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Posts tagged environment
3:01 pm - Thu, Apr 17, 2014
3 notes
Behold, the Fox Butterfield Fallacy,** conservative-style.
___
** “Who’s Fox Butterfield?” is one of this column’s most frequently asked questions. Answer: Butterfield was a reporter for the New York Times …whose crime stories served as the archetype for his eponymous fallacy.
"It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder," Butterfield wrote in 1997. “So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?” He repeated the trope in 2003: “The nation’s prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002.” And in 2004: “The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.”
In that last story, Butterfield made reference to “the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.” The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship…

Behold, the Fox Butterfield Fallacy,** conservative-style.

___

** “Who’s Fox Butterfield?” is one of this column’s most frequently asked questions. Answer: Butterfield was a reporter for the New York Times …whose crime stories served as the archetype for his eponymous fallacy.

"It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder," Butterfield wrote in 1997. “So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?” He repeated the trope in 2003: “The nation’s prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002.” And in 2004: “The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.”

In that last story, Butterfield made reference to “the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.” The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship…

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9:45 am - Wed, Apr 16, 2014

Pop Quiz: Which Policy Is Worse?

Osage

If you are like most people, you probably spend a lot of time wondering, “What is the absolutely worst environmental policy on the planet?” And if you are like most people, you probably think it is America’s ethanol policy. So Virginia’s recent decision to subsidize what will be the largest ethanol plant on the East Coast might strike you as doubling down on the dubious.

Don’t be too hasty. We have some competition.

True, America’s policy of blending corn-based ethanol into gasoline is unbelievably awful. For decades, Congress lavished billions of dollars on fuel producers to encourage the practice. As a result, almost half the U.S. corn crop gets pumped into gasoline tanks. Owing in no small part to that, corn prices more than doubled from 2006 to 2011. This raised the price of food both for people and for animals that people eat, such as farm-raised pigs. As a result, notes Bloomberg Businessweek, “ethanol mandates have acted as an efficient way to funnel cash from the world’s disadvantaged to its agro industry conglomerates.”

So the mandate is bad for poor people. But at least it raises gasoline prices! For one thing, ethanol costs more to produce than gasoline. And when Washington replaced ethanol subsidies with a renewable-fuel standard, it set increasingly high – and increasingly unrealistic – targets for the amount of ethanol to be blended with gasoline. Since there is not enough ethanol to go around, some gasoline producers have to buy ethanol credits known as renewable identification numbers (RINs). The trading of RINs has driven their price sharply higher, which has raised prices at the pump.

(Bonus point: Federal rules are driving refiners up against a “blend wall” – the point at which the ethanol content in gasoline exceeds 10 percent. Using more than a 10 percent ethanol blend voids many car warranties.)

But ethanol is helping to stave off global warming, right? Wrong. Corn needs farming, and farming needs fertilizers and tractors and hauling and so on. In some cases ethanol production requires more energy than the fuel delivers to your engine. Analyses differ, but by some estimates ethanol actually raises carbon-dioxide emissions from the tailpipe 12 percent over non-ethanol blends. (Even the federal government – which imposes the mandate – concedes “the ethanol program has little effect on the environment.”)

Ethanol is therefore one of the few subjects on which all corners of the ideological map agree. U.S. ethanol mandates are “catastrophically idiotic” (Mother Jones); “costly and unnecessary” (the Heritage Foundation); and “blatant corporate welfare” (the Cato Institute). Aside from that, they’re great.

So naturally, last week Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe boasted that he had played “a significant role” in using state subsidies to revive a defunct ethanol plant in Hopewell, south of Richmond. Osage Bio Energy built the $200 million facility a few years ago in the hope of raking in federal incentives for turning barley into gas. That didn’t pan out, and the plant never even lit the boilers. Last year Vireol, a British firm, bought the plant, intending to disassemble it and ship it overseas.

But thanks to Riley Ingram, Hopewell’s representative in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the company is going to stay. He sponsored legislation ensuring that for the next three years it will get up to $1.5 million in state support to produce about 170 million gallons of ethanol. The company also will get a $250,000 state development grant, matching tax breaks from Hopewell, employee training incentives, and Enterprise Zone incentives. This is supposed to create jobs – if you don’t count the jobs that would otherwise be created if not for the economic inefficiency of all that government meddling.

Upshot? Virginia taxpayers will shell out millions to help make food and gasoline more expensive while making global warming worse. ’Twas a famous victory.

It’s hard to find a policy that makes less sense – but London’s Daily Mail has done so. According to a story it ran in March, vast swaths of North Carolina forest are being clear-cut to make wood pellets for use in Britain, which is supposed to almost triple its renewable-energy use in the next six years. Subjects of the British crown are paying hefty subsidies to underwrite the cost of shipping a million metric tons of wood pellets a year 3,800 miles across the ocean – the ships leave from Virginia ports – so they can be burned at the Drax power station in Yorkshire.

If you think that sounds incredibly inefficient, you’re right. It actually generates 20 percent more carbon dioxide than burning coal would – and twice as much as burning natural gas would. Meanwhile, the trees being mowed down to feed the insatiable Drax maw will take about a century to regrow. But since they do regrow, that technically makes wood pellets a “renewable” resource. (By that logic, so is coal.)

For this, British taxpayers shelled out more than 62 million pounds – about $100 million – in green-energy subsidies last year. Britain’s government also is going to make them pay 105 pounds ($176) per megawatt-hour for this “green” energy, which is seven times what they’ll pay for nuclear energy, which really does help reduce global warming.

Nigel Burdett, Drax’s environmental manager, explains why this is happening: “Our whole business case is built on [the] subsidy, like the rest of the renewable energy industry,” he told the Daily Mail. “We develop our business plan in light of what the government wants – not what might be nice.”

So back to the question at the start of this column: Which policy is worse? To answer that one, the judges might need to go to the videotape.

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10:27 am - Tue, Jan 7, 2014
12 notes

A nice point. I’ll leave it to you to look up the relative price elasticity of labor vs. energy…

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4:00 pm - Mon, Sep 30, 2013
21 notes

An Electrifying Case of Government Folly

Anyone searching for a case study to explain what is wrong with capitalism in America today can stop looking. We have the perfect specimen: Tesla Motors. Federal and state programs have conferred huge advantages to help the electric-vehicle company sell its cars — which state laws then make almost impossible to sell.

Left to its own devices, Tesla one day might have epitomized everything good about market economics. In an industry whose fundamentals have changed little since the introduction of the Model T, the California-based company, led by the visionary Elon Musk, made a long-term bet that it could prevail through disruptive innovation and superior products (Motor Trend named its Model S the 2013 Car of the Year, and Consumer Reports raved about it). Instead, Tesla now epitomizes the folly of government intervention.

Start with all the special benefits Tesla receives — including a $465 million loan from the Energy Department, conferred in January of 2010. That is two-thirds more than Tesla initially raised from private investors, and more than double the $226 million the company raised from its initial public offering five months later, even though the loan surely encouraged investors to buy.

On top of the loan, add the $7,500 federal tax credit for purchasing electric vehicles. That amounts to a discount of more than 10 percent for the base Model S, whose purchase price is a hefty $70,000. Many states also offer their own incentives, including tax rebates, property tax reductions or exemptions, and sales tax exemptions worth thousands of dollars more. Some states also offer perks such as exemption from annual inspection requirements and use of HOV lanes.

And then there is California, a world unto itself. Not only has California given Tesla a $10 million grant, it has ordered car makers to sell an increasing number of electric vehicles; Gov. Jerry Brown insists that 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles ply the state’s roads by 2025. (“Zero-emissions” is a grievous misnomer, since electric vehicles need charging, and all power plants produce emissions. In fact, electric vehicles in regions where coal makes up a large share of the generation capacity are more carbon-intensive than high-mpg cars with internal combustion engines.)

But there are two problems with setting quotas for electric vehicles. Most car makers don’t manufacture them. And so far, most consumers don’t want them — even with the large financial inducements. So California lets other car makers meet the rule by purchasing credits from EV makers, which for now means Nissan and Tesla.

In August, the left-wing Mother Jones magazine reported that Tesla’s profits in the first and second quarters of 2013 — its first profits ever — would have been losses if not for the tens of millions it has collected through the credit-purchase program.

Still, some people who can afford to do so want to buy Teslas. Unfortunately, states across the country are doing their best to stop them.

In Virginia, for instance, you can visit the company’s showroom in Tysons Corner to kick the Tesla tires. But until recently that was about all you could do. You couldn’t take a Tesla for a test drive. The company reps couldn’t even discuss pricing with you. And you absolutely, positively could not buy a Tesla then and there.

Those restrictions still exist in most other states: Forty-eight states forbid Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers, which is how the company likes to do business. (Tesla has a variety of reasons for that: Among them, the company charges a single flat price for its cars, but couldn’t sustain such a policy if middlemen got involved.) And independent automobile dealers are fighting furiously to keep Tesla out of their backyards.

Texas’ rules resemble Virginia’s. In New York, lawmakers introduced legislation that would have shut down Tesla’s three locations by forbidding the registration of any vehicle not purchased through a dealer. In North Carolina, the State Senate passed a bill to forbid vehicle sales except through a franchised dealer.

Both of those measures ultimately failed, but until a couple of days ago, when a lawsuit-averting deal was announced, Tesla had not been able to win an exemption from Virginia’s rules. Some Virginia dealers wanted to keep it that way. “Tesla believes it should be allowed to sell cars without licensed dealers. This can’t be,” wrote Gerard Murphy in The Washington Post earlier this year. Murphy is president of the Washington Area New Auto Dealers Association, whose members include dealerships in Northern Virginia. “If Tesla won’t have a dealer network, it doesn’t belong in the automobile business.”

The dealers contend they are simply trying to protect local jobs and the welfare of the consumer. But their motives are not solely altruistic. If Tesla succeeds in challenging the franchise model, other car makers might do the same — and then dealerships would be in for a world of hurt. They would still make money, but probably nowhere near as much as they do now.

That’s rough on them — but it’s no rougher than the transition other industries have endured in recent decades. And the rationales the dealers offer to justify government-enforced protection of their turf make no more sense than similar justifications would make in other industries. Imagine, for instance, if states insisted that bloggers and advertisers who want to reach the public could do so only through newspaper websites, in order to preserve local jobs and the fact-checking process. That’s the sort of nonsense the dealers in other states are peddling now.

But then, there’s very little good sense in the tale of Tesla — a company that government advances with special preferences one moment, and impedes with schemes for the protection of market incumbents the next. Tesla’s cars might qualify as revolutionary. But its treatment at the hands of big government is as old as Appian Way.

Comments

2:15 pm - Tue, Jul 9, 2013
Climate change, clarified: The recent hiatus in global warming is partly a function of cherry-picking the starting point. But that hasn’t kept skeptics from suggesting it falsifies the anthropogenic thesis. The chart above, however, clarifies the long-term trend by showing average temperatures over 10-year periods.
Note also the flat trend from 1950-1980. That lasted twice as long as the current pause, but didn’t keep temperatures from soaring once again in subsequent decades.

Climate change, clarified: The recent hiatus in global warming is partly a function of cherry-picking the starting point. But that hasn’t kept skeptics from suggesting it falsifies the anthropogenic thesis. The chart above, however, clarifies the long-term trend by showing average temperatures over 10-year periods.

Note also the flat trend from 1950-1980. That lasted twice as long as the current pause, but didn’t keep temperatures from soaring once again in subsequent decades.

Comments

1:12 pm - Fri, Jul 5, 2013

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11:55 am - Tue, Jun 11, 2013
But what about the 15-year pause in global warming? As it turns out,

[W]e had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either. A lot of evidence suggests that sunlight-blocking pollution from dirty factories may have played a role, as did natural variability in ocean circulation. The pollution was ultimately reduced by stronger clean-air laws in the West.
Today, factory pollution from China and other developing countries could be playing a similar role in blocking some sunlight. We will not know for sure until we send up satellites that can make better measurements of particles in the air.
What happened when the mid-20th-century lull came to an end? You guessed it: an extremely rapid warming of the planet.

But what about the 15-year pause in global warming? As it turns out,

[W]e had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either. A lot of evidence suggests that sunlight-blocking pollution from dirty factories may have played a role, as did natural variability in ocean circulation. The pollution was ultimately reduced by stronger clean-air laws in the West.

Today, factory pollution from China and other developing countries could be playing a similar role in blocking some sunlight. We will not know for sure until we send up satellites that can make better measurements of particles in the air.

What happened when the mid-20th-century lull came to an end? You guessed it: an extremely rapid warming of the planet.

Comments

9:12 am - Wed, Mar 20, 2013

They say virtue is its own reward. But some green-car owners seem to want a little more than that.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has drawn the fury of the environmentally minded by including in his transportation package a $100 annual fee on alternative-fuel vehicles, including electric cars and hybrids. The governor’s rationale is plain enough: People who use the roads should pay for them, but taxes on gasoline don’t adequately capture hybrids that burn less of it.

That didn’t persuade a group of hybrid owners who held a drive-in protest at the state capitol in late January. “We should be rewarding people for trying to do their part to stop the climate crisis and lower pollution,” said one. “We should be supporting people who want to (protect the environment,) not penalizing them,” said another.

Two Democratic lawmakers — Del. Scott Surovell and State Sen. Adam Ebbin — took so much offense at McDonnell’s proposal that they launched a petition website — NoHybridTax.com. Almost immediately, it collected more than 1,500 signatures, and by the time the legislators delivered it to the governor, it had more than 6,800. “The idea that we would tax people for being environmentally friendly is ridiculous,” Surovell said a few weeks ago.

This isn’t surprising. You might have noticed that some hybrid owners can be just a teensy bit self-righteous. According to a 2007 New York Times story, “The (Toyota) Prius has become, in a sense, the four-wheel equivalent of those popular rubber ‘issue bracelets’ … it shows the world that its owner cares. In fact, more than half of the Prius buyers surveyed this spring by CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., said the main reason they purchased their car was that ‘it makes a statement about me.’ ” As Surovell said when delivering the petition Monday, the signers see the hybrid-car fee as “a tax on virtue.”

Is the indignation about McDonnell’s green-car tax justified? To some degree, yes — but it is a smaller degree than his critics think.

The indignation is partially justified because hybrid cars still burn gasoline, and still pay taxes at the pump. In that regard they do not differ from traditional-engine cars that get good mileage — such as the Smart Fortwo, the Chevy Cruze or the Ford Fiesta. But McDonnell’s plan doesn’t tax those cars extra; it docks only alternative-fuel vehicles. As older gas-guzzlers fade away and newer vehicles built to higher mileage standards take over, that discrepancy will look odder and odder. (Indeed, increasing fuel economy — regardless of power source — is one reason many policy wonks argue for ditching the gasoline tax in favor of a GPS-based vehicle-mile fee.)

Furthermore, the hybrid-vehicle tax is set too high, at least based on Virginia’s current gasoline tax of 17.5 cents per gallon. At that rate, and assuming a motorist drives 15,000 miles a year, a standard-engine vehicle that gets 25 mph pays only $105 to the commonwealth. The same motorist driving a 50-mpg hybrid, meanwhile, pays $52.50 in gasoline taxes. To justify a $100 fee, he would have to drive an additional 28,000 miles — or get 525 miles to the gallon.

But there’s a flip side. First, some green-car drivers might be greatly overstating their environmental contribution. Hybrids, for instance, are scarcely more eco-friendly than other high-mpg vehicles on the road — and, according to some analyses, might actually be worse. There’s been a lot of debate about that. But even David Pogue, a technology writer for The New York Times who has hotly defended hybrids, will go no further than to say “the overall Prius environmental impact is, at worst, neutral, and at best, still positive.”

Meanwhile, fully electric cars inflict a host of hidden environmental costs, according to a study by Norwegian academics. Manufacturing is much more toxic, for example. It is also carbon-intensive: Building just one electric car produces 15 tons of CO emissions. Charging the battery produces still more — so the term “zero-emission vehicle” is quite a misnomer.

As Brian Palmer noted in The Washington Post last year, “coal is the most common source of electricity in the United States, and it emits 27 percent more carbon dioxide than oil, per unit of energy produced, by some calculations.” He cites a researcher at Carnegie Mellon who says electric vehicles are fine for places like Seattle, where hydroelectric plants generate much of the region’s juice. In coal country? They’re actually worse, at least for now. (Here in Virginia, coal and natural gas generate more than half the state’s electricity; nuclear power does most of the rest.)

All of this, however, ignores the main point: Even if green cars do confer tremendous ecological benefits, they still impose considerable costs on the transportation grid, just like everyone else. A bridge can’t tell whether it’s carrying electric cars or gasoline-powered ones; it wears out just as fast either way. Rush-hour traffic jams don’t miraculously dissipate when hybrid cars join them. You could wave a magic wand to make every car in Virginia a plug-in hybrid overnight, and the state’s transportation woes would not change a single bit. How much green cars really help the environment is an interesting question. But it has nothing to do with how much they use the roads.

Comments

12:31 pm - Tue, Mar 5, 2013
21 notes
takepart:

Meet Peanut, who was discovered in Missouri in 1993 with a six-pack plastic ring encircling her body. “She couldn’t get it off, and over time, the majority of her shell grew, but the area around the ring did not,” reads a statement on the website of the Minnesota Department of Conservation.

Barticles: You may recall the humorous way this problem was treated in “Happy Feet” —


It is, alas, not humorous at all.

takepart:

Meet Peanut, who was discovered in Missouri in 1993 with a six-pack plastic ring encircling her bodyShe couldn’t get it off, and over time, the majority of her shell grew, but the area around the ring did not,” reads a statement on the website of the Minnesota Department of Conservation.

Barticles: You may recall the humorous way this problem was treated in “Happy Feet” —

It is, alas, not humorous at all.

Comments

10:28 am

EPA Backs Down on Creek Fight

It’s a win for Fairfax, Ken Cuccinelli, and common sense.

Everything you need to know about the story right here. <wink>

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3:13 pm - Wed, Feb 27, 2013
10 notes

Fracking Lowers Teen Pregnancy

I did a double-take, too. But that’s not a headline from The Onion. It’s the conclusion of the Guttmacher Institute:

Research suggests that women are more likely to delay pregnancy when they perceive future opportunities to climb the social and economic ranks.

And in North Dakota, where teen pregnancy rates have fallen recently, the fracking boom has produced a lot of economic opportunity.

(h/t)

Comments

12:51 pm - Thu, Jan 31, 2013
188 notes
climateadaptation:

Health and mortality rates: Nuclear power vs biomass, oil, gas, and coal. 
Via WaPo

climateadaptation:

Health and mortality rates: Nuclear power vs biomass, oil, gas, and coal.

Via WaPo

Comments

9:32 am - Wed, Jan 9, 2013
3 notes

In accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of trying to regulate “water itself as a pollutant,” Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is not showing an excess of exactitude. But his looseness is rhetorical and harmless. The EPA’s is neither… .

Concerned about sediment in the Accotink, the EPA had sought to cut stormwater runoff nearly in half — a proposal that would have added perhaps $200 million to the roughly $300 million cost of addressing sediment itself.

But as O’Grady noted, while the EPA can regulate sediment, which is considered a pollutant, it has no authority to regulate stormwater — which is not.

The EPA claimed — notably, “with the support of Virginia(‘s Department of Environmental Quality)” — that it could regulate stormwater as a proxy for sediment itself, even though it had no legal authority to do so, because nothing explicitly forbids it to do so. As Cuccinelli said, “Logic like that would lead the EPA to conclude that if Congress didn’t prohibit it from invading Mexico, it had the authority to invade Mexico.”

Why would the EPA insist on regulating stormwater, which it has no authority over, instead of simply regulating sediment? After all, it has written rules for sediment literally thousands of times. That insistence makes no sense. But it does look like part of a larger pattern… .

Comments

11:46 am - Thu, Jan 3, 2013
1 note

A very brief excerpt from a very interesting read:

Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early ’40s through the early ’70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the ’60s through the ’80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early ’90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years…

Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Correlation isn’t causation; Toddlers who ingested high lead levels were also more likely to dance to disco music later in lfe, too. The rest of the article addresses such questions.

Comments

1:33 pm - Fri, Dec 28, 2012

In 2010, 3.2 million people died prematurely from outdoor air pollution, mainly in Asia, and mainly from soot and other pollutants from diesel cars and trucks. That means outdoor air pollution is now a bigger health risk than high cholesterol — and, along with obesity, one of the fastest-growing health risks in the world. (Air pollution only killed about 800,000 people worldwide in 1990, although measurements were much cruder back then.)

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