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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day - Environmental Benefits and Unintended Consequences

Well, today is the 38th Earth Day - the 38th anniversary of the start of the modern environmental movement. I remember celebrating Earth Day in 7th grade (that would have been in 1977). We had an outdoor festival during Science Class. If I remember correctly, I finagled a way to miss all of my classes that day doing my part to help the environment. We had the local paper (The Home News) there listening to us kids discuss how important it was to clean up the environment and to save the planet. Solar energy was the big thing then and we had a solar cooker there to warm up our raw hot dogs - and we thought those raw hot dogs were the best we've ever tasted.

Many good things have come from an increased awareness and a acceptance of our responsibility regarding the environment. We truely are stewards of this planet whether we recognize that responsibility or not.

In the 70's I remember:
  • The dome of smog that engulfed New York City - you could see a greenish, brown haze covering the city.
  • The foam on top of the Raritan River - brown and gray, over a foot thick

  • The dead fish in that same river and going fishing but throwing the fish back because we didn't want to risk eating them.
Many other environmental problems existed at that time - Times Beach, Mo; Love Canal, Lead in the air from leaded gasoline etc.

But you know what... WE SOLVED THESE PROBLEMS!

Our rivers are clean now. The air is fresh. Several species that were in danger of extinction have come back and are thriving. We have reduced pollution to a mere fraction of what it was back then.


But it came at a cost.

One of the biggest side effects of the environmental push was the banning of DDT. Even back then the scientific data showed that the supposed environmental effects of DDT were in fact not the case. So after we in the prosperous west used DDT to rid ourselves of malaria spread by mosquito, we banned the product and prevented people in Africa, India and Asia from doing the same. Today a child dies every 30 seconds due to malaria - a disease that was eradicated in the west using a chemical that we do not allow others to use.

Now the focus is on global warming. Once again only part of the data is being considered in order to push a predetermined agenda. Those of us who are skeptical of mankind's causal effects on global warming are accused of "cherry picking" the data while the global warming alarmists ignore the effects of the sun, El Nino/La Nina Multi-decadal cycles in both the Atlantic and Pacific and the fact that the temperature has not risen since 1998.

Well what does it hurt to try to regulate CO2 emissions on the chance that the burning of fossil fuels is causing the temperatures to rise? Consider the following:
  1. Compact Fluorescent lights are being legislated to replace incandescent bulbs on the basis that they consume less energy - Yet they contain mercury which is highly toxic and could cause serious environmental and health problems if a broken bulb is not disposed of properly.
  2. Ethanol is being pushed as an antioxidant to replace MTBE in reformulated gasolines - we have seen how the cost of gasoline has risen over the last few years. Much of this is due to the cost of oil and the increased demand in developing countries. Much of it is due to the tax burden place by state and local governments. But some of the increased cost is due to the reformulation, including the use of ethanol, to reduce pollution. The summer formulations are even more expensive as more costly additives are brought into the mix to minimize ozone formation during the hot summer months.
  3. Studies have shown that ethanol actually releases more CO2 for less energy produced than gasoline.
  4. Ethanol is less efficient overall than gasoline. Less miles per gallon/ less energy per unit mass.
  5. The increased demand of ethanol has caused a multi-fold rise in food costs as more corn is being diverted for use as fuel instead of as food.
  6. Farmers are switching from wheat and other food crops to grow corn for energy use because they can get more money for the corn - higher demand.
  7. There have already been food riots in Haiti and other poor countries as food shortages result.
The problem is that along with making good changes in how we view and take care of the environment, extreme positions are also included in the decision making. This not only dilutes the credibility of those who want to be environmentally responsible, but focuses the efforts on off-the-wall, unreasonable, wacko ideas:

-Regulate the very air we exhale - CO2 is not a pollutant
-Cause the deaths of millions by banning the chemicals that made life possible and bearable here
-Increase world hunger by using a food source as fuel and reducing the amount of land available for food production.
-Eliminate the ability of indigenous people to farm to grow food to feed their people by placing a higher value on the rainforest than on the people who live there.

The list goes on and on. No other group has caused as much damage and destruction as radical environmentalists. There is a lot we can do to continue to clean up our world. Industry MUST design processes and facilities for zero emission - no pollution - just CO2 and water - the natural products of combustion. We have to be responsible. We do not have to be idiots.

Instead of passing legislation to reduce CO2 generation, which in my opinion is impossible, we need to put in place the infrastructure to adapt. If the seas are going to rise, build and improve our levees. If the temperatures are going to increase, invest in water distribution systems and air conditioning in developing areas.

Continue work on alternate energy development to reduce our dependence on foreign energy and reduce emissions of real pollutants - CO, NOx, O3, hydrocarbons, not CO2 or water. We need to focus our efforts on real environment improvements rather than the imaginary crisis that has been invented as the latest effort to redistribute wealth and punish success.

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