Conservation Nation?

By Steven Milloy
July 17, 2008, FoxNews.com

President Bush almost got it right this week when he declined to call on Americans to conserve energy. Sadly, he still seems to think that conservation is a win-win proposition; worse, so do both major presidential candidates.

A reporter, saying the energy debate will continue into the next administration, told President Bush that “one thing nobody debates is that if Americans use less energy the current supply/demand equation would improve. Why have you not sort of called on Americans to drive less and to turn down the thermostat?”

Bush responded: “They’re smart enough to figure out whether they’re going to drive less or not … it’s interesting what the price of gasoline has done, is it caused people to drive less. That’s why they want smaller cars, they want to conserve. But the consumer is plenty bright. … The marketplace works.

“Secondly, we have worked with Congress to change CAFE standards and had a mandatory alternative fuel requirement,” he continued. “One way to correct the imbalance is to save, is to conserve. … I talked about good conservation. And people can figure out whether they need to drive more or less; they can balance their own checkbooks.”

“But you don’t see the need to ask? You don’t see the value of your calling for a campaign?” the reporter persisted.

“I think people ought to conserve and be wise about how they use gasoline and energy … and there’s some easy steps people can take. You know, if they’re not in their home, they don’t keep their air-conditioning running,” Bush said, adding that “it’s a little presumptuous on my part to dictate to consumers how they live their lives.”

While muddled thinking thrives on both sides of this exchange — the current crisis is about $4-plus gasoline, not electricity, and while Bush says he won’t tell Americans to conserve, he still boasts of mandatory fuel efficiency standards — it should tee up the issue of conservation for debate.

The reporter positioned conservation as an indisputable virtue. But is it? Is conservation good public policy?

For individuals, conservation is better described as a “necessity” rather than a “virtue.” People use less gasoline not because they want to or because it makes them feel good or so that someone else can use more, but because prices have spiked and they’ve been forced to drive less or drive smaller cars. Need is not virtue.

Conservation also isn’t necessarily a virtue for those consumers who are unfazed by $4 gasoline, but nevertheless vainly choose to conserve to achieve some imagined “greater purpose,” such as “saving the planet” or “reducing our dependence on foreign oil.” This is, in fact, where conservation becomes, if anything, an anti-virtue.

In our modern society, using less gasoline means doing less and, most importantly, it means spending less. It means fewer shopping trips, less eating out, fewer pleasure trips and less employment in those businesses to where you drive.

It means fewer cars, pleasure boats and airplanes, and fewer jobs in the industries that manufacture those goods. Using less gasoline means engaging in less economic activity.

If you don’t remember the 1970s and very early 1980s, the last time conservation was all the rage, consider that every economic slowdown of the last 35 years, that is, the recessions of 1973-1975, 1979-1980, 1981-1982 and 1990-1991, has been associated with, if not caused by, a decline in oil consumption.

Whenever oil consumption increased, GDP did, too. The same goes for total energy consumption.

Additionally, conservation policies have undesirable side effects. Higher fuel efficiency standards result in lighter, more dangerous cars. Airtight, energy-efficient buildings — like the ones constructed during the 1970s — produced a host of indoor air quality problems such as “sick building syndrome” and asthma-causing cockroach allergens in public housing.

But if we keep burning more and more gasoline, won’t we run out or become even more dependent on foreign oil? That can only happen if we continue to permit the greens to dictate national energy policy.

Not only does the United States have vast reserves of oil offshore and on public lands, our Western state oil shale holds twice the oil as the Mideast. Although Canadian oil counts as “foreign oil,” our neighbor to the north is the Saudi Arabia of oil from tar sands.

There is plenty of oil at home and nearby that we can access to fuel vital economic growth — but the greens won’t let us.

But shouldn’t we conserve our oil resources for future generations?

Well, as Barack Obama might say — that is, if he could break away from the maximum security prison of green-think — “We are the generation that we’ve been waiting for.”

First, if the greens won’t let us use our oil now, why would they in the future? Won’t they always tell people to conserve or to wait for some fantasy alternative fuel or magical car battery?

Next, future generations are very likely to have improved energy technologies that are less or not at all dependent on oil.

Finally, if you think conservation will lead to less oil being used worldwide, think again. China, India and other rapidly developing countries plan to use all the oil they can get. If we don’t buy Canadian tar sands oil, India will buy it to fuel their $2,500 Tata cars.

If we don’t drill off the coast of Florida, others will, like the foreign oil companies working with Cuba.

Despite the self-defeating nature of conservation, both Sens. Obama and McCain are all for it. McCain calls it a “critical national goal.” Obama wants to give incentives for it.

These two ought to remember the sweater-wearing Jimmy Carter and think twice about promoting a national policy of malaise.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and DemandDebate.com. He is a junk science expert, advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Wind Cries 'Bailout!'

By Steven Milloy
July 10, 2008, FoxNews.com

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens launched a media blitz this week to announce his plan for us “to escape the grip of foreign oil.” Now he’s got himself stuck between a crock and a wind farm.

Announced via TV commercials, media interviews, a July 9 Wall Street Journal op-ed and a Web site, Pickens wants to substitute wind power for the natural gas used to produce about 22 percent of our electricity and then to substitute natural gas for the conventional gasoline used to power vehicles.

Pickens claims this plan can be accomplished within 10 years, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce the cost of transportation, create thousands of jobs, reduce our carbon footprint and “build a bridge to the future, giving us time to develop new technologies.”

It sounds great and gets even better, according to Pickens. Don’t sweat the cost, he says, “It will be accomplished solely through private investment with no new consumer or corporate taxes or government regulation.” What’s not to like?

First, it’s worth noting Pickens’ claim made in the op-ed that his plan requires no new government regulation. Two sentences later, however, he calls on Congress to “mandate” wind power and its subsidies. Next, Pickens relies on a 2008 Department of Energy study claiming the U.S. could generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030.

Setting aside the fact that the report was produced in consultation with the wind industry, the 20-by-2030 goal is quite fanciful.

Even if wind technology significantly improves, electrical transmission systems (how electricity gets from the power source to you) are greatly expanded and environmental obstacles (such as environmentalists who protest wind turbines as eyesores and bird-killing machines) can be overcome, the viability of wind power depends on where, when and how strong the wind blows — none of which is predictable.

Wind farm-siting depends on the long-term forecasting of wind patterns, but climate is always changing. When it comes to wind power, it is not simply “build it and the wind will come.” Even the momentary loss of wind can be a problem. As Reuters reported on Feb. 27, “Loss of wind causes Texas power grid emergency.”

The electric grid operator was forced to curtail 1,100 megawatts of power to customers within 10 minutes. Wind isn’t a standalone power source. It needs a Plan B for when the wind “just don’t blow.”

This contrasts with coal- or gas-fired electrical power, which can be produced on demand and as needed. A great benefit of modern technology is that it liberates us from Mother Nature’s harsh whims. Pickens wants to re-enslave us with 12th century technology.

Then there’s the cost of the 20-by-2030 goal — $43 billion more than the cost of non-wind assets, according to the DOE — and this doesn’t include many billions of dollars more for additional transmission lines. Could the 20-by-2030 goal even be accomplished?

According to Electric Utility Week on June 9, a DOE official informed attendees at a June wind industry meeting that reaching the goal would entail replicating the entire existing U.S. wind system (about 17,000 megawatts of capacity constructed over the past decade) every year starting in 2018.

What about Pickens’ plan to shift us into natural gas vehicles? Well, they cost a lot more: an extra $3,000 to $6,000 for cars and $30,000 to $40,000 for buses and trucks. There are only about 1,300 natural gas refueling stations in the U.S., as compared with about 180,000 conventional gas stations — that’s a lot of infrastructure to build and finance. Will Pickens’ plan reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Doubtful.

Even if the fleet of natural gas-powered vehicles is enlarged, the bulk of existing and new vehicles will continue to depend for the foreseeable future on gasoline. Americans own about 260 million vehicles, a total that grows by more than 3 million vehicles every year.

Turnover is low as about 60 percent are owned for more than seven years. Besides, as demand for natural gas increases, so will prices. In the Washington, D.C., area, natural gas is already about two-thirds as costly as gasoline — and that’s with hardly any demand.

None of these facts and circumstances are new to Pickens. So what’s up with him?

Not only does Pickens’ firm, BP capital, have significant investments in natural gas, but last June he announced plans to build the world’s largest wind farm in west Texas, capable of producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

The federal government subsidizes wind farm operators with a tax credit worth 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour — potentially making for a tidy annual taxpayer gift to Pickens based on his anticipated capacity. But all is not well in Wind Subsidy-land.

Since Congress didn’t renew the wind subsidy as part of the 2007 energy bill, it will expire at the end of this year unless reauthorized. Subsidies are perhaps more important to the wind industry than wind itself. Without them, wind can’t compete against fossil fuel-generated power.

As pointed out by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 9, “In 1999, 2001 and 2003, when Congress temporarily killed the credits, the number of new turbines dropped dramatically.”

It’s little wonder that Pickens is waging a $58 million PR campaign to promote his plan. If it works, his short-term gain will be saving the tax credit and his wind farm investment.

In the long-term, he stands to line his already overflowing pockets with hard-earned taxpayer dollars. What will the rest of us get from this T. Boone-doggle? That’s anybody’s guess, but it probably won’t be cheaper energy, energy independence or a cleaner environment.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and DemandDebate.com. He is a junk science expert, advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Hey Al Gore, We Want a Refund!

by Steven Milloy
October 19, 2007, FoxNews.com

A British judge ruled on the eve of Al Gore co-winning the Nobel Peace Prize that students forced to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” must be warned of the film’s factual errors. But would there be any science at all left in Gore’s “truth” if these errors and their progeny were excised? Continue reading Hey Al Gore, We Want a Refund!

Carbon Offsets — Buyer Beware

By Steven Milloy
July 19, 2007, FoxNews.com

Congress began investigating the carbon offset industry this week. The inquiry could produce some “inconvenient truths” for Al Gore and the nascent offset industry.

Carbon offsets ostensibly allow buyers to expunge their consciences of the new eco-sin of using energy derived from fossil fuels. Worried about the 8 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted each year by your SUV? Similar to the indulgences offered by Pope Leo X in the 16th century, you can absolve yourself of sin by purchasing $96 worth of CO2 offsets – typically offered at $12 per ton of CO2 emitted – from offset brokers who, in turn, supposedly use your cash to pay someone else to produce electricity with low or no CO2 emissions.

Last year, offsets representing 23.7 million tons of CO2 were sold to businesses and consumers. Sounds like a lot of CO2 emissions were avoided, except when you consider that annual natural emissions of CO2 amount to hundreds of billions of tons.

The physical world aside, the CO2 offset marketplace itself is questionable – hence this week’s congressional hearing entitled, “Voluntary Carbon Offsets: Getting What You Pay For.” The hearing is particularly notable since it was called by a Democrat-run Congress, concerned that global warming alarmism is being jeopardized by dubious marketing and consumer rip-offs involving offsets.

A prime example of dubious offset marketing involves Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The movie’s producers, Paramount Classics and Participant Productions, announced that they purchased offsets from broker NativeEnergy to compensate for 100 percent of the CO2 emissions from the air and ground transportation, hotel use, and production and promotional activities associated with the movie.

So how many offsets supposedly compensated for the CO2 sins of Al Gore and the dozens of individuals credited with producing a movie shot in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Beijing? According to a Web site release from NativeEnergy – which has since been removed – it only cost 40 tons of offsets (worth about $480) to make “An Inconvenient Truth” carbon neutral.

It’s an absurdly low figure given that the making of a 30-second television commercial can easily produce 50 tons and the movie “Syriana” – another NativeEnergy project – was supposedly offset with 2,040 tons worth of offsets.

When I called NativeEnergy to inquire about the 40-ton figure and the Web page that mysteriously disappeared, I was rebuffed and told that the company “does not share information about its clients without their consent.” This immediately made me wonder why the producers of “An Inconvenient Truth” either withheld or revoked their consent since so many of NativeEnergy’s other clients’ offset purchases are so prominently touted on the company’s web site.

NativeEnergy told me I would have to go through Paramount’s legal department to obtain the necessary consent. Despite repeated attempts, Paramount never returned my calls – quite odd given the Oscar-winning producers’ mission and audacious self-acclaim of pioneer status as the world’s first carbon-neutral documentary.

NativeEnergy still boasts on its web site about offsetting “100 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution” associated with “An Inconvenient Truth” – but there’s still no mention – let alone any “carbon accounting” – of what that “100 percent” actually represents.

There is reason to explore this issue further than just the spotlighting of more Al Gore-related hypocrisy – the climate alarmist community is even concerned about the offset racket.

As recently reported on the left-wing web site Grist.org (http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/6/19/123649/857), it’s worthwhile asking whether carbon offsets are offsetting anything at all.

According to the Grist article, NativeEnergy is selling offsets that are supposed to be helping to pay for wind-generated electricity supplied by the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) to 52 Alaskan villages.

When the Grist reporter first interviewed an AVEC official, the money received from NativeEnergy was described as a “bonus” – a potential problem given that the agreement between AVEC and NativeEnergy requires that the offsets are “a significant contributor to economic viability and the seller’s efforts to build additional wind capacity.” AVEC and NativeEnergy have since backed off the “bonus” characterization, according to the Grist article.

While acknowledging the possibility of a slip of the tongue on the part of the AVEC official, the Grist reporter raised the salient point – presumably because of the black box-nature of CO2 offsets – that we will never actually know whether the offsets purchased through NativeEnergy were used to produce any wind power or reduce any CO2 emissions.

NativeEnergy sells offsets to the public at a cost of $12/ton. But how much of that price goes to reduce CO2 emissions versus NativeEnergy’s pockets? A recent CNNMoney article reported that NativeEnergy raised $250,000 to pay for 50,000 tons of CO2 reductions on South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux tribe reservation – that is, as little as $5/ton may go toward emissions reduction.

A gross profit margin of $7/ton for NativeEnergy is not bad, especially since there appears to be little follow-up and verification as to whether the consumer’s goal of reducing CO2 emissions are actually accomplished.

Finally, taxpayers provide additional support for projects in which NativeEnergy is involved – the Department of Energy contributed more than $448,000 to the Rosebud Sioux project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave AVEC $2.5 million for wind turbines. A Capitol Hill staffer told me that the congressional inquiry would look into the possibility of “double-dipping” in the offset industry.

There’s an awful lot of consumer and taxpayer money flying around offset-related projects with little, if any, accountability. On one hand, it’s good that Congress, in the name of consumer protection, has commenced an investigation of “the efficacy and accounting of these unregulated commodities.” On the other hand, only time will tell if a Congress controlled by the global warming lobby will conduct a bona fide investigation that risks discrediting one of its major themes.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, an advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Must-See Global Warming TV

By Steven Milloy
March 19, 2007, FoxNews.com

As Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” becomes mandatory viewing for many U.S. school children and nears becoming the “official truth” about global warming, it comes as most welcome news that an absolutely gripping film rebuttal has made its international debut, much to the chagrin of true believers in man-made climate change. Continue reading Must-See Global Warming TV

Can't See the Warming for the Trees

By Steve Milloy
April 15, 2007, FoxNews.com

If you need further evidence that hysteria is outpacing science in the global warming debate, consider the study published this week about Northern Hemisphere forests actually causing significant global warming.

Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (April 17) that while tropical forests exert a cooling influence on global climate, forests in northern regions exert a warming influence — and it’s not just a trivial climatic effect.

Based on the researchers’ computer modeling, forests above 20 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere — that is, north of the line of latitude running through Southern Mexico, Saharan Africa, central India and the southernmost Chinese island of Hainan — will warm surface temperatures in those regions by an estimated 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

Most of the warming is predicted to occur north of 50 degrees latitude — that is, north of the line of latitude running just north of the U.S. border with Canada, through Northern France, Northern Mongolia and Southern Siberia.

As the researchers explained in their media release, forests affect climate in three different ways: they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and evaporate water to the atmosphere (which increases cloudiness), both of which cool the planet.

Forests are dark and absorb sunlight (the “albedo” effect), warming the planet. In tropical forests, the net effect of these phenomena is cooling, while in Northern forests, the net effect is warming.

Although the media has largely ignored the study, it should give us plenty to think about.

First, it’s a stunning reminder that we still have a very steep learning curve when it comes to climate and how nature and man may impact it. In addition to this study, just over a year ago scientists discovered that plants emit as much as 30 percent of the annual global production of methane, the third most important greenhouse gas after water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Last fall, we learned that 5 years of cosmic ray activity could cause as much warming as 200 years of human greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s no wonder that alarmists want — and need — us to rush to judgment about manmade global warming before scientific discoveries dismantle their shaky polemic.

Next, the United Nations projects that global temperatures may rise anywhere from 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. So exactly how does the 10-degree warming caused by Northern forests fit into the picture? Could Northern forests be a (the) major contributor to the supposed problem of global warming?

Then there are the eco-activist groups that have been spreading misinformation about Northern forests in their campaign against businesses that manufacture or sell products made from timber harvested from subarctic, or Boreal, forests.

ForestEthics, for example, claims that “Because the Boreal holds more carbon than any other terrestrial landscape, its conservation is imperative. Degrading the Boreal landscape threatens to transform the Boreal from one of the few healthy ‘lungs of the planet’ into a net climate destabilizer.”

Just last month, ForestEthics issued a report, “Robbing the Carbon Bank: Global Warming and Ontario’s Boreal Forest,” that alleged, “The logging of intact forests is one of Canada’s least recognized drivers of global warming.”

Having completely overlooked the albedo effect in its report, ForestEthics seems to have the net climate effect of Boreal forests exactly wrong. But this hasn’t stopped it from successfully attacking a variety of businesses for selling products made from Northern timber.

ForestEthics has browbeaten a long list of brand-conscious companies into commitments not to use timber from Northern forests including Apple Computer, Dell Computer, Federal Express, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko’s, Lowe’s, Nike, Office Depot, Staples, Starbucks and many others.

ForestEthics’ most recent success came last December at the expense of Limited Brands, which was targeted with the group’s “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” campaign (Victoria Secret’s catalogues used paper made from Northern timber).

After caving in to ForestEthics, the Limited Brand’s Tom Katzemeyer said, “We’re hoping to raise the bar on the availability of environmentally friendly paper and pulp. …”

But how will Limited Brands’ “hope” ever overcome the Boreal’s albedo effect? If global warming is the dreaded catastrophe advertised by the enviros, then Northern forests hardly seem all that eco-friendly insofar as they may cause 10 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100.

Finally, let’s not overlook the scam factor.

For years, global warming opportunists (aka “climateers”) urged consumers to compensate for their so-called “carbon footprints” by paying to plant trees. But as the facts slowly emerged about reforestation, the carbon-offset industry quietly backed off planting trees and moved on to other offset schemes.

One carbon-offset vendor, The Carbon Neutral Co., says on its Web site, “In those early days, the icon of a tree and its emotional appeal were critical to attract audiences. But, thankfully, the market has grown in sophistication — markedly over the last 4 years, and such obvious symbols are less necessary.”

Translation? Perhaps, “the facts have caught up with us and so we’ve changed shell games”?

Science is slowly, but similarly catching up with global warming alarmism. The only question is how the race will be won — with facts or fear?

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

by Steve Milloy
February 6, 2007, FOXNews.com

The global warming carnival hits its full stride this week in preparation for the release of the long-awaited and much-hyped United Nations report on global warming. It’s unfortunate for the climateers that this week’s climate science doesn’t live up to all the hoopla. Continue reading Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

Kyoto Count-Up

By Steve Milloy
February 22, 2005, FoxNews.com

Feb. 16, 2005, is a day that may well live in scientific and economic infamy. That’s the day that the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol (search) went into effect around the world — but, fortunately, not in the U.S. and Australia. Continue reading Kyoto Count-Up