Environmentalists Debate the Costs and Benefits of Gas v. Coal

Thought it worth posting this thoughtful and civil discussion between Kate Sinding of NRDC and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute on the debate over energy policy and fracking in the U.S..  Some agreement, but mostly disagreement.  As you’ll gather from the interview, NRDC is opposed to fracking primarily because the natural gas boom keeps the U.S. economy hooked on a carbon-based fuel source, an obstacle to more renewable energies.  Shellenberger takes the more balanced approach, arguing that natural gas is better than coal in all respects, including environment impacts, worker safety, and the economic benefits.  Sinding argues “better is not good enough.”  Interesting exchange beginning about 26:05 where Shellenberger points out NRDC’s about position on fracking nearly five years, having previously strongly supported natural gas.  He notes politics and Hollywood hypocrites, rather than environmental concerns, have inflamed the fracking debate.  Good primer for those who haven’t followed the complex and nuanced political debate.

The Farm Bill – Perhaps a Moment for Liberals and Conservatives to Hold Hands

Seems no one except special interest is happy with the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill passed today and which establishes U.S. Agricultural Policy over the next decade at the tune of nearly one trillion dollars.  Folks over at Grist are fuming about the Senate’s version while other unnamed “environmental groups” in the NYT are saying it does some good, but not enough.  The current bill cuts $24B from current spending and does a better job at saving jobs and helping the starving poor in this country, while cutting conservation by $3.5B.  Some conservatives, like Senator Ted Cruz, are unhappy, arguing the Bill does more harm than good, spreading the love among politicians and special interests while perpetuating entitlements unrelated to agricultural policy – nothing new there.  Unclear how this will be resolved in reconciliation, but given the Houses’s more aggressive cuts, more cuts are inevitable [Update:  On June 20, in a 195-234 vote, the House rejected a five-year Farm Bill, with 62 GOP Members voting against the legislation in favor of a smaller more conservative bill].

Nathanael Johnson, over at Grist, refers to the Senate’s passage as “late and lame”: Continue reading

“Nudging” versus “Coercion” – Balancing Environmental Protection with Liberty and Freedom

The recent controversy over the U.S. Government’s increased proclivity to secretly paw through the electronic communications and telephone records of Americans has prompted some soul-searching by many.  Is this just one more step imagesCAPHOYBVtoward fulfilling the Orwellian prophecy of 1984?  Has the citizenry ceded too much of their freedoms and liberty for the sake of feeling safer and more secure?

Some conservatives, like Andy McCarthy, over at NRO, argue the hype as non-sense and claims the government’s action is not only constitutional, but completely appropriate and necessary to change and stop some very bad human behavior.  McCarthy believes it’s not “big government” to blame but the little people in whom we’ve entrusted the keys to the government, and our human frailties.  Jonah Goldberg, over at NRO, however, takes issue with McCarthy, and argues there is more behind the secret curtain that deserves our skepticism. Goldberg contends that we should look askance at new powerful mega-computers and technologies that equip us with the ability to crunch huge amounts of data heretofore never possible.  Goldberg cautions

The arrival of “big data” — the ability to crunch massive amounts of information to find patterns and, ultimately, to manipulate human behavior — creates opportunities for government (and corporations) that were literally unimaginable not long ago. Behavioral economists, neuroscientists, and liberal policy wonks have already fallen in love with the idea of using these new technologies and insights to “nudge” Americans into making “better” decisions. No doubt some of these decisions really are better, but the scare quotes are necessary because the final arbiters of what constitutes the right choice are the would-be social engineers. Continue reading

Thoughtful Reflections on the Environment by a Conservative Thinker – An Evening with Roger Scruton

I had the roger-scruton-16-70dpi-photographer-by-pete-helme-200x300recent pleasure of sitting down with the English philosopher, Roger Scruton, to discuss his new book, How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism.  It was my first time meeting Roger, and the evening lived up to every bit my expectation.  I, along with my good friend, Tracy Mehan, spent an enchanting evening with Roger, tucked away in a second-floor corner of the quaint, Tabard Inn, here in the Nation’s Capital, swapping stories and enjoying each’s company over dinner and a couple of bottles of Verget Bourgogne.

A self-described conservative Tory, and author of over 20 academic books, Roger has made the most of life, sporting as a fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, a barrister, novelist, opera composer, journalist, former professor, teacher of aesthetics, church organist, radio personality, and anti-communist warrior.  When he’s not ferrying imagesCAR98L8Lacross the pond to the U.S., where he is currently a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, he resides in Wiltshire with his wife, Sophie, and their two children, tending to the daily demands of an aging 250-year-old farmhouse surrounded by 35 acres of land.

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What is the Best Antidote to Environmental Irrationality?

The material well-being of a democratic society depends on its ability to rationally manage a nearly limitless variety of often competing risks. - Dan Kahan, 2006
The material well-being of a democratic society depends on its ability to rationally manage a nearly limitless variety of often competing risks.
– Dan Kahan, 2006

Environmental rationality of course.  But ever wonder how it is that some members of society, even experts, can hold such polar opposite views on the dangers of climate change, guns, nuclear energy, terrorism, or legalization of drugs?  Perhaps I’m naive, but I find it baffling that seemingly intelligent and well-intentioned people on the political left and right can observe the same facts and reach such vastly different conclusions about the risks to individuals and society writ large.  I posted previously my thoughts and concerns about society’s increasing obsession with conspiracy theories and environmental hysteria.  And I link to a very entertaining Penn & Teller Bullshit clip on the rise of environmental hysteria – well worth the viewing – that sort of reinforces my point.

So how does society rationally function in an increasingly irrational environment filled with seemingly irrational actors?  And how does government reconcile and ably govern within the penumbra of such contrasting cultural visions for society.  This is the question of the century and one that must be addressed in the midst of some very challenging social, economic, and environmental issues facing our times.  This is a tall challenge – but not nearly as tough as understanding why so many find Pee-wee Herman entertaining. Continue reading

Does Green Labeling Influence One’s Willingness to Buy – Survey Says . . .

Apparently so, if you’re a political moderate or conservative.  A new study from the National Academy of Sciences confirms that moderates and conservatives are less inclined to purchase energy-efficient products, when the product is linked to climate change.  light bulb(The study can be purchased here in its entirety)   Just goes to show how polarizing the topic of climate change has become.  According to the authors Dena Gromet and Howard Kunreuther (from U. Penn’s Wharton School) and Richard Larrick (from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business),

This research investigated whether relying on environmental concern to promote energy-efficient technology may, in fact, present an additional roadblock to increasing demand by deterring otherwise interested consumers from purchasing these products because of the message’s (unwanted) value connotations.

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