Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Plastic Bans Are Symbolism Over Substance
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau recently proposed a federal ban on certain single-use plastics, arguing, “We have a responsibility to work with our partners to reduce plastic pollution, protect the environment, and create jobs and grow our economy.” As with similar measures in California, Hawaii, and New York, the proposed Canadian ban on plastics will harm consumers while providing very little benefit, even on Trudeau’s own terms.

The biggest problem for the plastic banners is that their measures (so far) apply to jurisdictions that have little to do with the ostensible problem. The biggest contributors to plastic in the ocean are China and Indonesia; a 2015 article in Science concluded that OECD countries contribute less than 5 percent of the plastic waste from land sources.

Another problem is that government bans come with unintended consequences. For example, research from earlier this year studied California’s ban on plastic bags and reported that “the elimination of 40 million pounds of plastic carryout bags [was] offset by a 12 million pound increase in trash bag purchases.” Because pet owners (for example) had been using their plastic bags from the grocery store to pick up after their animals, the ban simply forced them to buy plastic bags the old-fashioned way. Ironically, the California legislation led these people to stop recycling and reusing!

These naïve “direct assaults” on one environmental concern can also impede progress on other fronts. For example, if a store switches back to paper bags then this will mean more carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, a 2011 UK government study found a consumer would need to use an allegedly “environmentally responsible” cotton tote bag 131 times in order for it to cause less environmental damage than the plastic bags it would replace.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s homage to “job creation” is also nonsensical. The rationale of work is that it makes people better off in exchange for our toil. If jobs are being “created” merely to comply with a largely arbitrary government edict, then they are pointless “busy work” of the type assigned in grade school by bored teachers. In a relatively free-market economy with flexible wages, everybody who wants a productive job can get one, especially in the long run. Government bans on plastic, or limitations on greenhouse gas emissions, induce artificial scarcity and “create jobs” in the same way that a ban on power tools would “create work”—and make humanity much poorer in the process.

Now if the benefits from plastic bans are largely illusory, the costs are quite real. For example, restricting single-use plastics such as forks and knives will increase the spread of disease, as people begin reusing metalware for their office lunches etc., rather than throwing out their plastic utensils after each meal. Likewise, if shoppers continue to use the same tote bag for their groceries, eventually they could be transporting their food in rich bacteria colonies, rather than the much more sanitary single-use plastic bags that are promptly discarded.

Yet besides these utilitarian concerns, there is the basic fact that plastic bags are very convenient, and so banning their use will make consumers worse off. After all, there is a reason grocery stores switched away from using paper bags and made plastic bags so ubiquitous. For those with long memories, we can appreciate the extra irony: The stores now switching back to paper bags are using thinner versions than when we were younger. While a strong adult with plastic bags could have carried an entire grocery run into the house in one trip, now with the weak paper bags, several trips are required—and that gallon of milk might rip the bag, so watch out.

The Canadian proposal to ban single-use plastics is yet another triumph of symbolism over substance: The measure will do virtually nothing to reduce plastic waste in the ocean and it won’t “help the economy.” However, what it will do, if enacted, is increase greenhouse gas emissions, increase the spread of disease, and greatly inconvenience consumers.


Solar Energy: Good For Virtue Signaling And Not Much Else

There’s a great future in solar, the fossil-fuel haters have been telling us for some time. They might be right. One day. But they’ve been saying that for quite a while, and the future continues to be out there … somewhere.

Not so long ago, the French even thought paving their highways with solar panels was a good idea. But “Three Years Later,” says a Popular Mechanics headline from late last week, “the French Solar Road Is a Total Flop.”

How can this be? Solar, we’ve long been told, will save us all.

“It’s too noisy, falling apart, and doesn’t even collect enough solar energy,” says PM.

France’s Sun Road, known locally as the Wattway — what, nobody thought of Voltabahn or Wattastrada? — was an “experiment that seemed ingenious in its simplicity: fill a road with photovoltaic panels and let them passively soak up the rays as cars drive harmlessly above.”

However, its “most optimistic supporters have deemed” it a “failure,” says PM. It couldn’t handle the weight of heavy trucks, the surface made so much racket that the speed limit had to be lowered to 43 mph, and it’s failed to deliver the power that had been promised.

Flaws include poor location (“Normandy is not historically known as a sunny area,” says Popular Mechanics, to which we add, no area is sunny at night); storms (the climate alarmists will blame global warming for their existence); and questionable design (solar panels work when best directed toward the sun, not arranged flat on the ground as a road bed).

Critics, according to PM, say the group that built the road “pursued the project too quickly before fully investigating its cost effectiveness.” That can happen when virtue signaling is given priority over sound investment.

France’s Sun Road is not an isolated bitter experience in dabbling in solar and other renewable energy sources. There have been, and will be, others:

Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in 2011 that the country was shutting down its nuclear power plants — the only genuinely green power source on Earth — and replacing the lost energy with renewables. A few months ago, Der Spiegel reported that since the announcement, “progress has been limited” and “Berlin has wasted billions of euros and resistance is mounting.”

McKinsey & Company analysts have noticed that under renewables, Germany “is far from meeting the targets it set for itself.” Then last December, an energy engineer, a petroleum engineer, and a physicist who is also a university researcher wrote that Germany took on the challenge “to show the world how to build a society based entirely on ‘green, renewable’ energy,” then “hit a brick wall.”

“Despite huge investments in wind, solar and biofuel energy production capacity, Germany has not reduced CO2 emissions over the last 10 years. However, during the same period, its electricity prices have risen dramatically, significantly impacting factories, employment and poor families.”

Nevada. If voters ultimately approve a constitutional amendment — Question 6 — that would require wind and solar to provide 50% of the state’s energy by 2030, “the consequences of this could be tragic for” the state, says Hoover Institution scholar Richard Epstein.

Epstein also included this gem in his Las Vegas Review-Journal op-ed: “Supporters of Question 6 presume that the world may well burn to a crisp if immediate and prompt steps are not taken to deal with rising carbon dioxide levels, rising temperatures and rising seas. But this causal chain is broken at every link.”

Ivanpah. The titanic solar thermal plant eats up 3,500 acres in the California desert nearer Las Vegas than Los Angeles. On average, says Forbes energy writer Michael Shellenberger, “solar farms take 450 times more land than nuclear plants.” Ivanpah is also an ecological menace. The mirrors that reflect sunlight toward the plants’s towers create such extreme heat above them that they have killed thousands of birds.

Australia. A solar project in South Australia similar to the Ivanpah avian skillet will not be moving forward because “the company behind it failed to secure commercial finance for the project.” Private investors tend to stay away from projects and developments that are likely to fail.

Solyndra. A signature government solar panel initiative stoked by politics failed and left taxpayers with a $500 million bill. Why did the company flop? Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz has compiled a handy list of reasons:

Officials spent other people’s money with little incentive to spend it prudently.

There was political pressure to make decisions without proper vetting.

Political judgment was substituted for the judgments of millions of investors.

The enthusiastic embrace of fads like “green energy.”

Political officials ignoring warnings from civil servants,

Close connections between politicians and the companies that benefit from government allocation of capital.

The appearance — at least — of favors for political supporters.

Shellenberger says “one big reason” solar panels, as well as wind turbines, “appear to be making electricity so expensive” is “their inherently unreliable nature, which requires expensive additions to the electrical grid in the form of natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries, or some other form of standby power.”

The fossil-fuel haters, which include the agenda-driven media, will point out that solar has become cheaper since he wrote that a little more than a year ago. But as Shellenberger asked this year, “if solar and wind are so cheap, why are they making electricity so expensive?”

“Between 2009 and 2017, the price of solar panels per watt declined by 75% while the price of wind turbines per watt declined by 50%,” he wrote in Forbes in March. “And yet — during the same period — the price of electricity in places that deployed significant quantities of renewables increased dramatically.”

This has happened, says Shellenberger, because the value of wind and solar has declined “significantly” as they have become “a larger part of electricity supply.” They still have a “fundamentally unreliable nature.”

One day solar and wind just might be the cheapest and most reliable energy sources. But the innovation has to advance on its own. No amount of hoping, legislating, subsidizing, lecturing, and eco-exhibitionism will accelerate the process.


Stop left-wing groups from fleecing taxpayers with the Endangered Species Act

By Richard McCarty

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been stretched far beyond the intentions of Congressional representatives, and it is badly in need of reform. For example, loopholes in the law allow left-wing environmental groups to collect taxpayers’ money for keeping federal employees from doing their job, which is to help endangered species recover. This money is sometimes awarded on top of taxpayer-funded contracts and grants given to these same groups.

Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), the last remaining member of Congress who voted for the ESA has said, “The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been weaponized and misused by environmental groups for too long.” The law passed overwhelmingly, but according to Young, “You have to understand when we had this act before us … we were told it was to save leopards and other species, it was never for grass … and flies, and snails, and turtles…”

How are radicals exploiting the Endangered Species Act? Under the current law, left-wing groups are able to overwhelm the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service with petitions to list many species as endangered and then sue when the government is unable to respond to the petitions before the arbitrary deadlines enshrined in the ESA. Radical environmental groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have been gaming the system in this fashion for decades. The most litigious o these groups have sued the government hundreds of times. Even more infuriatingly, some environmental groups, such as WildEarth Guardians, the Natural Resource Defense Council, and Defenders of Wildlife, have been taking federal grants and then suing the government for more money.

The abuses of the Endangered Species Act have been so egregious that Congress should take bold action. First of all, the law should be changed to require Congressional approval for any further listings.  The authority to declare a species is endangered — which could kill thousands of jobs, destroy the property values of thousands of homeowners, and ruin whole towns – is just too great to be wielded by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.

Secondly, the law should be changed to no longer allow environmentalists to sue the government for not responding to a petition to add a species to the endangered list. Of course, taking away the ability of environmental groups to sue over petitions would remove their ability to collect excessive attorney’s fees. We want the government to thoroughly research each species and consult with local and state officials before deciding whether to list that species as endangered or threatened. If the government is racing to meet a deadline to respond to a petition, its research is likely to be of lower quality.

Finally, those who receive taxpayer-funded grants and contracts should be barred from suing the government under the ESA. If radical groups wish to sue the government, they should be expected to find their own funding sources. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund both the plaintiffs and the defendants in these suits.

On the need for Congressional action to reform the Endangered Species Act, Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning stated the following:

“Outrageously, left-wing environmental groups are allowed to submit piles of frivolous petitions for endangered species status — tying the federal bureaucracy up in knots — and then sue when the government is unable to respond promptly to these petitions. These groups, such as WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity, are often able to collect exorbitant attorney’s fees for these cases. What’s further galling is that some of these same groups suing the government receive federal contracts and grants. Simply put, left-wing groups should not be paid to keep federal employees from doing their jobs. Congress must step in, reform the Endangered Species Act, and end this insanity.”

With these few reforms, Congress could hamper the ability of the Left to abuse the Endangered Species Act while enabling Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service employees to get back to their important work of helping endangered species recover rather than wasting time on frivolous litigation. However, until Congress does act, we should expect left-wing groups will continue to use the law as a wrecking ball to damage our economy and as a means of picking the pockets of taxpayers.


All Gain for Criminals, All Pain for Motorists: California’s Prop 47 Prompts Catalytic Converter Thefts
California’s 2014 Proposition 47 brought about some positive criminal justice reforms, but in the summer of 2018 the measure still managed to win the California Golden Fleece Award. As Lawrence McQuillan explains, the law “sparked a surge in automobile break-ins and shopliftings throughout the state.” Under Proposition 47, property worth $950 or less is reduced from a potential felony to a misdemeanor, and the measure “de-prioritizes justice for California residents and businesses, who now are increasingly victims of vandals and thieves operating with near impunity.” The latest surge targets the catalytic converters of automobiles.

As Lauren Keene of the Davis Enterprise reported this summer, the Davis police department received 45 reports of catalytic converter thefts in recent months, and nine in one week. A full 38 of the thefts were from Toyota Priuses, whose converters contains precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, “a popular target in the Sacramento region and beyond for thieves looking to make a quick buck.”

In April, Michael McGough of the Sacramento Bee noted “a spike in catalytic converter thefts in the South Natomas area since the start of 2019,” with 18 of the thefts targeting the Toyota Prius. Similar reports chart catalytic converter theft in the Santa Barbara region and Los Angeles County.

According to The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism, a June 2018 study from the Public Policy Institute of California, “Prop 47 may have contributed to a rise in larceny thefts, especially thefts from motor vehicles.” Starting in December, 2014, such thefts jumped from 16,000-17000 to 19,000-20,000. The increase of 35,300 thefts from motor vehicles accounts for “almost two-thirds of the 54,700 increase in the number of property crimes in California.”

In a June, 2018, Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that in San Francisco, “auto break-ins soared, by 24 percent last year to a total of 31,222.” On the other hand, arrests for auto break-ins were down because “state law prohibits officers from arresting people for misdemeanor crimes that an officer did not personally observe.”

Reports of arrests for catalytic converter theft are rare, and in Davis thieves targeted one couple three times in four months. As this writer can attest, absent a converter, a four-cylinder Toyota will roar like a Harley Davidson. Replacement of the converters can easily run more than $1,000. All pain for motorists, all gain for criminals. That’s the reality of Proposition 47.


Australian sunshine could soon be farmed to power an Asian nation

Setting one thing aside, this is one Greenie scheme that could work.  Australia is mostly desert so uninterrupted sunshine will happen most of the time.  So Singapore could get cheap daytime power from Australia and turn on its gas-fired generators at night.  And if there was any interruption to the Australian power supply they could just turn on their gas generators during the day as well.  Perfect. Cheap uninterruptible power.  The Holy Grail

So where is the African person in the woodpile? Cost. Particularly with the undersea cable, there would be a huge capital cost before startup, a cost borne by banks who will want their usual 4% pa on funds invested.  Generating the power may not cost much but paying the huge bills needed to get the generating going will be another matter.  Just about all big projects cost at least twice the initial estimate so to pay the banks the operators will have to charge big for what they supply.  Will it be so big that the Singaporeans will simply say "No thanks"?  Could be.

And let me mention another nettle: Solar farms actually require a lot of maintenance and with so many panels that will be a big cost too.

If the project goes ahead it is my prophecy that all investors, including the banks, will lose their shirts.  And in a capitalist society destruction of capital is a big issue.  It means that money which could have been used productively was in fact wasted

An Australian entrepreneur wants the Northern Territory desert to become home to the world’s biggest solar farm, with the electricity generated sent along undersea cables to Singapore.

David Griffin is an entrepreneur and leader in the development of Australia's renewable energy industry and his ambitious new plan to power Singapore from a 15,000-hectare solar farm in the Northern Territory has investors taking interest worldwide.

“It is first and foremost the largest solar farm under development in the world,” the Sun Cable CEO told SBS's Small Business Secrets from Singapore.

The Sun Cable project will be the first of its kind to try and export clean energy internationally.

A former GM Development at Infigen Energy, David has been developing solar and wind farms in Australia and South Africa for nearly 20 years.

His Sun Cable project would send electricity to Darwin, then along a 3,800-kilometre undersea cable to Singapore.

“It’s an extremely complex problem that we are solving. There are risks associated with that [undersea cable] and that’s why it’ll take a long time to go through the entire design process,” he said.

“It is the longest proposed project on the table at the moment but it’s certainly not the deepest.”

The solar farm would sprawl over 15,000 kilometres, backed by a 10-gigawatt plant.

The Northern Territory Government recently granted ‘major project’ status with construction expected to start in 2023. Environmental approvals are pending.

“If we look at Asia, no-one wants to see forests cleared,” Mr Griffin said.

“In order to truly see an electrification of global economy and to see it done in a way that doesn’t lead to climate catastrophe, we need to be able to move huge volumes of renewable electricity over vast distances and this is the technology that’ll allow it to happen.”



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