Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yes, environmentalism can kill

Joe asked a good question; how would reducing carbon emissions injure or kill people? The answer is simple; cost/benefit analysis. If I spend my money reducing carbon emissions, that is money I don't have for other, possibly more vital, needs.

In the case of "remedying" global climate change, the cost of implementing the Kyoto accords is currently closing in on $400 billion, while the benefit is an estimated temperature reduction (IPCC estimate) of 0.004C by 2050. More or less, $100 trillion might reduce global temperatures by 1C.

Put simply, alternatives to fossil fuels are currently more expensive than fossil fuels, and any bureaucratic attempts to "change" the economics and physics of the situation will necessarily increase the costs endured by customers--just ask anyone looking for an apartment in New York City, for example.

Now consider what else that $100 trillion might be used for. Maybe it could be DDT to keep mosquitoes out of tropical homes--and save half a million lives annually. Maybe it could be for bigger cars and the gasoline to run them--and save 3000 lives annually, according to the NHTSA. Or maybe it could be for air conditioning for senior citizens in France--which could have saved 15000 lives a few summers back.

The reality is that energy use enables our prosperity and our health. Sometimes we can do better with less energy--and we'll be rewarded with lower utility bills. However, when government gets into the act (CAFE standards, DDT bans, and so on), the result is generally not so benign. All too often, it kills.


pentamom said...

More directly than the cost-shift you mention are some of the examples themselves -- if CAFE standards result in flimsier cars; if redesigning refrigeration equipment and raising the cost of transport makes safe food less accessible to the poor of the world; if more expensive forms of air conditioning make more people have to make the choice between open windows in a crime-ridden area or the risk of hyperthermia -- that costs lives. Those are the sorts of things I had in mind, though of course you're right about the broader issue of "every penny spent on this is money we can't spend to protect health and safety."

Bike Bubba said...

Well said. I would simply tend to argue that your examples fall within a broader set of "things that can happen when we choose environment over other factors."

Shawn said...

it's fun to me that i can now think of bastiat when I see this. :)

MainiacJoe said...

Thanks fro taking he time to write this out. I'm in he middle of a 3-credit, 1 week course 7:30-5:00 each day so I'm not gong to process this until next week probably. As I've said before, I'm still trying to figure out where I stand on this. Until I decide I'm going to err on the side of trusting the scientific community's consensus, but you have raised good points here and earlier.

As for this, my first blush is this: take care to consider the impact of the status quo/environmentalism choce on the thrid world as well as on the western world. I think it reasonable that the global warming (can we agree that it is happening while we discuss why?) is going to have a greater impact on subsistence farmers, say, than even senior citizens in France.

Bike Bubba said...

Just trust the scientists? No way; isn't the material branch of philosophy supposed to work on evidence, not trust? Never mind the fact that the "consensus" has been caught quite a few times falsifying and ignoring evidence, even in official IPCC/UN reports. We don't exactly have a record that we ought to just "trust" here.

And the poor? Well, the solutions proposed by the IPCC and others--carbon emissions limits, trading, taxes, and so on--would have the nasty side effect of depriving "the poor" (and everyone else) of the benefits of technology. The poor tend to do much better with natural disasters like typhoons than with man-made disasters like centrally controlled economies.

In other words, the science is debateable, but the economics is not. Spending trillions to "fight" climate changes could very well kill far more than a more active hurricane season ever could.

MainiacJoe said...

Conspiracy theories need a motive to be plausible. Why would the IPCC falsifying data? What benefit is forging the various environmental organizations into one monolithic force of deception?

Shawn said...

$, power.

Combine. Repeat.

Shawn said...

re: third world--

as we increase in prosperity, we can afford to increase in efficiency and decrease in pollution. The third world can least afford to pay extra money for emission-reducing technology which is more expensive (if it wasn't more expensive, we'd already be doing it...but we're not, so therefore it's neither more efficient nor more cost effective).

"nope, sorry mr. poor farmer--you can't burn your dried cow crap for fuel, because it releases a whole host of greenhouse gases. What you can do is...umm...nothing that you can afford, so we're going to have to not let you burn stuff, mmmkay?"

Rather, as someone once said, let's get some big multinational corporations in there so he can work in a factory (which would be more able/likely to afford less polluting fuels, and do it at a cost saving), where he'd make more than he would elsewhere, and not be needing to burn his cow crap.

Bike Bubba said...

Joe, this isn't a conspiracy theory, but rather a simple fact. Several members of the IPCC have complained that both the summaries and the full reports have cherry picked data, emphasized more extreme estimates (with larger confidence ranges), and ignored pertinent data.

Now why would they do this? Well, if the IPCC finds that there is either "no problem" or a manageable problem, then their power and research grants would be gone. It's not exactly difficult to figure out a motive here.

pentamom said...

Well, remember, my initial point was not "why we should not do anything," it was "why Pascal's wager is not a good way to consider the issue." Pascal's wager assumes no downside, and my point was that there is a downside.

Whether the science is credible enough to justify action in light of the risks outlined above is an entirely separate question.

jroosh said...

Conspiracy theories need a motive to be plausible. Why would the IPCC falsifying data?

Watch The Global Warming Swindle. You may not agree with the science but the origins of the MMGW movement in Great Britian is quite telling as it relates to motivation.

Shawn said...


'"no sun link" to climate change'

apparently, new study out discussing the problems/implausibilities of the 'great global warming swindle'...

I'm so confused as to what to freakin think. I don't trust anyone using this situation as a means to grab power and a name for themselves in the political arena, but I also realize that perhaps some things should be done differently, and I don't know how to encourage that 'more responsible' (which I honestly don't know exists) option.

Bike Bubba said...

Well, the article just covered one side of the argument, and moreover the graph shown is neutron output, not solar output. I'd take the conclusions with a grain of salt, especially given that they're making very "un-scientist-like" assertions in the popular press.

That is, they're not hedging their conclusions in their data, but rather saying "the issue is settled." When someone tells you that, that's your cue to start looking for the data that they know will prove them wrong.

St Wendeler said...

"nope, sorry mr. poor farmer--you can't burn your dried cow crap for fuel, because it releases a whole host of greenhouse gases. What you can do is...umm...nothing that you can afford, so we're going to have to not let you burn stuff, mmmkay?"

Actually, one of the prescriptions of Environmentalism is to have the Third World continue its use of "biomass" fuels (ie, cow dung & wood) in order to eliminate the possible creation of high-CO2 emitting coal plants.

Read Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death by Paul Driessen.