My crazy brother Tom — yeah, that one, the first guy to commercialize production of the Black Truffle — used to call them "organos." Back in his graduate school days at Oregon State he would rail at the sanctimony of the beans-and-rice crowd, and opine that "everything they knew was wrong." Passing the salad bar, he would mutter, "empty vitamins."
And they were pretty wrong. Acid rain didn't kill the Black Forest. Small could be ugly. The Population Bomb never exploded.
Since our halcyon times in Oregon I've been waiting for the definitive tome on the systematic errors of organoism, and I have finally found it in Todd Myers' new book Eco-fads.
Myers isn't running for the president of the young curmudgeon's club like Tom was. He thinks global warming might be important, but that the "solutions" ginned up by the political process are counterproductive. For example, in the name of climate change we subsidize solar energy so that its cost in 2016 will be an "astounding $396.10 per MWh"(Megawatt-hour) compared to about $79 for natural gas. (My other brother, Bob, who is in fact a curmudgeon, testified last month to Congress that solar will be even more expensive than that).
Why did we listen to environmental activists and become the first nation in human history to burn up its food supply to power automobiles? Why did we allow horrendously bad science — see the spotted owl — destroy the livelihood (and some of the lives) of so many in the Pacific Northwest? Why are environmental journalists so obsessed with horror stories and so repelled by good news? Why do we succumb to so many eco-fads, from grass-fed beef to locavorism to passive solar homes that leak heat like sieves?
If you ask Myers, he'll probably answer "it's complicated". But it gets down, largely, to incentives, summarized by his PPP model: personal, popular and phony.
Personal: a Prius emits sanctimony (while a Chevy Volt confers sainthood). Popular: Green is the modern religion, and heretics are shunned. Phony: that new hybrid adds carbon dioxide emissions, because that Accord it was traded in for is going to be on the road another decade.
Personal: "green buildings", such as new schools that sprouted all over Washington. Popular: who would be against this? Phony: most of them consume more energy than their conventional counterparts.
In a former life, Myers was Communications Director for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, where he no doubt got up close and personal with most of the organo cults. Now he's the Environmental Director for the Washington Policy Center in Seattle, proving that all ecotopian garden parties need a skunk.
Myers' DNR beat was forest management, where he fought, somewhat successfully, the organo nostrum that forests left alone and protected from fires are healthy. In fact, they tend to be pretty sick, as the normal thinning from fires is suppressed, resulting in an unhealthy tree density, invasion and death from bark beetles, and then — surprise — a mega fire that takes down the entire woods.
Just about every organo sacrament withers under Myers' scrutiny. "Buying local" often means more dreaded greenhouse gas emissions from inefficient short-term shipment compared to the economies of scale when carloads of spuds ride the Burlington Northern Santa Fe across the country. "Certified Organic" means so much paperwork and oversight that mom-and-pop farms (another organo icon) get pushed out by corporate agriculture, which can afford to spend the time and resources satisfying bureaucrats.
Then there are "green jobs." Solyndra is no outlier; governments are just very bad at picking winners and losers in the energy world. Myers documents the decline and fall of biofuel plants throughout the northwest. Inefficiencies destroy jobs. The Teanaway "Solar Reserve", supported by an ever-increasing feed of taxpayer dollars, was supposed to be the "world's largest", supplying power to a grand total of 45,000 homes. That's all you get?
John Plaza, CEO of the failed biofuel facility Imperium Renewables (you would think a better name would have helped) thinks it's all the government's fault. "What the industry needs," he said, "is a two-fold support, a mandated floor, and incentives and tax policy to get the outcomes we're trying for." In other words, more expensive energy subsidized by you and me, and the government rigging the market. That will create jobs!
What is missing here (and everywhere else) is a comprehensive analysis of how much money the organo fads, follies and delusions cost us. Hopefully that will be in Myers' next book. The incredible constellation of policy errors, wrongheaded logic and downright stupidity has to be extracting a dear cost from our very sick economy. It's time to stop this. It's time for you to read this book.