Category Archives: environment

Drilling is Not the Solution

The public outcry over $4 a gallon gas (and rising) has spurned somewhat of a college industry among the press in the woes and perils of high energy costs. The latest news is that unsigned bands will have to cancel national tours due to the high fuel costs. Heartbreaking, I know.

Actually, despite my sarcasm my second dream job was rock star. I found out I couldn’t throw 90 mph, so that ended my first, and then I found out that most rock stars spend years living on cheap beer and sand, which ended my second. So I support small bands and wish them the best. (I still think of you, Julie!! Hope Portland’s better than BFE, IL.)

And raised energy prices are nothing to disregard so lightly. After all, Hillary Clinton “heard from some folks” that things are getting rough. So both candidates are starting to showcase their plans for relief. For example, they both support closing loopholes which allow oil company speculations to drive prices up. Some are saying Obama is merely following McCain’s lead on this (thanks, liber.rhetoricae), but it’s good that both candidates agree.

However, McCain has taken the extra step to try and end the 26-year moratorium on drilling off the U.S. coastlines, a plan that is even having a hard time convincing many coastline Republicans.

I think many people along the coastlines are having a “not in my backyard” type reaction. We get that a lot in central Illinois when companies want to start building wind turbines. But in this case I have to agree wholeheartedly with those who oppose it. It’s just not a smart, responsible way to deal with the fuel costs.

First, the Senate has already turned down such a measure, by a 56-42 vote. This is a plan championed by Bush, which means (fair or not) it’s not going to get a lot of air play in a Democrat-controlled Congress before January. So far from offering immediate help, it won’t even be approved for at least seven more months.

Further, though both Obama and McCain agree that at least part of the gas price problem is a lack of oil supply, even Bush admits that it will take years, as long as a full decade, for drilling to start pumping more oil into the U.S. economy, and hence years before any sort of relief at the pump.

When you couple this long time line with the increase in demand that will continue due to higher oil consumption from large countries such as China and Brazil, this is a plan that will bear no fruit for the average American consumer.

McCain has voted against such a measure before, and as little as three weeks ago stated that such actions “would take years to develop, [and] would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels.” This change of heart seems to be little more than the same political posturing used to champion the ill-advised gas tax cut.

(To his credit, he continues to express opposition to drilling in ANWR.)

The truth is, the time and resources spent drilling for oil in our coastline could be much better spent developing ways to alleviate our dependency upon oil, which is going to be the only way we can ultimately provide permanent relief from high gas prices. Ten years is along time to wait for help at the gas pump, but it’s also a long time to incorporate solar power, or find new ways to reclaim all the lost energy involved in driving a car, or establish a hydrogen infrastructure to power fuel cell or liquid hydrogen vehicles, or increase electric engines which run on American made energy using coal, natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, or nuclear energy, or even something really cool that we haven’t even thought up of yet.

Working to expand the energy matrix, and not just our oil supply, also has an added benefit – it provides relief not just from the gas station but the electric company. Focusing our solutions on providing more oil does us no favors when the price of energy required to power our homes is also increasing. I must admit, McCain seems legitimately interested in helping expand our nation’s ability to provide cheap, clean, renewable energy. But framing the energy debate on the price of gasoline only limits the nation’s sense of expediency in accomplishing this goal by suggesting the problem is not the status quo, but rather our capabilities in sustaining it.

Many people are complaining that Obama’s opposition to this drilling is merely representative of a larger “can’t do” ideology of the Democrat party, if not liberal thought as a whole. Obama has an extensive policy of things we can do to help provide cheaper energy – at the pump and at the home. In fact, focusing our attention on increasing the oil supply is actually much more of a “can’t do” policy – we can’t increase fuel efficiency to levels already demanded in much of the world, can’t increase it in a financially viable manner, can’t create automobiles or technologies which rid us of our dependency on oil to begin with.

We can, we must, and it’s time that we do. For Julie’s sake.

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Washington’s New Eco-Agenda

Yahoo reports that “EcoGeeks get all the girls.” And from Clinton to Kennedy, Condit to Livingston, Tobias to Foley, (and who can forget Larry Craig?) there’s no doubt that nobody does sex quite like Washington. Which is probably why they are finally starting to take environmental issues seriously, with three major pieces of eco-legislation on the agenda.

The first two bills approaching Congress deal with the issuance of tax credits and federal subsidies designed to encourage production and distribution of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. These two bills are H.R. 6049: Energy and Tax Extenders Act of 2008; and H.R. 5351: Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008. H.R. 6049 would extend current tax breaks on companies producing renewable energy sources through 2009, while H.R. 5351 evidently creates them. Both of these have passed the House of Representatives. H.R. 5351 was added to the new housing bill, H.R. 3221, as an amendment by the Senate, and this bill was passed by both the House and the Senate. The two chambers’ differences have yet to be resolved, but the primary difference between the bill passed by the House and the amendment added to the housing bill in the Senate is whether $18 billion in tax breaks aimed at oil companies would be eliminated to pay for the tax relief for renewable energy.

The Energy and Tax Extenders Act of 2008 is a $54 billion package which extends current tax breaks for wind energy until the end of 2009, solar energy through the end of 2014, and biomass, geothermal, landfill gas, and other technologies through the end of 2011. These tax breaks are essential to secure our energy independence and ensure a sustainable ecology for the long-term health of humanity. It also has a significant economic impact; elimination of these tax breaks could cause a $20 billion cut in energy research and development, costing over 116,000 American jobs. These jobs are not only important now, but are a precursor for permanent infrastructure employment opportunities, improving the standard of living within the United States by simultaneously strengthening our economy and lowering the cost of living.

As with most pro-environment policies, this bill will not only increase the “green” on the land, but also the green in your pocket.

This is an extremely important bill to pass Congress for a variety of reasons. As time is allowed to drag before we take alternative forms of energy seriously, we will only weaken our power and influence in the world while raising energy costs at home. I urge you to contact your Senator to ask him to pass this legislation. You may find your Senator’s contact information here. There are many people in Congress who may be tempted to vote against this bill for strictly political reasons. It is important to remember that this time of the political calendar is one which a constituent has the most power. Congressmen do not want to upset the people who they are asking to vote them back into office, and many feel it is too close to Election Day for people to forget it.

If you wish, you may also sign the We Campaign’s online petition. Normally I do not sign such petitions, as they are usually about meaningless. However, the We Campaign is made up of a wide range of political activists – they are responsible for the commercials with Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson – so it does hold more weight then most other websites with similar petitions. However, I feel obligated to warn you that signing the petition will put you on the We Campaign’s mailing list. This is not like being on a typical campaign’s mailing list where you get three emails every day with “important” information you don’t care about. I am a member and I can assure you that the emails are few. It is a good way to stay abreast with current environmental issues, if that sort of thing sounds appeasing. So I do recommend signing the petition and receiving their emails and don’t want to scare anybody away from it, but I also want to be upfront and let you know there’s no way of signing it without signing up for the list. (Of course, you could always sign it and then send them an email requesting to be removed from the list . . . )

The third bill approaching Congress is the long-awaited debate on providing federal standards to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This is in the form of S. 2191: America’s Climate Security Act of 2007, announced by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and John Warner (R-Virginia). This bill is getting a lot of heat (no pun intended) from both sides of the issue because one side thinks it’s too expensive and the other thinks it doesn’t go far enough.

The crux of the bill is to cap greenhouse emissions at 2005 levels, and then start reducing gasses by 2% annually begining in 2012, creating a 20% reduction by 2020 and 70% reduction by 2050. This sounds very good. I like this. Could do better and I would prefer faster cuts, but I understand that industry has a legitimate gripe about cutting things too fast and some compromise is necessary.

The bill would also provide “transition assistance” to help deal with raising costs as a result of the expenses necessary to accomplish these cuts. This assistance would come in two forms: $350 billion to aide lower- and middle-income consumers and $500 billion to help offset the costs for companies and industries of modernizing their facilities to comply with the legislation.

This bill would also, by definition, increase the use of renewable and emission-friendly energy sources such as solar, wind, and nuclear.

However, the brunt of these cuts would come in the form of a cap-and-trade policy designed to encourage industry and private power plants to decrease their emissions. I have written about the positives of cap-and-trade before, so I won’t dive into too much detail about their relative merits. Suffice to say, these policies can be enacted and enforced responsibly and be very effective, though they can just as easily be meaningless, particularly if not enforced. If operated according to plan, this cap-and-trade system could move $5 trillion into federal coffers to help accomplish the reduction goals. This will undoubtedly raise many eyebrows amongst the “small government” crowd; even the New York Times is calling it “one of the biggest programs of redistribution of American wealth in history.” There are people who will claim this is just another reason to take the power away from the individual and place it in the hands of “big brother,” and any corrective actions should and must be conducted solely by and within the marketplace.

The truth is that if the market place was inclined to act responsibly to fix the global warming issue then it would have been done a long, long time ago. Some might argue that the market would prefer to act in a way which would be more environmentally friendly, but are unable to do so due to the financial burdens. Fine. But then the government needs to act to allow the market to become more environmentally friendly.

Either way, the health of our environment, the conditions which we leave our only habitat to our children, and the long-term economic and military stability of our nation are far too important to sacrifice in some theoretical discussion with Adam Smith. Our country’s greatest environmental accomplishments happened in the 1970’s, when the Environmental Protection Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Community Right-to-Know Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) were all passed . . . and we had a Republican President in office. This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue which demands respect from all sides, as well as compromise. It’s far too important to be lost in the idealistic bickering of extremist thought; whether the arguments rendered be of market corrections or humanity’s ability to influence global climate change.

To that end, while it may appear difficult to impossible for this bill to pass, there are several indicators that such a bill will be passed in the near future. First, despite heavy complaints from some industry, many in the market actually want the federal government to pass greenhouse emission legislation. This is not so much a result of some moral prerogative as much as one of financial necessity. Many in industry fear that if the federal government does not pass emission standards quickly, state governments will become more likely to do so. This sets up several dilemmas. First, it is more efficient for a company to deal with a single standard then to adjust business practices for the differing standards in place in several states. Secondly, there is a fear that states will enact more stringent legislation than the federal government would be willing to, causing an increase cost burden on the industry. Third, states are not likely to provide such large relief plans to the industries affected by the legislation. And fourth (though probably not finally), many in industry are concerned that a state will place unduly high air quality standards and then penalize a company for operating a facility in a neighboring state for pollutants crossing state lines, setting up long and expensive legal battles.

I’m sure that many who control industry would prefer such a law for the law’s sake. However, absent that I really don’t care what the motivations for support of such a law are – the bill will have the same effect regardless of whether it’s approved for economic or altruistic purposes.

Another reason to be hopeful of such a bill forthcoming shortly is the policy of both Presidential candidates. Obama and McCain have both stated they will place an emphasis on creating some environmental controls to decrease global warming and increase energy independence in their next terms. Further, both have expressed an approval of cap-and-trade policy to accomplish reduction in greenhouse gasses. While neither seem as reliable on the subject as, say, Al Gore, they both seem much more sincere about their efforts than George Bush (or John Kerry for that matter). And as “green-living” becomes more and more popular and visible, and as more people understand the economic, as well as the environmental, benefits of more eco-conscious policies and lifestyles, the public push for such legislation will only increase.

It would be great if this bill passed Congress without amendments diluting its ability to positively affect the environment, as well as our economy. If not, hopefully Congress will use the debate to formulate a bill which will pass without rendering it useless in our fight against climate change.

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Three Articles to Save the World (and my thoughts)

A few articles on saving the environment:

Why don’t cars get 50 mpg? Keith Naughton thinks it’s our fault. Well, I can’t disagree with the premise. Americans do like fast cars (when was the last time you heard anybody say they missed the Geo Metro?). And the culture is hesitant to change to older but better technologies, especially when the cost goes up. Diesel actually gets better gas mileage, burns cleaner, and is more fun to drive. (How does it burn cleaner? According to the EPA, modern diesel engines emit 22.2 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas, while gasoline engines emit 19.4 pounds per gallon. However, diesel engines are 20-40% more efficient than gasoline engines. So a gasoline car that travels 100 miles at 25 mpg will output 77.6 pounds of CO2, but that same care with a diesel engine will get 30 – 35 mpg and therefore will only put out 63.4 – 74 pounds of CO2.) Meanwhile, electric cars are quicker than gasoline cars (not sure why we can’t live with 100 mph cars instead of 130 mph cars when the top speed limits in the U.S. are 85 mph or lower), and they not only help the environment by reducing or eliminating emissions but also use home-grown fuel; either coal, natural gas, nuclear, or renewable energy which comes from the States and not Venezuela or Saudi Arabia.

However, I can’t say Detroit is blameless, either. I wouldn’t expect them to market cars that aren’t selling well, except they already are. America has always been the front line in automotive innovation, and Ford and GM have allowed Japan and Europe to take over. And while I hate to say they’re not as good at it as us, um, they’re not as good at it as us. They’ve just been better at it lately because Detroit hasn’t tried too hard. That leads to the third point of the gas-guzzling fire triangle; American business culture. Businesses are so busy looking at next quarter’s earnings that it gets hard to legitimize spending that may not yield profits for a decade; longer than anybody sitting on the Board of Director’s is probably going to be at the company. But in fairness to American businesses, that gets back to the original point; American culture as a whole. If we spent money in ways which forced Detroit to build better vehicles, then eventually we would get them or Detroit would go out of business. We’ve started to do that, and Detroit is suffering badly. Which is why Chevy wants to introduce a 100 mpg car by 2010.

The other edge of that culture sword is it’s hard to get American taxpayers to agree to research which may not yield practical benefits for several years. For example, Europe’s willingness to build the Large Hadron Collider, coupled with spending cuts to Fermilab here in Illinois, means the technology of the future is probably going to be European.

On a related note, the Germans have created the BMW Hydrogen 7, the world’s first production hydrogen vehicle. (“The Right Stuff” made it clear that “our Germans are better than their Germans,” so I’m counting this a win in the U.S. column, too.) And not only is its emission almost entirely pure water, but “my” Argonne scientists have discovered the air it does emit is actually cleaner than the ambient air. The Hydrogen 7 uses liquid hydrogen, and not fuel cells, so it does buck the generally accepted train of thought regarding hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Which means it could either form the market or be squashed by it. But hydrogen, both liquid and fuel cell, is another culture problem. Nobody wants to pay the super-high costs to get it on the market. Understandable, but if a bunch of rich people during the oil crisis of the ‘70’s said they were going to manufacture and purchase fuel cell cars (we’ve actually had the technology since the sixties), then we’d all have them by now. As demand increases, so does the innovation to bring the prices down. (42” plasma TV’s were $10,000 six years ago, now you can get them for less than two grand.) But the biggest problem is the remodeling of the infrastructure to provide hydrogen. Of course, the American government could spend the money to help fund innovation by American companies and employ the masses of workers necessary to create the infrastructure. But that would cost billions of dollars, and we’re far too busy spending much, much, much more than that in Iraq.

Last week Time had a great article on the problems with biofuels. Evidently, when you consider the loss of rain forests and other native vegetation to use the land for growing corn and switch grass, ethanol actually contributes more to global warming than oil. But good news: the problem is easily solved by switching to ethanol produced using sugar. Didn’t sugar used to be the cash crop for the U.S.? Why can’t we spend money to make fuel out of that instead of the corn? There are a lot of problems with the current structure of farming subsidies. (See here. And here. And here.) The biggest problem is that farming subsidies are no longer a way to keep small family farms viable in the face of an ever-changing and dangerous marketplace, but rather a tool for the richest farmers to get free money at the tax payer’s expense. The largest farms in the U.S. make up only 7% of the total farms but get 54% of the subsidies, meaning the theory that subsidies help small farmers survive and compete against big farmers is a complete myth. The mega-farms are in control of the subsidies, and they make sure money goes towards programs that are in their best interests. Ultimately, it’s the corn-subsidy lobby that was at the heart of the ethanol-subsidy boom, not ecologists or environmentalists.

Don’t get me wrong, I support government money being used to support bio-fuels. First, I don’t think all greenhouse gasses are created equal. The earth is not just dirt and water; it’s a living thing that responds to conditions occurring on it. And the carbon present in greenhouse gasses is more easily compensated for by the earth’s ecology if it was produced recently than if it was buried for millions of years. Also, I think it’s folly to consider corn-based ethanol as the end-all of bio-fuels. There is a large matrix of resources which we can use to create biofuels, ranging from algae to garbage. Given enough imagination (and funding) we can stop making biofuels from stuff we eat and start making it from stuff we wouldn’t use, anyway. But that won’t happen if we fund the corn market and then act like everything’s going to be okay. So I think at this moment it’s more important for that money to be used on research than to line the pockets of some of America’s richest individuals.

At any rate, it shocked me that last year less than 2% of U.S. gas stations sold ethanol. In Illinois you’re hard pressed to find a gas station that doesn’t. It’s nice to live in corn country. Californians, who already spent more on gas than Illinoisans, have to spend more on corn so we get our gas even more cheaply. Small price to pay for living on a freakin’ beach while I’m shoveling a foot of snow out of my driveway.

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A Comparison of the Obama and Clinton Environmental Policies

I was planning on writing two environmental blogs; one detailing Obama’s plan and one detailing Clinton’s, so people could have a good understanding of the differences.  There was just one problem:

Obama and Clinton have very similar environmental plans.  In fact, they’re almost identical, with a few notable exceptions.  They both want to achieve about the same automobile gas mileage standards over almost the same period of time (Clinton would legislate an average 55 gpm compared to Obama’s 50 gpm, but would take four more years to accomplish it) by providing various economic assistance to develop technology to achieve their goals, both would create energy matrixes which produce 25% of our electricity by renewable resources by 2025, both would modernize our power grids by incorporating a “10 Smart-Grid” program, both would create “Green Job Corps” (Obama’s words) to create “green-collar” jobs (Clinton’s words) and environmentally friendly innovation, both would reduce carbon emission by 80% by 2050, and both would use the G-8 summit to promote global environmental policy.  Further, both would spend large amounts of money and resources to increase production of bio-fuels, such as bio-diesel and ethanol.  Bio-fuels are great for the environment because the carbon released by their burning was created a short time ago, allowing the earth’s carbon cycle to adjust much more quickly and effectively to their releases.  If an ear of corn is grown, nature “knows” it’s carbon is going to be released somehow; whether it’s by decay, digestion, or energy consumption, nature “knows” it’s coming.  The problem with fossil fuels is that nature “forgets” the carbon is there (since it’s been buried underground for millions of years, or 6,000 years if you’re a creationist), and when it’s burned off the modes to reintroduce it back into the cycle are not present, resulting in an unhealthy build-up of excess carbon.  This excess is the main cause of global warming.

One major agreement which I am pleased to see is a focus on “cap and trade” policies to reduce emissions from industry.  Both plans use this as a cornerstone to decrease pollutants and both plans are more or less identical.  Cap and trade can be a very valuable tool to decrease emissions by providing economic incentives for industries to do so.  Essentially these incentives take two forms.  First, companies which invest in conservation and innovation to decrease emissions are rewarded financially by selling the emissions they are allotted but not producing, providing extra profit to the company.  Secondly, companies which do not invest in conservation or innovations to decrease emissions are penalized by being forced to purchase shares of emission allowances.  If there are no shares available or the company does not purchase any, they pay a steep fine.  Since shares are auctioned, the prices of the shares become higher as less become available, further rewarding responsible companies and further penalizing irresponsible ones.

The common complaint against this system is the obvious illusion that companies which are polluting irresponsibly are allowed to circumvent law by just purchasing more pollution rights.  However, good cap and trade policy does not allow this, because geographical areas have pollution limits.  If the city of Chicago, for example, decides that “x” tons of an air pollutant is acceptable, than it doesn’t really matter if company A produces ½x-y and company B produces ½x+y.  As long as (½x-y) + (½x+y) = x, the effects of the pollution is the same as if they both just produced ½x (obviously there are more than two companies producing the pollutants; the point is total amount of pollutants is at or below the limit deemed allowable).  Both candidates plans ensure that this is the case by requiring 100% of the pollution credits to be auctioned on the market, removing the capabilities of companies to “account” their way around the total pollution allowances for any particular geographical area.  And as time goes on, the total pollution allowance is decreased, resulting in lower amounts of air pollutants.  If the system works in this fashion and is stringently enforced, it works very, very well.

However, there are some significant differences which I would like to discuss.  This is by no means exhaustive; there are some minor differences which are interesting but not necessarily important enough to include in this already-too-long comparison.  For example, both candidates have goals to replace incandescent lights.  Obama’s plan would seem to phase out incandescent bulbs more quickly, but Clinton’s plan would seem to increase use of LEDs.  Is this difference going to save the world?  Probably not.

I will say that, from an environmentalist’s view, Obama’s plan seems to be much more complete.  While Hillary Clinton seems to focus almost solely on the role of energy in our environment, Obama lays out “EPA” solutions.  That is, he provides plans to ensure air and water that is clean and free from toxins, as well as plans to preserve our lands and natural treasures.  Though I’m sure Clinton cares about these issues, they are not mentioned in her environmental policy.  Since I am personally concerned about the environment first, and energy policy second, this is pretty important to me.

A difference in which Hillary Clinton seems to be ahead of Barack Obama is forcing all new federal buildings to be “carbon neutral” by the end of 2009.  Obama says he will force all new federal buildings to be “zero emissions” by 2025.  That is a big difference in timing; though a cynic could say the difference illustrates that achieving that goal by 2009 is not possible, I believe we have the technology to accomplish this goal if we allocate enough resources to achieve it.  However, Obama’s plan does actually have its benefits over Hillary’s.  Obama is going to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings by 40% over the next five years, and that coupled with the longer time for “zero emissions” goals is going to make the manufacture of new federal buildings much cheaper.  He’s going to use this saved money to retrofit existing buildings with energy-saving updates to decrease energy use in these buildings by 25% over the next five years and ensure 30% of the federal government’s electricity comes from renewable resources by 2020.  Hillary Clinton claims the federal government pays $5.6 billion a year to “heat, cool, and power” federal buildings, so the savings would be $1.4 billion every year.  Hillary Clinton also vows to “install cost-effective retrofits in all federal buildings within five years.”  However, she does not say whether this would begin or be completed within this time, and gives no indication as to what her goals would be in regards to energy savings over this time.  A stated goal is important; it gives an objective measure for success as well as provides a definitive destination to strive toward.

But the biggest benefit Obama’s plan has over Clinton’s is Obama goes farther by striving to achieve zero emissions in all American buildings by 2030.  To accomplish this, he is going to make a national goal of making all new buildings 50% more energy efficient and all existing buildings 25% more energy efficient with the next ten years.  Hillary Clinton makes no goals to ensure that all buildings are carbon neutral in any time frame, and does not provide any specific goals for energy efficiency over any time frame, either.  Clinton claims there are 500,000 federal buildings.  Obviously, this is a small portion of all American buildings.  Making all building in the whole country carbon neutral by 2030 is certainly a much bigger energy saver than making all new buildings carbon neutral by 2009 and helping to subjectively improve energy efficiency in existing federal buildings over the next five.

However, if I stake the claim that specifics matter more than vague promises, I must give Clinton some credit here.  Though she does not give any specific goals to increase energy efficiency for existing buildings, she gives much more specific policy goals on how to achieve it, including spending money to “weatherize” 20 million low-income homes over 8 years, creating standards for energy efficiency for types of appliances which currently do not have them, and creating a “Connie Mac” program to assist home owners with updating their homes.

Another positive aspect of Clinton’s plan is she would “require corporate disclosure of financial risks posed by global warming.”  In and of itself, this is pretty meaningless.  As I see it, the only real difference it would make is providing corporate admission that global warming is real and effecting stockholders and businesses in a tangible way.  Essentially it’s a way to win an argument against a small and ever decreasing portion of the population which still argues that decreasing the effects of global warming would cost more than its benefits would provide.  Plus, if a large portion of corporate America decides to claim there are no significant negative financial impacts it could actually help fuel the argument against improving global warming.  I don’t think that would happen, but it’s possible.  It could also minimize the already ignored impact of externalities, which are the environmental costs of an activity which do not show up in the cost of the product (such as destruction of a forest or extinction of a species of animal).

That being said, this seems like the first step in forcing companies to disclose financial statements regarding their impact on global warming.  Europe already does this; companies have to take cradle-to-grave responsibility for waste their products produce, which decreases wasteful packaging; increases conservation, reuse, and recycling programs (often paid for by the companies, since that’s cheaper than allowing consumers to throw their products away); increases manufacturing of goods made out of materials which could be conserved, reused, or recycled; and creates products which are more energy efficient.  This is a very important step in improving the environment which I feel the U.S. government must take.  Since no candidate seems to endorse the idea, at least this could begin that process by making companies provide a tangible link between business practices and the financial loss caused by harm to our environment.

The last thing which jumped right out at me is the difference in how Obama and Clinton would try to get energy companies to enact programs designed to improve energy efficiency.  Both campaigns state the obvious link between energy companies’ profits and the amount of energy used.  Clinton says she will help break this link by enacting regulatory legislation requiring energy companies to initiate or participate in energy efficiency programs and innovations.  This is good.  But Obama wants to enact policies allowing companies to make more money in the future by increasing energy efficiency then they currently make by higher energy consumption.  This is a much better plan.  It’s much easier to get companies to agree to a plan that provides real financial incentives than to ask them to take a financial hit because it’s the right thing to do.  It’d be nice if that wasn’t necessarily the case, but that’s capitalism and I see nothing wrong with forgoing punishing companies when we can  reward them financially for beginning to conduct business more responsibly.  Ultimately, it entices companies to work with the government, instead of against them, which saves precious time and money wasted waging legislative and legal battles against policies they (justifiably or unjustifiably) deem unfair.

Finally, I would love to compare the Obama, Clinton, and McCain plans on energy and the environment.  There’s just one problem.  McCain doesn’t seem to have any.  McCain’s website has a half a page “discussion” explaining he feels we have a moral obligation to be “proper caretakers of creation” but does not offer anything even resembling specifics on how to do so.  He also offers an eighty second video clip (including several seconds which shows his logo but no other visual or oral material) in which he states that he believes global warming does exist and we need to take responsible actions to confront it (again, no specifics).  Oh, and he also uses that time to say we were right not to sign the Kyoto Treaty and the U.S. should dictate the terms by which the rest of the world enacts global environmental policy.  He only uses the word “energy” twice, both in the same sentence:  “He has offered common sense approaches to limit carbon emissions by harnessing market forces that will bring advanced technologies, such as nuclear energy, to the market faster, reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of energy, and see to it that America leads in a way that ensures all nations do their rightful share.”  As Republicans go, I honestly believe he’s a forerunner on energy and the environment.  Of course, this is a party which believes “climate control” is adjusting the temperature of their air conditioner.  In fairness, he probably can’t mention responsible energy or environmental policy specifics without abandoning his base.  But we would expect more from the “Straight Talk Express,” wouldn’t we?

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The Cognitive Dissonance of Global Warming

Last night Hardball host Chris Matthews had Tom DeLay, that wonderful man who upholds such conservative moral values as conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws and money laundering, live from the Conservative Political Action Conference (i.e. the 2008 Texas Honky Festival) to ask about negative statements he and other Republicans made about John McCain. Turns out people like DeLay and conservative talk radio hosts would rather vote for Hillary Clinton than McCain. They haven’t said if they would vote for Obama or not. Probably because a show full of hate speech against Obama won’t rake in nearly as many listeners. I don’t mean to imply that conservative talk radio would put their ratings above the good of the nation, just that they’d put their pocket books above the good of the people.

Of course, in DeLay’s case he hates McCain because he had the gall to actually insinuate activities like DeLay participated in are detrimental to our democracy and should be outlawed. Now the “Straight Talk Express” may be showing the former House Majority Leader what it’s like to run naked backwards through a corn field. The nerve!

Well, DeLay brought up a laundry list of things he didn’t like about McCain, including finance, immigration, and global warming. Global warming kind of came out nowhere, so Chris Matthews said he had to take the opportunity to ask what the Republican’s official position on climate change is.

He said man could not be causing climate change. Evidently, there’s no scientific evidence supporting such a claim. Because crooked politicians know more about scientific evidence then, um, scientists.

Chris Matthews then asked him, rather pointedly, what he would call the “latest report from the Rocky Mountains that the snowpack is disappearing” and humans are causing the problem, if not scientific evidence.

The response? “It is arrogance to suggest that man can affect climate change.”

That’s not a scientific response. It’s a philosophical response, and rather absurd one at that.

Being that the environment is something I’m passionate about (the same kind of passion I have for admittedly abstract things such as life, breathing, drinkable water, and an inhabitable planet for my grandchildren), I have had arguments with people about the effects of climate change, and whether or not people cause it. I don’t recommend it. It’s like arguing that Saddam Hussein did not have ties with al Qaida; it’s already been proven and the only people who don’t believe it are those who already decided it must be true, regardless of what actual facts may say. They are in a text-book state of cognitive dissonance. However, if you ever have the desire to actually ask someone what evidence they have it doesn’t exist, you will find the following:

People who argue against man-caused climate change don’t have any grasp on the scientific evidence at all. In fact, if you really start dissecting their arguments with them, they will invariable admit that, not only do they not know what the evidence is in either direction, but they don’t care. Just like Mr. DeLay. Knowing that it is, in fact, a question of science, they find it necessary to back up their opinion with the claim that no scientific evidence supports that climate change. But when confronted the volumes of scientific evidence that does say climate change is occurring and humans are a major component of it, or the fact that even agencies W. Bush has established to comment on climate change say it is occurring and that economic measures need to be taken to combat it, suddenly the argument shifts from science to philosophy. The reason is very obvious; since all physical data shows that it’s obviously true, they are trying to think the truthiness out of it. Kind of like, if you think really, really hard that you didn’t break the law, they can’t arrest you for campaign finance fraud. Too bad it doesn’t work.

It’s not a philosophical argument at all. It’s a scientific one. And they must understand that or they wouldn’t start with the line that science does not back up the claim, even when they don’t know whether or not that’s true or just lying through their teeth.

And why do they try that line, anyway? Do they just assume because they don’t really have a clue nobody else does, either? Or are they trying to bluff their way into an argument they know is completely unwinnable?

The fact is that people give “scientific evidence” to show that smoking does not cause cancer (according the linked article, it only contributes to a lung cancer rate that’s 8 times higher than those who don’t smoke. Also, the hard data does say that “only 3%” of people in the U.S. die of lung cancer, an obviously small percentage that equates to a remarkably low death total of only 9 million deaths per year. If you really think about it, that means only slightly less than 1,000 people died of lung cancer in 2001 in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. So obviously there’s an unscientific, anti-smoker liberal bias here.). But that doesn’t actually mean that the scientific evidence supports the claim. If you have 99 scientists working at colleges and labs and public health agencies saying one thing, and you have one scientist working for Black Gold Texas Tea saying another, who are you going to believe?

I guess that depends upon two things. First, how much money you stand to. Secondly, whether or not you actually think for yourself, do some basic research, or just copy and paste arguments you hear from a hillbilly heroin addicted college dropout. The latter are not worth the headaches and lowered IQ caused by talking with them.

Though if anybody actually knows of any credible scientific evidence that shows climate change does not exist or humans aren’t causing it, I’m all ears. I doubt anybody will even attempt to take me up on the offer.

Finally tonight, I’d like to share some news for you in a new segment I like to call “You Don’t Know Dick (About Cheney): The Great Geno Edition.” Turns out Mr. V.P. had a presidential motorcade, “including Secret Service, motorcycles, and limousines” drive his labrador retriever to the vet, per Chris Matthews. (Limousines? How many limousines do you need to take a dog to the vet, honestly?) Of course, these motorcades are run on the public’s money. So let’s summarize here: it’s fiscally responsible to use tax-payer’s money to send a dog to the hospital, but not a lower-class child. I would say Cheney and Bush have their own little spot in Hell, but I’m afraid we may already be in it.

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