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Category: Environment and Environmentalism

FWIW: How is the U.S. actually doing on reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions?

Per the EPA (emphasis added):

Greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 (after accounting for sequestration from the land sector) were 17 percent below 2005 levels

from “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks” (data through 2021, published in 2023)

Further, that 17% decrease in emissions happened while the American population increased by ~12.3% (from 295.5M to 331.9M per the U.S. Census Bureau).  So, under the same assumption, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions per capita has been decreasing at an even faster average rate: more like 2%/year, nearly twice as fast as the rate of decrease in the actual emissions.  Demographic projections by the U.S. Census Bureau predict a declining rate of population growth (and even the beginning of a decline in actual population) over the next century (to something like 350M by 2050 and to 366M (and decreasing) by 2100).  Under the same assumption about per capita emissions that we made about overall emissions — that the average percentage rate of change will remain consistent —  we might then expect the net effect, taking slowing population growth into account, to be an overall reduction in emissions (again, below 2005 levels) of more like ~57% by 2050 and ~83% by 2100.

Those numbers are not, perhaps, what climate activists want or what climate scientists would say we should target.  They are certainly not “net zero”.  But, they represent real, measurable, and steady progress.

So they are also not, perhaps, what the most alarmist headlines would lead you to believe about how we are doing.

It may well be that we are not doing quite enough.  But, we are far from doing nothing…

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Why is “the right” so hostile to “climate change”?

The American “right” latched onto an “anti-climate change” attitude — and took that to the ridiculous extreme of being proof-of-membership-in-the-group — in large measure as a direct response to the early (and, alas, continuing) attitudes of the American “left” toward the subject.

From the earliest discussions of the potential for climate change and what we might do about it, the left succeeded in tying “climate change” nearly inextricably to “highly coercive and disruptive government mandated emergency command-and-control remedies”.

In that environment, there was simply no way to be both ‘conservative’ and accepted as someone who took climate change seriously. You were either wildly progressive or you were a “denier”. As far as the green left and the media that echoed its talking points was concerned, there was nothing, and no room for anything, in between.

To the extent that the “left” succeeded in transforming “climate change” from a legitimate scientific and policy debate into merely another excuse for getting what it had always wanted anyway and for other reasons — a self-righteous justification for telling us all how to live our lives coupled to yet more coercive authority concentrated in the hands of politicians and government bureaucrats (to be guided, of course, by academic intellectuals) — it did mean that the opposition from the “right” to “climate change” was much more about opposing that coercive policy agenda than it was about the science, itself.

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Expertise and Ego

I sincerely hope that ‘experts’ of all stripes — and not merely economists — take note of your admonition toward humility.

The kind of humility you advocate, however, is something one rarely sees among the ‘experts’ — within government and think-tanks and academia — who routinely proclaim to us all that they know “the truth” and that the proper role and responsibility for the rest of us is simply to shut up and do as they say.

That may not be completely fair: it may be that the apparent hubris of expertise is exaggerated by reporters and a news media that is besotted with the idea of ‘expertise’ and, therefore, amplifies the voices of the most self-certain while muting the voices of the humble.  It may be that many or most experts are, indeed, well  aware of their self-limitations but that their voices are not the ones that the media chooses to tell us about; or, it may be that the various caveats and disclaimers with which they accompany their assertions never make it through the filter of the reporters’ perceptions into the news stories and analyses written about them.

And, it may also be that those, in particular, who choose to go into government are self-selected from among the most hubristic precisely because their very self-confidence leads them to the belief that they should also have the power to impose their chosen “solutions” upon others.

Regardless of the reason, however, what is presented as ‘expertise’ for public consumption is, all too often, the farthest thing from your humble ideal:  it is, rather, most often arrogant; and it is, far too frequently, also condescending.

And that arrogance and condescension is exacerbated by the fact that such experts frequently extend their claims to ‘expertise’ beyond what is justified by their training and experience.  A medical researcher will discover some (perhaps tentative) connection between a chemical or a food and some health state, like heart disease.  They will then not only exaggerate their certainty, proclaiming that the evidence of such connection is irrefutable and unequivocal (Eat this and you will die!), rather than provisional and subject to chance, but will also proclaim, with equal certainty, that a particular policy prescription — Ban that chemical! — is, by extension, mandatory; and they will claim that their policy prescription is simply a matter of “following the science” and, therefore, also wholly within their ‘expertise’, as if such policies have no other economic or practical or emotional or moral dimensions beyond the narrow realm of “science” that might require consideration.

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Solar Power, Revisited

Ten years ago, I wrote a post about the cost-ineffectiveness of solar power. Things have changed.

Today, we have a solar power array on our house that has, over the two years of its operation, supplied about 86% of our overall power needs and saved us about 6% on our electricity bill after accounting for the cost of the array, itself.

That glowing summary, however, reflects not actual day-to-day array performance but only an annualized average, made possible by a “net metering” policy that allows us to use the local electric grid as a “battery” and that provides some fairly generous — if hidden – subsidies to help defray the cost of the system.

That glowing summary also hides some fairly strict logistical limits that put an upper bound on how much solar power the grid can support without the net metering policy falling apart.

This is my report on my two years of experience with solar power, along with some musings on its benefits and constraints.

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Some Numbers on Solar Power

8 October 2008

I have a home construction project looming in my future, and I decided that would be a good opportunity to upgrade my environmental footprint (and reduce my energy bills) by adding a solar electrical generation system to the mix. So I did some research on what it would cost me and what I could expect to gain from it. My summary: we aren’t there yet.

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No, It’s NOT Obvious

Back in August the editorial board of The Boston Globe published a diatribe about the stupidity of anyone who couldn’t see how wonderful the world would be if only we would reduce the speed limit back to 55 miles per hour.

OK, that wasn’t really what the editorial said. It was only implied. But their sanctimony annoyed me enough to prompt this response.

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National Scolds

In October of 2004 Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus published a critique of the environmental movement, which they claimed was too focused on technical and policy arguments over regulations and not focused enough on presenting a positive vision that inspired people to their cause. They had become the dour uncle focused on limits and sacrifice, presenting a grim future with a message of “just say no” to progress.

…The critique of the modern environmental movement — that it fails to project a positive vision for America’s future (and the world’s) for people to embrace — is only half right. More to the point is that environmentalists have become not just national doomsayers but national scolds.

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Perpetual Motion Redux

CNN online has a regular feature, under the heading Explorers, in which British inventor Trevor Baylis critiques invention ideas suggested by readers. I’ve read the column a few times and Mr. Baylis seems both fair and rigorous in his assessments. He also brings the true inventor’s sense of economics to bear: often his judgments on the viability of an invention are based more on the likelihood anyone would buy it or on the cost to bring it to market than on its technical viability.

One invention he panned on that basis involved a way to generate “free” energy. The would-be inventor knew enough about electricity to know that a magnetic field moving across a wire would induce current; his suggestion was to embed wires under the road and put magnets on the bottom of cars — the magnetized cars moving across the wires would generate electricity, thus tapping the unused potential of all those cars moving back and forth across the country to solve our energy problems. Mr. Baylis pointed out (correctly) that the expense of digging up all those roads and retrofitting all those cars probably made such a scheme far too costly to be practical.

I thought Mr. Baylis did not go far enough in his rejection of this idea. The problem is that this is yet another variation on perpetual motion — and people who think perpetual motion is possible will never believe it is not cost-effective. How can free energy be too expensive to use?  It is yet another symptom of the general scientific illiteracy that plagues the modern world.

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Clean Air Through the Looking Glass

Oh the delicious irony of modern politics. In 2001, after deciding that it’s previous attempt to comply with an EPA dictate for cleaning the air by oxygenating gasoline had resulted mainly in dirtier water, the state of California banned the oxygenating compound MBTE and requested a waiver from the EPA regulation to avoid a mandated switch to ethanol. The state’s argument, that there were other ways to achieve the objective, may or may not have merit — it’s not clear how much of the dispute over that is science and how much is politics. But when, in the past, has that argument even mattered to Democrats — and the California government is pretty much entirely composed of Democrats — when an environmental regulation was at stake?

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Arsenic and Old Rhetoric

In a world of boundless resources, where no worthwhile project went undone for lack of funding or attention, we could eliminate arsenic and a host of other environmental poisons to arbitrarily small tolerances with impunity. In the world outside of utopian fiction, however, limited resources must be allocated, and what is used for one thing is unavailable for another….It may be that as a society we conclude that reducing arsenic levels is the best use for those resources, but that conclusion is neither obvious nor unanimous and has nothing to do with science.

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