Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Bishop of Exeter and the Eco-crucifixes

Not much time to blog these days, but here's something to enjoy. It brightened my day. A rip-roaring anti-environmentalist editorial about the Bishop of Exeter's foiled attempt to erect a couple of huge and hideous wind catchers on glebe land. Heh.

OK Bishop, I understand that the Church is hard up. (And why is that I wonder? Surely not because it has sacrificed most of its values and traditions in order to get down with the kids – who, by the by, hate it when squares try to be cool – and to embrace modish issues like sustainability and climate change instead of all that complicated old-fashioned stuff like belief in God?) I understand that the £50,000 a year you might have earned from the wind farm companies could have come in pretty handy. 
But to quote a book I know the church doesn't use that often these days, so forgive my impertinence in reminding you of it:

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Because where, ultimately, Bishop, do you think that annual £50,000 would have come from?
Not from the electricity generated by the turbines themselves, let me assure you. Wind energy is to all intents and purposes worthless since, being intermittent and unreliable, it has no value in a consumer-demand-led free market. The only reason the wind industry exists at all is because of the massive subsidies it receives, mostly added onto electricity bills in the form of concealed tariffs.
And there's more. Enjoy.

I must admit: I really have little patience with the ecos. Their yen to make everyone else's lives more difficult becomes pathological at times. I'm coming more and more to believe that if someone tomorrow came up with a cheap energy source that had substantially less environmental impact than anything else we know and that allowed mankind to maintain a first-world standard of living, the ecos and (I'm sorry to say) other nostalgia-driven paleo types would find something to complain about and would try to block it. In other words, I'm coming more and more to believe that inefficiency and driving down the first-world standard of living are at least functioning as ends in themselves for such people, perhaps for aesthetic reasons. Maybe they would say this is false, but that's what it's looking like. What I wish I could do is drive a wedge between, on the one hand, the conservative agrarian types and, on the other hand, the ecological left, which hates mankind and thinks we are a cancer on the planet. Unfortunately, I'm probably not savvy and tactful enough to do that.


Dan said...

Not quite sure what you mean about the wedge and the conservative agrarian types, but you're not wrong--the unbalanced, big-government anti-technological ecos DO want to "monkeywrench", damage capitalism, drive down the first-world standard of living, though not QUITE as an end in iself, and not merely for aesthetic reasons:

See also on the Google 'coercive utopians' both the concept and the book.

Thankfully there are other, pro-human, pro-growth environmentalists like Stewart Brand, who want, like Bucky Fuller, "more with less", who embrace technology, to improve efficiency, give us HIGHER standards of living at lower cost, with less waste and pollution (Brand is pro-nuclear as well...)


Alex said...

OK Bishop, I understand that the Church is hard up. (And why is that I wonder? Surely not because it has sacrificed most of its values and traditions in order to get down with the kids – who, by the by, hate it when squares try to be cool – and to embrace modish issues like sustainability and climate change instead of all that complicated old-fashioned stuff like belief in God?)

One reason why I won't show up at any Church of England service (well, I attend Matins quite often) where a sermon will be preached, is because I don't want to listen to some fanciful discourse on the environment, genetically modified wheat, animal rights, the greed of capitalists, etc.

I regret to say that not even the Dean of Lincoln himself can resist harping on about the fashionable fads of the hour instead of sticking within his job description.

As Brigadier Frank Savage (played by Gregory Peck in Twelve O'Clock High) says to the chaplain who, without permission, has sneaked aboard a B17 to fly on a raid over Germany:
"Parson, your business is sin. Hereafter you’ll confine your activities to that theater of operations".

Lydia McGrew said...

Alex, one of the things that bothers me about people who preach like that is their messed-up priorities. Heaven forbid they shd. preach about abortion, for example. Their idea of boldly applying Christianity to culture and politics is...environmentalism. That almost makes me see red, it's messed up in so many ways.

Dan, I hadn't heard of Stewart Brand. By my wish to drive a wedge part of what I mean is this: There are people who will say to my mind very misguided nostalgic things about how people were better off without plumbing in a simpler world, and I suspect that in various areas they are accepting their facts from leftist eco-types even about our world today. I would like to give them more of a sense of how thankful we should be for the benefits of modern progress and also instill a lot of distrust of the "facts" they hear about how man is damaging the planet, how we're worse off in x or y way. I'd like them to "consider the source" which, if they are the type of "crunchy" conservative I'm thinking of, is going to be a source they should know not to trust.

One thing that really frosts me is when people bring up obesity as some sort of "offset" of various good things in the modern world. Seriously? Yeah, for sure, on the one hand (premodern) we have massive sepsis, bubonic plague, women dying agonizingly in childbirth, and typhoid epidemics. On the other hand, y'know, we have an "obesity epidemic" now in the developed world. Huh. Maybe we're not better off after all. Sheesh.

Dan said...

Stewart Brand has had a busy life,

for a generation he was best known for giving us the Whole Earth Catalogs, which, though definitely aimed at the neo-agrarian set, hippie communes, etc was pro-capitalism and pro-technology, showed them Popular Sciencey stuff like the BD-5 aircraft. Speaking of which, another Whole Earther, Kevin Kelly...

is a biggie at Wired magazine. Yet another Whole Earther, J. Baldwin, is perhaps Bucky Fuller's best interpreter:

These three sort of anchor for me a healthy approach to technology AND the environment. The eco-tax concept,

whereby pollutants are taxed on a per-unit basis, thus are no longer what economists call 'externalities' but now show up on the dashboard, the gauges businesses fly by, is also commendable, and one even arch-free-marketers can embrace as a 'user fee'.

Once polluters face a per-unit tax, instead of an occasional fine, the incentives are there to purge their processes of as many ills as are truly cost-effective.

Of course, even approximating how much damage is done by any given pollutant depends on honest brokers in the scientific community and government, and those of course are often thin on the ground.

Dan said...

Oh, and Kevin Kelly, whom I just mentioned:

is a Christian:

on 'our' side:

Lydia McGrew said...

Yeah, I would be hesitant about up-front "pollutant user fees." For one thing, it would be certain to be applied to CO2, which all of us are continually giving out as we breathe. At this point even defining a pollutant is heavily politicized. Moreover, deciding which "externalities" to turn into up-front fees would itself be an ideologically freighted decision. There is no doubt that some people would want to do this for purchasing "sugary drinks" (their current object of hatred) while giving a free pass to people purchasing condoms, for example, despite the fact that the latter would likely be a marker for a range of behaviors that would "burden the system."

I realize it may seem that those two examples are unrelated to pollutants, but in general they are related to trying to gauge how people are burdening the world by their activities and adding some sort of tax or fee to those activities accordingly.

Lydia McGrew said...

I have to say: That some environmentalist is a Christian doesn't weigh a lot with me. Practically, these days, it simply doesn't tell one much. In fact, Christians can be pretty darned gullible about taking their facts from unreliable sources.

Lydia McGrew said...

A little googling turns up that Brand is a firm believer in Anthropogenic Global Warming. He just has some unusual solutions to propose which make his fellow ecos uncomfortable.

Dan said...

Brand's belief in AGW would certainly account for his pro-nuclear stance:

My larger point, such as it was, is merely that some ecos are NOT watermelons, green on the outside, red on the inside, DON'T want to drive down the standard of living, but are comfortable with capitalism and technology, and economic growth.

Me ?

Whatever the precise details of a sound environmental policy, I want the closest to what are normally thought of as 'Millennial' conditions we can approximate in a fallen world.



Lydia McGrew said...

I think any policy of putting sin taxes (which is what it would be) on things environmentalists dislike (which is what it would be) is going to have a negative economic effect. I mean, obviously. As Sowell says: No solutions, only tradeoffs and compromises. I myself think that we should keep fines as fines rather than turning them into sin taxes and then levy them only when there is *direct* harm that is clear and very serious. Talk of "externalities" makes me highly uncomfortable, because it usually seems to point to indirect downstream consequences. And there is nothing good that doesn't have some negative indirect downstream consequences.

Dan said...

Ah !

The negative economic effect can be neutralized by having the pollution 'sin tax' program be revenue-neutral. Not that the polluter gets a rebate, but the taxpayers at large do, as pollution taxes could replace many direct confiscations.

You're free to say that any government we know would keep all existing taxes and rates and joyously start up a new, growing revenue stream, but as long as we are trying to solve problems for humanity, let us so do :)

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm afraid I remain unconvinced. If the environmental effect is *that bad*, it shouldn't be permitted with a tax. If it isn't *that bad*, it shouldn't be taxed. There you have my attitude toward sin taxes generally. In essence, either leave the smokers alone or outlaw smoking. If it isn't the kind of thing that is harmful enough, harmful in the right ways, harmful directly enough, where the person himself is clearly responsible for the harm, etc., then don't try to discourage and punish it with taxes and fees. If it is, then just stop it.

After all, we don't want to allow companies to dump raw sewage into water sources but simply charge them an up-front user tax! They shouldn't be allowed to do that kind of dumping at all. (You can make up your own other examples--live nuclear waste being dumped into rivers or whatever.) At the same time, I for one have zero sympathy (is it possible to have negative sympathy?) for all the stuff about how supposedly there is a "dead zone in the sea" because of the crop fertilizers that give us such abundant food, but that claim of an "environmental externality" would surely be used for punitive up-front sin taxes on fertilizer manufacturers and users. Not to mention the whole CO2 and global warming thing. (Perhaps we should all be charged a user tax for breathing out, in that case!) I'm just not buying it.

Dan said...

Hey again ! Busy here...

What if a little raw sewage in a river were OK, but a lot were not ?

Banning the smoke from smokestack industries does satisfy your criteria, as does leaving it alone, if it's not "that bad".

But what if there are benefits, ultimately, (if not immediately and directly) measurable in dollars, to letting the smoke pour forth, low prices, high salaries, and costs, that also show up somewhere as dollars from letting the smoke go everywhere. (lung disease, etc). How would you go about finding an optimum path, the most benefit for the least cost ? Pricing pollution, putting the nearest-to-correct cost, per-unit tax on it, at least in theory solves the problem.

Jesus made breakfast for the Disciples over a "fire of burning coals" (John 21:19). Doesn't seem like an environmental emergency. Leaving aside the apparent Divine endorsement of carbon-based fuels to improve the human condition, natural lightning fires cause a certain amount of air pollution. Also seems that Reagan, who was mocked for thinking that trees pollute, was correct. At the top of the Smoky Mountain national Park is a plaque explaining the Smokies smokiness. Tree sap, resin, etc from trillions of trees forms a cloud in the air, one that reacts with sunlight to form some complex long-chain hydrocarbon or other, like automobile exhaust without a converter.

But how to prevent unpleasantnesses like the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, 1952 and 1969. The 1952 fire caused over 1.5 million dollars in damage. The 1969 fire is the one Boomers remember. Maybe that is "that bad", but closing all the industries seems a bad deal. How to 'capture' most of the gains, minimize losses ? I say the eco-tax is the most promising path forward.

Lydia McGrew said...

You'll notice when I said "that bad" I talked about the manufacturer himself doing the harm and doing it directly. Obviously sensible environmental regulations will take into account the quantity in question. Why even bring up a cook fire by the beach? Nobody in his right mind would claim that a campfire is going to cause vast, direct environmental damage. A factory burning much, much larger quantities might be a different matter.

The only scenario where I can see charging something at the outset is when you regulate the industry to require sensible, direct amelioration on the manufacturer's end of the negative effects. So, requiring some already-available technology that filters the run-off or captures the smoke or whatever. I don't know what these things are, but I've heard of such requirements for outputs from factories. *Of course* one is going to have to do some kind of cost-benefit analysis for even requiring something like that, but to my mind it would make a lot more sense than treating the costs as some kind of vague and indirect "costs to society" and charging a sin tax.

My own inclination is to make it much harder to make environmental regulations anyway. They should have to be made directly, on a line-item basis, by Congress. Not by bureaucrats. Congress (state and federal) should have to think hard before making such regulations and should always be able to reverse itself later. Etc. I think that making them actual regulations with penalties makes this more likely than just saying, "Go ahead and do it but pay this tax up front." Moreover, note: One gets a weird and unhealthy situation going on when the state itself becomes dependent on the revenue from sin taxes. Then even if the thing actually is (or becomes) so bad that it _should_ be shut down, the government is addicted to the revenue. Think casinos, here.

Dan said...

Ah ! The eco-tax saves all this top-down micromanaging, as the polluter himself does his own cost-benefit analysis. Centralized planners might wastefully "require" an expensive upfit for a plant due for replacement in a year or two. Consider the govt "requiring" you to have a low-flow faucet, toilet, etc. Charge you the full, true cost of the water, and you'll upgrade it yourself--or not--based on reality, not ideology.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, no, obviously someone has to decide on how much of an eco-tax to put on various things. It's an artificial addition to the cost made on the basis of some kind of decision by some lawmaker or bureaucrat.

I prefer punitive fines to be openly what they are rather than setting up some kind of faux "free market" that is actually highly regulated through punitive taxes added onto things.

And low-flo toilets are dumb because they are solving a non-problem. Eco-hysteria we will, it looks like, have always with us. But at least let's not pretend it's something else.

Dan said...

Oops !

No matter what you said, I was determined to let you have the last word. I've gone on long enough...

But must now briefly address the problem of the 'non-problem' of low-flow plumbing hardware.

Actually, often only a fraction of the true cost of your water use shows up on your monthly bill. The rest shows up on tax bills or deficits funding immense government expenditures on dams, reservoirs etc.

Now, while the local gas station is happy to sell you all the gallons you can buy, governments aren't, because under current rates, the price they charge you for water isn't enough for them to go get some more. Hence, the 'necessity' of the 'conservation' bit.

Tampering with market mechanisms like telling a lie, more lies must be told to cover it.

The US Government refused to lift price controls during the OPEC embargo, so people kept buying based on what the prices told them, and we were immediately short of gasoline, hence the long lines,rationing, National Maximum Speed Limit, CAFE fuel economy standards for carmakers etc--anything but let freedom prevail, let the price rise enough to quite naturally temper demand and increase supply...

Lydia McGrew said...

Sounds like that could be an argument for privatizing water provision altogether. Maybe not a decisive argument, but _an_ argument.

Dan said...

¡Si, amiga ! Tu es muy intelligente...

: )

Catch you later, best wishes...