February 6, 2007 3:44 PM
An avian flu outbreak in the UK has had that country's media in a predictable panic. The Times' Mick Hume has a rational response:
True, the Suffolk infection is of the H5N1 strain that can infect humans. But the 164 killed in the developing world lived cheek-by-beak with diseased birds. The poor children who died of bird flu in Turkey had been playing with chicken's heads rather than Heelys. There would be no health risk in eating those Suffolk turkeys, so long as you cooked them first.
This point reflects Schumpeter's observation:
It is the cheap cloth, the cheap cotton and rayon fabric, boots, motorcars and so on that are the typical achievements of capitalist production, and not as rule improvements that would mean much to the rich man. Queen Elizabeth owned silk stockings. The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort.
Capitalism is, by its very nature, one of the most egalitarian achievements of mankind. Bird flu shouldn't be a worry in the UK because of the free enterprise system. However, a very successful propaganda movement has asserted that black is white here. Its adherents are those most worried about the avian flu outbreak, of course, because to assert the resiliency of wealth is to repudiate their cherished beliefs. Back to Mick:
February 6, 2007 3:43 PM
If you live in Texas, you'll have heard about how the coal-based energy utilities want to build a lot of new power plants to meet expected demand without massive power cuts, but are facing opposition from environmental activists. Well, some good investigative reporting from Asher Price of the Austin American-Statesman has uncovered what those on the Left like to call an "astroturf" campaign by Big Gas:
Masquerading as activists battling coal plants, Big Gas is squaring off against Big Coal in a polished campaign run by a Hollywood ad agency.
Natural gas companies, calling themselves the Texas Clean Sky Coalition, have been fighting coal plant proposals with full-page advertisements in the state's major daily newspapers.
Where's the campaign being run from? Why, California:
The campaign has cost "north of a million dollars," according to Fred Davis III, the head of Hollywood agency Strategic Perception, which put the campaign together. The photos were shot in a Southern California studio, he said.
The environmental groups are quite happy with their new ally:
The Clean Sky Coalition Web site includes newspaper stories about coal-fired power plants, informs readers about a rally against the coal plants on Sunday at the Capitol and points readers in the direction of Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club.
Neither group said it receives money from the Clean Sky Coalition or even knew what it is.
"Whether the money is coming from environmentalists, businessmen or competitors, we're glad they're fighting," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of the watchdog group Public Citizen. "Without help from everyone in the state, we won't be able to stop the coal plants."
Or out of the state, as the case may be...
February 6, 2007 2:44 PM
Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani has all but declared himself a Republican presidential candidate by filing an official "statement of candidacy" and saying he is "in to win." In my new book, Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health, I reveal a surprising fact about Giuliani that so far has been little discussed in national coverage: Giuliani's record as New York mayor of standing up to green groups to take steps to promote prosperity and public health. In Eco-Freaks, I detail Giuliani's tough fight to spray pesticides to curb the spread of the newly-arrived West Nile virus in 1999.
February 6, 2007 1:58 PM
Here is a graphical representation of EU energy policy:
Lisbon - the EU require energy to keep its industries running; it has to be affordable to keep those energies competitive
Moscow - the EU, thanks to environmental concerns ruling out coal and nuclear, relies on Russia and its President to supply gas
Kyoto - the EU, thanks to international pressure, needs to reduce its industrial activity
In other words, the EU's energy policy is one where domestic interests are held hostage by international interests. They term this undesirable situation, 'Fully balanced and integrated.'
February 6, 2007 1:46 PM
At the cost of 10,000 jobs, but that's a small price to pay for a slight reduction in the rate of global warming. I'm sure the newly unemployed will sleep well at night knowing that by their children going hungry, they are doing their bit for the planet.
February 6, 2007 11:11 AM
For those who don't think trade is in trouble and is being used as the big stick to solve all global problems, the World Trade Organization's Director-General, Pascal Lamy, in a speech February 5, gave obeisance to the “Gaia theory” as the approach to incorporate environmental issues into trade negotiation.
“Gaia” — which means “mother earth” in greek — is traversing a difficult phase: a zone of turbulence. It was as early as 1979 when James Lovelock published his famous work — “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth” — that we were warned that living matter is not passive, and that the Earth responds to provocation. We learned that the Earth's air, oceans and land surfaces react in the face of threats to their very existence. They fight to defend themselves. Today, as we face environmental challenges of an unprecedented magnitude, like we do with climate change, there is little doubt that Gaia will indeed react, and that humankind may suffer the consequences.
As part of the Doha Round of negotiations, the WTO's Trade and Environment Committee is crafting a chapter that discusses the relationship between trade and multilateral environmental agreements that have trade implications. Lamy is pushing for WTO members to accept that as part of the WTO's rules-based system. And he points to “sound energy policy” and the “internalization of externalities” as topics requiring serious attention.
February 5, 2007 4:18 PM
Opinion research guru Bob Lichter has a good dissection of the problem with the Union of Concerned Scientists study on federal interference with science that made headlines last week here. Of particular note are his comments about why even the "absolute" numbers of incidents the study uncovered are suspect:
There is also a serious problem with the questionnaire itself. Scientists were asked not only about their own experiences but about their perception of others. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported that "nearly half of all respondents perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate" certain words. The actual wording was, "I have perceived and others and/or personally experienced the following types of activities affecting climate science:" This was followed by a list of activities that the scientists marked as "perceived" "experience," or " neither."
This wording creates a statistical phenomenon that artificially inflates the impression of a hostile work environment. Consider an agency that contains 10 scientists. One tells the other nine that he has encountered interference. When they are surveyed, all ten report that they have "perceived in others and/or personally experienced" interference.
So one act of interference is counted as ten acts that are "perceived" or experienced"; ten percent of the scientists have been interfered with, but 100 percent report "perceiving in others and/or personally" experiencing interference. If the agency contains 100 scientists, the interference experienced by one becomes "perceived" interference by the other 99, and so forth.
February 5, 2007 1:45 PM
Greg Mankiw notes that President Bush is considering some form of road pricing to reduce congestion.
London has a congestion charge which deeply divides opinion. Today, horrifyingly, the administrators of the charge received a letter bomb.
CEI actually strongly supports dynamic road pricing (as in, for example, HOT lanes), but recognizes that there are trade-offs involved in all such moves. The key should be that the scheme is based on increased convenience for the consumer, not on convenience for government. The London charge is an example of a badly thought-out scheme that puts the needs of government before the needs of citizens. If any presidential scheme repeats that error, it would not be surprising if it became the focus of resentment.
February 5, 2007 1:44 PM
Today's New York Times has a funny op-ed (both funny ha ha and funny odd for the NYT). It's a spoof by Rick Moranis on global warming -- steps to take to reduce one's carbon footprint. Moranis uses a mock letter to the board of directors of a hypothetical upscale co-op to list eight steps to mitigation.
Here are the first three to titillate your interest:
1. It's crucial that we begin harvesting rainwater immediately. According to the co-op's proprietary lease, shareholders who have terraces don't actually own their outdoor square footage, so reclaiming them should not be a problem. Bob suggests using sort of a cross between eminent domain and “pleading footprint.”
For our little terrace off the library, I've ordered a 500-gallon free-standing elliptical leg tank made of high-density polyethylene with no UV inhibitors. My feeling is, solar-heat the rainwater and deal with it later. Mr. Ramirez says that his brother has a company that can install the collection piping.
2. I've spoken to Time Warner about whether their coaxial and fiber optic cable can be restrung laterally across the courtyard for laundry drying. Needless to say how much energy this will save. Bob knows several people on the TWX board and says he'll pitch them on the “P.C.-P.R.” of this....
3. Our underused roof can house up to 38 wind turbine generators. Unlike solar energy, wind doesn't get dark at night, if you know what I mean. Each one can create 200 watts of power at wind speeds as low as 15 m.p.h. Basically we can run the lights in the playroom for a year off one good nor'easter.
A nice Monday morning surprise in the pages of the usually pretentious and pompous and oh-so-serious New York Times.
February 4, 2007 12:45 PM
Also worth reading in the weekend Journal is an article by Philip Stott, professor emeritus of biogeography at the University of London, in which he describes concisely the way the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) works, areas for further climate research, and the misconceptions that have colored the climate change debate in recent years -- and which underlie carbon emission-limitation efforts like the Kyoto Protocol. First, on the IPCC:
Unfortunately, the IPCC represents science by supercommittee, as rule 10 of its procedures states: "In taking decisions, and approving, adopting and accepting reports, the Panel, its Working Groups and any Task Forces shall use all best endeavors to reach consensus." I bet Galileo would have had a rough time with that.
In this context, it is vital to remember that science progresses by skepticism and by paradigm shifts: A consensus early last century would have given us eugenics. Moreover, the IPCC does no original research, nor does it monitor climate-related data; its evidence is instead from selected secondary sources. But, above all, this supercommittee is more political than is often recognized, rule three firmly reminding delegates that: "documents should involve both peer review by experts and review by governments."
On the obsession with carbon emissions:
Throughout the history of science, monocausal explanations that overemphasize the dominance of one factor in immensely complex processes (in this case, the human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases) have been inevitably replaced by more powerful theories.
On areas for further research: