Tag: Environment

Recycling Still Sucks

I recycle. Seems the thing to do. And it’s mandatory at my work. But I have become very dubious of “zero waste” initiatives that try to use biodegradable and recyclable materials in everything. I have long suspected that these efforts wind up using more energy and generating more waste than just throwing things away, negating any supposed gain in landfill space. I’m not against recycling. I just want the increasingly onerous mandates to be supported by some kind of evidence … any kind of evidence.

John Tierney criticized recycling 20 years ago as a huge waste of time and money that did little to benefit the planet. 20 years later, he finds that it is still a huge waste of time and money that doesn’t benefit the planet:

Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies. The mood is so gloomy that one industry veteran tried to cheer up her colleagues this summer with an article in a trade journal titled, “Recycling Is Not Dead!”

While politicians set higher and higher goals, the national rate of recycling has stagnated in recent years. Yes, it’s popular in affluent neighborhoods like Park Slope in Brooklyn and in cities like San Francisco, but residents of the Bronx and Houston don’t have the same fervor for sorting garbage in their spare time.

The future for recycling looks even worse. As cities move beyond recycling paper and metals, and into glass, food scraps and assorted plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits decline and sometimes vanish. “If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront,” says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. “Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?”

The goal? The goal is to do what radical religions always do: make people inconvenience themselves and sacrifice for the supposed greater good as a method of control. Even if stone tablets descended from heaven proving that recycling was bad for the planet and always would be, the environmentalists would still want us to do it. Because the inconvenience, the sacrifice, the annoyance, the cost is the point.

But the benefits? The are increasingly elusive:

Here’s some perspective: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.

Just a reminder: many of the politicians pushing these mandates fly on private jets. You could recycle every plastic bottle you touch in your entire life and not offset the environmental impact of Al Gore making a single trip to Paris.

Even those statistics might be misleading. New York and other cities instruct people to rinse the bottles before putting them in the recycling bin, but the E.P.A.’s life-cycle calculation doesn’t take that water into account. That single omission can make a big difference, according to Chris Goodall, the author of “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.” Mr. Goodall calculates that if you wash plastic in water that was heated by coal-derived electricity, then the net effect of your recycling could be more carbon in the atmosphere.

The national rate of recycling rose during the 1990s to 25 percent, meeting the goal set by an E.P.A. official, J. Winston Porter. He advised state officials that no more than about 35 percent of the nation’s trash was worth recycling, but some ignored him and set goals of 50 percent and higher. Most of those goals were never met and the national rate has been stuck around 34 percent in recent years.

“It makes sense to recycle commercial cardboard and some paper, as well as selected metals and plastics,” he says. “But other materials rarely make sense, including food waste and other compostables. The zero-waste goal makes no sense at all — it’s very expensive with almost no real environmental benefit.”

Landfills are not a problem. You could store all our garbage for the next millennium in a tiny tiny fraction of the space we have available in the country. Many communities welcome landfills because they bring money, have almost no environmental impact and generate energy from methane. Recycling does benefit the environment for aluminum cans, cardboard and some paper. So you should recycle those things. But for plastic, glass and compost, the benefits are minimal while the cost — in terms of money, in terms of pollution, in terms of the loss of freedom, in terms of wasted time and effort — is enormous.

Final thought from Tierney on the real reason for this crap:

It makes people feel virtuous, especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprint. It is less an ethical activity than a religious ritual, like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins.

Religious rituals don’t need any practical justification for the believers who perform them voluntarily. But many recyclers want more than just the freedom to practice their religion. They want to make these rituals mandatory for everyone else, too, with stiff fines for sinners who don’t sort properly. Seattle has become so aggressive that the city is being sued by residents who maintain that the inspectors rooting through their trash are violating their constitutional right to privacy.

No doubt, someone will “debunk” Tierney’s points. People are already saying, “well, plastics last forever!”. But that may not be true. They’ll drag out the arguments that they use for alternative energy, that it will become profitable any day now, arguments that are somewhat strained. They’ll talk about the exaggerated danger of plastic in the seas. They’ll accuse him of being a Koch-brothers Republican business jerk who doesn’t care. But I doubt they’ll address his criticisms head on. Because they haven’t for the last twenty years.

Look, I like recycling. The idea of throwing things away instead of reusing them offends me. Not as environmentalist, but as a conservative who doesn’t believe in wasting money or material. I want to believe that this is all benefiting the planet. But it’s getting really hard to make that case.

Ban Bag Bust

A few years ago, a bunch of liberal cities began to ban plastic bags. They claimed would help save the Earth, cutting down on landfill use and eliminating a harm to wildlife. I was very skeptical for a variety of reasons.

Well, this is my shocked face:

In Austin, for example, a post-ban survey found that single-use plastic bags accounted for only 0.03 percent of the total litter collected in the city in 2015. Assuming the pre-ban rate was closer to the 0.12 percent in nearby Fort Worth, that marks a roughly 75 percent reduction of single-use plastic bags in Austin’s landfills.

But, as the Austin assessment pointedly notes, reducing the use of a product that’s harmful to the environment is no guarantee of a positive environmental outcome. Among the main environmental benefits of Austin’s ban was supposed to be a reduction in the amount of energy and raw materials used to manufacture the bags. To that end, the city encouraged residents to instead use reusable bags. Those bags have larger carbon footprints, due to the greater energy required to produce their stronger plastics, but the city figured the overall impact would be lower, as consumers got acquainted with the new, more durable product.

What the city didn’t foresee is that residents would start treating reusable bags like single-use bags. The volume of reusable plastic bags now turning up at the city’s recycling centers has become “nearly equivalent to the amount of all of the single use bags removed from the recycling stream as a result of the ordinance implemented in 2013,” according to the assessment. And those lightly used bags are landfill-bound, because recycling isn’t any more cost-effective for reusable plastic bags than the single-use variety.

Some of these issues could be addressed through the increased use of reusable canvas bags. But canvas is even more carbon intensive to produce than plastic; studies suggest consumers would need to use a single canvas bag around 130 times before they start achieving any net environmental benefit as compared with a single-use plastic bag. And, for some consumers, the higher price for canvas bags may be prohibitive, in any case.

That’s actually understating the case. Canvas bags have to be cleaned regularly. I previously noted a rise in ER admissions in cities that banned plastic bags because people were eating contaminated food:

This is something the environmentalists have never understood. People don’t do “bad” environmental things because they hate cute little fishies; they do it because it’s the least bad option facing them. So environmentalists, for example, ban styrofoam cups in favor of paper cups and then are shocked when it turns out paper cups cost more energy to produce and create more waste. They go on about food miles and then are blindsided when it turns out that flying in your lamb from New Zealand is better for the environment than growing it locally.

People dispose of grocery bags for a reason: to get rid of the dirt, bacteria, blood, etc. that comes off of raw food. This problem can be overcome by washing reusable bags. But … that cuts into the supposed environmental benefit. If you wash it every time, it would taken hundreds of uses before a reusable bag would match the environmental impact of a plastic bag.

Actually, is likely that canvas bags will never consume less energy than a plastic bag. This is of a piece with a larger effort in the environmental movement that is emphasizing recycling and composting, which are extremely expensive in terms of energy. By my math, that’s trading a problem we don’t have (a lack of landfill space) for a problem we do (global warming).

But the plastic bag ban was never about the environment, really. It was what one person called “brick in the toilet” environmentalism. It was about doing something even if that something has no tangible benefit. It was about making the public sacrifice some convenience because sacrificing convenience seems moral. Who cares if it works as long as you get everyone marching along to the government’s drum?

One of the things I’ve said for years about the environmentalist movement is that they need to decide what they want: style or substance. Do they actually want to improve the environment or do they want to look they’re improving it? We see, over and over again, environmentalists advocating policies that feel good but do harm: opposing nuclear power, “food miles”, “earth hours”, banning plastic bags. I think it’s clear that they’ve made their choice. If we are going to save the Earth, the ideas for doing it are going to have to come out of the conservative and libertarian movements.

Greens Silent on Commie Planet-Wrecking … Again

During the Cold War, there was a predictable pattern to Eastern Bloc environmental concerns. The Communists would engage in some awful mind-boggling environment-destroying big project like draining the Aral Sea. Not because it made any economic sense to do so but because it glorified the state. Then the greens would say absolutely nothing about it.

How times haven’t changed:

Nicaragua’s plan to build an Interoceanic Canal that would rival the Panama Canal could be a major environmental disaster if it goes forward. That’s the assessment of Axel Meyer and Jorge Huete-Pérez, two scientists familiar with the project, in a recent article in Nature.

In their article, Meyer and Huete-Pérez explain how the $50-billion project (more than four times Nicaragua’s GDP), would require “The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, [and] will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.” So far, the Nicaraguan government has remained mum about the environmental impact of the project. Daniel Ortega, the country’s president, only said last year that “some trees have to be removed.”

Have you a word about this from Greenpeace? Or the Sierra Club? Or any of the organizations that are currently throwing a fit about Keystone XL, a far far less destructive project? That’s to say nothing of the unconstitutional way this project was approved, the fact that all proceeds from it for the next 50 years will go to the Chinese company building the project, the lack of experience for the team building, the extremely dubious economic case for the canal and the farmers being evicted off their land. If even one of those things were happening in the US, we’d be hearing about it on MSNBC every night.

I’m not usually one for the Balloon Juice Fallacy. But the study about the environmental devastation was published a year ago. And there’s a history here, as I noted above. Ortega is a former communist and Chavez-type socialist. The greens have been reluctant to criticize far-left politicians for their environmental destruction. And that’s a polite of saying the completely look the other way. Because environmental damage cause by industry is bad. Environmental damage done for “the people” even when the people are far-left politicians lining their pockets? That’s OK.

GoreSat Finally Orbits

One of my pet peeves is the contention that conservatives and Republicans are “anti-science” while liberals and Democrats are “pro-science”. Having been in the field for twenty years, I’ve observed little difference in how well science is funded under the two parties, with a slight bias in favor of Republicans. And while it’s true that Republicans are more dubious of science on the big topics du jour — global warming and evolution — that doesn’t mean they are more anti-science in general. When it comes to GMOs, vaccines or nuclear power, the Left is way more anti-science.

My dislike of this meme is embodied in the person of Algore, who has a reputation as this great scientific mind but has always crossed me as a poser: someone who pretends to be a friend of science because he wants to look smart (and, in his case, wants to advance a big government agenda). He wrote a well-praised book — Earth in the Balance — that was shredded in P.J. O’Rourke in All The Trouble in the World and proved to be massively wrong on many issues. He touted a plan to move the United States to alternative energy within ten years that was total science fiction. His advocacy on global warming — hypocritical advocacy — touted doomsday scenarios and marginal studies. It was ultimately a disservice to the climate debate.

But if you want Algore in a nutshell, I give you the Triana satellite, a version of which was launched today. Triana started with this crackpot idea of Gore’s to have a satellite launched which would sit in the L1 Lagrange point and take pictures of the Earth. That’s it. It would take pictures of the Earth to “raise awareness” of our climate. NASA devoted $100 million to this boondoggle, without any peer review, and desperately tried to get scientists to find some use for it. The best they could come up with measuring Earth’s albedo and cloud patterns, although Triana was not what you would have designed with that science program in mind. When the SOHO spacecraft was having trouble, they came up with a plan to put instruments on it to measure solar activity, since the L1 point is good for that.

Triana was mothballed after Bush won the White House but was resurrected by Obama. The satellite — now named DSCOVR — has been revamped so that its primary mission is to measure solar storms and provide and early warning of space weather. The Earth picture thing is an afterthought. Notice that’s NASA’s video doesn’t mention Algore’s original Triana mission at all.

If anyone other than Algore had proposed Triana, burned $100 million on it and had NASA scramble to find an actual scientific use for it, they would have been laughingstock. But today the press is filled with stories about how this is Algore’s “dream” even though his original proposal had nothing to do with DSCOVR’s primary mission.

DSCOVR is a good mission and I’m glad it launched today. I’m even gladder that it was launched by SpaceX. Space weather is a serious issue and we desperately need to address the impact that a severe solar storm could have on our planet (think about a world-wide power grid meltdown to get the picture). But let’s not pretend this has anything to do with Algore. This is NASA making some very good lemonade from a $100 million lemon.

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.

Nazca Attack

Dear Greenpeace: I accept the reality of climate change. I think environmental protection is important. So understand where I’m coming from when I tell you to fuck off:

Peru says it will sue activists from the environmental pressure group Greenpeace after they placed a banner next to the Nazca Lines heritage site.

The activists entered a restricted area next to the ancient ground markings depicting a hummingbird and laid down letters advocating renewable energy.

Peru is currently hosting the UN climate summit in its capital, Lima.

A Greenpeace spokeswoman said the group was investigating but its activists had been “absolutely careful”.

Like hell they were. First of all, Greenpeace and other environmental radicals have made it abundantly clear that they have no regard for anything created by humans. If they thought it would save an endangered snail, they’d raze the Pyramids tomorrow. Second, you can check out video of Greenpeace activists bumbling around the Nazca site. Their smug self-satisfaction will radiate through your computer. And the Nazca lines are the sort of thing you have to be careful about:

[Peruvian Deputy Cultural Minister] said the Nazca Lines, which are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 years old, were “absolutely fragile”.

“You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” he said.

The Nazca lines are delicate, created by the removal of pebbles to expose the lighter soil beneath. Simply walking around the site can destroy a 1500 year old monument. If radical Muslims did this — as they did Bamiyan or in Timbuktu — we’d call it an act of terrorism.

Greenpeace has issued one of the standard garbage “we’re sorry you were offended” non-apologies and are saying they will “take responsibility” for any damage. Good. I can think of no better way of taking responsibility than going to prison.

And just a reminder that Greenpeace is not some impoverished grassroots org:

Did this embattled scrappy activist group have no other means to get their message out other than casual vandalism of a historical site and the accompanying “earned media”? Guess not with their meager total assets, according to their financial reports for 2013, of just 54 million euros.

Organizations like Greenpeace are, by far, the biggest impediment in environmental policy. For all the “evil oil money” out there, nothing turns people off of climate policy faster than the rabid anti-capitalism and mindless destructive stunts of organizations like Greenpeace. Forty years ago, when Lake Erie was almost dead and the Cuyahoga caught fire, there was a need for environmentalist organizations. There isn’t any more. Everyone supports a clean environment, with their actions and with their votes. The Western world is cleaner and healthier than it has been in centuries. So what we’re left with is “evaporative cooling” where mainstream sensible environmentalists like Patrick Moore have left the environmental orgs and they’re left with radical watermelons who pull stupid stunts like marring a world treasure.

Go away, guys. We’ve got this.

The Climate Treaty That Isn’t

The liberal blogosphere is all aflutter because the US and China have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions:

China and the United States made common cause on Wednesday against the threat of climate change, staking out an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases.

The landmark agreement, jointly announced here by President Obama and President Xi Jinping, includes new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030.

Administration officials said the agreement, which was worked out quietly between the United States and China over nine months and included a letter from Mr. Obama to Mr. Xi proposing a joint approach, could galvanize efforts to negotiate a new global climate agreement by 2015.

A climate deal between China and the United States, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord. Unless Beijing and Washington can resolve their differences, climate experts say, few other countries will agree to mandatory cuts in emissions, and any meaningful worldwide pact will be likely to founder.

Here’s the thing. This agreement means nothing. It’s not a binding treaty (which is why Obama doesn’t have to send it to Congress). Nor does it lock us into any policies. It’s a statement of goals to achieve things that may or may not happen long after both men are out of power. It’s symbolism, plain and simple. And such agreements will always be symbolism because the only way greenhouse gas emissions will ever fall — as they have in the United States — is when the right technology comes along.


China’s 2030 emissions target is set in terms of a date but says nothing about the level at which emissions will peak.

China’s target for primary energy consumption is expressed in terms of “non-fossil fuels”, which means a big increase in nuclear power as well as wind, solar and hydro.

And of course, US has seen its emissions drop 10% below 2005, but this is mainly because of a recession and fracking. The next reduction will be much harder, and likely not coming, as 2013 showed an *increase*, not further decrease

Normally, I would let this sort of stuff slide. But there was a very illuminating statement from Friends of the Earth that came out after this:

“The cuts pledged by President Obama are nowhere near what the US needs to cut if it was serious about preventing runaway climate change. These US voluntary pledges are not legally binding and are not based on science or equity,” said Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy coordinator.

“This agreement deliberately ignores the issue of equity. Industrialised nations, and first of all the world’s largest historical polluter, the US, must urgently make the deepest emission cuts and provide the bulk of the money if countries are to share fairly the responsibility of preventing catastrophic climate change,” she added.

“The good news is that China is taking the fight against climate change ever more seriously and intends to peak its emissions in next 15 years. We urge China and all nations to urgently switch from emissions-causing dirty energy to community-based renewable energy.”

You catch that? Friends of the Earth bashes Obama for pledging a 25% cut in CO2 emissions while praising China — which currently emits 50% more CO2 than the United States — for promising, maybe, to start curbing their emissions in 15 years.

I’m convinced that global warming is real. I’m also convinced that the so-called green organizations see this danger as a vehicle for anti-corporatism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism. How else do you explain a green organization praising the world’s biggest polluter?

Ignore the greens. And ignore this agreement. Concentrate on the technology. That’s the real battle.

The Forest Service Charges for Freedom

What on Earth?

The U.S. Forest Service has tightened restrictions on media coverage in vast swaths of the country’s wild lands, requiring reporters to pay for a permit and get permission before shooting a photo or video in federally designated wilderness areas.

Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in any of the nation’s 100 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.

Permits cost up to $1,500, says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, and reporters who don’t get a permit could face fines up to $1,000.

First Amendment advocates say the rules ignore press freedoms and are so vague they’d allow the Forest Service to grant permits only to favored reporters shooting videos for positive stories.

Well, duh. The Forestry Service is claiming they are protecting the wilderness from being exploited for commercial gain, as dictated in the Wilderness Act of 1964. I don’t have the exact language of the law in front of me, but that reeks of bullshit. The Act has been in place for fifty years and we haven’t needed this. It’s one thing to enact rules to prevent a camera crew from traipsing through and destroying protected areas. But requiring a permit reeks of censorship. Mataconis:

What if, for example, a national or local television news reporter were covering a story based on allegations of malfeasance by Forest Service officials that made taking video on Forest Service land relevant? How, in that context, is a reporter supposed to apply for a permit to begin with? From the descriptions of the process, it appears that media outlets are required to provide some kind of justification for why they need the video in question, and in this case that would require the reporter to either lie to a government official or potentially reveal the story they are working on to people who are the focus of that investigation. In a case like that, if a permit is denied, the strong implication would be that the agency had something to cover up because of the manner in which it was restricting press access.

Gee. I have no idea why a government agency might want to vet what’s being reported out of their bailiwick.

Don’t think is happening in a vacuum. If the Forest Service can restrict media access to public lands, other agencies will start restricting media access as well. This is a trial balloon by the Feds. And it needs to be popped.

Klein Pushes for A Dirtier Planet

Naomi Klein has a new book out. Having failed to rally the forces of socialism with No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, she’s now saying that capitalism needs to go because it’s destroying the environment.

Yes, she is writing these words in 2014 as if this were a brand new thought. But the greens have been pushing this anti-capitalism line for fifty years. The anti-capitalist sentiment got so putrid that Patrick Moore left the organization he’d founded — Greenpeace — in 1986. But Klein feels like she’s onto something. And that something, as far as I can tell, is to make the state of the environment a hell of a lot worse:

She wants to ban fracking, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, geoengineering, carbon sequestration, and carbon markets, thus turning her back on some of the climate-friendliest solutions currently on offer. She wants to block the Keystone pipeline, which would transport petroleum from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries; she would pressure pension funds and endowments to divest from fossil fuel companies; and she thinks we should transfer trillions of dollars to poor countries to pay off the rich countries’ debt for dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Klein is a socialist of the first order and she see massive crushing socialism as the solution for everything — inequality, the recession, the environment, or the collapse of the Braves in the NL East. But those of us with memories longer than an episode of Family Feud will remember the environmental record of the Communist block. It was horrifying; far worse than anything that was ever seen in the West. In his book All the Trouble in the World, P.J. O’Rourke describes the nightmare that confronted the Czech Republic after the Cold War was over. Soviet-era “innovations” made the Aral Sea disappear while capitalism was bringing the Great Lakes back to life. Communist projects clearcut massive swathes of Eurasia while North American forest were booming.

Hell, you don’t even need a memory; you just need eyes. China — still nominally communist — is one of the worst polluters in the world and has soaring greenhouse gas emissions. In the meantime, the evil capitalist United States has seen its carbon intensity drop thanks to innovation, fracking and market forces.

She wants a “Marshall Plan for the Earth” as a lot of environmentalists do. I’ll let Ronald Bailey give you the grim math on that:

Well, if the world were to begin deploying these renewable energy technologies next year that would mean erecting approximately 250,000 wind turbines each year for the next 15 years. As of the end of 2012, there were a total of 225,000 wind turbines operating around the world.

Similarly, the world would have to install 113 million rooftop solar panel systems per year in order to meet the 2030 goal of 1.7 billion. In 2013, the U.S. installed a record 4,751 megawatts of solar panels, which would be roughly equivalent to 1.6 million 3-kilowatt rooftop solar panels. As of 2013, the entire world had installed 100 gigawatts (100 million kilowatts) of solar photovoltaic panels. Combining the rooftop and solar panel proposals, this hyper-solarization would mean deploying more than 10 times the current installed capacity of photovoltaic panels, not just once but every year for the next 15 years. And never mind that there are virtually no commercial wave or tidal energy production systems currently operating.

This would entail, by their conservative estimates, turning 10% of global GDP to alternative energy construction. Good luck getting China to go in on that. And that’s even assuming the materials and rare earth metals exist in sufficient quantities. Or that such a massive endeavor could be done without causing further environmental damage. And it still wouldn’t work because we have no way of storing and transporting energy to account for cloudy and/or windless days around the globe. The enviros made a big deal because Germany recently provided half their power from alternative energy. Buuuuut:

It got half its power from solar on a single, very sunny day that also happened to be a national holiday, so consumers were at the beach and most of its commercial and heavy industrial plants were shut down. That’s very exciting, but you cannot save all of your electricity consumption for very sunny bank holidays.

This isn’t “economics”. This is science fiction.

And thankfully, Klein is on the fringe. There is a growing push toward market forces being aligned toward improving energy efficiency and making alternative energies viable. There’s even been some movement on nuclear power. Bailey again:

In 2013, climate researchers James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira, and Tom Wigley—people not known for soft-pedaling the threat of global warming—issued an open letter challenging the broad environmental movement to stop fighting nuclear power and embrace it as a crucial technology for averting the possibility of a climate catastrophe through its supply of zero-carbon energy. The letter states that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.” They add, “While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.”

Look, I think most environmentalists are genuinely concerned about the planet. But there is a faction that are what the conservatives have long described as “watermelons” — green on the outside; red on the inside. These people really don’t care about the environment. When cold fusion was briefly a thing, they reacted with fury not hope. They care about crushing capitalism and private property.

Take that idea of the evil west sending trillions of dollars to the poor benighted third world to compensate them for global warming. That’s something the radical left has been flogging for decades. And it would do nothing, nothing to save the planet. It would arguably make things worse, given the environmental record of developing countries.

There are two possibilities here (not mutually exclusive). One, Klein is a moron. And two, she’s just your garden-variety watermelon, someone who sees environmentalism as a way to push her beloved anti-capitalist agenda.

The only remaining questions are why now? Why is she suddenly pushing this capitalism vs. the environment line like it’s an original thought? And why are she and her books so popular (it’s already selling well, has five-star ratings and is getting rave reviews from the likes of RFK, Jr.)?

As always, Lee had the the answer:

I actually read Klein’s No Logo about six years ago. It astounds me that a third-rate intellect like hers could be so wildly popular with the radical left. Then again, maybe it shouldn’t.

This isn’t a serious proposal. It’s not serious commentary. And it’s certainly not economics or science. It’s something for progressive to whack to. It’s something they can read and say, “Yeah! That’s what we should do!” so they can feel a little better about not being the kind of scientists and engineers who could actually do something about climate change.

Meanwhile, those of us living in the real world can go about actually saving the planet, one fracking well at a time.

Who’ll Start the Rain?

California is in the grips of a very bad drought? How bad? This bad:

The current drought in California is not only the worst in modern history, but is among the worst in half a millennium. We know this by studying the growth rings of long-lived trees like the Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada, and the Bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of eastern California. In fact, the state has weathered six very dry years since 2007, this year being by far the lowest.

It’s actually worse than the press is letting on. In response to the drought, many areas are drilling down to aquifers and draining them. These are not an easily replenished resource; in fact, the changes that occur after an aquifer is drained may prevent it from ever being filled again. The problem has been exacerbated by California over-allocating water rights by a factor of five and forcing water to be sold at below-market rates.

(And for God’s sake, what’s the heck, California?! It’s the year 2014. Do people still not realize what happens when you force things to be priced below market value?)

Much of the debate going on is about global warming. That’s a useless conversation to have right now. First of all, while there are some indications that global warming may make droughts more likely, it’s impossible to tie any particular event to global warming. This area had an even more severe drought five hundred years ago without any SUVs. Second, blaming global warming does not solve the immediate problem. And third, even if we embarked on a massive campaign to stop global warming today, it would take decades for the effects to be felt. Whatever the cause, this is happening and it needs to be dealt with. And moreover, if we are going to have a drier world, we need to come up with strategies that can be used for future droughts.

Fortunately, there is precedent:

Australia has already pioneered many policies could help. Supplying free and below-cost water encourages users to drain rivers, leaving fish and riparian species high and dry. So the first step is to decide how much water based on the best available science should be allocated to environmental flows. Obviously this process will be politically fraught, but after water rights are allocated they can be purchased to further enhance environmental flows. In Australia, the government has spent $2 billion to purchase private water rights to increase river flows. Currently in California, about 50 percent of freshwater flows are reserved for the environment, although that varies greatly by river basin.

In Australia, water rights were historically tied to specific pieces of land. The reform severed these ties and divided rights into water access entitlements and water allocations. For example, if there is a moderate drought, state agencies might set water allocations to 80 percent of each water entitlement. A person owning 10 acre-feet of water would be able to use eight acre-feet of water that year. Owners can sell their entitlement or their annual allocations. If an irrigator who is allocated 8 acre-feet adopts methods that cut his water use to 6 acre-feet, he can then sell the extra 2 acre-feet for whatever price the market will bear.

This policy guided southeastern Australia through the recent millennium drought. It did so while keeping the vineyards and orchards that needed lots of water intact. At the peak of the drought, water right were very expensive. But now that the drought has ended, they are back to being cheap.

What he’s talking about is essentially cap-and-trade. Cap-and-trade is a little tricky. It’s an idea that arose in conservative think tanks in the 80’s and worked spectacularly to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions and acid rain. But sulphur dioxide was a small market and it was comparatively easy to find way to reduce the emissions of something that wasn’t essential. Cap-and-trade with more abundant substance — carbon dioxide or water — is much more fraught with problems. I have opposed cap and trade for greenhouse gases, for example, because it became obvious that putting cap-and-trade on something so universal would create a huge cesspool of political influence and corruption (and probably not work anyway).

But trading water rights worked very well in Australia. It worked because water is something people consume rather than emit. And so simply providing a market encourages people to cut their consumption the best way they can.

California is slowly moving in that direction. They are also trying other idiotic policies involving micromanagement and dumb politics. But allowing markets in water should be a no brainer. This is Econ 101. Prices are not something that appear by magic or are set by the Illuminati. Prices are information. When the price of something is high that tells you it is scarce and you need to conserve it. Let water prices reflect the realities of California’s situation and you’ll find that people find ways to consume less of it.

This will require some changes at the local level. Many areas in California and other western states have codes that require green lawns despite being in naturally dry areas. But the pressure to change those policies will be much higher when water costs what it costs rather than what state agencies think it should cost.

To be fair, markets won’t solve everything. The dangerous draining of aquifers does require government intervention. Aquifers are a public resource and you can’t create an environment where drilling and draining aquifers is a sound business plan. I suspect the best plan may be something like what we’ve seen used to replenish dangerously depleted fish stocks: the sale of aquifer “shares” that cap the amount that can be drained and encourage better management.

Whatever the solution, California’s water shortage and water crisis have been made by decades of idiot policies. Refining those policies or adding even more idiocy to them is not the solution. Turning to markets might be part of one.