Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

The first bogeyman of the 2012 campaign

Sep 1, 2011 14:16 UTC

If an election is coming, that means each side needs a bogeyman. The Republicans have chosen first, and theirs is the Environmental Protection Agency. Michele Bachman calls the EPA “the job-killing organization of America,” promising to “padlock” its doors. Tea Party leader Eric Cantor says environmental rules are “job-destroying”. Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he “prays daily” for the EPA to be restricted.

Soon Democrats will choose their bogeyman – The Rich are the current frontrunner.

Elections often are dominated by bogeymen – Republicans claim Democrats don’t care about national defense, Democrats claim Republicans want to eliminate Social Security, that sort of nonsense. Environmental bogeymen are appealing to some factions because the issue involves regulatory arcana that hardly anyone understands, and because environmental subjects are poorly reported in the mainstream media.

What’s maddening about the politics of the environment is that both sides consistently assert things that aren’t even close to true. The right claims that environmental regulations hurt the economy – data show the reverse. The left claims the environment is dying – data show the reverse.

Consider environmental rules and the economy. From 1980 to the beginning of the 2008 recession, the very period in which environmental regulations went from few to many, the U.S. GDP rose 124 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. Most of that period was gangbusters for growth and employment. If environmental regulations are “job destroying,” the economy has a funny way of showing it.

Why didn’t the heat wave cause power failures?

Jul 28, 2011 19:38 UTC

Last week a record-setting heat wave afflicted much of the United States — yet there were no brownouts.

Electricity shortages during heat waves long have been common. We tend to miss what doesn’t happen, and what didn’t happen last week was electric power scarcity.

Two factors are at play, one positive and one vexing.

The positive factor is gradual decline in electricity demand. From 1996 to 2007, U.S. power consumption rose 23 percent. Since then, consumption has declined 16 percent. Taking population growth into account, per capita demand decline since 2007 is even greater. Details are in this fun report — every day must be a party at the Energy Information Administration.

The good and bad of 2011

Dec 15, 2010 17:54 UTC

With 2011 around the corner, what big developments might be expected in the coming year? Here are a few possibilities, bad and good:

Bad: Freshwater shortages. China is depleting its aquifers at an alarming rate in order to grow rice, the most water-intensive cereal. Freshwater supplies are approaching critical in much of the Middle East.

Discussion of climate change has focused on rising temperatures, which in and of themselves aren’t a threat and have some positives (such as lowering winter heat demand). As UCLA geographer Laurence Smith shows in his important new book The World in 2050, nearly all our globe’s surface freshwater is in glaciers and snowpack. Warming is causing “more of the world’s water to leave the mountains to run to the sea,” warns Smith, and “no amount of engineering” can reverse this loss in the short term.

Ethanol a “stealth tax” on drivers

Oct 20, 2010 13:57 UTC

Substituting ethanol for petroleum – what could be wrong with that? A lot, it turns out, including a cynical “stealth tax” on drivers.

A few days ago the Environmental Protection Agency announced that soon gasoline can be made from 85 percent petroleum and 15 percent ethanol, up from a current limit of 10 percent ethanol. Such a move to replace imported petroleum with home-grown ethanol sounds great — until you examine the details.

Ethanol is the king of subsidies. Ethanol from genetically engineered dwarf trees or tall grasses holds tremendous promise as a cost-effective, greenhouse-neutral fuel. But for today, nearly all ethanol sold in the United States is made from corn. Domestically produced corn-based ethanol is subsidized via federal payments to grain farmers, by refinery tax exemptions for fuel containing domestic ethanol, and by tariff barriers intended to prevent Brazilian sugar-based ethanol from entering the country. Annual federal subsidies to corn ethanol cost around $5 billion. Are the benefits worth that?

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