Quotulatiousness

June 30, 2015

Elon Musk – high tech messiah or grasping crony capitalist?

Sean Noble says that the subsidies Elon Musk’s high-tech Tesla and Solar City firms are much higher than he implies:

Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City head Elon Musk lashed out at the Los Angeles Times following an article that totaled up all the government support that his three-headed corporate-welfare monster receives. The number the Times reported was nearly $5 billion in combined support for his companies, including subsidies for those who purchase Musk’s products, such as the high-priced solar panels of Solar City and the supercars of Tesla.

Musk responded by arguing, “If I cared about subsidies, I would have entered the oil and gas industry.” He further asserted that his competitors in the oil-and-gas industry haul in 1,000 times more in subsidies in a single year than his companies have received in total. Such statements reveal that Musk seems to care as little for facts as he purports to care about the taxpayer dollars propping up his various businesses.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the most recent data available regarding energy subsidies provided by the federal government. The data, covering the year 2013, broke down total taxpayer subsidies across the different sectors of the energy industry. While fossil fuels did enjoy some government support through various direct expenditures, tax credits, and R&D programs, the data stands in sharp contrast to Musk’s claims.

Data from the EIA report, combined with numbers from an anti-oil advocacy group regarding state-level government support, reveals that total state and federal support for the oil-and-gas industry is no more than $5.5 billion each year. As stated, Musk’s companies combine for $5 billion in subsidies, a number that he has yet to dispute. Clearly, the difference is much smaller than Musk’s outlandish 1,000-to-one claim.

June 24, 2015

The precarious economics of recycling today

Filed under: Business,Economics,Environment,USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

The recycling industry is having economic problems, which means many municipalities are being forced to share those problems:

Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.

In short, the business of American recycling has stalled. And industry leaders warn that the situation is worse than it appears.

“If people feel that recycling is important — and I think they do, increasingly — then we are talking about a nationwide crisis,” said David Steiner, chief executive of Waste Management, the nation’s largest recycler that owns the Elkridge plant and 50 others.

[…]

The problems of recycling in America are both global and local. A storm of falling oil prices, a strong dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.

Environmentalists and other die-hard conservation advocates question if the industry is overstating a cyclical slump.

“If you look at the long-term trends, there is no doubt that the markets for most recyclables have matured and that the economics of recycling, although it varies, has generally been moving in the right direction,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council who tracks solid waste and recycling in New York.

June 22, 2015

“Because economic growth is a dead end. The greens present the only way out”

Filed under: Britain,Environment,Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

J.R. Ireland pokes fun at the UK Green Party manifesto for the last general election:

All around the world our cultures might be different, our languages might be different, and we may think differently and act differently, but there is one fact which is true in every country on the face of planet Earth: The local Green Party will always be completely and irredeemably insane. From Australian pundit Tim Blair I’ve been made aware of the manifesto for the United Kingdom Green Party, a ludicrous amalgamation of wishful thinking, happy talk, and a total unwillingness to consider the unintended consequences of their proposed policies. From the absolutely bugfuck bonkers Youth Manifesto:

    Because economic growth is a dead end. The greens present the only way out.

Vote Green because they’re the only party courageous enough to promise voters that they will end economic growth. If there’s one way to win elections, it’s to tell the good people of Britain that you promise them an eternity of poverty and absolutely guarantee they will never get any richer.

Furthermore:

    We would introduce the right to vote at 16 because we believe that young people should have a say, as proven by the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014.

Indeed. Who wouldn’t want to have their country governed by the preferred candidates of middle teenagers? Why, the average 16 year old is so incredibly knowledgeable about the world and completely understands such complex topics as economics, immigration, and that hot chick Kristy’s red panties that he accidentally saw when she was uncrossing her legs in homeroom. With those sorts of brilliant minds choosing the leaders of the future, what could possibly go wrong?

[…]

But the real crazy, the high-end crazy, the crazy with a ribbon on top was saved not for their youth manifesto but for the manifesto allegedly meant for the big boys and girls who have hit puberty biologically, even if they never quite made it intellectually. The Green Party, you see, promises to give you infinite happiness without any negative consequences whatsoever:

    Imagine having a secure, fulfilling and decently paid job, knowing that you are working to live and not living to work. Imagine coming home to an affordable flat or house, and being valued for your contribution and character, not for how much you earn. Imagine knowing that you and your friends are part of an economy that works with the planet rather than against it. Imagine food banks going out of business. Imagine the end of poverty and deprivation. The key to all this is to put the economy at the service of people and planet rather than the other way round. That’s what the Green Party will do.

Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.

Indeed. Now if only John Lennon lyrics were a governing philosophy, by Jove the Greens might be onto something! Unfortunately for the Green Party, our actions often have consequences we could not have foreseen and, unsurprisingly, if you declare war on business with massive taxes, anti-trade legislation and the nationalization of banks and the housing industry, it’s awfully difficult to ‘end poverty and deprivation’ since you’ve completely eliminated the way by which people have the opportunity to lift themselves up. But don’t worry — the Greens will just sprinkle some fairy dust around and negative consequences will magically be done away with! Supply and demand is simply a filthy conspiracy perpetuated by the bourgeoisie!

June 21, 2015

“… the carbon tax, like Paris, is worth a Mass”

Filed under: Environment,Politics,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At National Review the editors’ response to the Pope’s encyclical on climate change is not warm:

There is an undeniable majesty to the papacy, one that is politically useful to the Left from time to time. The same Western liberals who abominate the Catholic Church as an atavistic relic of more superstitious times, who regard its teachings on abortion and contraception as inhumane and its teachings on sexuality as a hate crime today are celebrating Pope Francis’s global-warming encyclical, Laudato Si’, as a moral mandate for their cause. So much for that seamless garment.

It may be that the carbon tax, like Paris, is worth a Mass.

The main argument of the encyclical will be no surprise to those familiar with Pope Francis’s characteristic line of thought, which combines an admirable and proper concern for the condition of the world’s poor with a crude and backward understanding of economics and politics both. Any number of straw men go up in flames in this rhetorical auto-da-fé, as the pope frames his concern in tendentious economic terms: “By itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” We are familiar with no free-market thinker, even the most extreme, who believes that “by itself, the market can guarantee integral human development.” There are any number of other players in social life — the family, civil society, the large and durable institution of which the pope is the chief executive — that contribute to human flourishing. The pope is here taking a side in a conflict that, so far as we can tell, does not exist.

May 21, 2015

Jonathan Kay, ebike martyr

Filed under: Cancon,Environment,Humour,Media,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):

City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.

It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.

In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.

Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.

Jonathan Kay - ebike ad

May 20, 2015

Scuttled Soviet submarines in the Arctic

Filed under: Environment,Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The Soviet Union had a remarkably casual approach to disposing of nuclear-powered submarines that were no longer useful in active service:

Russian scientists have made a worst-case scenario map for possible spreading of radionuclides from the wreck of the K-159 nuclear-powered submarine that sank twelve years ago in one of the best fishing areas of the Barents Sea.

Mikhail Kobrinsky with the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Science says the sunken November-class submarine can’t stay at the seabed. The two reactors contain 800 kilos of spent uranium fuel.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

At a recent seminar in Murmansk organized jointly by Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom and the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, Kobrinsky presented the scenario map most fishermen in the Barents Sea would get nightmares by seeing.

Some areas could be sealed off for commercial fisheries for up to two years, Mikhail Kobrinsky explained.

Ocean currents would bring the radioactivity eastwards in the Barents Sea towards the inlet to the White Sea in the south and towards the Pechora Sea and Novaya Zemlya in the northeast.

May 2, 2015

A revolutionary fix for California’s water problems – pricing

Filed under: Economics,Environment,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Megan McArdle pointed out that the state of California is reacting to the water shortages in one of the least effective ways by mandating rationing, rather than addressing the absurd under-pricing of the resource:

I’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic writing about California only having a year of water left (not true), and I’ve heard some idle talk about whether California can continue to grow. But California’s problem is not that it doesn’t have enough water to support its population. Rather, the problem is that its population uses more water than it has to. And the reason people do this is that water in California is seriously underpriced, as Marginal Revolution‘s Alex Tabarrok notes. While the new emergency rules do include provisions for local utilities to raise rates, that would still leave water in the state ludicrously mispriced. According to Tabarrok, the average household in San Diego pays less than 80 cents a day for the 150 gallons of water it uses. This is less than my two-person household pays for considerably less water usage, in an area where rainfall is so plentiful that the neighborhood next door to me has a recurrent flooding problem.

Artificially cheap water encourages people to install lush, green lawns that need lots of watering instead of native plants more appropriate to the local climate. It means they don’t even look for information about the water efficiency of their fixtures and appliances. They take long showers and let the tap run while they’re on the phone with Mom. In a thousand ways, it creates demand far in excess of supply.

Having artificially goosed demand, the government then tries to curb it by mandating efficiency levels and outlawing water-hogging landscaping. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work nearly as well as pricing water properly, then letting people figure out how they want to conserve it. For one thing, you can only affect large and visible targets, such as appliance manufacturers or lawns. For another, people will often try to evade your regulations — my low-flow showerhead came with handy instructions on how to remove the flow restrictor. And, perhaps most important, you limit the potential conservation to the caps. So people have an efficient dishwasher but don’t consider doing small loads by hand; they have a low-flow showerhead but don’t consider taking shorter showers. In short, no one is looking for ways to conserve more than whatever you’ve mandated. This may be enough to temporarily manage the current crisis, but it does nothing to set California’s water usage on a more sustainable path.

May 1, 2015

Statistical myths in California’s water shortage

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Economics,Environment,Media,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Devin Nunes debunks the common claim that California’s farmers use “80 percent” of the available water in the state:

As the San Joaquin Valley undergoes its third decade of government-induced water shortages, the media suddenly took notice of the California water crisis after Governor Jerry Brown announced statewide water restrictions. In much of the coverage, supposedly powerful farmers were blamed for contributing to the problem by using too much water.

“Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” exclaimed Daily Beast writer Mark Hertsgaard in a piece titled “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought.” That 80-percent statistic was repeated in a Sacramento Bee article titled, “California agriculture, largely spared in new water restrictions, wields huge clout,” and in an ABC News article titled “California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays Off Agriculture, Oil Industries.” Likewise, the New York Times dutifully reported, “The [State Water Resources Control Board] signaled that it was also about to further restrict water supplies to the agriculture industry, which consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state.”

This is a textbook example of how the media perpetuates a false narrative based on a phony statistic. Farmers do not use 80 percent of California’s water. In reality, 50 percent of the water that is captured by the state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of the water supply. Environmentalists have manufactured the 80 percent statistic by deliberately excluding environmental diversions from their calculations. Furthermore, in many years there are additional millions of acre-feet of water that are simply flushed into the ocean due to a lack of storage capacity — a situation partly explained by environmental groups’ opposition to new water-storage projects.

April 24, 2015

Framing every conservation issue in terms of “extinction” is counter-productive

Filed under: Environment,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stewart Brand wants us to stop presenting so many conservation concerns in the headline-grabbing “Fluffy Bunnies At Risk!” format:

The way the public hears about conservation issues is nearly always in the mode of ‘[Beloved Animal] Threatened With Extinction’. That makes for electrifying headlines, but it misdirects concern. The loss of whole species is not the leading problem in conservation. The leading problem is the decline in wild animal populations, sometimes to a radical degree, often diminishing the health of whole ecosystems.

Viewing every conservation issue through the lens of extinction threat is simplistic and usually irrelevant. Worse, it introduces an emotional charge that makes the problem seem cosmic and overwhelming rather than local and solvable. It’s as if the entire field of human medicine were treated solely as a matter of death prevention. Every session with a doctor would begin: ‘Well, you’re dying. Let’s see if we can do anything to slow that down a little.’

Medicine is about health. So is conservation. And as with medicine, the trends for conservation in this century are looking bright. We are re-enriching some ecosystems we once depleted and slowing the depletion of others. Before I explain how we are doing that, let me spell out how exaggerated the focus on extinction has become and how it distorts the public perception of conservation.

Many now assume that we are in the midst of a human-caused ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ to rival the one that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But we’re not. The five historic mass extinctions eliminated 70 per cent or more of all species in a relatively short time. That is not going on now. ‘If all currently threatened species were to go extinct in a few centuries and that rate continued,’ began a recent Nature magazine introduction to a survey of wildlife losses, ‘the sixth mass extinction could come in a couple of centuries or a few millennia.’

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The range of dates in that statement reflects profound uncertainty about the current rate of extinction. Estimates vary a hundred-fold – from 0.01 per cent to 1 per cent of species being lost per decade. The phrase ‘all currently threatened species’ comes from the indispensable IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which maintains the Red List of endangered species. Its most recent report shows that of the 1.5 million identified species, and 76,199 studied by IUCN scientists, some 23,214 are deemed threatened with extinction. So, if all of those went extinct in the next few centuries, and the rate of extinction that killed them kept right on for hundreds or thousands of years more, then we might be at the beginning of a human-caused Sixth Mass Extinction.

April 17, 2015

Viking Greenland during the Little Ice Age

Filed under: Americas,Environment,History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charlotte Persson looks at what happened to the Viking settlers in Greenland as the Little Ice Age set in:

In the middle of the 13th century the Vikings who had settled in Greenland encountered no less than ten years of harsh and cold winters and summers. The Norsemen, who were living as farmers, bid farewell to many of their cattle during that period.

The Greenland Vikings were also prevented from setting sail to fetch supplies from their homelands in Europe because they didn’t have enough timber to build trading ships. So when Scandinavian traders didn’t happen to pass by they were left entirely on their own.

But this didn’t knock them out; on the contrary they lived with the worsening climate for almost 200 years during what we later would call the Little Ice Age. This is the conclusion of a new Ph.D. thesis.

“The stories we have heard so far about the climate getting worse and the Norsemen disappearing simply don’t hold water. They actually survived for a long time and were far better at adapting than we previously thought,” says the author of the new study, Christian Koch Madsen, Ph.D. student at the National Museum of Denmark.

April 14, 2015

(Some) Corporations love (some) social causes

Filed under: Business,Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

You’ll notice some corporations are quick to climb onboard certain social causes. Because reasons:

My absolute favorite example of corporations using social causes as cover for cost-cutting is in hotels. You have probably seen it — the little cards in the bathroom that say that you can help save the world by reusing your towels. This is freaking brilliant marketing. It looks all environmental and stuff, but in fact they are just asking your permission to save money by not doing laundry.

However, we may have a new contender for my favorite example of this. Via Instapundit, Reddit CEO Ellen Pao is banning salary negotiations to help women, or something:

    Men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate,’ she said. ‘So as part of our recruiting process we don’t negotiate with candidates. We come up with an offer that we think is fair. If you want more equity, we’ll let you swap a little bit of your cash salary for equity, but we aren’t going to reward people who are better negotiators with more compensation.’

Like the towels in hotels are not washed to save the world, this is marketed as fairness to women, but note in fact that women don’t actually get anything. What the company gets is an excuse to make their salaries take-it-or-leave-it offers and helps the company draw the line against expensive negotiation that might increase their payroll costs.

April 8, 2015

The sinking of HMCS Annapolis

Filed under: Cancon,Environment,Military,Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

HMCS Annapolis Sink Day April 4th 2015 from Geoff Grognet on Vimeo.

Sinking of HMCS Annapolis as an artificial reef. HMCS Annapolis is being sunk in Halkett Bay on Gambier Island by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia. It will serve as a recreational dive site, and provide a habitat for fish and other marine life.

April 1, 2015

Fossil fuels are not going away anytime soon

Filed under: Environment,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Matt Ridley on the piously hoped-for breakthroughs in renewable energy sources … that still seem as distant as they did decades ago:

The environmental movement has advanced three arguments in recent years for giving up fossil fuels: (1) that we will soon run out of them anyway; (2) that alternative sources of energy will price them out of the marketplace; and (3) that we cannot afford the climate consequences of burning them.

These days, not one of the three arguments is looking very healthy. In fact, a more realistic assessment of our energy and environmental situation suggests that, for decades to come, we will continue to rely overwhelmingly on the fossil fuels that have contributed so dramatically to the world’s prosperity and progress.

In 2013, about 87% of the energy that the world consumed came from fossil fuels, a figure that — remarkably — was unchanged from 10 years before. This roughly divides into three categories of fuel and three categories of use: oil used mainly for transport, gas used mainly for heating, and coal used mainly for electricity.

[…]

So those who predict the imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels are merely repeating the mistakes of the U.S. presidential commission that opined in 1922 that “already the output of gas has begun to wane. Production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate.” Or President Jimmy Carter when he announced on television in 1977 that “we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”

That fossil fuels are finite is a red herring. The Atlantic Ocean is finite, but that does not mean that you risk bumping into France if you row out of a harbor in Maine. The buffalo of the American West were infinite, in the sense that they could breed, yet they came close to extinction. It is an ironic truth that no nonrenewable resource has ever run dry, while renewable resources — whales, cod, forests, passenger pigeons — have frequently done so.

[…]

As for renewable energy, hydroelectric is the biggest and cheapest supplier, but it has the least capacity for expansion. Technologies that tap the energy of waves and tides remain unaffordable and impractical, and most experts think that this won’t change in a hurry. Geothermal is a minor player for now. And bioenergy — that is, wood, ethanol made from corn or sugar cane, or diesel made from palm oil — is proving an ecological disaster: It encourages deforestation and food-price hikes that cause devastation among the world’s poor, and per unit of energy produced, it creates even more carbon dioxide than coal.

Wind power, for all the public money spent on its expansion, has inched up to — wait for it — 1% of world energy consumption in 2013. Solar, for all the hype, has not even managed that: If we round to the nearest whole number, it accounts for 0% of world energy consumption.

March 30, 2015

About that giant island of plastic out in the ocean…

Filed under: Environment,Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

it’s a myth.

Have you heard of the giant plastic island in the Pacific Ocean? Several times in casual conversation, I’ve been told that mankind is ruining the oceans to such an extent that there are now entire islands of plastic waste. Daily Kos tells us that this “island” is twice the size of Texas!

This struck me as incredible, in the most literal sense of the word, so I decided to look into the claim.

First, we can do a quick feasibility calculation. The mass of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic from which most water bottles are made, required to create a two-Texas-sized island just one foot thick is 9 trillion pounds. That’s 15 times more [PDF] than the world’s annual production of plastic. Even if a year’s worth of the world’s spent plastic bottles could be airlifted out over the ocean and directly dropped in one spot, this island could not be made.

[…]

So, here are the facts. Much of the ocean contains little to no plastic at all. In the smaller ocean gyres, there is roughly one bottle cap of plastic per 50 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water. In the worst spot on earth, there is about two plastic caps’ worth of plastic per swimming pool of ocean. The majority of the plastic is ground into tiny grains or small thin films, interspersed with occasional fishing debris such as monofilament line or netting. Nothing remotely like a large island exists.

Clearly, the scale and magnitude of this problem is vastly exaggerated by environmental groups and media reports. Some researchers in the field agree, explicitly pointing out that these scare-stories “undermine the credibility of scientists.”

QotD: Political beliefs and reality

Filed under: Environment,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Political beliefs affect what one wants to be true. People are pretty good at persuading themselves that what they want to be true is true.

That works in both directions in the context of arguments about climate change. People who share my political views are suspicious of government regulation, CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming) provides an argument in favor of more government regulation and is used as such an argument at present, so we naturally want to look for arguments against CAGW.

On the other side, it’s my experience that people who think global warming is a terrible problem that must be dealt with are also, by some odd coincidence, people who think the things that need to be done to deal with it are things most of which ought to be done anyway, that the real cost is low or negative. They are likely to put that point in terms of creating a cleaner, more sustainable world. From their standpoint, CAGW provides arguments to persuade people to do things they want done, so they naturally want to look for arguments in favor of CAGW.

David D. Friedman, “Global Warming and Wishful Thinking”, Ideas, 2014-06-09.

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