Saturday, August 13, 2005

Meeting Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow spoke last night at the Foundation for Economic Education. It was a remarkable presentation, and I had a chance to speak with him afterward. What a privilege and honor to meet such a remarkable man.

Mr. Bandow spoke on "the fable of the environmental Armageddon," namely the supposed "crises" of global warming, air pollution, and running out of space to store garbage. He pointed out that there's insufficient scientific data tying global climate change to human industrialization -- in fact, global cooling was the environmentalists' mantra during the 1970s. (The FEE Timely Classic "Climate-change Worries in the 18th Century" talks about scientists who worried about global cooling in the late 1700s, and this 1975 Newsweek article warned about catastrophic global cooling.) The reality is that the Earth has both warm and cool cycles, including global warming from the 800s to 1300, followed by a prolonged cool period from about 1300 to 1700. I recall a study from a couple of years ago that found the earlier period of global warming, based on old trees' rings.

Not until the late 1980s did environmentalists really start on today's hysteria about "greenhouse gases" that cause global warming. It's hysteria because environmentalists can still turn good news into bad. I forgot to bring this up with Mr. Bandow, but Nature magazine in early May had an article (with a couple of follow-ups since) on whether cleaner air might cause global warming. Atmospheric particulates are said to reflect sunlight and keep the Earth underneath cool, so dropping particulate levels mean more sunlight can get through and warm the Earth. In other words, we just can't win, not when environmentalists want to advance their political agenda. The original article is here but requires payment; someone posted it here.

Mr. Bandow pointed out that economic prosperity via unrestrained free markets have allowed us to continue that prosperity while in recent years starting endeavors toward cleaner air, water and land. He's right. I wrote back in May that only wealthier societies can afford (literally) to make advanced value judgments ("advanced" meaning beyond satisfying "basic needs"). Poorer societies don't have that luxury. If they implement "clean environment" policies from the beginning, that's ultimately self-defeating. The requisite regulations and other hindrances would make it too expensive to industrialize and become wealthier.

Mr. Bandow's emphasis on free markets also leads to a solution to storing garbage. The U.S. is an extremely large place with vast stretches of empty deserts, so if a city is congested, there's still a place to store garbage. Why should the federal government intervene when Indiana companies offer to accept New Yorkers' garbage for a certain fee? Instead, look at all the garbage sent to Staten Island's "Fresh Kills" landfill. I'll add that it still took over 50 years for Fresh Kills to grow to its size, and much of the garbage arrived before all of today's recycling initiatives.

But the vast open spaces tend to be publicly owned lands. This is not just desert suitable for landfills, but countless millions of acres that are used for grazing and logging. The best thing government can do, Mr. Bandow said, is to sell off those lands. It would eliminate the problem of government spending a great deal of money to build roads and other infrastructure so that loggers and grazers can use the land. Typical returns for the government are only a few cents on the dollar, while private companies essentially receive subsidies to engage in overall unprofitable endeavors. However, selling the land would return all true equity to the taxpayer. Private companies who buy the land will use it as efficiently as possible, and they'll buy it in the first place only if they can make a profit.

That reminded me of what Andrew Jackson wrote to Congress about his veto of the bill to renew the Bank of the United States' charter:
It is not conceivable how the present stockholders can have any claim to the special favor of the Government. The present corporation has enjoyed its monopoly during the period stipulated in the original contract. If we must have such a corporation, why should not the Government sell out the whole stock and thus secure to the people the full market value of the privileges granted?
Not surprisingly, since he's a powerful advocate of free markets, Mr. Bandow already knew the quote. To the taxpayer who pays for subsidies, there's no effective difference between a federally chartered bank and an Alaskan company able to cut down a forest because government has already paid the fixed costs.

I was looking for a web page with a cleanly formatted version of Jackson's veto letter. Curiously enough, this one omits the very end:
I have now done my duty to my country. If sustained by my fellow citizens, I shall be grateful and happy; if not, I shall find in the motives which impel me ample grounds for contentment and peace. In the difficulties which surround us and the dangers which threaten our institutions there is cause for neither dismay nor alarm. For relief and deliverance let us firmly rely on that kind Providence which I am sure watches with peculiar care over the destinies of our Republic, and on the intelligence and wisdom of our countrymen. Through His abundant goodness and [t]heir patriotic devotion our liberty and Union will be preserved.


Blogger TKC said...

The Big Chill.

"Ever since the Pre-Cambrian (600 million years ago), ice ages have occurred at widely spaced intervals of geologic time - approximately 200 million years - lasting for millions, or even tens of millions of years. For the Cenozoic period, which began about 70 million years ago and continues today, evidence derived from marine sediments provide a detailed, and fairly continuous, record for climate change. This record indicates decreasing deep-water temperature, along with the build-up of continental ice sheets. Much of this deep-water cooling occurred in three major steps about 36, 15 and 3 million years ago - the most recent of which continues today. During the present ice age, glaciers have advanced and retreated over 20 times, often blanketing North America with ice. Our climate today is actually a warm interval between these many periods of glaciation. The most recent period of glaciation, which many people think of as the "Ice Age", was at its height approximately 20,000 years ago. "

So it is actually quite possible, even expected, for warm and cold periods to arrive all on their own AND we are currently coming out of one of these ice ages. It would also not be unnatural for there to be NO ice caps.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 7:44:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

So true indeed. Our current cycles of warm and cold are, in fact, part of much longer cycles of greater amplitude. Right now our cycles differ by only a couple of degrees. That's one reason Doug Bandow criticized the Kyoto Protocol on Friday. It will reduce global temperatures only .17 degrees C by 2050, and only .3 degrees by 2100. Are such really worth wrecking the U.S. economy?

Well, if you're the UN or other anti-American forces, it certainly is. I'm one of those who sincerely believes that much the rest of the world would love nothing better than to saddle the U.S. economy with regulations, under guises like environmental protection. If other nations can't compete, then they'll try to hinder us.

Global warming does have its benefits, and our technology can deal with it better than global cooling. Warmer temperatures lengthen growing seasons and encourage more plant growth, generally leading to larger harvests. For example, aridity and desertification can be countered by irrigation systems and planting trees. It's not as easy to deal with cooler temperatures that decrease agricultural production (particularly by sudden frosts).

Sunday, August 14, 2005 5:13:00 PM  

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