The Winds of Force and Taxes

The Associated Press released a (remarkably inept) article about “a 29 megawatt wind project near Pueblo” half-owned by Black Hills Energy. But at least the AP’s article tipped me off to the Black Hills release, which includes more relevant details.

The company’s Christopher Burke explained the real reason for the wind farm: “This approval of our wind project by the PUC is an important milestone as our utility continues to put assets and programs in place to meet the requirements of Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard…”

In other words, this project has absolutely nothing to do with economically meeting the needs of Colorado’s energy consumers, and everything to do with pandering to the environmentalist fantasy of widespread wind energy.

Moreover, “The project, planned for completion in late 2012, is expected to qualify for the U.S. Department of Treasury’s section 1603 cash grant program,” the release states. I’d never heard of the “1603 cash grant program” before; it’s part of the so-called “Recovery Act.”

In other words, the U.S. government will steal wealth from wage earners across the country to subsidize an overprised wind farm boondoggle in Colorado.

And yet, given the widespread use of such force and taxes, some people still wonder why the economy is struggling.

***

Anonymous commented on August 9, 2011 at 10:54 AM:
I have been searching for some breakdown of what goes into wind power and what comes out. Is there any net gain? Don’t forget to add in the loss from all the traffic jams caused by transporting the long blades. Jeff

Anonymous commented August 9, 2011 at 3:05 PM:
Maybe windfarms are the cause of man-made global warming, not that I believe in man-made warming. This article thinks the wind-farm build up will change climate!http://www.livescience.com/74-windmills-change-local-global-climates.html
Jeff

Green Doomsday Cultists

So the world is going to end tomorrow. Perhaps when it doesn’t the religious doomsday cultists will finally shut the hell up, at least for a little while.

I have to wonder, though, whether the doomsday scenarios of the environmentalists make much more sense.

Following in the footsteps of the global cooling and global warming scares comes the “climate change” scare. This latest iteration seems altogether too convenient, because the climate is always changing and has always been changing since the formation of the earth. Ironically, environmentalists blast critics as “climate change deniers,” when those critics are the ones pointing out that climate change long preceded humanity and, thus, obviously is driven largely (if not entirely) by non-human factors. Even Al Gore’s book provides ample evidence of non-human caused climate change, and Nova’s “Becoming Human” shows that humans evolved in an African climate that gyrated wildly between rain forest and desert. Yet environmentalists insist that, while pre-industrial climate change was caused entirely by natural factors, post-industrial climate change is caused mostly by human activity.

Also notice how environmentalists (and their lap-dog media) routinely latch onto any short-term weather pattern as proof of long-range “climate change.” If the weather is a little warmer, or a little cooler, or a little dryer, or a little wetter than average, then sound the alarms! Human-Caused Climate Change Invades New York! (Or wherever.)

It’s been raining in Colorado quite a lot over the past few days, and snowing in the mountains — allowing Aspen Mountain to reopen for the weekend and contributing to 25-foot drifts on Independence Pass — so obviously the reason is human-caused climate change. But just a few years ago, the environmentalists warned us that human-caused climate change would lead to drought and shorter skiing seasons.

That’s a pretty convenient theory that fits any and all possible weather and climate variations. At a certain point I think it’s reasonable to wonder whether claims of “human-caused climate change” remain theoretically open to challenge.

I do not doubt that, at certain stages of very-long-running climate cycles, the weather gets jumpier (more varied) than at other times. We might even be in one of those stages. But proving that would require quite a lot of evidence about present and past conditions — and good record-keeping on such matters began fairly recently. Proving that more variable weather is caused by human activity would require a far more robust set of facts. But notice how frequently we are urged to jump, without any substantial evidence, from “climate change” to “humans obviously caused it.”

In Biblical mythology, Adam and Eve lived in a technology-free state of environmental perfection. Then man sinned, setting off a a chain of events that some think will climax tomorrow. The environmentalists seem to concoct a similar ideal state — a climate paradise untouched by man — thrown into chaos by human industry.

But the climate has always been in a state of flux, and people have always suffered natural catastrophes, including wild weather patterns. It is only industrialization that has allowed us to protect ourselves from the fickle and destructive forces of nature.

Denver Post Reissues NREL’s Misleading Release

There are two stories here. One is that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has put out an intellectually dishonest release touting the organization’s benefits to Colorado’s economy—without counting any of the costs in terms of tax subsidies and transferred resources. The second story is that the Denver Post reissued this release as “news” without bothering to mention its status as a copied release; the byline claims it is “by The Denver Post.”

Sure, if you totally ignore all the costs, any government expenditure looks like a great deal. Then again, if you ignore the costs, bank robbery also seems like a great deal, because look at how much the robbers are “stimulating” the economy by putting all that money into circulation! I have written about the general problem elsewhere, and economists have made the same rebuttals at least since the early 1800s.

But these sorts of releases are not intended as intellectually serious arguments; they are intended to stir up emotional support among economically illiterate (or simply dishonest) journalists, politicians, and taxpayers. So the fact that NREL would issue such a self-serving release is no surprise, even though any honest scientist working at the organization must be embarrassed by it.

I confess that I am surprised by the Post’s treatment of the release. I first heard of the story when hard-core leftist-environmentalist Pete Maysmith mentioned it on his Twitter feed: “More evidence that renewable energy is a boon for CO’s economy. #coleg http://bit.ly/g2P4Kz.” The shortened link accesses the Denver Post “story.” I got the idea that something was screwy when identical language showed up at Wind Today, and after a couple of phone calls I found the NREL release at the source.

I guess I just expected something a little more from the number thirteen newspaper in the nation.

Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” Based on Old Fallacies

The following article originally was published January 11 by the Independence Institute. The Institute’s Jon Caldara offered additional commentary. The article also was published by Denver Daily News and Colorado Daily.

If you think corporate welfare “creates jobs,” you might be an outgoing Colorado governor.

As governor, Bill Ritter signed “an unprecedented 57 clean-energy bills into law,” a January 5 release from Colorado State University reviews. Now Ritter will join the university’s Center for the New Energy Economy, drawing a privately funded $300,000 annual salary.

Whether wind and solar energy actually can significantly reduce carbon emissions remains debatable. The online news source Face the State recently reported that an $11 million “new energy” project in Fort Collins actually relies partly on dirty diesel. The irregularity and wide dispersion of wind and solar energy make them difficult to harness.

But advocates of the “new energy economy” do not merely claim that alternative energy reduces carbon emissions. They claim it benefits the economy as well. Such claims about the alleged economic benefits of “new energy” rest on basic economic fallacies.

In a free market, consumers turn to new energy sources when they offer lower costs and better quality than the competition. For example, in the late 1800s consumers turned from whale oil to the “new energy” of petroleum. Advances in nuclear power or some other energy source may in turn largely replace coal and oil without political interference.

Political interference in the market is precisely what Ritter advocates, and that is why his policies harm the economy rather than help it. Ritter’s “new energy economy” relies on a combination of political controls and corporate welfare that raise your energy bills and your taxes.

Last year Ritter signed a bill “requiring that 30 percent of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020,” a release from the governor’s office notes. The fallacy is that the bill “will create thousands of new jobs.”

Ritter’s claims about jobs rest on what 19th Century French economist Frederic Bastiat called the “childish illusion” that such measures do anything other than reallocate wealth and wages. Bastiat urges us to consider the unseen as well as the politically obvious. Ritter’s controls will destroy jobs in the oil and coal industries, and they will destroy jobs that consumers would otherwise finance, if they weren’t paying higher energy costs.

Another document from the governor’s office claims, “Ritter’s vision and strategies are helping to create and save jobs, support small businesses, increase manufacturing and spur innovation.” The document lists various businesses subsidized by the state, including Vestas Blades, IBM, and Abound Solar. Ritter conveniently neglects to mention the costs.

Corporate welfare does not just fall from the sky. It comes from taxpayers. That money is no longer available to those who earned it to create jobs and support businesses in other sectors. While Ritter creates jobs with one hand, he destroys them with the other. The difference is that the jobs Ritter creates serve political interests rather than the interests of consumers.

Consider, as Bastiat might do, the logical absurdities of Ritter’s position. If mandating “new” energy creates jobs, then why stop at 30 percent? Why not 100 percent? Why not expand subsidies 1,000 fold? Why not outlaw all coal, oil, and natural gas in Colorado, and force every property owner to install solar panels and windmills? Think of all the new jobs that would require!

Of course, Ritter could argue that, insofar as he has attracted federal funding for “new energy,” he has helped forcibly transfer wealth and jobs from citizens in other states to citizens in Colorado.

But that would seem to be a losing game. Last year the Denver Business Journal noted that “Colorado ranked 33rd among the 50 states in the amount of per-capita federal spending.” If Ritter can “create jobs” in Colorado by bilking the citizens of other states, then politicians elsewhere can do the same to us. The net result is not more jobs, but more political favoritism and more economic waste.

Ritter’s “new energy economy” is built on old economic fallacies about the alleged benefits of central planning and corporate welfare. For productive employment, we should instead turn to a subsidy-free New Liberty Economy that favors free markets and rewards companies that seek to please customers instead of politicians.

Ari Armstrong, a guest writer for the Independence Institute, publishes FreeColorado.com and moderates Liberty In the Books.

Resolve to Expand, Use, and Produce

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published January 7 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The number of people living on our planet has nearly quadrupled in the past century, expanding from 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations.

For many environmentalists, all these people provoke woe and despair. People keep growing crops, building structures, having babies, and — horror of horrors — using energy from sources like coal and oil. Various environmentalists pray for some plague or catastrophe to wipe out much of the human race. They decry the alleged environmental harm of having children. In short, they hate people.

We happen to like people, and we think the more the merrier. Given continued technological advances possible with free markets and political liberty, our planet can comfortably support many times the current human population.

True, where violence and political corruption reign, as in much of Africa, often people cannot produce enough to support themselves. But this is not fundamentally a problem with the number of people; it is a problem of bad politics, cultural decay, and the ubiquitous violation of individual rights.

Environmentalists preach, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” The people-haters want fewer people to use less energy and fewer natural resources. Those who love life and cherish people reject such environmentalist pablum and instead embrace the motto, “Expand, use, and produce.”

Our goal should not be to reduce the amount of energy we use, but to radically expand it. The point is not to waste energy, but to use more of it as efficiently as possible to meet human needs.

Energy enables us to control the temperature, humidity, and other elements of our immediate environment in the structures we build. Energy lets us light our homes and cities and travel around the world, whether for health or vacation. Energy empowers us to produce the vehicles, buildings, computers, and other things we need to live well.

We look forward to the day when technological innovations allow the average American to use many times the amount of energy as today. We also gleefully anticipate people in other parts of the world catching up with U.S. energy use. To achieve such advances, people need economic liberty and political systems that protect individual rights. Only freedom enables people to use their minds to the fullest to produce the wealth we need to thrive.

When it makes economic sense, we should indeed reuse and recycle things. But we should not squander what Julian Simon called the “Ultimate Resource” — the human mind and our time spent using it. The major goal is to produce things. Recycling is valuable only insofar as it improves human life, as indicated by price signals showing that the rewards of recycling merit the time spent doing it.

We hope that, in another century, many more people live on the Earth, and even more live places other than our home planet. People should colonize the moon, space stations, and asteroids. How glorious will be that day when the human population of Mars reaches a billion.

Thankfully, some people are working toward that end. Various private space companies have launched crafts into space for commercial purposes. Here in Colorado, one space scientist has coauthored a novel about homesteading Mars. Thomas James, a cofounder of People’s Press Collective (to which Ari contributes), helped pen “In the Shadow of Ares.”

James’s novel is about the first family to homestead Mars. At age fourteen, Amber Jacobsen, the first person born on Mars, moves with her parents to a settlement that operates mines and builds greenhouse domes. James discussed the novel in a recent video interview; see http://tinyurl.com/MarsNovel for his complete comments.

James hopes the novel will inspire young readers. He said, “We did aim it toward kids, to get some of these ideas in front of kids that they’re not seeing from other sources.”

James worries that the fantasy so popular today “is not driving kids into math and science careers. It’s not getting them to think about things rationally and logically the way you would with science.”

Beyond the science, what sorts of ideas does James explore? “Capitalism is good, honesty is good, reason, integrity, they’re all good things, and if you follow these good principles,” you’ll ultimately achieve good ends.

“Along the way we throw in lessons about economics,” James adds, noting that one problem of the novel is “how you would set up an economy on a blank-slate planet.”

The novel embraces controversy, as any visionary work must. The Mars settlers depend on nuclear energy as well as genetically modified organisms for their basic needs.

James predicts: “We’re starting to see the beginnings of what we describe in the book, as the commercial development of space. And once that takes off, it could be sooner than we think.”

Space settlement is the next step in the human effort to expand, use, and produce, in order to thrive.

Coal Remains King for Reliable, Economical Energy

The following article originally was published in the April 16, 2010, Grand Junction Free Press.

Coal remains king for reliable, economical energy

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Apparently the legislature’s idea of a “pro-business” bill is paying off special interests with legal favoritism that screws consumers.

Previously the Ritter administration promoted harsher drilling restrictions that dampened Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry. More recently, the legislature passed bill 1365, which requires Xcel to replace some low cost, coal-burning power plants with natural gas. Guess which industry lobbied and advertised in favor of the bill.

The new controls, combined with requirements that utilities produce 30 percent of their energy from so-called “renewable” sources by 2020, will ensure that Coloradans face ever-increasing utility bills. So thank the legislature when you have to cut back on your savings, college funds, grocery budget, or entertainment spending.

Artificially increasing our energy costs is an explicit goal of the environmentalist lobby, which figures higher prices will force people to cut back on use, as well as make wind and solar energy comparatively more attractive.

While we’re thrilled that our region provides the resources for natural gas production, our state shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss coal. The World Coal Institute estimates that “there are over 847 billion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide,” enough “to last us over 130 years at current rates of production,” compared to 40 or 60 years worth of oil and gas. Known reserves tend to expand over time as companies find more and improve extraction technology. Our nation contains huge reserves of coal.

Environmentalists will retort that the “known reserves” of solar and wind power extend to billions of years. The problem is collecting it economically. Sunlight scatters over the surface of the earth only during certain hours, and it can be reduced by clouds. The wind blows only occasionally, sometimes it blows too hard for the generators, and again it is widely dispersed. This energy is hardly “free;” energy collectors must be built and continually maintained.

After the collection problem, the second major problem for solar panels and wind turbines is storing the energy. Most of our usable energy must be stored in chemical form. This is true of coal, gas, solar, and wind. Once we move beyond sailboats, wind-powered mills, and solar dehydrators, heating up water or bricks pretty much exhausts the possibilities of using “renewable” energy until we talk about modern advances.

Wood, coal, oil, and natural gas contain combustible elements that may be burned for energy. The electricity generated by solar panels and wind turbines must be converted to chemical energy, such as hydrogen storage or a battery. Hydrogen suffers volatility problems. The material of batteries must be mined and otherwise produced. Batteries are expensive and extremely messy to produce and discard. Plus, they leak energy.

A lump of coal is much like a little energy-packed battery that never loses energy until purposely converted. Somebody lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to various electronic devices, need not worry about clouds or other variances interrupting the local power source. Coal is reliable as well as economical. Coal has made our lives vastly safer, longer, healthier, more comfortable, and more productive.

What does the future of energy hold? We do not doubt that at some point researchers and industrialists will figure out new and better ways to power our lives. Critics of Ayn Rand’s novels who have never actually gotten around to reading them may not have noticed that Rand, who once wrote of the blessings of smokestacks, imagined a world in which a creative genius invents a generator to convert atmospheric electricity into a never-ending power source, destined to replace coal and oil.

If we could accurately predict energy advances we’d grow very wealthy. Perhaps somebody will figure out how to economically convert coal to gas or chemically “burn” it in a fuel cell. Perhaps somebody will make a breakthrough in nuclear energy. Perhaps cheap solar panels will someday blanket rooftops across the country.

What we do know is that the government should stop playing favorites. Businesses should succeed or fail in a free market, not according to how well they kiss legislative backside. If the goal is to address measurable, objectively harmful, localized pollution, that is properly a matter for court remedies, not legislative micromanagement.

We’ve lost count of the times Governor Ritter and his media stooges have exultantly proclaimed that the higher-cost “new energy economy” will “create jobs.” They neglect to count the jobs lost in other energy sectors and among all the other businesses that suffer because people must spend their money instead on higher energy costs.

In the real world, no form of energy is free. And politicians are hardly competent to evaluate the relevant tradeoffs.

Seeking Substance in the Energy Debate

The following article originally was published February 15 by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

Seeking substance in the energy debate

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Scott McInnis, the presumptive Republican candidate for governor, blasted his Democratic opponent John Hickenlooper over energy policy in a February 9 speech to the Colorado Mining Association.

Hickenlooper, McInnis said, “sat on his hands” as the state’s Democrats imposed “rules and regulations” that took “Colorado from number one to rock bottom on states that are friendly to do natural gas and energy business in” (as reported by the Denver Daily News).

The next day, ColoradoPols.com, a partisan left-wing group, accused McInnis of lying. Citing a story in the Daily Sentinel, Colorado Pols claimed, “Colorado in fact issued more drilling permits than surrounding states last year.” Moreover, as the AP reported, “1,487 new wells were drilled in Colorado last year.”

So who’s telling the truth? Did the Democrats’ controls drive energy-related jobs out of the state, or did Colorado’s energy industry continue to perform relatively well despite the recession? Both sides are exaggerating their claims and ignoring important nuances of the discussion.

We know that going through energy policy takes some hard work. We urge readers to stick with us — especially if you intend to vote this November. If you don’t want politics to be controlled by big money and hyperventilating attack ads, you have to vote based on ideas and facts. That means you have to research the debates and seriously question candidates on both sides.

Energy is important. As the AP reported earlier this month, Grand Junction “led the nation with job losses last year,” suffering particularly from “job losses in the energy field. Its unemployment rate nearly doubled in the same period last year, from 4.7 percent to 9 percent.”

We’ve been advocating the Politics of Substance with our columns and with our candidate survey. McInnis, by the way, has promised to answer our survey, and we hope Hickenlooper does as well. We will publish their complete comments at FreeColorado.com, and we look forward to evaluating their remarks. See http://tinyurl.com/cosurvey10.

Regarding the energy debate, the first thing to notice is that the guy painting the rosy picture of Colorado’s energy industry is David Neslin, the director of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Neslin favored the rules that McInnis wants to change.

Any direct comparison between Colorado and its neighbors is worthless. It’s sort of like saying the Denver Nuggets are doing great because they can outplay the local high school team. What matters is not how Colorado compares to its neighbors, but whether Colorado is performing to its potential.

Walk over to your computer and search the internet for “Piceance Basin.” You will find a Geological Survey map showing a large region of Western Colorado encompassing Grand Junction. What’s important about this area is that it is a major reserve of natural gas (as Gary Harmon described in a great article over at the Sentinel last December).

What about the claim of new wells drilled in Colorado last year? The number of wells drilled tells us little about trends of overall production. Plus, what matters is the change in new wells from year to year.

We talked with Neslin on the phone, and he said “production was up a little bit in Colorado last year from 2008.” But would production have been even higher with improved rules?

Morever, the comparison to 2008 is misleading, because companies were already changing their behavior in 2008 in anticipation of the rules. Last year the Denver Business Journal reported that, when Encana Oil & Gas had $500 million to spend, “None of it went to Colorado; all of it went to operations in Wyoming, Texas and elsewhere, according to the company, which cited ‘uncertainty’ about the proposed regulations for its decisions.”

The upshot is that the article by Colorado Pols calling McInnis a liar is a partisan hack job that twists the facts to support its political agenda.

But McInnis is also stretching the facts. The political rules may be one factor hampering Colorado’s energy industry, but it probably isn’t the most important one.

In a media release, McInnis claims that Colorado is losing energy jobs to Pennsylvania because of the relatively better political rules there. But, as Harmon wrote, extracting the natural gas from our region can be difficult. Harmon wrote that “the Marcellus Shale formation in the eastern United States has become more attractive” due to drilling advances. (It’s also close to eastern customers.) That formation happens to run through Pennsylvania.

Energy policy is far too important to be dumbed down for partisan advantage. People’s jobs and livelihoods depend on energy production. As consumers we depend on natural gas to heat our homes and provide additional energy.

We think McInnis can make a good case that overbearing rules have softened Colorado’s energy industry relative to where it could be. But it is a complex field influenced by technological advances, federal rules, geology, prices, and costs. McInnis will be more persuasive when he offers the relevant context and nuance.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

Environmentalist Clowns Threatening Human Life

Today’s Colorado Springs Gazette published my op-ed, “Environmentalist clowns threatening human life,” reviewing a November 18 talk by Keith Lockitch. (The online version is dated November 20, while the print date is November 21.)

See also additional quotes from environmentalists.

For the story about the environmentalists dressed up as clowns, see the Denver Daily or Denver Post.

Here is the entire piece:

Environmentalist clowns threatening human life

Climate change threatens our nation. Pollution is the cause. We must reverse course now to save future generations from misery.

Contrary to environmentalist hysteria, the problem is not carbon dioxide warming the earth. Instead, our political climate of freedom suffers the pollution of environmentalist controls of our industrial economy.

On November 18, environmentalists dressed up as clowns rallied at the state capitol to demand that Colorado shut down a coal-fired electricity plant.

That night, Keith Lockitch, an environmental analyst with the Ayn Rand Center, explained in a Denver talk why environmentalist controls threaten human life and well-being.

People need industrial energy to live and flourish, Lockitch emphasized. Indeed, modern energy enables us to respond to climate disasters and weather extremes, natural forces that have always threatened human life.

Throughout human history and still today in undeveloped regions, droughts, floods, freezes, and heat waves have devastated food supplies and caused wide-scale suffering and death. What allows the developed world to largely escape such dangers is our relatively free, industrial economy.

Consider the droughts of the 1970s, Lockitch suggested. While the weather caused massive death and starvation in undeveloped regions of Africa and India, the United States suffered “only minor economic losses.”

Americans respond to freezes by turning up their furnaces. If it gets too hot we turn on air conditioning. If one farming region suffers a freeze, drought, or other problem, we ship food from elsewhere. To learn about potential dangers, including bad weather, we turn on our electricity-powered televisions or computers.

Industrial energy allows us to live longer, healthier lives. If we get sick, we ride in oil-powered ambulances to electricity-powered hospitals. While people in undeveloped regions continue to die from smoke inhalation from cooking fires, we use clean gas or electric stoves. Yet many environmentalists would hamper industrial prosperity.

The political question, Lockitch said, is separable from the scientific question of climate change. Whether or not human carbon dioxide emissions will seriously contribute to harmful warming, free- market capitalism enables us as investors, entrepreneurs, producers, and consumers to respond to problems, whatever their causes.

Don’t environmentalists merely want us to change from fossil fuels to renewable sources? Lockitch pointed out that prominent environmentalists opposed solar farms in the Mojave desert and wind farms off the shores of Massachusetts. Many environmentalists oppose nuclear power. Their goal is to limit human activity regardless of the availability of energy.

Lockitch outlined the problems with wind and solar. Americans currently use around 600 coal-fired plants. It would take 1,000 wind turbines on 40,000 acres of land to replace a single plant. Their production would require enormous costs.

Coal plants can expand or reduce output based on demand. “You can’t turn on the sun, and you can’t turn on the wind,” Lockitch noted. At a coal plant the energy is stored in the coal itself. Wind and solar plants produce electricity at unpredictable times in uncontrollable amounts, and it cannot easily be stored for future use. What happens if you face an emergency during a blackout caused by low wind?

That’s not to say that Lockitch is committed to fossil fuels. He pointed out that Rand wrote a novelized account of a motor with cheap, clean, and abundant energy.

To Lockitch, the question is not ultimately about fossil versus renewable energy. It’s about freedom versus controls. On a free market, people can decide how best to use fossil fuels and what new energy sources deserve research and investment.

Does the future hold advances in nuclear power, solar collection, or some yet-unimagined source of energy? Free-market capitalism spurs productive development.

Environmentalists might enjoy clowning around and imagining a renewable-energy utopia. In the real word, our lives and well-being depend on modern industrial energy production. To protect ourselves we must defend free-market capitalism. That means we must clean up the economic pollution of environmentalist controls.

Ari Armstrong, the author of Values of Harry Potter, publishes FreeColorado.com.

Environmentalist Clowns

As environmentalists dressed as clowns protested coal-fired electric plants in Denver — see the reports from the Denver Daily News and Denver PostKeith Lockitch prepared to give a talk at the Auraria campus that evening explaining the profound human need for industrial energy. (More on this soon.)

In the Q&A, Lockitch pointed to two quotes from environmentalists indicating that they don’t want cheap, abundant energy, even if it is “clean” and “renewable.”

Paul Ehrlich said, “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

Amory Lovins said, “If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.”

Low-Cost Tech Could Cool Planet

The following article originally was published November 9 by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

If planet did warm, low-cost tech could cool it

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

In our last column we expressed skepticism that human-caused global warming will ever amount to much. We have little trust in the politically subsidized computer simulations responsible for most of the fuss. Obviously, natural causes play a major role in climate change, and historically carbon dioxide levels have followed — not caused — warmer temperatures.

The “precautionary principle” counsels us to act even if the risk is uncertain. Unfortunately, few environmentalists practice much caution regarding the economy. While the harms of climate change are speculative, the harms of widespread political economic controls are certain and severe.

But what if? What if the earth did warm from man-made (or entirely natural) causes, and what if this caused significant problems for people? If that were the case, then low-cost technology could quickly solve the problem, argue Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in SuperFreakonomics.

Levitt and Dubner have been accused of claiming a consensus for global cooling in the 1970s, misrepresenting other people’s work, and other failings. We’ve read a number of these criticisms, and we’ve read the book. We conclude that various detractors are smearing SuperFreakonomics to suppress its information. Read the book and reach your own conclusions.

The book devotes the last of five chapters to climate change. However, Chapter 4 sets the stage by describing “cheap and simple” solutions to various problems. For example, better hand cleansing in hospitals dramatically decreased deaths. Forceps have saved the lives of babies and mothers. Fertilizing crops with ammonium nitrate has dramatically increased yields. The polio vaccine wiped out that disease. Seat belts curbed auto deaths.

The final example of the chapter is a proposal to control hurricanes. Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures developed the idea based on a plan of British engineer Stephen Salter. The proposal is to employ a bunch of “large, floating” rings in troubled spots of the ocean. Waves of warm water lap into the rings, pushing the warm water down a tube and bringing cooler water to the surface. Goodbye hurricanes.

The chapter on climate change focuses on two other ideas floating around Intellectual Ventures for cooling the earth. One plan involves pumping sulfur dioxide through a long hose into the upper atmosphere, mimicking the cooling effects of natural volcanic eruptions. This would quickly cool the earth, yet the effects would rapidly disappear if pumping stopped. The other plan is to seed more clouds over the ocean.*

Cooling the earth with sulfur dioxide would cost an estimated $100 million per year, less than what environmentalists spend fear mongering. Dramatically cutting carbon dioxide emissions would cost an estimated trillion dollars per year, or 10,000 times as much.

Moreover, cutting carbon emissions wouldn’t accomplish much. Beyond the problem of getting developing nations such as China to curb emissions — fat chance — “the existing carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for several generations,” Levitt and Dubner point out.

So, given that the sulfur dioxide pump is radically cheaper, safer, and more feasible, many environmentalists conclude that we should only limit carbon emissions instead. Al Gore thinks it’s “nuts” to explore geoengineering solutions like the pump.

Environmentalists don’t worry that volcanos emit sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, naturally cooling the earth. But many are dead set against humans doing the same thing. Why? Because, to the radical environmentalist, anything “natural” is good, and anything human is bad. Such environmentalists really don’t care about the earth’s temperature. What they care about is limiting human activity.

While geoengineering is the big take-home point, Levitt and Dubner challenge a number of environmentalist dogmas along the way. For example, “buying locally produced food actually increases greenhouse-gas emissions” because “big farms are far more efficient than small farms.”

Myhrvold believes that wind and other alternative energies — touted by our “New Energy Economy” governor as a pretext for corporate welfare — “don’t scale to a sufficient degree” to replace traditional energy. He adds that solar cells are not perfect: “only about 12 percent [of light] gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributes to global warming.”

Meanwhile, the authors suggest, we should not forget the benefits of modern energy. Before the gas-powered automobile, people used horses, and this generated a great deal of manure. Imagine vacant lots with manure “piled as high as sixty feet.” Imagine manure “lining city streets like banks of snow.” Thank human ingenuity for automobiles and the oil that powers them.

In the 1800s, American lights relied on harvesting thousands of whales each year. Our authors write, “The new oil industry… functioned as the original Endangered Species Act, saving the whale from near-certain extinction.”

We worry a bit about the book’s treatment of a few topics such as altruism. Yet, while SuperFreakonomics may be a fancy title for plain old economics mixed with clever research, it offers a wealth of fascinating insights.

* November 13 update: Here’s something not mentioned in the book: one young scientist thinks CO2-eating rocks might help.