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Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

Apple Doing More For China’s Environment Than China’s Government

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I continue to be amazed by people who believe governments are an effective way to protect the environment. It’s such a stupid belief because governments are the biggest polluters whose only interest in regulating pollution is getting a piece of the action through permit issuances. The only way to reduce pollution, which is the only way to change anything, is direct action. Oftentimes direct action to reduce pollution involves individuals whose property has been damaged by a polluter filing a lawsuit (of course such action has been illegal in the United States ever since the federal government started involving itself in pollution licensing). But that’s not the only way.

Apple has announced a plan to build solar power plans in China:

Six months after Apple said it wanted to stop climate change, rather than debate the issue, the company has announced two new programs that it says will reduce the carbon footprint of its manufacturing partners in China. The two schemes aim to avoid the production of more than 20 million metric tons of pollution between now and 2020 by building solar energy sources in the country’s northern, eastern, and southern grid regions, and by partnering with suppliers to install clean energy projects over the coming years.

At the same time, Apple also announced that it has completed 40 megawatts of solar projects in China’s Sichuan province, capable of producing the same amount of energy used by Apple’s retail stores and operations offices in the country. Apple says the completion of the projects makes the company carbon neutral in China, but that doesn’t factor in the energy used by its manufacturers and suppliers. The two new schemes are intended to offset that energy usage, producing more than 200 megawatts of electricity through the new solar sources — enough to power 265,000 homes in China for a year — and by helping suppliers build projects that will offer more than 2 gigawatts of clean energy.

This move by Apple will do more good than any amount of petitioning the Chinese government. In fact if companies did similar things in the United States it would do more good than any amount of Environment Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 23rd, 2015 at 10:30 am

The EPA Investigated Itself And Found It Did Nothing Wrong

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After dumping millions of gallons of polluted mining water into a clean river the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) performed a quick investigation and decided it won’t suffer any punishment:

DENVER — Unlike BP, which was fined $5.5 billion for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EPA will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.

“Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and other lawmakers have called on the EPA to hold itself to the same standards as it would a private company in the aftermath of Wednesday’s accident, in which an EPA-led crew uncorked a 3 million-gallon spill of orange wastewater from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

However, “The EPA does not fine itself the way that you would fine an outside company like BP,” said Mr. Sansonetti, who served from 2001 to 2005 under President George W. Bush.

OK, I was joking about it performing an investigation. But this harkens back to what I said yesterday. Depending on the state to protect the environment is foolhardy because it has no incentive to actually protect the environment. When a company violates its regulations it merely demands a piece of the action in the form of fines. And when it violates its own regulations is declares “sovereign immunity,” just like a “sovereign citizen” would, and says it may pay the cost of cleanup and compensation for damages but only if Congress appropriates money for it:

What the EPA can be expected to cover is the cost of the cleanup and compensation for the damage caused, funding that would have to be appropriated by Congress, meaning that the taxpayers will foot the bill.

“That’s going to have to be appropriated because that sort of thing is not included in the EPA’s budget,” said Mr. Sansonetti, now a Denver attorney.

Not only will the agency go unpunished but it won’t even have to pay the costs out of its budget! Consider this fact what motivation does the EPA have to protect the environment? It seems like the agency wins whenever the environment is polluted. If a private entity pollutes a river the EPA enjoys a cash payment and if it pollutes a river it does nothing unless it receives additional money from Congress to fix its fuck up.

Go ahead statists, explain to me how the state is necessary to protect the environment after this fiasco. I could use a good laugh.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 12th, 2015 at 11:00 am

Without Government Who Would Pollute The Rivers

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I’ve been told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lone barrier that stands between us and the entire country being turned into an uninhabitable wasteland by greedy corporations that want to fill our lakes and rivers with industrial waste. But I’ve also been told that socialism can work so I don’t put a lot of weight into what others have told me. The EPA, as with most government agencies, doesn’t really do what its name implies. It doesn’t protect the environment so much as licenses pollution. When somebody is dumping waste into a body of water the EPA steps in and demands a little piece of the action in exchange for looking the other way. And if nobody is polluting a body of water the EPA steps in and does it:

DURANGO — A spill that sent 1 million gallons of wastewater from an abandoned mine into the Animas River, turning the river orange, set off warnings Thursday that contaminants threaten water quality for those downstream.

The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed it triggered the spill while using heavy machinery to investigate pollutants at the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton.

I know somebody reading this will feel the need to point out that the EPA didn’t do this on purpose, which I’m sure is true. That’s not the point. The point is the lack of recourse. When an individual or corporation dumps waste into a body of water people usually sic the EPA on them. But what happens in this case? Who watches the watchmen? Does the EPA sue itself and transfer some of its money to itself? Will another agency, maybe an oversight committee, step in to find the EPA and therefore transfer some of the state’s wealth from itself to itself?

Herein lies the problem. Then government, which is the biggest polluter, is held entirely unaccountable because it has declared a monopoly on environmental protection. As it has declared this monopoly for itself there is no way to hold it accountable because it’s in its best interest to not enforce its own laws against itself. And if anybody else tries to hold it accountable it attacks them for breaking the law.

The biggest failure of environmentalism is its reliance on the state. A state has no interest in protecting the environment, its interests lie in polluting it without consequence and getting a piece of any polluting action.

Using The Market To Fight Poachers

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Poaching is an issue in various parts of the world. Most species of rhino, for example, have been hunted to near extinction, in part, because a lot of cultures believe its horn carries magical properties that make human dicks bigger (or harder or whatever). Governments have been trying to solve this problem in the only way they know how, creating prohibitions. These prohibitions, like all prohibitions, have failed. Fortunately the market is here to bail us out. A group of researchers have come up with a clever way to reduce the demand for poaching rhinos:

Pembient, based in San Francisco uses keratin — a type of fibrous protein — and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is then 3D printed into synthetic rhino horns which is genetically and spectrographically similar to original rhino horns.The company plans to release a beer brewed with the synthetic horn later this year in the Chinese market.

The Chinese and Vietnamese rhino horn craze has caused an unprecedented surge in rhino poaching throughout Africa and Asia bringing the animal to the brink of extinction. In South Africa, home to 80 percent of Africa’s rhino population, 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014.

Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient says his company will sell rhino horns at one-eighth of the price of the original, undercutting the price poachers can get and forcing them out eventually.

Who said counterfeits were always bad? Rhino horn is worth a lot of money so poachers will continue to take bigger risks in pursuit of the few remaining animals on the planet. By creating an artificial substitute that is indistinguishable from the real deal and flooding the market with it the demand for rhino horn can be fulfilled and therefore reduce. This is the strategy that stands a chance of reducing rhino poaching because it address the root cause.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 6th, 2015 at 10:00 am

What Happens When You Densely Populate a Desert

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Things aren’t looking good for California. Not surprisingly for a desert water is in short supply. Unlike most deserts California happens to be very densely populated, which has lead to a major crisis:

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

Assuming this estimate is accurate California is in for some very bad times. So what’s to be done? Let’s ask the statist that wrote this article:

Several steps need be taken right now. First, immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state’s water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is already considering water rationing by the summer unless conditions improve. There is no need for the rest of the state to hesitate. The public is ready. A recent Field Poll showed that 94% of Californians surveyed believe that the drought is serious, and that one-third support mandatory rationing.

Second, the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 should be accelerated. The law requires the formation of numerous, regional groundwater sustainability agencies by 2017. Then each agency must adopt a plan by 2022 and “achieve sustainability” 20 years after that. At that pace, it will be nearly 30 years before we even know what is working. By then, there may be no groundwater left to sustain.

Third, the state needs a task force of thought leaders that starts, right now, brainstorming to lay the groundwork for long-term water management strategies. Although several state task forces have been formed in response to the drought, none is focused on solving the long-term needs of a drought-prone, perennially water-stressed California.

Not surprisingly the statist’s answer is stupid. Rationing, making new agencies, and establishing a task force isn’t going to accomplish jack shit. The problem is that California, at least the southern portion of the state, is a desert. Since the state decided to declare a monopoly on water rights in the region it ignored the very real fact that deserts are not the greatest places to pack a lot of people and agriculture into. Now California is densely populated and a major agricultural state. The only thing surprising about this fiasco is that it didn’t enter a critical level like this sooner.

So I return to the original question, what’s to be done. Fixing this problem isn’t feasible with central planning so the only viable answer is to remove the state from water rights and management and allow the market to do its thing. I would predict doing this would increase the cost of water in California dramatically and therefore encourage people and agriculture to move elsewhere. This is likely the only long-term solution for California’s water shortage but people don’t want to hear it because they prefer the fairytale that statism has been telling them, which is any economic rules can be nullified so long as enough people vote hard enough.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 16th, 2015 at 11:00 am

Incandescent Light Bulbs, Another Casualty of the Corporate-Political State

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It’s 2014, which means incandescent light bulbs are kind of illegal. Granted, the prohibition on incandescent light bulbs has enough exceptions where those wanting such bulbs can find them. After all, a manufacturer need only label their bulbs “rough service” bulbs and they can sell them just as they always have. Otherwise you can probably follow the European route and seek out “heat lamp bulbs”. But let’s discuss the death of the standard incandescent bulb. What killed it? Was it environmental concern? No. While the ban was sold as environmental concern it was just another example of the corporate-political state at work:

People often assume green regulations like this represent the triumph of environmental activists trying to save the plant. That’s rarely the case, and it wasn’t here. Light bulb manufacturers whole-heartedly supported the efficiency standards. General Electric, Sylvania and Philips — the three companies that dominated the bulb industry — all backed the 2007 rule, while opposing proposals to explicitly outlaw incandescent technology (thus leaving the door open for high-efficiency incandescents).

This wasn’t a case of an industry getting on board with an inevitable regulation in order to tweak it. The lighting industry was the main reason the legislation was moving. As the New York Times reported in 2011, “Philips formed a coalition with environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council to push for higher standards.”

Why would General Electric, Sylvania, and Philips push to ban incandescent bulbs? Because it would push many of their competitors out of business. Producing a compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulb is a much more expensive and complicated process than producing an incandescent bulb. In addition to being much easier to produce incandescent bulbs are also much cheaper to buy. So incandescent bulbs are the biggest competitor to CFL and LED bulbs. CFL and LED manufacturers wanted to eliminate competition to their bulbs.

This is standard operating procedure for large corporations. They seek out ways to use the political system to eliminate their competitors. Usually they will attempt to hijack a thriving political movement to do most of the dirty work. Environmental groups are common targets for hijacking because they usually have very passionate members and have shown a great deal of success at manipulating the political system.

If you’re a member of any political or social movement be wary of large corporations that approach you seeking an alliance or partnership. Chances are almost 100 percent that they’re interested in using you to knock one or more of their competitors out of a market. Once their competitors are out of the way they will dump you and, in all likelihood, work to have you rendered political irrelevant. After all, if you can demonstrate an ability to take out their competitors you are also a threat to them.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 3rd, 2014 at 10:30 am

The United States Government Promoting Poaching

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The federal government has amasses a rather sizable amount of ivory. Its intention is to crush the six tons of illegally gathered elephant remains. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS):

We’re sending a message to ivory traffickers and their customers that the United States will not tolerate this illegal trade. We’re standing with nations that have already destroyed their illegal ivory and showing our commitment to working with partners around the world to stop this trafficking and save elephants.

Leave it to the government to think destroying illegally acquired materials will convince people to stop illegally collecting that material. The supply of ivory is quite limited since its sole source is from a very small portion of the body of a slow growing mammal. Ivory’s status as an illegal material and its relatively scarcity makes it quite valuable indeed. So what happens when six tons of it are crushed into useless dust? It becomes more scarce and therefore more valuable. With the potential for higher profits poachers are willing to take higher risks.

What the FWS is doing sounds good on paper but will only exacerbate the problem. It would be no different than the Drug Enforcement Agency capturing tons of cocaine and burning it. All that would do is cause an increase in the price of cocaine and encourage more production and sales.

Poaching, being an illegal activity, can’t be fought by making the value of poached animal remains more valuable. That further encourages poaching, especially in poorer regions where a subsistence farmer could stand to greatly improve his life by selling a single poached animal carcass. Instead of creating incentives to poach animals we should think of ways to disincentivize poaching. The only way to do that is to devalue the materials. Ivory, for example, could be devalued by finding a viable replacement, such as an indistinguishable synthetic, which could increase the overall supply without requiring the poaching of elephants.

The State Fails to Protect the Environment Again

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Stories like this really demonstrate how ineffective the state is as protecting the environment:

BP had accused Houston-based Halliburton, its contractor, of destroying evidence and asked it to pay for all damages.

The major oil spill three years ago followed a blast at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers.

“A Halliburton subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanour violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation,” the company said in a statement.

I’m fairly certain that any expenditure under $1 million is taken out of Halliburton’s petty cash account so this fine isn’t even a consequence, it’s pocket change given to a beggar. Also, I’m not sure how a corporation can be put on probation. Is the federal government going to strap an ankle bracelet to Halliburton’s headquarters?

The federal government, along with statist environmentalists, continue to claim that the state is the only effective steward of the environment. Time and time again we see this “steward” enabling more and more destruction by protecting wrongdoers from consequences. By all rights the companies invested int he Deepwater Horizon should have been made to pay every dime of the cleanup and restoration processes. But we know that few companies would be willing to take major environmental risks if they were forced to suffer the consequences if something were to go wrong. Because of this they beg the state for protection and the state, seeing the amount of money they can expropriate from these organizations through regulatory fines and taxes, complies.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 26th, 2013 at 10:30 am

Statism Lowers the Quality of Living

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The more power the state obtains the lower the quality of life for the general populace is. Power production is one of the most heavily regulated markets. Although the state claims it must regulate power production in order to reduce pollution its interests in the market involves protecting its cronies from competition. Consider the Clean Air Act, which we’re told was passed to ensure better air quality. In actuality it was designed in such a way as to drum up business for expensive sulfur dioxide scrubbers and protect eastern coal producers. From Political Environmentalism by Terry L. Anderson:

Under the 1970 Clean Air Act, the EPA had established a policy whereby all coal plants were required to meet a set emission standard for sulfur dioxide. The original standard of 1.2 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO,) per million British thermal units (BTUs) of coal could be met in a variety of ways.

Despite its apparent flexibility, this regulation had disparate regional effects. Most of the coal in the eastern United States is relatively “dirty” due to its high sulfur content. Western coal, on the other hand, is far cleaner. Using western coal enabled utilities and other coal-burning facilities to meet the federal standard without installing costly scrubbers to reduce the sulfur content of their emissions. At the time, scrubbers were so expensive that many midwestern firms found it less expensive to haul tons of low-sulfur coal from the West than to utilize closer, dirtier deposits.

When the Clean Air Act was revised in 1977, it was time for the eastern coal producers to get even. As Ackerman and Hassler (1981) noted, eastern producers of high-sulfur coal elected “to abandon their campaign to weaken pollution standards and take up the cudgels for the costliest possible clean air solution-universal scrubbing” (31). The result was a “bizarre coalition of environmentalists and dirty coal producers” that successfully advanced a new set of environmental standards that probably did more harm than good in much of the country (Ackerman and Hassler 1981, 27).

Under the 1977 law, coal plants had to meet both an emission standard and a technology standard. In particular, the law contained new-source-performance standards (NSPS) that forced facilities to attain a “percentage reduction in emissions.” In other words, no matter how clean coal was, a new facility would still be required to install scrubbers. This law destroyed low-sulfur coal’s comparative advantage, particularly in the Midwest and the East. If all new facilities had scrubbers, then there was no need to transport low-sulfur coal across the country. Less expensive, high-sulfur coal from the East would work just as well, even if it produced substantially greater emissions.

The result of such regulations is predictable, power production facilities pay more money to install sulfur dioxide scrubbers and we, the consumers, pay more money for electricity so the power production facility can pay off the scrubbers. We end up getting less electricity for more money and suffer a hit in our overall qualify of life because of it.

Now consider the United Kingdom (UK). That state’s rule over power production has led to a shortage of power. Being a state the only solution seen by the UK is rationing:

Fridges and freezers in millions of British homes will automatically be switched off without the owner’s consent under a ‘Big Brother’ regime to reduce the strain on power stations.

The National Grid is demanding that all new appliances be fitted with sensors that could shut them down when the UK’s generators struggle to meet demand for electricity.

Electric ovens, air-conditioning units and washing machines will also be affected by the proposals, which are already backed by one of the European Union’s most influential energy bodies. They are pushing for the move as green energy sources such as wind farms are less predictable than traditional power stations, increasing the risk of blackouts.

The result of the UK’s unwillingness to expand their power production with reliable sources may lead to massive amounts of food spoilage as refrigerators across wide swaths of the country shut themselves down and people dying of heatstroke because their air conditioners automatically shut off when it was 115 degrees outside. Once again the state’s desire to control everything is leading to a drop in the overall qualify of life and, in a rather ironic twist, a potential waste of food, which isn’t a green policy at all. Oh, and to add insult to injury, people living in the UK will be footing the bill for the development and installation of the technology that will allow the power facilities to automatically disable your appliances.

Why wouldn’t the power production companies demand to be allowed to build more reliable production facilities? Because that would cost them money and so long as they enjoy the state-provided protection from competition they have no motivation to actually spend money to improve their product. Who would want to spend millions to build a new power plant when they can charge more money for the same amount of electricity thanks to state-mandated rationing? Nobody, that’s who.

Bitcoin Mining isn’t an Environmental Disaster

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I don’t know what possesses people who don’t understand the advancement of technology to write about the advancement of technology. Bitcoin has been headlining many news sites recently. Most of the headlines discuss the recent crash but Mark Gimein had decided to write about another aspect of Bitcoin, the energy requirements of Bitcoin mining. According to Mr. Gimein Bitcoin mining is an environmental disaster:

Most people aren’t used to thinking in terms of the energy it takes to solve math problems; a few minutes of Excel may not take much energy. But make the problems complicated enough, and things change. “Mining” Bitcoins takes so much processor power that it’s often done with specialized computers optimized for rapid repetitive calculations. So how much power can that take?

Blockchain.info, a site that tracks data on Bitcoin mining, estimates that in just the last 24 hours, miners used about $147,000 of electricity just to run their hardware, assuming an average price of 15 cents per kilowatt hour (a little higher than the U.S. average, lower than some high cost areas like California). That, of course, is in addition to the money devoted to buying and building the mining rigs. The site estimates the profits from the day of mining at about $681,000, based on the current value of Bitcoins. So mining, at least for the moment, is a lucrative business.

The trade-off here is that as virtual value is created, real-world value is used up. About 982 megawatt hours a day, to be exact. That’s enough to power roughly 31,000 U.S. homes, or about half a Large Hadron Collider. If the dreams of Bitcoin proponents are realized, and the currency is adopted for widespread commerce, the power demands of bitcoin mines would rise dramatically.

What Mr. Gimein fails to understand, or at least mention, is that Bitcoin is in its infancy and, like any technology in its infancy, is still running inefficiently. New technologies always start off rough around the edges and improve over time. A majority of Bitcoin mining was originally performed using computer processors. Today a majority of Bitcoin mining is done using graphics cards. Both processors and graphics cards, especially the powerful ones that were and are used by Bitcoin miners, can require a great deal of power. However the technology is improving.

First, let’s understand the the current trend in computing is power efficiency. More computing is being performed on mobile platforms, which need to run off of energy stored in batteries. A mobile phone, for example, doesn’t do much good if it can only run for an hour before the battery goes dead. This is why manufacturers are sinking huge amounts of research and development dollars into making more power efficient chips. Consumers always want more. They want more powerful devices and better battery life. Manufacturers want to make consumers happy because making consumers happy is what nets manufacturers a profit. So we are seeing more powerful processors and graphics processors that also consume less power.

The age of wearable computing is also beginning. Google has introduced Glass, the Pebble watch is selling very well, and there are rumors that Apple is planning to introduce a watch of its own. Wearable computers are even smaller than mobile phones, meaning there isn’t as much room for batteries. When wearable computers begin to take off the demand for even more power efficient chips will increase.

Today Bitcoin mining may take 982 megawatt hours a day. Tomorrow it will likely take less. Not just because of more power efficiency processors and graphics cards, but because current efforts are being focused on Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). ASICs are chips designed to perform a specific task. This contrasts with general purpose computing chips such as the processor and graphics card (which are more specialized than processors but still capable of performing other tasks) found in your computer. Because of this ASICs can be designed to use less power. The linked article linked to Butterfly Lab’s website. Butterfly Labs is purporting to build ASICs for Bitcoin mining (I say purported because I know several people who have ordered from Butterfly Labs but have so far received no hardware). ASCIMiner is another ASIC aimed at Bitcoin mining and is powered off of a standard USB port.

Mr. Gimein must believe that Bitcoin miners like sinking vast amounts of money into buying electricity. If that was the case then Bitcoin miners wouldn’t be looking for more efficient methods of mining. But Mr. Gimein’s apparent belief is incorrect, Bitcoin miners don’t like spending great deals of money on electricity, which is why money is being put into developing more efficient mining hardware. Doing more with less has been the trend in human technology. When somebody makes estimations based on current technology they are doomed to fail. One must also predict how technology will advance. The electricity required in Bitcoin mining will decrease as the technology matures.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 15th, 2013 at 11:30 am