Thursday, April 24, 2008

Saving the World from What?

In the last few days I've heard the words "as long as they do something" at least 3 times in response to some blather about saving the world. The news cycle moves us from "crisis" to "crisis" - it's little wonder that a lot of us seem to be in a constant state of fear. But here's a reality check (from Motor Trend no less):

In 1900, the average life expectancy for an American was 47 years. In 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, it was 78. In 1900, Americans devoted 50 percent of their incomes to putting food on the table. In the late 1990s, that figure had dropped to 10 percent. By the end of the 20th century, despite a five-fold increase in the U.S. population, forests continued to cover one-third of our land space (the world's forests have actually increased in size since the 1940s). Americans have three times more leisure hours over their lifetimes than did their ancestors in the late 19th century. I could go on and on.
So how does it make sense that we're sacrificing lives here and now (or in the very least making life a lot more miserable) for events that may or may not happen in the future? This is the nutty world we live in:

(1) In the name of "environment" the US government has been subsidizing farmers to produce ethanol while forcing it to be used in gasoline - ignoring of course the inconvenient truth that corn based ethanol produces double the greenhouse gases than gas itself.

(2) Meanwhile, this diversion from foodstock to ethanol has manufactured another global crisis: skyrocketing food prices.

(3) Let's not forget the manufactured "crisis" in gas prices. Buried for instance in this older article, the Washington Post reports: "U.S. refining capacity today is about 16 million barrels a day, about the same as it was in 1983". And why haven't we built new refinery capacity? Government policy.

(4) In the meantime, protectionists bar cheap, cost effective and environmentally ethanol from entering the US. From Roger Cohen (h/t Instapundit):
Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. . . . What sense does it make to have a surplus of environmentally friendly Brazilian sugar-based ethanol with a yield eight times higher than U.S. corn ethanol and zero impact on food prices being kept from an American market by a tariff of 54 cents on a gallon while Iowan corn ethanol gets a subsidy?
There's a solution of course: capitalism keeps the world clean where it counts (Cafe Hayek, h/t Adam Smith Institute). Plus this - which didn't make it to the front pages: global temperatures have been decreasing since 1998 (BBC)! As a former environmentalist, I'd say the path to redemption is to first abandon the assumption that those who don't agree with prevailing media views are either evil, stupid, or crazy.

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