Category Archives: Climate Change

Every Breath (of CO2) You Take – “We’ll be watching you”

The noted 18th century British essayist Samuel Johnson is perhaps best know for his statement, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” This is often misunderstood to be a disparagement of patriotism, but, in fact, is quite the opposite. Johnson was casting aspersions against those who shield their true motives beneath a banner of a noble ideal. Apropos the shielding of true motivations: the modern era “climate” crusaders. If I may be so bold as to pen as variant of this principle, “Children are the last refuge of the undefendable.” 

            The most current example of this principle (argumentum ad liberi) is manifested in a one Greta Thunberg. She is the physical incarnation of the modern climate campaign. And her address to the UN is the likely apotheosis of that movement. A child is the perfect avatar for a cause whose sole call to action is predicated on future calamities. And who will be here in that future? Children, of course! Being a child she is granted immunity from all criticism because this then facilitates casting such a critic as a misanthropic ogre (and we’ve already seen this dance play out in the media in the past week any time she has been criticized). Cue my critics in 3, 2, 1 and…

            But of course this is not her doing. We cannot blame her, she is after all only a child. She is but a tool, a puppet, for a movement whose roots extend far back into the last century. No, not environmentalism, but rather Marxism (aka communism). These 21st century Climate Marxists are political watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside). Marxists are adept at pitting one “class” of people against another in order to foment unrest and animosity that they can capitalize (ironically) on in order to effect their political ideals in society. This pattern emerged during the Russian revolution and repeated throughout the 20th century (China, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam). Everywhere it was tried it was an abysmal failure that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions who did not want to be a part of their utopic commune. And now they are trying again. 

            Seeing as how capitalism raised the standard of living for billions in the last century and reduced absolute poverty from 90% to around 10% today, clearly the anti-capitalism message is rapidly losing its strength. But then along came “climate change” to breath new life into a dying movement. The appeal of this cause célèbre is that it doesn’t matter if the details are correct or not, what is important is that we “do something.” And of course that something, in their view, is to radically alter the global economy in order to “save” the planet. But leaders have been slow or recalcitrant to implement their favored policies. Potential damage is decades away. Time to shorten the timetable and pull out the big guns: children. 

            The current climate alarmism lobby is now taking a page from the Chinese communists propaganda playbook.  They used children in their propaganda as a means to shame adults into conforming.  And that is exactly what Greta set out to do. From her opening remark ,

“My message is that we’ll be watching you”

to her closing statement,

“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you”

were remarkable in their capacity to cram so much shaming, hate, anger, and implied revenge into such a short speech. Her statements sound more like dialogue from “The Godfather” than the expected plaintive pleas of a young schoolgirl afraid for her future.

            But the mask is off now. If these “climate” extremists get voted into power you can fully expect unyielding persecution, subjugation, or worse to any that would stand in their way (“How dare you oppose us! Why do you hate the planet so much comrade?”). The 20th century’s mountain of corpses stands as a testament to what the extreme left is willing to do to its opponents to achieve their ends. And they would have zero qualms about a repeat of the Ukrainian Holodomor on a global scale. This is not hyperbole. The stated “solutions” to keeping temperature rise below 1.5 °C would quite literally sentence several billions to death by starvation. Without carbon or nuclear-based fuels there is no serious short-term alternative to maintain the current global standard of living and food supplies. If we go back to the future of 1850’s technology within 10 years then population must necessarily fall from today’s 7 billion to the 1 billion back then. And this is entirely ignoring the concomitant drop in standard of living, as manual labor must increase without an equivalent supply of power. Ironically their boogeyman “income inequality” would skyrocket to what it was in the 19th century with mostly those in government occupying the upper echelons of income and power (a pattern by the way seen in every communist/Marxist regime). Of course this would be perfectly fine since many of those on the left (from Paul Ehrlich of “Population Bomb” fame, to the Club of Rome) have called from drastic reductions in global population.  

“Our aim is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to change the global economic system…”

UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres (Feb 2015)

“The common enemy of humanity is Man. In searching for a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill..”

– The Club of Rome Premier environmental think-tank and consultants to the United Nations. 

Anything Goes!

This past week Trump’s Energy Department announced a relaxation of a set of light-bulb energy efficiency standards (EISA) first implemented under George W. Bush and finalized under Obama. The standards were set to go into full effect in January 2020 (eliminating incandescent versions of three-way bulbs, candle-shaped, globe-shaped and reflector bulbs). 

The autistic screeching from the corporate press and leftist “public policy” lackeys only underscores the lengths to which “the Cathedral” will go to in order to maintain the hell-fire of climate alarmism. For Cathedral adherents the sky is quite literally falling. It is because of their prescient guidance that the rest of us are corralled into doing “the right thing” – namely spending $10 on a bulb to save $15 in electricity – over the next 30 years. Even though the market has always deprecated older technology in favor of newer, we just can’t wait when it comes to energy efficiency. In the words of New York Times columnist John Schwartz, we need the federal government to “force(d) Americans to use more energy-efficient light bulbs.” Please note that “force” here is a politically correct euphemism for “threaten with initiatory violence”. Now it is true, force can solve problems quickly. All the mugger needs to do is to wave his gun in my face and moments later his monetary problems are solved. One would like to believe that in the “land of the free” such state sponsored aggression would not be so readily lauded as the primary method deployed against perceived societal problems. Of course I do not expect the state to abjure this special power it has any time soon, it is the qua sine non of every state/government. When a such a body dictates to the citizenry what they may or may not manufacturer and buy, then that country is no longer entitled to call itself “the land of the free” or claim “liberty and justice for all.”

One of the more vocal critics of this rollback, an Andrew deLaski of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project went on record with some rather eyebrow-raising comments. For example

“The Trump administration is trying to protect technology that was first invented in the 1800s. It’s like trying to protect the horse and buggy from the automobile technology.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I recall the government did not OUTLAW the sale or manufacture of the horse and buggy in favor of promoting the automobile. Consumers transitioned to the newer technology over time at a rate mediated by both the cost and advantages of the new technology.

To imply that removing regulations that are annihilating an industry is equivalent to “protecting” said industry makes about as much sense as saying someone who was in the process of knifing you to death but then pauses and begins to only punch you in the face is actually now “protecting” you. The truth is the polar opposite. The manufacturers of fluorescent and LED bulbs are the ones receiving state protection insofar as competing technology have being outlawed. But we’re “protecting” the planet so greater good trumps all. Makes one wonder what the left is capable of when they eventually hold power and the climate apostates are in their cross hairs. In the words of Cole Porter I suspect it will be “anything goes!”

Climate Morality?

It has been suggested that combating climate change is now a moral imperative. The argument is as follows: man-made climate change will obviously lead to more frequent and intense weather events that will disproportionately impact those with fewer resources. This is a rather transparent attempt at shaming those who have not drunk the Klimate Kool-Aid. Right up there with sticking “children” or “freedom” in a bill’s name to deflect criticism.

To dismantle this argument we shall start with the premise: man-made climate change is real. This is false. Climate change is real, but the extent to which man is contributing is an open question ex cathedra proclamations by the UN notwithstanding. CO2 does not correlate well with rising and falling global mean temperatures. The Medieval Warm Period was much warmer than today and yet CO2levels were lower than now. Likewise climate change (warming) would be expected absent any human influence as we have been climbing out of the “Little Ice Age” since around 1600-1700 (well before the onset of the Industrial Revolution). In short, if man’s primary contribution is from pumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, then the lack of correlation of CO2with global temperature changes undermines that premise.

Irrespective of man’s contribution, the planet is indeed slowly warming. What might we expect then? It does seem superficially plausible that warmer air would hold more water vapor and so storm intensity/frequency would rise. Unfortunately that analysis crumbles when faced with actual data and an equally valid interpretation, namely that overall global warming reduces temperature differentials and thus the strength of storms.  It is temperature (energy) differentials that drive storms, e.g. we get rainstorms when warm and cold fronts collide. This premise is supported by an NOAA study of Atlantic hurricanes: “the warming projected for the tropical Atlantic in the models is not very different from that projected for the tropics as a whole.” The NOAA recently concluded that,

“neither our model projections for the 21st century nor our analyses of trends in Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm activity support the notion that greenhouse gas-induced warming leads to large increases in either tropical storm or overall hurricane numbers in the Atlantic.”

In other words the frequency and size of hurricanes today or projected this century is not statistically different than that which occurred over the 20thcentury. Therefore, since climate change doesn’t result in more damaging storms, we can’t use the costs arising from such storms as a justification for “investments” to combat climate change. The other side of this equation is sea-level rise. Yes, the earth is warming and the sea is rising. However the rise from 1880 to 1900 is nearly identical to the change seen from 1980 to 2000: about 2 inches. Seems like something other than man is driving this change. Although the rate is now 3.3 mm per year it’s safe to say, “we have some time” to adapt. The Dutch have successfully overcome the challenges of sea level rise for the past fifteen hundred years or so; I think we’ll be ok. If you choose to build or buy real estate on the coast today knowing full well the current rate of rise, well, that is on you, not on society. 

The conclusion that climate change is a moral imperative crumbles once we conclude man is no more responsible for it than he is for the rising and falling of the tides. Climate change as a movement does not “work” if it is not caused by man. It is the means by which the masses will be hypnotized into willingly ceding control of their rights and living standards to a monolithic unaccountable bureaucratic state. Every now and then the elites tip their hand: 

“Our aim is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to change the global economic system…”

– UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres (Feb 2015)

“The common enemy of humanity is Man. In searching for a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill..”.”

– The Club of Rome Premier environmental think-tank and consultants to the United Nations. 

Although there are well-intentioned people that genuinely believe the climate propaganda and want to “save the planet” they are what Lenin would describe as “useful idiots.” They are climatic Typhoid Mary’s, unwittingly spreading a disease that will lead to global totalitarianism and declining living standards. The global elites don’t care about the environment; all they care about is their own power and wealth.  Any movement that accrues power to the sociopaths in power will not be abandoned easily.  

tl;dr –  Climate change is a flimsy pretext used to justify increasing levels of taxation to further the left’s goal of economic “justice”

A Quora response

A recent Quora post of mine answering a question:

Why don’t we call people who don’t believe in climate change ‘deniers’ instead of ‘skeptics’?

 

For one reason and one reason only: it is a passive-aggressive ad hominem attack on any one holding that position meant to denigrate the holder of that viewpoint by cleverly associating them in the mind of the listener with holocaust deniers. We all know holocaust deniers are truly nuts (no I’m not being sarcastic, they are) so all we have to do is pluck that “denier” word from that usage and stick it over here to the same effect. You see the term “denier” is not used _anywhere_ else until today except for holocaust denial. We don’t call creationists “evolution deniers”. We don’t call the anti-vaccine crowd “vaccine deniers”… they all get their own separate neutral term. But no, for climate skeptics its “denialism” for you.

Yes there are a handful of nutjobs that say there is no change in the climate or no evidence, but they are the tiny minority. But I suppose its like anything, the small vocal group (islamic terrorist) give a bad name to the whole rest of the group that are perfectly reasonable. The climate question is not monolithic. It’s not simply “climate change” and that’s it. It includes

  1. Is CO2 increasing? Yes
  2. Is the temperature rising? Yes
  3. What is man’s contribution to the increase in CO2?
  4. What is the contribution of CO2 to temperature change?
  5. Will the rise in temperature have overall negative, neutral or positive outcomes for humanity? for other species?
  6. Should humans try to combat the percieved causes of the temperature rise?
  7. If they do should they do so in an economicaly mindful way (ie spend more to mitigate than the estimated cost of the damage)?

The problem is, you can agree with the establishment viewpoint on 1–6 but disagree on 7, and that makes you a pariah, a denier (just ask Bjørn Lomborg if you don’t believe me)

That is just not helpful. There are a lot of people like me who have legitimate, genuine questions, but they don’t get answered by the climate folk. We’re just told to “shut up and trust us” No. I’m a scientist as well (chemist) and I’m no idiot, I can understand your answers if only you’d bother to engage us actual skeptics who have actual legitimate questions. All I see on TV are climate scientists refusing to even sit in the same room with a climate skeptic. Sad. Thats’ not science, that’s religion, that’s belief. That’s denialism.

How would a libertarian/classic liberal deal with the problem of global warming?

A Quora question I answered:

 

Libertarianism is concerned with only one question: Under what conditions may one legitimately use physical force? Answer: to counteract a violation of one’s legitimate property rights (e.g. if someone comes at me with a knife they are threatening my property right in myself and I may repel such attack, if someone steals from me I may use force to get my property back). In other words if someone initiates violence (i.e. aggression) then one may legitimately counteract it proportionally (i.e. you shouldn’t kill someone for briefly setting foot on your lawn).

So, to answer your question, setting aside all the controversy around climate change we will simply assume it to be entirely true and that all the dire consequences imagined will in fact occur. In such a scenario whose property right is being aggressed against? Do future generations have an inalienable right to experience identical weather patterns as we experience them today? Do they have inalienable right to experience Miami beach exactly as it exists today? No. For a right to be a right it exists for all people for all time under all conditions. That’s why one has a right to life, everyone has a right to exist and remain unmolested by others and that condition can exist anytime anywhere. It is a negative right, it does not require the action of anyone or anything. Incidentally this is why “positive” rights, such as to a job, shelter, or healthcare are not real rights, but rather mere proclamations of things we’d like to have. To obtain such positive rights YOU must act to attain those things, one cannot obligate their fellow man to provide it for them. Negative rights only require that we be allowed to do what is necessary to achieve that thing without in turn violating (with violence) someone else’s ability to do likewise.

So if a “right to climate experience” exists then our rights are being violated today as we are all unable to experience the climate that existed say 1000 years ago. Since this is obviously totally unrealistic and unworkable we can see that no such right exists.

So to “combat” climate change one is free to do whatever they believe will minimize it, they can act on their own, they can associate with others and act together (by educating others to in turn get them to change their behavior, or perhaps starting a non-carbon energy company that perfects such energy forms to the point they are less costly than carbon and then naturally everyone simply switches to it – no coercion needed.

Think about it, if non-carbon energy is truly the future then these people should be willing to put their money on the line to invest it, I mean after all climate change is unequivocally going to happen, right? It’s a sure bet. They could make billions. So it is curious that they don’t want to invest their own money but rather use the state to make everyone else “invest” in such things.

They key to the libertarian answer is because there is no rights violation you can’t use violence (i.e. the voting booth) to make a “law” and then force everyone to follow that law under penalty of death (death being the ultimate result if one resists the state’s dictates to the bitter end). But there is nothing at all wrong with engaging in voluntary activity to persuade others to your viewpoint and to act in concert with you.

In short, do whatever you want to solve it, as long as it doesn’t involve the use of someone with a gun backing you up. Which by the way is exactly what a carbon tax or cap and trade entails. These are pseudo-markets concocted by the state. An actual market involves a buyer and a seller who exchange VOLUNTARILY. A carbon tax or cap and trade is no more a real market than a board game is the actual thing it represents: e.g. Monopoly has the trappings of a market economy, but it certainly isn’t one. Cap and trade and carbon taxes are like forcing two people to play Monopoly at gun point and then saying “see, they are following the principles of capitalism, so it’s all ok”

For those that want a truly wonky expert analysis of why carbon taxes are not at all libertarian (the crux of the original question) and why they would not actually do what most imagine they would (reduce carbon) please see this link. In short a carbon tax or cap and trade is simply a new income tax that shifts money from the wealthy to the poor. The poor see no net change in their income so they keep consuming carbon just as they always have (e.g. if they spent $100 on fuel, now with a carbon tax it is $200, but they get a $100 tax rebate, so their net out of pocket does not change). The wealthy have less money and thus less ability to save and thus less capital accumulation that can be used to invest in new R&D, new technologies, new factories, new jobs, etc. It doesn’t stop those things from happening, but it slows it down such that in 100 years we will be x% less well off than we were would have been absent the carbon tax and meanwhile the carbon tax has made zero impact on use cause we just give the money right back to the people using it the most.

Mixed Signals

Recycling as a concept is not a bad idea. It is in the execution where things go awry. A logical leap fallacy occurs when assuming that because the recycling of materials A-D makes sense it must mean also that the recycling of materials E-Z makes sense.

Generally speaking the recycling of metals and glass make economic sense because reuse involves less effort than production. Due to the chemical nature of plastics it is practically impossible to recycle them for their original application. And the whole notion of recycling paper to “save a tree” makes about as much sense as not eating tortillas in order to “save corn.” If paper weren’t being used, then tree farmers would not plant trees. Contrary to popular mythology paper does not come from old growth forests – it comes from tree farms. In fact an argument can be made that virgin paper is actually better for the environment than recycled paper. Trees remove carbon from the atmosphere. Recycling of paper just tosses that same carbon back and forth like pitcher to catcher; virgin paper use creates a steady withdrawal of carbon from the atmosphere.

How do we know when recycling is “good” vs just “feel good”? If money is offered or it’s something best not released into the environment are two key indicators. Sometimes those two things coincide as in the case of lead acid batteries. Recycling these batteries creates a “double-whammy” effect: you make money and protect the environment! Who could object to that? The EPA apparently. Read on.

Last year our company had to replace the lead-acid batteries in our corporate power back up system. We had to unload over a thousand pounds worth of them and I was not keen on just dumping them in the trash. Fortuitously enough I was able to locate a company not far from us in Watkinsville that would not only take them off our hands but also cut us a check for them. This provided an incentive for me to stockpile my own used lead-acid batteries at home. After about a year or so and a hundred pounds later I was ready to divest myself of these batteries. Unfortunately that local recycler was out of business. No problem I thought, there is a county recycling station not far on Highway 15. So I drove on over only to discover for some bizarre reason they are not open Tuesday or Thursday, and my luck being what it was, it was Thursday. Artificially constrained hours of operation accompanied by a gate for an open-air facility is truly puzzling. Are they afraid someone is going to steal the recyclables? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Artificially constrained access encourages people to not even bother if they have to make a special trip vs simply taking care of it when most convenient.

However, it turns out the closure did not matter as they don’t accept lead-acid batteries. Ok, so does my curbside garbage service take them in their recycling? Nope. Ok, surely the county dump takes them! Everything ultimately ends up in the dump, right? It’s the trash bin of last resort. So I drove to the Oconee county dump only to be told, no, they can’t accept lead-acid batteries due to EPA restrictions. So, let me get this straight, the EPA, the organization charged with ensuring the environment is protected from harm has set up regulations that prohibit a DUMP from accepting a known environmentally harmful agent (lead) but then provides no alternative to the those trying to properly unburden themselves of this material? EPA “protection” creates a perverse incentive to improperly dispose of it in the general trash. The agent at the dump then suggested I try the local Autozone. Ultimately this is where I took them and they were all too happy to take them off my hands.

So in conclusion, a non-governmental entity, enticed by market forces, helped me do the right thing, whereas when I tried to do the right thing, government (local and federal) thwarted nearly every attempt to do so and actually incentivized me to do the wrong thing. The first rule of behavior modification is provide an easy, not obstructed, path toward the desired end.

Market Failure: Revenge of the Commons?

If you missed last week’s article be sure to read it here, however, a synopsis of the article’s thesis is that “market failure” is impossible. Markets are closed systems and as such anything internal to the system affects the entire system. A market can no more “fail” than a pot of water exposed to a flame will fail to boil. Apropos the pot of water example: if a pot of water does not boil after 5-seconds of exposure to a lighter we do not say “ah-ha, physics has failed, here is proof that flames cannot boil water!” No, we realize that if sufficient heat is applied, it will boil (thermodynamics) but that the process takes time (kinetics). Failure of something to occur instantly or even within our own lifetime does not equate to “failure”. Markets regulate themselves; perhaps not as fast as some would like, but it occurs nevertheless. As the saying goes: you can have it fast, cheap, or good: pick any two. With state regulation of the market you only get one: fast, at the expense of it being both expensive (inefficient) and poor (ineffective). Natural market regulation is both good (effective) and cheap (efficient), but tends to be slow, which many find frustrating. This gradual process thus provides a framework of excuses for state intervention to speed things up. These people fail to see the thermodynamic forest for the kinetically slow-growing trees.

At first glance it might appear the pot example is not illustrative of a closed market system. The pot is exposed to the surrounding air, which can transfer the heat away. So we must clearly demarcate the borders of the system under discussion; let us say the pot and flame are in an insulated box. Everything outside is irrelevant to what occurs in the box.

So, we define the market as that system containing everything that is (apparently) part of the market. However, the counterargument here would be that things outside of the market system, unlike the pot and flame, do effect what is in the system. That is, the “commons” outside of the market (into which things may be dumped or extracted) apparently play a role. To the extent such commons are artificial in nature (“public” spaces) and thus through state coercion the market’s efforts to allocate and economize those resources via private property are frustrated, we cannot say then that any abuse of such spaces is a market failure. The state itself is setting up the very situation that opens them up to abuse. The state is not part of the market. The market is peaceful voluntary trade where both parties “win”; the state is violent involuntary trade where one side wins and one side loses.

However, there are natural common areas (the oceans and the sky) that are not amenable to conventional private property demarcations (e.g. fences) – although technology is slowly changing that reality. These would appear to be areas outside of the closed market (private) systems and thus immune to feedback from the market even though the market may benefit from them. For markets separated by a commons but connected through other means, the feedback occurs at the border with the commons and this information is transmitted via the other connection just as though they directly bordered each other.

But, let us consider the more difficult example of two isolated markets, not in communication, separated by a commons. We will consider the ocean (although the sky works equally well). Imagine that you live on the coast and fish for a living. Far across the ocean another settlement pollutes the water. Eventually that pollution reaches your shore and affects your fishing productivity. You have no idea where it is coming from (non-point source pollution), all you know is that it is a new cost you did not have before. Since you do not know the source you only have once choice: to clean up/remove the pollution at the bordering point to where you customarily fish.

Is the fact that you have to devote resources to cleaning this up a market failure? No. Why not? Well imagine that if instead of it being some far away people polluting the water it was some natural event (volcano, mudslide, etc.). Your actions would be no different (cleaning the water) yet you would not say the market has failed just because Nature foisted additional hurdles at you. If the effect is the same, the cause is irrelevant if you have no way of knowing or influencing the cause.

Now lets say you do find out who is polluting and ask them to stop but they refuse. You do not trade with them so feedback cannot occur that way. You now have two choices that prompt me to pose this question: Is it morally justified to attack and kill them until they submit to your will if continuing to remove the pollution yourself may also solve the problem? One option involves the ending of human life; the other option is a mere inconvenience. Which would you choose? If you answer yes to the former then I suggest you reflect on how the state has warped your sense of reality such that it is considered morally acceptable to initiate violent actions against others in order to resolve non-violent conflict. Now consider that all state actions rest on a bedrock of threatening violence against those that will not bend to its will, no matter how trivial the concern. History does not judge kindly those who initiate aggression to force others to do their bidding

Market Failure is not an option, it’s not even possible

Proponents of state intervention in markets (managed markets) unfailingly assert the legitimacy of their stance by pointing to “market failure.” Yes, yes, they admit, markets are great at delivering goods and services to people, but, sometimes they inexplicably fail and this consequently requires men with guns (the state) to “fix” them. To put it simply, market failure is a myth. There is a failure however, not of the market, but of their own ability to comprehend the complexities of a natural system whose chaos is brought to order through feedback.

Appeals for regulation by some central authority are predicated on the ideal of “fairness” in ensuring that all who use some resource pay for such use. In other words, if one perceives even the possibility of “free riding” with regard to some economic good then this is all the excuse needed to bring in men with guns to ensure all pay their “fair share.” Free riding is the quintessential example of market failure. Now, as they say, time to bust that myth.

Now rather than choose an example that would be quite easily dismantled as embodying free rider potential (roads, courts, police, fire protection, etc.) I shall choose what is perceived as the most difficult of all: the environment. For this example we shall use the ever-popular environmental whipping boy, carbon dioxide. The output of CO2, it is said, does not factor in the costs of the damage wrought by this “pollutant.” That is, the externality is not internalized in the cost of the product. In fact the truth is exactly the opposite. To see this let’s consider an economy of two actors, Y & Z. Y produces product y and Z produces z and they trade with each other. Now let’s imagine Y can increase his output if he dumps his waste onto Z’s property. Y can now produce more of y, but Z must now devote time and resources to cleaning up the mess (or perhaps it makes him tired or ill) and thus the output of z declines. Y can now only obtain that smaller fraction of z output when trading. Obtaining less for the same cost is equivalent to a greater cost for the same amount. In other words the apparently externalized cost that Y foisted on Z must necessarily be internalized back to Y by virtue of how his actions affect other actors in the economy. No regulation is needed; it is inherent to the system that for every action there is an equal and complementary reaction.

So now extending this metaphorical example to the real world let us assume for the sake of argument that all the doomsayer prophesies of the climate alarmists are true. Is it not obvious that all these bad consequences would negatively impact economic productivity? So all things being equal, if one sells a barrel of oil for $50 that $50 will now only buy the equivalent of say $40 worth of goods (that is, $40 of goods will cost $50, a de facto market “tax” that precisely mirrors the level of damage as reflected in the decreased output). If the damage predicted by the alarmists is real, then it can’t not have this negative effect. In other words, if everything becomes more expensive because there is less of it, then necessarily less will be consumed, including energy derived from CO2. If the damage is real, this natural negative feedback loop will self-correct the problem as profit seeking people strive to innovate their way to greater production. If the damage is not real, then no correction was necessary.

Ironically, carbon taxes, long touted as a “market” approach to solving this issue would do nothing whatsoever. Energy consumption is relatively inelastic and thus higher prices (taxes) for energy would force prices down in other sectors to compensate. Indeed carbon taxes are already touted as revenue neutral (through lower taxes elsewhere or rebates). The only thing that one might superficially assume could work would be a flat consumption tax on all goods. But even if you could impose a 50% sales tax on the entire economy it would ultimately have no effect on consumption at all. If the money is simply removed from the economy, then deflation takes over and all prices drop. That is, output has not declined, only the money supply. The same amount of goods still trade but with fewer dollars. But, if instead the government spends the money, other than productive losses due to government waste, the supply and demand for goods, including energy still won’t change. With natural market feedback the external cost is internalized as reduced supply; with an artificial system (taxes) supply is unaffected, only the identities of those doing the demanding changes.

The market system needs no overseer or committee to function. It is not “targeted”, the entire economy would be affected as if with a fever until the profit motive drives the innovators and entrepreneurs to shed the burden of the internalized costs of decreased output. To say that markets suffer failure is the intellectual equivalent of denouncing a fever as a failure of the immune system.

Under the Hood

One of the apparently more innovative techniques automakers have applied to saving fuel is a concept borrowed from the electric or hybrid vehicle: automatic start/stop. The concept is fairly simple, turn off the engine when the car is stopped (i.e. at a stop sign or traffic light) and instantly turn the engine back on when the driver initiates their intent to commence motion (releasing foot from the break or depressing the clutch). Depending on the traffic patterns one encounters, fuel savings can be as low as a mere 0.5% all the way up to 10%. Truly this would seem to be getting something for nothing!

But as with any government mandated arbitrary standard there are unintended costs and consequences.  For example, prior efficiency decrees have compelled automakers to make their cars lighter – but lowering mass makes a car less crash worthy. To compensate as much as possible it became necessary to beef up the A, B, and C pillars (the front, middle and rear attachment points of the lower portion of the car to the roof) so passengers aren’t squashed in a rollover. That is, these pillars are now much wider and thus much more readily obscure objects behind them at a distance. Don’t believe me? Hold out your thumb at arms length and place it in front of a car 50 feet away; now unfurl all 5 fingers and block it with your hand. Completely disappeared now hasn’t it? Those of us who drove cars from the ‘80s or earlier are well aware of this slow change. Unfortunately anyone younger just assumes it’s totally normal to have a 6-8 inch A pillar blocking one’s view of oncoming traffic as they try to merge. Such actively growing blind spots have ironically led to more accidents, injuries, associated health care costs, repair costs, higher insurance rates and in some cases even death. But hey, what is human life worth when weighed against the “environment”?

In other words, there are costs associated with everything. If it were up to the individual to decide for him or herself how much more safety risk they are willing take relative to increased fuel economy that would be one thing. However it is quite a different story when the choice is taken away and there is only one option allowed for all. That is what government is: the removal of choice. Bureaucrats decide on the “best” route and make all other options illegal. The same removal of choice is now happening with these automatic start/stop systems. Starting with model year 2016 they are becoming more and more prevalent. Why is this? Because of government fuel economy standards like CAFE (or it’s European equivalent) mandate FLEET wide averages. Therefore the ability by the automaker to extract even a few small percent increase in fuel efficiency multiplied by a fleet of thousands or millions of vehicles helps them meet those standards and avoid possibly millions of dollars in fines. The problem, however, is that the cost of meeting those standards is shifted to the consumer. Such systems require larger, beefier starters and batteries – which cost more. Due to more frequent use these components will wear out sooner – which costs more. Ironically the greater the fuel savings, the more the engine will be damaged. Engines are most vulnerable at start up due to lack of oil. The longer it sits off the more the oil drains back down. Obviously an engine that has to be replaced or rebuilt on a more frequent basis is going to be a significant cost to the owner.

In other words, there is no free lunch. Even something seen (fuel savings) has an unseen cost (wear and tear and repairs). Fortunately, for now, we are permitted the ability to override and turn these systems off (although it must be done manually with every cold engine start). But there is no doubt that in order to eke out another 0.1% of CAFÉ fuel savings, automakers will soon remove the option to disable this feature. Then again perhaps it doesn’t really matter as soon enough the government will outlaw human drivers and we’ll all be passengers in self-driving cars within 30 years – cars that some are already discussing whether or not the automated “brain” behind it should sacrifice its passengers if it determines more deaths would result by protecting its occupants. Unintended costs indeed.

Backdoors

Computer programmers use the term “backdoor” to describe covert methods the programmer can use to bypass the normal user interface in order to more expeditiously accomplish certain tasks. Normally the motivation behind installing such devices are not sinister; their purpose is to assist in debugging or to clean up other messes. The apparatus of the state has similar backdoors, although the motivation there is usually not so pure. These backdoors are set by legislators but only become apparent to those who possesses a perspicacious view of the state. For example, the way government is supposed to work (at least according to Schoolhouse Rock) is that bills are introduced in Congress, voted on, and then sent to the President to sign into law. If the people don’t like the laws they can vote for new Congressmen or appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the law on constitutional grounds.

That system does still exists, but government power rarely originates that way. The vast majority of power comes from the backdoor: administrative “law”. Regulations promulgated by the EPA, DOE, IRS, etc. do not come from Congress. They are written, proposed, and approved by career bureaucrats who are as much a part of Washington as the marble buildings. The politicians enter, ride the coaster and then exit, but the bureaucrats, like the coaster operator, remain. Although bureaucrats can’t introduce extensive reforms, they can implement piecemeal changes that ultimately have the same effect. Can’t ban fossil fuels? That’s ok, just require (via regulation) anything that directly or indirectly uses such energy must use less of it. The amount is ratcheted down ever so “reasonably” every few years until fewer and fewer can clear the regulatory hurdle. If the outrageous costs for compliant goods don’t decrease usage, then the constrained supply from manufacturers exiting the market will.

It is the same tactic the left uses to chip away at the 2nd amendment and the right at abortion ‘rights’. If you aren’t allowed to close the gate the only alternative is to erect a series of hurdles and obstacles that make the journey more burdensome. Any performance (not safety) based regulations are a fascistic interference of the state in the functioning of private markets: “sure you own your business, but we’ll tell you when, where, and how to operate it.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry: educated adults actually come together in the belief that their personal views on how much water it takes to flush a turd down the drain or how many gallons of water are sufficient to de-soil underwear is a compelling interest of the state. But if the state does not appease Mother Gaia, then who will? Faux environmentalism has become the state religion in the 21st century. One is not worthy to pass into the Temple of Political Piety unless they have shown the proper level of obsequiousness before the altar of “sustainability.”

And what has this wrought us? Gas cans that don’t pour, toilets that don’t flush, showers that dribble water, light bulbs that either cost a days pay or require a hazmat unit if they break, and hot water that isn’t – we are moving backwards as a society.  Like the frog in the slowly boiling water the process occurs incrementally enough that the “way it used to be” is lost down the generational memory hole. Younger people today simply assume the way thing are today are the way they have always been. They assume appliances don’t work well because of poor design rather than the imposition of strangling regulations by the state.

Now it is true that many of the products I cited have seen improvements. Some are almost as good as the original product. However that was not without a cost. Consumers played the role of unwitting beta-testers for subpar equipment. Once the bugs were finally worked out there is then an ongoing cost to all who purchase this more “efficient” equipment either upfront or in time loss. But hey as long as the planet will be 0.00001 °C cooler in a hundred years it’s all worth it right?

Since government’s role in society is apparently to “fix” things, then in order for it to justify its continuing existence it must seek out new problems and new victims, to boldly re-fix those things it just fixed last week. Those in government seem to believe we live in an artificial Matrix-esque reality where passing laws is the equivalent of writing computer code than can magically make cars go from 25 mpg to 45 mpg overnight or dishwashers switch from using 6.5 gallons to 5 gallons and soon to a mere 3.1 gallons.  To see how awful that will be, fill your sink with 3 gallons of water and now wash all your dishes by hand with just that water. Yeah, yuck.

So perhaps someday we’ll regale our grandchildren with wild tales of machines that used to wash dishes for us. And as they stare at us in wonderment, we will begin the tedious task of washing the dinnerware by hand – just as our great-grandparents did – except we’ll only be permitted the use of cold water. Hot water is way too damaging to the environment, what with all the energy it uses. Ah, yes, progress.