Tag: Climate change policy

I Would Do Anything for the Planet, But I Won’t Do That

Reason writer Ronald Bailey hung out with some of the recent climate protesters at the People’s Climate March. I’ve written about their convenient embrace of science when it suits their biases before, but Bailey really gets into the awful thinking that underpins much of the modern environmental movement:

Among the chief capitalist villains: Monsanto. The assembled marchers fervently damned the crop biotechnology company despite the fact that modern high yield biotech crops cut CO2 emissions by 13 million tons in 2012-the equivalent of taking 11.8 million cars off the road for one year. By making it possible to grow more calories on less land, biotech crops helped conserve 123 million hectares from 1996 to 2012. Many of the protesters oddly believe that eating locally grown organic crops-which require more labor and land to produce less food- will somehow help stop global warming. Vegans are right that eating less meat would mean that more land could be returned to forests that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On the other hand, researchers estimate that lab-grown meat could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent relative to farmed meat.

Fracking aggravated a lot of the demonstrators. Artful placards alluded to another f-word as a way of indicating displeasure. Many asserted that fracking taints drinking water. Yet just the week before the parade, new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by research teams led by the Ohio State University’s Thomas Darrah and the U.S. Department of Energy found that the controversial technique to produce natural gas does not contaminate groundwater. And never mind that burning natural gas produces about half of the carbon dioxide that burning coal does.

Another low-carbon energy source was also a cause of stress for the demonstrators: nuclear power. Some demanded that the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River be closed down. This particular petition is just perverse, since nuclear power is a big part of why New Yorkers emit a relatively low average of 8 tons of carbon dioxide per person each year, compared with the U.S. average of 16.4 tons per capita.

There is no such thing as perfect energy technology. Even solar and wind involve massive land use, enormous rare earth metal consumption and, at present, fossil fuel backup. Moreover, wind and solar are limited in the absence of a revolution in battery technology. You can’t run airplanes or big cargo ships on alternative energy. You can barely run cars on them.

Until a revolutionary technology is developed, the best way to fight global warming is to delay it as long as possible. GMO crops delay it by decreasing land and fertilizer use. Fracking delays it by cutting carbon emissions in half compared to coal. Nuclear delays it by replacing fossil fuels completely. All of these things have contributed to the US and Europe cutting their carbon emissions without sacrificing economic progress and have bought years, possibly decades, for us to come with a breakthrough technology that can replace fossil fuels.

The problem is that these technologies exist in the real world and the environmentalists want to live in fantasyland, where you can solve complex scientific, technical, social, political and engineering issues with wishcasting and marches; where there are no tradeoffs; where completely revamping our society is something you can do through legislative fiat.

Thankfully, enough people live in the real world that we’re making real progress … without putting capitalism on the funeral pyre.

Everything You Know About Alternative Energy is Wrong

A trio of articles published in the last week blow the doors off everything the media has been telling us about alternative energy. The first two are from Bjorn Lomborg, the economist who accepts that global warming is real but rails against top-down economy-crushing solutions (his “Cool It!” documentary is worth a look).

First, the electric car: the salvation to our energy and climate woes. How is that doing? Certainly it must be … oh:

While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.

So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally. And that turns out to be a challenge. Consider the Nissan Leaf. It has only a 73-mile range per charge. Drivers attempting long road trips, as in one BBC test drive, have reported that recharging takes so long that the average speed is close to six miles per hour—a bit faster than your average jogger.

To make matters worse, the batteries in electric cars fade with time, just as they do in a cellphone. Nissan estimates that after five years, the less effective batteries in a typical Leaf bring the range down to 55 miles. As the MIT Technology Review cautioned last year: “Don’t Drive Your Nissan Leaf Too Much.”

For an electric car to have net environmental benefit, you would have to drive it for 90,000 miles between battery changes and get all your electricity from carbon-free sources. Even then, you’ve only cut 24% off the emission of a similar gas-powered car. Frankly, I think engineering more efficient gasoline engines would be a more practical way of cutting emissions. And we’re subsidizing this crap to the tune of thousands of dollars per car.

Well, you say, maybe the electric car isn’t as huge a thing as we thought it would be. But we have to subsidize green tech and put cap-in-trade in place. Look how well it’s working in Europe!

Yeah, about that:

Yesterday, we saw how Great Britain’s much-hyped carbon reductions have simply been exported to China.

The same holds true for the much of the developed world 1990-2008. We see how the US has increased its territorial (domestic) CO2 emissions, but Europe has reduced its emissions, as has the Former Soviet Union (rest of Annex B). The reductions in the FSU are mainly from the collapse in 1991. But the much vaulted EU reduction is exactly the same as the increased CO2 emissions import just from China. Overall, the EU emissions have increased, not as the national accounts seem to indicate, decreased.

This matters because when nations claim to be able to cut CO2, it often simply means that they have exported the CO2 emissions to somewhere else, leaving them feeling better, but obviously with no real environmental benefit.

Actually the evil, capitalist United States is seeing CO2 emissions fall in real terms as we switch from coal power to gas power. And economically, the greenhouse emissions per dollar of GDP has fallen dramatically owing to improvements in the technology of household appliances, computers and lighting — stuff companies are investing in anyway.

So, subsidized tech isn’t saving the planet. But hey! At least it will stimulate the economy. After all, if we don’t go all-in, we’ll stay behind the Chinese in … oh:

So China must hold a massively large trade surplus in clean energy with America, right? Quite the opposite, finds a striking report titled “Advantage America” released on March 6th. The two countries traded about $6.5 billion in solar, wind and smart-grid technology and services in 2011—and America sold $1.63 billion more of such kit to China than it imported from there. The analysis was done by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), an industry publisher, and funded the Pew Charitable Trusts, a charity.

So let’s summarize. Continuing to pressure Americans to use alternative energy and subsidize alternative energy is not cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The European model on which these policies are based is only shifting greenhouse gas emissions. And they really can’t be justified economically as some “green energy boom” because we are already exporting the clean energy technology that is actually useful.

So why do we need to do this? Oh, yeah. Wealthy donors need to have their businesses propped up. And here I was thinking it was about the science.