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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Talking to a 55-Year Old Hippie About Ecology

I sent an article to my liberal, hippie-for life friend (a friend for life as well) on pollution caused by governments. The Polluting State by Jayant Bhandari, from The Von Mises Institute website, discussed how in India the productive efforts of people were skewed towards “gaming” the socialist system than coming up with efficient uses of scarce resources. The system led to bureaucrats running a transportation system, among others, operated on coal-based power that has led to terrible pollution.

The essence of the message is that socialist governments have been the biggest polluters of the world.

His response was:

“Seems to me that the capitalist country known as the USA is the worlds biggest polluter, criticized the world over for not getting serious about carbon monoxide emissions, etc. and the global warming problem.”

I responded:

As usual, it is difficult to respond to a placard-level comment (as I have to create the assumptions and apply it to the conclusory words) but I decipher your point as being:

“The US failure to sign the Kyoto Accords will lead to global warming. If we sign it and follow its dictates, there will then be no global warming.”

It is the latter assumption that fails on a number of levels.

1. There is still no proven connection that a 33% reduction of emissions worldwide will alter the climate of the world at all. It is highly likely the “Little Ice Age” has ended and we are experiencing a new climatic era. If so, we need to continue to develop scientific methods of coping with whatever changes occur over the next century.

2. Major “polluters” are exempt from the protocol’s dictates on energy reduction. From my understanding of the Protocol, China and India along with all 3rd world and developing countries are exempt. The biggest polluters are the least developed technologically as they take care of immediate needs with what is available nearby. Ever heard of the deforestation and water pollution throughout Africa? Didn’t anybody mention that during the big concert a few weeks ago? A US reduction in emissions will have little to no effect in retarding the temperature growth.

3. But most importantly, the belief in Kyoto ignores its negative impact on our economy. The cost-benefit analysis has been completely removed from your consideration. The drastic reduction of energy generation and usage in a complex technology-driven country like the US would be devastating to our economy. Which segments of our population do you designate to not receive electricity? How will this affect businesses, prices for goods, access to goods and employment? Naturally, none of this is weighed into the analysis.

4. Where do you propose we cut energy use? Should we not provide air conditioning in the summer in the Northeast or year-round in the West and South? What about heating the North through the winter? The answer to ensuring our energy needs are filled is something that you have actively opposed your whole life-nuclear power. One of the biggest critics of the US “the world over” is France. However, France utilizes nuclear power on a much grander scale than we do. Shall we employ it finally? Shall we build the facilities to create the nuclear power and more facilities to store the waste as should have been done over the past 25 years? It is much cleaner than carbon fuels. But that would mean to accept an ogre you have fought for too long. What do you do with those placards you carried to all of those demonstrations?

5. As respects being “criticized the world over” that does not faze me. While the production and success of the US serves as a natural reason for envy “the world over”, do not doubt their reliance upon the US to assist their economies. They may garner support from the economically- ignorant but recognize we are saving them from their own proposal by refusing to sign the Protocol.

6. All the above ignores another theme of yours over the years. Finding alternate sources of energy. While we know that the alternatives of ethanol and others are inefficient as they burn more fossil fuels in production than is finally produced in ethanol, this would not help regarding pollution. The cleaner, non-nuclear options are being developed. Such is better done by private enterprise where creativity always takes place than with government programs that spin wheels and apply the “gaming the system” approach to science with results that never quite work.

I suggest reading “The Skeptical Environmentalist” by Bjorn Lomborg. There you will see a rational essay on the condition of the world ecologically with some meaningful suggestions on what areas of the world’s needs should be tackled. It may be more effort to read a book than to develop your scientific opinions from a 5-minute interview of Bobby Kennedy Jr. on the Today Show. But you may actually expose yourself to the concept of cause and effect as applied to credible data.

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