Last night I read a portion of an article by an environmental activist. Individuals who are passionate about their causes mean well and one can’t fault them for their honest beliefs but, they are some of the dumbest and most ignorant individuals who have no idea of the consequences of their actions. One environmental writer wants the Federal government to essentially outlaw all coal fired electrical power plants. It’s a good idea on the surface but what seems like a good idea at the time can literally turn into a very bad idea over the long term. The argument is that CO2 gases pollute the atmosphere and cause greenhouse warming. Therefore we must reduce the amount of CO2 being released by our power plants into the air. What the environmentalism fails to realize is that the economic impact of such a policy is high. To convert to natural gas powered electrical power plants is a very expensive undertaking and wither the tax payers or the rate payers or both will assume that cost. Energy play a very large role in our society and when relative energy costs go up relative productivity and economic activity go down.
Well, we might argue that the price paid to lower CO2 output are worth the costs. Are they really? Does this same activist have any idea of the amount of harmful gases are released by cannon and bomb explosions? We have all these dirty little local wars going on with thousands of high explosive projectiles releasing their destruction and not only releasing their gases but throwing up dust into the atmosphere. In addition, fires from building, automobile tires, and other flammables add to the conflagration, enough so that the conversion of coal to natural gas hardly makes a dint in the total gases released. To add insult to injury, those under developed countries continually add to the pollution count and the largest polluter of all, China, makes far more in contribution to the gases released than the rest of the world put together. Our puny efforts have no practical impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases and yet the cost to us is very high.
It is obvious that we should reduce the amount of pollution when possible but often in trying to reduce it we often add to it in other unseen ways. Good intentions will kill us yet. Take the case of ethanol, that additive to gasoline that is suppose to reduce pollution. The energy rating of gasoline is higher than that or ethanol, so that in order to achieve the same power output one must burn more ethanol than gasoline. There is no net savings in terms of pollution. To add insult to injury, the cost of making ethanol is higher than the cost of making gasoline. Land must come under tillage to grow the corn crops used for making ethanol. Thus land resources are diverted from food production which means that food prices will rise to reflect that altered usage. Second, diesel powered equipment must be used to plant, cultivate, and harvest the corn, so there is a net carbon addition to the source of ethanol. The third factor is the high use of fertilizer in nitrogen fixing to boost crop yields and thus profits. Unfortunately the runoff of the excess fertilizer ends up in streams and then rivers and then the mouth of the Mississippi where we now have a very large dead zone of algae based pollution that extends some several hundred miles. Finally, the federal government, meaning the tax paying public, subsidizes the ethanol production. Of course we have not even touched what ethanol additives do to two stroke gasoline engines, another cost to the consumer at large. Yet environmentalist pushed ethanol as the savior of pollution. God, what were they thinking?
Yes, when possible and where cost effective, eliminate pollution. The problem is that not all elimination is cost effective. You know, the UK has a vehicle tax based on the size of the power plant. That is why they made all those small vehicles with tiny engines. The reduction of personal vehicle pollution was marginal. But busses at that time generated far more pollution than was saved by smaller personal vehicles. And the steam power locomotives were used long after we stopped using them in favor of diesel-electric powered locomotives. Coal was still far cheaper than fuel oil in the UK. Of course busses and railroads seldom pay their true costs. The public must subsidize them to some extent. But the general public will believe almost anything if they believe it will result in a free lunch. And environmentalists tend to have that same belief, if doing something will reduce obvious pollution or save the condors then it must be a good thing regardless of what it costs or eventually causes. The problem is one of ignorance, it always has been.
One of my favorite examples of stupidity is Europe. The EU spent all that time, effort, and money coming up with a carbon cap and trade system that was suppose to reduce carbon emissions. In rural France, along with other countries, people heat their homes in the cold months with wood fires. Not wood stoves, but wood fires in the fireplace. Some even use coal as well for it puts out more heat. And that is not a few people, that is a lot of people. Every years many men cut trees and split and stack cords of wood that season for two or three years. That wood comes out of the community forest when the household can claim its fair share of trees. It is literally a cash and carry business for no seller of firewood will take a check or credit card. That means the income goes unreported. Heating with wood is cheaper than fuel oil and far cheaper than natural gas or propane or butane. And electric heat is the most expensive of all because that is when electricity prices are the highest. Yet Europe is touted as the leader in environmental protection. Amazing, simply amazing.