Topic: Energy and Environment

Ten Billion Served (and 300 Million Fleeced)

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) just announced that the U.S. transit industry carried more than 10 billion transit trips in 2006, the first time the industry has exceeded 10 billion trips since 1957. Naturally, APTA – the transit industry’s leading lobby group – sees this as “10 billion reasons to increase local and federal investment in public transportation.”

The 10-billion milestone looks a lot less impressive when compared with the growing population of urban residents. It works out to just 42.7 trips per urban resident in 2006. (A trip, incidentally, is a transit boarding: if you get on a subway, then transfer to a bus, that is counted as two trips.)

While 42.7 trips per urbanite is more than were carried in 2005, it is not more than 2001, and it is less than in any year between 1907 (the first year for which transit data are available) and 1993.

In the meantime, transit subsidies already average 64 cents per passenger mile, compared with less than 0.4 cents for subsidies to auto driving. Over the past decade, APTA’s transit factbook says that the U.S. has “invested” more than $100 billion in public transit capital improvements, mostly for expensive rail transit projects. Many of the cities that have built rail transit lines have actually seen transit ridership drop because the high cost of rail has forced them to cut bus services.

As I explain in more detail in my Antiplanner blog, the real problem with the transit industry is too much money. Because transit agencies get the vast majority of their funds from taxpayers rather than transit riders, their incentives are to build expensive, glitzy urban monuments rather than provide economical transit services to those who need them. The solution is to stop subsidizing transit agencies an instead give vouchers to transit users, who can use them for buses, taxis, or any other public conveyance.

Eco-Fascism Plagues Britain

Tony Blair is deeply unpopular and has already announced that he will soon step down as England’s prime minister. But that does not mean he will go quietly into that good night. As reported by the Daily Mail, the UK government has announced a series of totalitarian steps to compel less energy use:

Homeowners who refuse to make their properties energy efficient will face financial penalties under drastic government plans to transform Britain into the world’s first ‘green’ economy. …The Government said that every new home should be “carbon neutral” within ten years — and existing properties subject to a “home energy audit” to assess how green they are.

Critics correctly note this is a massive intrusion into the private lives of homeowners:

Blair Gibbs, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s bad enough that politicians want to take so much of our money away in tax. For them also to intrude into our homes in order to have the ability to penalize us even further is simply unacceptable.”

But the government is undaunted, and, in a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Tony Blair even has the gall to state that his totalitarian initiative is akin to the fight against fascism:

People are to be encouraged to make “more sustainable” travel choices, including greater use of public transport, walking and cycling. The Government is also to invest in solar, wind and wave power. …Mr Blair compared the fight against climate change to the battle against fascism.

Sadly, the British people cannot count on the Tories to defend individual freedom. Under the feckless leadership of David Cameron, the Conservative Party is even further to the left than Labor. The Party of Margaret Thatcher has become a hollow shell, judging from the Daily Mail’s reporting:

Opposition politicians and green campaigners said the Government’s proposals did not go far enough, insisting binding targets on emissions should be annual. Tory spokesman Peter Ainsworth said: “There is a danger that the fiveyear approach will enable responsibility for failure to be shunted on from one government to another.”

An Extra $15 Billion for Farm Programs

Further to David’s post yesterday, some telling details about the Senate Budget Committee’s ideas for “fiscally responsible” farm policy. Starting on page 54 of this document, section 306 the “Deficit-Neutral Reserve Fund for the Farm Bill” (which is a cute name – what chances do you give of this staying a “reserve fund”?) states that:

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget may revise the allocations, aggregates, and other appropriate levels and limits in this resolution for a bill, joint resolution, amendment, motion, or conference report that- 

  1. reauthorizes the Food Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002;
  2. strengthens our agriculture and rural economies;  
  3. provides agriculture-related tax relief; 
  4. improves our environment by reducing our Nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy through expanded production and use of alternative fuels; or 
  5. combines any of the purposes provided in paragraphs (1) through (4); 

by the amounts provided in that legislation for those purposes up to $15,000,000,000 over the total of fiscal years 2007 through 2012, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over the total of the period of fiscal years 2007 through 2012.

Farm lobby groups were relatively happy with the 2002 Farm Bill, and would be still were it not for the inconvenient fact that market prices of some commodities are so high, and projected to remain high, that government spending on price-linked subsidies will probably be relatively low over the next few years (falling from about $15 billion annually to about $8 billion). Apparently, high market prices are not sufficient to please some farm groups, hence the extra $15 billion of your money that the Senate has seen fit to allocate to “any of the purposes provided in paragraphs (1) through (4).”

On today’s agenda, a group of congressmen are introducing a bill regarding the reauthorization of the farm bill. From the press release (via Ken Cook):

The bill reforms the Farm Bill to make a major new investment in the development of renewable energy on American farms, promote resource conservation, provide consumers with healthier food choices, and boost farm profitability. The Healthy Farms, Foods, and Fuels Act of 2007 also includes provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and fight global warming, and to expand programs to bring healthier foods to school cafeterias.

That’s quite a wish list.

Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies is on the case, though. Stay tuned for our alternative ideas for the farm policy, released shortly.

The Grey Lady Strikes Again

Did Al Gore really deserve that Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth”?  The Left says yes - only the ideologically disabled or intellectually dishonest deny that the four horsemen of the environmental apocalypse (drought, disease, sea rise, and hurricanes) will soon devastate our fair planet.  Reporter William Broad in the New York Times today, however, says not so fast - a backlash is brewing among REAL scientists who are getting sick and tired of bed-wetting hysteria surrounding climate change.

The gist of their concern is this: while most (but not all) scientists are willing to accept that industrial emissions are an important driver in the planetary warming we’ve experienced since the late 1970s, they aren’t anywhere near so eager to embrace politically inspired warnings from non-scientists about how “the end is near.”  Al Gore, according to many of the scientists interviewed by William Broad, is too shrill and too apocalyptic given the scientific evidence. 

Case in point: Al Gore warns in his documentary that sea levels will rise over 20 feet if warming continues.  Yeah, well maybe in a thousand years or so if trends continue indefinitely, but the former Vice President leaves that little bit of perspective out of the movie.  What might happen during our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren?  A sea rise of 23 inches, max, according to the new report just out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  That’s hardly going to flood Manhattan, but acknowledging that would spoil the wonderful special effects visuals offered in the slideshow, now wouldn’t it? 

Gore’s scientific advisors, friends, and admirers defend the documentary and the book that followed by conceding that he may be a bit dodgy here and there, but that he gets the big picture right.  That’s ridiculous.  The fact that the planet is warming and that industrial emissions might well have something to do with it is not what this debate is ultimately about.  This debate is whether we should or should not care.  And if the former, how much should we be willing to sacrifice to do something about it? 

To say that Al Gore is to some extent out to lunch on the “should we care” argument but relatively sound on the question about whether we’re warming the planet (at least, if we measure these things by that most holy of metrics, the “scientific consensus” as defined by the IPCC) is akin to saying that the fellow proclaiming that a wrathful God is about to incinerate the planet is contributing to social welfare by usefully pointing out to the unbelievers that there is a God.  That bit about God being particularly angry or plotting to destroy the world - Well, that’s a bunch of nonsense, but hey, he got the big picture right.

One of the scientists interviewed in the article - Roger Pielke, Jr. - wrote an essay recently for our own Regulation magazine pointing out that science is inevitably corrupted when politicians decide to effectively delegate policymaking power to those who wear white frocks.  So if you want to know why scientists aid and abet this kind of thing, go there.

Environmentalism as Religion

Following his remarks at the Cato Institute on Friday, podcast producer Anastasia Uglova sat down with the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus to discuss his views on global climate change. During the interview, the President reiterated his belief that environmentalism is more religion than science, calling it “a very illiberal ideology practically attacking our freedom.” President Klaus’ speech comes a month after calling global warming a “myth” in a Czech newspaper.

Listen to the full interview.

The Gray Lady Deflates “Peak Oil” Fears

An excellent article by reporter Jad Mouawad in today’s New York Times knocks the stuffing out of those warning for the nth time that we’re about to run out of oil. What the doomsayers overlook is that existing fields typically deliver about 35% of their oil to the market. Until recently, the rest had been deemed unrecoverable for economic reasons.

But as technology improves and oil prices go up, what was once deemed unrecoverable becomes, well, recoverable. And that has a big impact on supply. Oil analyst Leonardo Maugeri has estimated that if recovery rates (which hovered around only 10% a few decades ago) were to move from 35% to 40%, that would be akin to adding a new Saudi Arabia to the global crude oil market. Maugeri’s recent essay in Newsweek covers a lot of the same ground.

Mouawad’s piece well demonstrates this dynamic at work in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, California. First discovered in 1899, the field has been producing for about a century and is still going strong despite numerous predictions over the years that the field was on its last legs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the New York Times does a better job reporting business news, industrial trends, and microeconomic developments than any other newspaper — and perhaps magazine — in the world. Today’s piece is an excellent example of why serious people need to read that newspaper.