David Bier

Iain Murray and I had an article in the  Sacramento Bee this weekend that highlighted President Obama’s persistent attempts to keep his environmental agenda as secret as possible. This war on environmental transparency is an issue that globalwarming.org has been covering, notably here and here. Below is the article in its entirety.

When Vice President Dick Cheney held secret meetings for his energy task force in the early days of President George W. Bush’s first term, he was excoriated by the left and even some on the right. Both Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued, but the Supreme Court found the proceedings were protected by executive privilege.

President Barack Obama came into office pledging to end such secrecy, saying, “The way to make government accountable is to make it transparent.”

On his own energy agenda, however, the president has been as opaque as Cheney, repeatedly holding closed-door meetings, anonymously courting lobbyists, dodging Freedom of Information Act requests, and ignoring subpoenas from Congress.

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In Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health, CEI’s John Berlau describes how environmentalists have intervened in the economy in ways that have caused many deaths. In this passage, he criticizes the precautionary principle, the idea that the government should wait to be absolutely certain before it permits the use of certain products.

Eco-Freaks was published in 2006

Today’s environmentalists wax eloquently about the Precautionary Principle. In green manifestos like the Wingspread Consensus, they argue that if there is any doubt about a certain chemical’s effects, it should not be introduced. Advocates liken it to the adage, “Look before you leap.” But, points out science writer Ronald Bailey, the principle goes against another wise adage, “He who hesitates is lost.”

Imagine if the army had followed the Precautionary Principle of today’s advocates. The military and drug companies did do some tests and found that DDT posed no harm to humans, but they could not be certain. But, had DDT not been used in World War II, millions of soldiers, civilians, and Holocaust victims would have died of insect-borne diseases. When talking to students, Gloria Lyon expresses a principle similar to that stated by University of Texas environmental law professor Frank Cross, that in protecting public health, “there is no such thing as a risk-free lunch.”

Chemical pioneer Joseph Jacobs was also critical of the Precautionary Principle. He noted that one of the products he helped develop saved many lives, but also “caused quite a few deaths.” But this substance was not DDT. It was penicillin, which has caused allergic fatalities. No deaths of humans, by contrast, have been linked to DDT. Yet “no one has ever bemoaned the discovery of penicillin or caused it to be banned,” Jacobs wrote. “If this had been given the Rachel Carson treatment, think of all the lives which would no t have been saved.”

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In theory, environmentalism is about protecting the poor and middle class from the careless capitalists. In reality, it amounts to persistent attacks on all those groups—capitalists on down.  The Clean Water Act is commonly used to deprive families of their property without due process. The Endangered Species Act is similarly abused to violate property rights with little benefit to wildlife. Cities fine residents millions for violating their mandatory recycling programs. Energy taxes, renewable energy mandates, ethanol tariffs, cap-and-trade schemes, energy rationing, and a host of other programs raise the price of electricity and fuel, which primarily hurts the poor.

In an opinion article in today’s Washington Examiner, Iain Murray and I document how the current Commerce Secretary has repeatedly advocated not just the policies that lead to higher energy prices, but the higher prices themselves.

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In this excerpt from Energy and Climate Wars: How naïve politicians, green ideologues and media elites are undermining the truth about energy and climate, Peter Glover and Michael Economides explain how easily science can be corrupted for politically ends. Chicken little pundits then grab hold of this and use it to crush those who advocate caution and want more evidence to back up such dire claims.

Not many news reports have been used so effectively to incite fear on entire populations, demand immediate government action and cause concern among people the world over, than the alleged melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

Energy and Climate Wars was released in 2010

Chapter 10 of the 2007 IPCC report stated: “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world, and if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at its current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometers by the year 2035.”

To put it in starker terms, among other calamities it presaged, India’s great rivers would dry out, and all associated agricultural, cultural and religious impacts associated with them. To begin with, the IPCC’s geography is appalling. 500,000 square kilometers is probably the area covered by all glaciers throughout the world. But it is fascinating how this gem made the IPCC report and how it has spawned, at a cursory count, 7,000 news stories and commentaries.

It has since emerged that the IPCC statements on Himalayan glaciers was entirely fictitious, based as it turns out on thoroughly misleading information from a 2005 report by the World Wildlife Fund, which itself was taken from an article published in the “eminent” and popular UK science journal, The New Scientist in June 1999. That article, “Flooded Out,” was written by an Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain who speculated that Himalayan glaciers could vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming.

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In Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them, Steve Milloy argues that environmentalists don’t want U.S. energy production to be clean or safe–they just don’t want energy production. They oppose it of all kinds, including renewable sources. In this passage, he shows how they obstruct traditional sources.

Green Hell was published in 2009

Just over half our electricity is produced by coal. For decades, greens have tried in vain to reduce the use of coal, lobbying for regulations on how it is mined and the chemical compounds it emits when burned. But the global warming scare seems to have finally given them some traction.

For the first time, applications to build new coal-fired power plants are being rejected based on their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2)—and not just a few plants. Of more than 150 coal plant proposals submitted to regulators for approval in recent years, by the end of 2007 just thirty-five had either been built or were under construction. An astounding fifty-nine of the proposed plants were cancelled, abandoned, or put on hold because of concerns over CO2 emissions. Many coal plants are falling victim to aggressive legal challenges by the Sierra Club, whose “Stopping the Coal Rush” website sports a database and map proudly showing the various plants being attacked by green groups.

And lawsuits aren’t the greens’ only weapon in this campaign, as they now insert themselves directly into big business deals. Incredibly, greens played a key role in the $45 billion buyout of the electric utility TXU Corp by a group of led by the private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis, and Roberts in 2007. Prior to the buyout, TXU had angered greens by planning to build eleven new coal-fired power plants. So the KKR group reached out to the activists, who agreed to end their campaign against TXU and to support the buyout in exchange for KKR’s capitulation to two green demands: not building eight of the eleven plants, and having TXU support federal carbon-reduction legislation.

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Former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus’s conclusion to his book Blue Planet in Green Shackles at first doesn’t seem like it directly pertains to environmental or energy issues at all, but most profoundly does. His argument strikes at the heart of environmentalist arguments for energy regulation, rationing, public planning, and other environmentalist agendas. While he doesn’t deny that environmental problems exist, he answers the question “What to do?” much differently than an environmentalist would.

Blue Planet in Green Shackles was published by CEI in 2008

What to do? The first, and in fact, the only reasonable answer to the question is “nothing,” or rather “nothing special.” It is necessary to let the spontaneity of human activity—unrestrained by any missionaries of absolute truths—take its course, or else everything will get worse. The aggregate outcome of independent actions of millions of informed and rational individuals—unorganized by any genius or dictator—is infinitely better than any deliberate attempt to design the development of human society.

Communism demonstrated that megalomaniac human ambitions, immodesty, and lack of humility always have a bad end. Although the system of human society is to some extent robust, although it has its natural defense mechanisms and can bear a lot (just as nature itself can), every attempt to command the wind and the rain has so far always turned out to be very costly and ineffective in the long term and to have devastating effects on freedom. The attempts of environmentalists cannot lead to different ends. In any complex system (such as human society, economy, language, legal system, nature, or climate), every such attempt is doomed to failure. Humankind has already had this experience and—together with the various “revolts of the masses”—again and again has tried to forget it.

Socialists and environmentalists have usually believed that the more complex a system, the less it can be left to itself and the more it has to be masterminded, regulated, planned, and designed. That belief is not true. Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich A. Hayek, and the whole Austrian school of economics have—for some, perhaps a bit counterintuitively—demonstrated that just the opposite is the case. It is possible to control and design only simple systems, no complex ones.

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In this excerpt from his new book The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World, energy expert Daniel Yergin explains why technology continues to thwart doomsayers who claims the world will run out of oil. He shows how technology transformed the energy industry and just in time for the rising worldwide demand.

The Quest was released in 2011

[In the 1990s], technology was increasing the security of oil supplies–by expanding the range of the drill bit and increasing recoverable reserves. The petroleum industry was going through a period of innovation, capitalizing on the advances in communications, computers, and information technology to find resources and develop them, whether on land or farther and farther out into the sea.

So often, over the history of the oil industry, it is said that technology has gone about as far as it can and that the “end of the road” for the oil industry is in sight. And the, new innovations dramatically expand capabilities. This pattern would be repeated again and again.

The rapid advances in microprocessing made possible the analysis of vastly more data, enabling geophycists to greatly improve their interpretation of underground structures and thus improve exploration success. Enhanced computing power meant that the seismic mapping of the underground structures–the strata, the faults, the cap rocks, the traps–could now be done in three dimensions, rather than two. This 3-D seismic mapping, though far from infallible, enabled explorationists to much improve their understanding of the geology deep underground.

The second advance was the advent of horizontal drilling. Instead of the traditional vertical well that went straight down, wells could now be drilled vertically for the first few thousand feet and then driven at an angle or even sideways with drilling progress tightly controlled and measured every few feet with very sophisticated tools. This meant that much more of the reservoir could be accessed, thus increasing production.

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Environmental degradation in the third world, we are told, is caused by ruinous free-market capitalism that tramples the common environment for private gains. In The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley debunks this idea, writing that environmental protection was damaged primarily by meddlesome governments who didn’t understand how local community-arrangements already protected the environment.

The Origins of Virtue was released in 1996

The rehabilitation of coercion by the state it was a distinctly Hobbesian victory. [The philosopher Thomas] Hobbes had argued in favour of a supreme sovereign power as the only way to enforce cooperation among its subjects. ‘And covenants,’ he wrote, ‘without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.’ The only solution to tragedies of the commons, real or imagined, was seen in the 1970s as nationalization by the state. All across the world, communal ownership became an excuse for aggrandizement by governments. As one economist put it in 1973, shedding walrus tears, ‘If we avoid the tragedy of the commons, it willonly be by recourse to the tragic necessity of Leviathan.’

This recipe was an unmitigated disaster. Leviathan creates tragedies of the commons where none were before. Consider the case of wildlife in Africa. All across the continent countries nationalized their game during colonial regimes and after independence in the 1960s and 1970s, arguing that it was the only way to prevent ‘poachers’ wiping out this commonly held resource. The result was that peasants now faced competition and damage from government-owned elephants and buffalo, and had no longer any incentive to look after the animals as a source of meat or revenue. ‘The African farmer’s enmity towards elephants is as visceral as Western mawkishness is passionate,’ said the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, David Western. The decline of African elephants, rhinos and other animals is a tragedy of the commons, created by nationalization.  This is proved by the fact that it has been spectacularly reversed wherever title to wildlife has been re-privatised to communities, such as in the Campfire programme of Zimbabwe in which sport hunters bid to buy the rights to kill game from committees of villagers. The villagers rapidly change their attitudes to the now valuable game animals on their land. The acreage of private land devoted to wildlife has increased from 17,000 to 30,000 square kilometres since Zimbabwe granted title to landowners.

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In The Bottomless Well: The twilight of fuel, the virtue of waste, and why we will never run out of energy, Peter Huber and Mark Mills argue that the massive energy “losses” during energy production aren’t bad, as outside critics of the U.S. energy economy want to assert. They are actually the most necessary and beneficial part of America’s energy use—they refine energy sources into usable energy.

The Bottomless Well was published in 2005

To put it as bluntly as it can be put, the “waste” of energy is virtue, not a vice. It is only by throwing most of the energy away that we can put what’s left to productive use. The cold side of the engine—where we discard most of the energy—is as essential as the hot, where we suck it in. More essential, in fact. It is by throwing energy overboard that we maintain and increase the order of our existence.

The electricity at the plug arrives from the enormous generator in some utility’s central power plant. What spins the generator’s shaft is a steam turbine. The steam comes from a boiler, which is heated by furnace, which most probably burns coal. In the very best power plants, half of the raw heat available in the coal is consumed inside the plant itself in converting the other half of the heat into electricity. Less efficient power plants—smaller ones used as stand-by generators, for example—consume two-thirds of their heat to refine the other one-third into electricity. The whole business, in short, reeks of a Ponzi scheme, with each successive tier of the pyramid feeding voraciously off the one beneath—and with new tiers constantly being added at the top. Small wonder that so much of our energy economy is often characterized as wasteful. Casual observers are easily convinced that there must be a better way.

The energy Ponzi scheme is invariably framed—and lamented—as a symptom of grotesque waste. In the standard graphical presentation, the noble pyramid is portrayed, instead, as a squid-like creature, expelling waste through every tentacle. Updated versions of the energy squid are now routinely wheeled out to demonstrate how most of the energy we use goes to “waste” or (more colorfully) disappears down a “rat hole.”

But something far bigger than a wasteful rat hole is at work when you are looking at the 95 percent or more of total demand. That much demand can’t all be blamed on bad engineering. If the main use of energy is to condition energy itself, then “energy” isn’t the right metric at all, and the “energy economy” must in fact center on something quite different. Engines and generators are obviously doing something for us that isn’t captured by any of the conventional metrics of energy and power.

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Randal O’Toole used to be a mainstream environmentalist until he saw how government operated. In Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, O’Toole (known as the Antiplanner over on his blog) describes how “behavioral” solutions to environmental problems fail, and why technical solutions that get the government out of people’s behavioral choices is the way to go.

Gridlock was published in 2009

When I went to college at Oregon State University, Ralph Nader came to Oregon and inspired students to form the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group to do research on social and environmental issues. In the summer of 1972, I was one of the group’s first student interns, and I worked on air pollution issues….

Because of traffic congestion, Portland’s worst pollution was downtown. So I proposed that Portland’s three-year-old transit agency, TriMet, contract with churches on the city’s periphery to use their parking lots as weekday park-and-ride stations. This would allow commuters to leave their cars well outside of downtown.

Once downtown, people still might need to get around, so I proposed that Trimet create a demand-responsive jitney bus system. Signal boxes on every street corner would allow people to call a bus. The nearest bus would pick them up and, after picking up or dropping off other people, drop them off at their downtown destination. The hardware and software for such a system was commercially available but had never been used in the U.S.

Portland’s traffic engineer had a very different solution to the city’s air pollution problems. Cars pollute the most at low speeds, he pointed out. So his idea was to install a traffic signal coordination system on downtown at faster speeds. According to his department’s calculations, this program, combined with the EPA’s stricter air pollution controls on new cars, would bring the city in compliance of EPA’s pollution standards by 1980. I worried speeding up downtown traffic would simply bring in more traffic, which would offset the clean-air benefits of higher speeds. But the city adopted the traffic engineer’s plan….

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