Friday, August 11, 2006

A true inconvenience

President Bush has announced that our nation is addicted to oil, but that isn't true at all. I am addicted to cigarettes, I am not addicted to water. Yet if I had to choose between the two, I'll pick water every time -- I need it to survive. We need energy to survive, and for now that means we need dirty fuels like oil and coal. We fear that our use of fossil fuels changes the climate, and the result is a debate between societal survival and, well, societal survival.

When it comes to global warming, it is both useless and unnecessary to quibble about disputed facts, such as whether human activity is a significant factor. For the purposes of this column, I will simply accept all of the assumptions of the Green Movement. Global warming is real, and we are a significant cause of the problem. (Hell, if Pat Robertson can buy into it, why can't I?). So what does man-made global warming mean for us? We will face warmer weather, more droughts, higher sea levels, more precipitation, et cetera. Under the more extreme scenarios, some parts of the planet would become uninhabitable -- although it is probably safe to imagine that some uninhabitable areas would become more livable, especially up North. Generally, though, we can assume that human life will be affected negatively by the warming trend. Our way of living will dramatically change.

Forget New England

The Green Movement wants to do something about that. The argument basically goes like this: if we suffer now by dramatically changing the way we live, then maybe we can avoid suffering later by dramatically changing the way we live. Put that way, it doesn't sound like a winning proposition. But will we really suffer now because we act in a fashion dramatic enough to avoid climate change? The beginning of the answer lies with the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 international treaty that would require the U.S. and several other industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gases -- especially the ubiquitous carbon dioxide -- by meeting emissions targets.

What exactly would it mean to meet the Kyoto targets? Let's look at the numbers. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States generated 5,802 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 in 2003. Naturally, this number has grown over the years as our economy has expanded. In 1990 we emitted just 4,969 MMT of carbon dioxide. If we had ratified the Kyoto treaty, we would have committed to cut emissions to levels 7% below that 1990 level -- or to about 4,620 MMT.

Can we cut emissions by that much? Sure we can. I'm looking at the Energy Information Administration's table of all 50 states' levels of carbon dioxide emissions. If we shut down all industry and electric generation in the 14 "Blue" States (the ones that went for John Kerry in 2004) east of the Mississippi River, then seize all automobiles, airplanes, and private land there, we would slightly overshoot the Kyoto goals.

Of course, I'm being somewhat ridiculous here (besides, that solution didn't work when they tried it in Cambodia). So let's try to spread the burden of Kyoto compliance around. In 2003, gasoline use in the U.S. accounted for 1,141 MMT or 20 percent of our total carbon dioxide emissions. If Congress acts today to outlaw the use of gasoline for all uses -- automobiles, lawn-mowers, generators, et cetera -- we'd be within just 40 million metric tons of reaching our Kyoto goals. And that's great, unless you like being able to drive, or having food brought to your grocery store, or having ambulances and fire trucks that can respond to emergencies.

It is true that we don't have to meet the Kyoto goals tomorrow -- but we would have to meet them by 2008, which is not much better if you think about it. Even 2018 would not be much better. We are a growing population that needs more energy every year to sustain life and comfort.

This is not a simple case of adjusting your thermostat by a few degrees, driving fewer miles this summer, or even buying a hybrid. Even gradual Kyoto compliance would require much more drastic action than that. You would have to stop heating and cooling your office -- perhaps your home as well. You would have to take the bicycles on your family vacation this summer -- not on top of your car, but instead of your car. Forget about using that microwave -- and probably best to turn off that power-sucking computer of yours as soon as you're done reading this.

Given what it would take to comply, it's no wonder that the signatories of the Kyoto treaty are mostly failing to meet the targets, many of them (notably Canada, but especially Spain) doing far worse than the non-signatory United States. Even the countries that have kept emissions in check since 1990 (such as Germany) have largely done so because of a one-time event -- the collapse of Eastern Bloc industry at the end of the Cold War -- and not through significant, sustained reductions in energy use.

`Kyoto Is Not Enough'

But the picture is actually much bleaker than all that, because an important Green Movement tenet is that compliance with the Kyoto treaty is only the first baby step toward changing the warming trend. In November 2005, Professor Guy Brasseur, a Belgian scientist who runs the National Center for Atmospheric Research, addressed members of the European Parliament to inform them that "Kyoto is not enough." "If we stopped all CO2 emissions today, the temperature would continue to rise for between 200 and 300 years," said Brasseur, who also noted that in order to stop human activity from raising the temperature, "we must reduce emissions not by five to ten percent, but by eighty to ninety percent."

Someday, that may become possible: it will happen as soon as we develop a new, cost-efficient technology that satisfies our needs for energy with minimal pollution. But it's very safe to say that such dramatic reductions are impossible any other way. Right now, even a 20 percent reduction in emissions would probably be more traumatic and destructive to our civilization than twenty more years of high emissions and global warming -- especially considering that such a relatively large emissions reduction still would not put a dent in the problem. And that is to say nothing of the effect a 60 percent or a 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions would have on how we live.

The sages of The New York Times editorial board deride the technological development approach as a "Hail Mary" solution, and of course blame the idea on President Bush (who is responsible for every other evil in the world, so why not?). But this is simple blindness to reality. For normal people who drive cars and refrigerate their food, the "Hail Mary" approach is infinitely more effective and preferable to the approach that represents a slow death for the world economy.

The Green Movement, unfortunately, opposes the cost-effective, emission-free technologies we have already developed -- namely, hydroelectric and nuclear power.

The main point is that, accepting the premises of the Green Movement at face value, there is no reason to make society suffer, just to bring about minor reductions of emissions that won't make a difference. If the climate keeps getting hotter, as the Greens predict, I'm certainly not going to be the one to sacrifice my air conditioning now so that maybe it cools off in a few centuries. My thermostat stays on 68.


Environmental Bounty-Hunting

How Earthjustice and other green groups abuse the legal system.

Private prosecution of crimes has a long and sordid history, and that history isn't over. Bounty hunters no longer hound innocent people to death as some did in England in the mid-18th century, but environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have modified the tactic. They use "citizen suits" to reap rich rewards for themselves with little positive impact on the environment.

Most federal environmental statutes allow citizens to sue individuals or companies for violating the laws. Indeed, from 1993 to 2002, more than 75% of all environmental federal court decisions started as citizen suits, reports James May. Writing the Widener Law Review, he concludes that citizen suits are "the engine that propels the field of environmental law."

But most of these suits are brought by environmental organizations, not individuals, and most of the filings don't end in a court decision; they end in settlements. From 1995-2002, there were 4,438 notices of intent to sue under four environmental statutes--6.6 times more than actual federal court decisions in citizen suits. Presumably most of the others were settled. Why the settlements?

My research indicates a clear and compelling reason: settlements bring in money environmental groups can use to pursue other goals. Although statistics are hard to come by, most citizen suits appear to be filed under the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). Provisions in these laws enable citizen prosecutors to craft settlements that compensate them generously for legal costs (amounts well above actual costs) and that channel funds into pet environmental projects (called "supplemental environmental projects.")

These laws make prosecutions easy because they require companies to keep detailed records of their activities; in other words, evidence of technical violations is provided by the companies themselves! Furthermore, the laws saddle "violators" with very heavy penalties (up to $25,000 per day), but these penalties can be waived if the case is settled. And RCRA even allows citizens to prosecute past violations, not just ongoing ones.

Many of the violations are trivial and technical. Defendants who have not even minimally harmed the environment are roped in. One commentator points out that the Atlantic States Legal Foundation has frequently sued over paperwork violations under the Clean Water Act, but "not over violations of substantive environmental standards." Companies settle simply to avoid expensive litigation.

An indication that self-interest, not environmental stewardship, propels these suits comes from comparing citizen suits filed under two different laws. Between 1995 and 2002, 1,371 citizen suits were filed under the under the Clean Water Act but only 143 under the Clean Air Act. Do environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund think that water violations are more serious than air pollution? Probably not. They do know, however, that the Clean Water Act mandates record-keeping that makes suing under it easy and allows large fines that make settlements lucrative; the Clean Air Act does not.

Another sign that the goals are financial, not environmental, is that the Clean Water Act suits are disproportionately targeted at private firms, not municipal governments. Yet municipal governments generate much more water pollution. Current statutes thus create a moral hazard, distorting the incentives of environmental groups. As Michael Greve wrote some years ago, "In purpose and effect, citizen suit provisions are an off-budget entitlement program for the environmental movement." Repealing these provisions, particularly those in laws that authorize large monetary fines, would help some environmental groups refocus on activities that actually enhance environmental quality.



Al Gore establishes his environmental credentials straight away in his global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. When he stands by a river, sees the leaves, feels the river bank give a little beneath his feet, hears a cow in the distance, he feels all gooey inside. This profound revelation sets the scene for his deeply manipulative movie.

We first see the man who was almost the US president stride onstage to give a PowerPoint presentation claiming the global warming apocalypse is nigh. That presentation - boring graphs, pie charts, diagrams and all - is the movie, interspersed with footage of Gore strolling around his family farm in Tennessee, chatting about himself, and dragging his suitcase from airport to airport. Next month, Gore will bring his Apple Mac to Sydney to launch the movie and, judging by a preview audience this week, he is in for a rapturous reception.

The "inconvenient truth" that Gore has selflessly dedicated his life to warn us about is that "humanity is sitting on a time bomb". We have "just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet's climate system into a tail spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heatwaves beyond anything we have ever experienced - a catastrophe of our own making". Humans have polluted the atmosphere so much in the past 50 years that diseases and parasites are spreading, from lice and ebola to malaria. He provides no evidence, and doesn't mention that the rise of malaria coincided with the banning of the pesticide DDT, the most effective weapon against mosquitoes.

Gore's movie lingers on images of destruction and human misery from Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans last year. Global warming is the culprit, he says, with hurricanes at record levels last year. Like everything else in his movie, he presents it as incontrovertible fact, without mentioning that hurricane experts from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the evidence linking hurricane activity and global warming is inconclusive.

He makes curious claims such as "Pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand" because the sea level has risen so much. Really? [Sure will be news in both the Pacific island nations and New Zealand!]

He shows scientists examining ice cores from the Antarctic, which he claims show changes in the atmosphere over two years resulting from a political act in the United States, much like a ring in a tree trunk: "Right here is where the US Congress passed the Clean Air Act. It's very distinguishable."

At one point Gore, the one-time US vice-president, stands on a moveable platform next to a screen showing a graph of carbon dioxide and temperature over time. The two lines mirror each other until, suddenly, the temperature line stops and the carbon dioxide line takes a drastic turn upwards, climbing off the chart and a couple of metres up the wall, with Gore in hot pursuit. This carbon dioxide line shows the effect of human activity over the past 50 years and projected into the future, he says. The frightening implication is that temperature will mirror this increase, incinerating us in a flash, but where is the rest of the temperature line? Just as the audience is pondering this mystery, the scene ends. Forget the evidence, just trust Al Gore.

The next scene gives us a reason for this leap of faith as the camera pans over old newspaper headlines from 1989, when Gore's six-year-old son was badly injured in a car accident. "It turned my world upside down," he says, making him ask: "How shall I spend my time on this earth." Of course, he will save it.

After all the panic, the final credits present an odd logical leap with a long list of simple domestic tasks we can perform to prevent the global catastrophe: buy energy-efficient light bulbs, drive a hybrid car, get our parents to come to the movie, and pray.

Gore presents as a missionary, the font of sacred scientific information known to only a privileged few which he is now sharing person by person with his audiences. For all its ostentatious stodginess and earnest-university-lecture style, the movie is sophisticated propaganda, full of hyperbole, misleading and incomplete information, and vicious about non-believers. It is aimed at children, and its distributors will provide an interactive online study guide for 39,000 teachers around Australia. But as the geologist Professor Bob Carter, of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, has said: "Gore's circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic." We have more to fear from another ice age, he claims.

The problem with Gore's approach is that he makes the threat of man-made global warming seem so certain, so enormous and so insoluble that most people turn off. Visiting Sydney last year, Johan Norberg, the author of In Defence of Global Capitalism, pointed to one effect: a recent survey in the once deep-green Sweden showed that people thought the environment was in crisis at the same time as their interest in environmental issues had fallen from 30 per cent to 5 per cent. "Everyone thinks the environment is falling apart but they're not going to do anything about it," Norberg said.

The apocalyptic way in which climate change is so often presented by green groups, the media and on government websites is a kind of "climate porn", according to a report, Warm Words, released this month by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank. "Sensationalism . serves to create a sense of distance from the issue." It argues: "Alarmism might even become secretly thrilling - effectively a form of 'climate porn' rather than a constructive message. All of this serves to undermine the ability of this discourse to bring about action." It is human nature when faced with a problem too large to solve to simply ignore it in the hope it will go away. Funnily enough, the other eco catastrophes so confidently predicted 30 years ago - acid rain, nuclear winter, species extinction, the population bomb - never did eventuate.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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