloomberg declares: “Wind power in the U.S. is on a respirator.” Mike Krancer, who previously served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, in an article in Roll Call, states: “Washington’s usual handout to keep the turbines spinning may be harder to win this time around.”

Despite the claim of “Loud support for the PTC” from North American Windpower (NAW), the report predicts “political resistance.” NAW points to letters from 144 members of Congress urging colleagues to “act quickly to revive the incentives.” Twenty-six Senate members signed the letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and 118 signed a similar letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). However, of the 118 House members, only six were Republicans — which, even if the PTC extension makes it out of the Senate, points to the difficulty of getting it extended in the Republican-controlled House.

Bloomberg cites AWEA as saying: “the Republican-led House of Representatives may not support efforts to extend the tax credits before the November election.” This supports the view stated in the report. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman David Camp (R-MI) held his first hearing on tax extenders on April 8. He only wants two of the 55 tax breaks continued: small business depreciation and the R & D tax credit. The report states: “Camp says that he will probably hold hearings on which extenders should be permanent through the spring and into the summer. He hasn’t said when he would do an extenders proposal himself, but our guess is that he will wait until after the fall elections. …We think the PTC is most endangered if Republicans win a Senate Majority in the fall.”

So, even if the PTC survives the current Senate’s floor debate (Senator Pat Toomey [R-PA] offered an amendment that would have entirely done away with the PTC), it is only the “first step in a long journey” and, according to David Burton, a partner at law firm Akin Gump Hauer and Feld, is “unlikely on its own to create enough confidence to spur investment in the development of new projects.” Plus, the House will likely hold up its resurrection.

Not to mention the growing opposition to wind energy due to the slaughter of birds and bats — including the protected bald and golden eagles. Or, growing fears about health impacts, maintenance costs and abandoned turbines.

All of these factors have likely led Jeff Imelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co. — the biggest U.S. turbine supplier — to recently state: “We’re planning for a world that’s unsubsidized. Renewables have to find a way to get to the grid unsubsidized.”

Perhaps this time, the PTC is really dead, leaving smaller manufacturers desperately seeking subsidies.


The deadliest environmental threat (it’s not global warming)

Greens are callous criminals in their throttling of the Third World

By Bjorn Lomborg

Earth Day is a chance to take stock: What is the state of the world’s environment? Our knee-jerk reaction is that it’s getting worse. But that is not only mostly incorrect, it also prevents us from using Earth Day to help do the most good to make the environment even better.

Many think the biggest global environment problem is global warming. After all, the issue gets the lion’s share of headlines and accounts for much of the hell-in-a-hand-basket environmental news we come across. But by any reasonable measure, this is entirely wrong. The most important is in fact indoor air pollution.

One-third of the world’s people — 2.9 billion — cook and keep warm burning twigs and dung, which give off deadly fumes. This leads to strokes, heart disease and cancer, and disproportionately affects women and children. The World Health Organization estimates that it killed 4.3 million people in 2012. Add the smaller death count from outdoor pollution, and air pollution causes one in eight deaths worldwide.

Compare these numbers to global warming. As the new report from the UN Climate Panel concludes, “At present the worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors.” Air pollution doesn’t garner the headlines afforded to global warming because it’s not nearly as sexy. It’s old-fashioned, boring, and doesn’t raise anywhere near as much money as climate change.

Global warming is a real problem, but its threat is much, much lower. Estimates from the World Health Organization and others show that between 50 and 250 times more people die from the effects of air pollution.

That is why we can confidently say that the environment is doing much better now than before. Measured on the by-far-most important environmental indicator, air pollution, the risk of death has dropped dramatically and consistently, both in the developed and developing world.

With outdoor air pollution rampant in Beijing that may seem surprising, but we forget that indoor air pollution has always been much, much more important. In 1900 almost all pollution deaths in developing countries came from indoor air pollution — and the individual risk of dying from all air pollution was more than five-fold higher than it is today.

Even today, as outdoor air pollution has increased death risks both because of a higher urban population and more emissions, the death risks from indoor air pollution still outweigh outdoor 2-to-1, and indoor risks have been dropping much faster.

This is essentially because of ever more people coming out of poverty, and being able to afford not to cook with dung.

In the rich world, most other environmental indicators have improved dramatically. All developed countries have slashed their outdoor air pollution and handled much of their water pollution, while even strongly regulating small risks like pesticides and other chemical fears. In the developed world, rivers just don’t catch fire as the Cuyahoga River did just before the first Earth Day.

In the developing world, the overall environment has also gotten better because of the dramatic drop in indoor air pollution. Outdoor air pollution has risen — but this only confirms a long-standing finding that some environmental indicators tend to first get worse, then better, with economic development.

Essentially, poor countries are trading off economic development for outdoor air pollution. This prosperity buys food, education and vaccines for their kids, while electricity eradicates indoor air pollution. And as they get richer, they can also afford to protect more nature and cut pollution. In some of the richest developing countries, such as Chile and Mexico, outdoor air pollution is now declining.

But we still don’t tackle global warming. That is why many Earth Day messages will ignore the pervasive evidence for progress and emphasize deterioration and collapse. The assumption seems to be that a little extra doom and gloom will help mobilize more attention to improve the environment.

Yet shrill messaging simply reinforces panic, which impedes our ability to make smart choices. To tackle the world’s biggest environmental problem, indoor air pollution, we need to help the world’s 1.2 billion stuck in abject poverty.

In just three decades, China has lifted 680 million people out of poverty. It did so not with solar panels or wind turbines, but through a dramatic rise in access to modern energy, mostly powered by coal.

Panic only brings expensive, inefficient global-warming policies, like solar and wind. These cost $60 billion in subsidies but provide less than 1 percent of global energy. At best, they’ll provide just 3.5 percent in a generation’s time.

Instead we should invest much more resources in research to innovate the next generations of green energy. If we can eventually make green technologies cheaper than fossil fuels, everyone will switch. This means dramatically lower carbon emissions while providing power for development to billions of poor.

This Earth Day, we should celebrate our success so far: Overall, we’ve solved more problems than we’ve created. Rather than give in to panic, let’s get our priorities right.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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