The Pitchman Cares More About the Sale than the Benefit

Speaking of the solutions that politicians dubiously “favor,” I note that Rhode Island’s blue-blooded, old-money Senator Sheldon Whitehouse would support climate-related legislation even if the “average American household” suffers in both the short and long terms:

Landmark legislation to combat global warming will also be a long-term boon to the U.S. economy, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse predicted yesterday, but in the short term it will disrupt and cost jobs in some industries.
However, “if we do it right,” he said of the legislation that passed a key Senate panel yesterday, the average American household budget will not suffer. …
He had supported a more sweeping plan to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and the other so-called greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming but supported the more modest bill that passed yesterday. …
Whitehouse depicted himself as an enthusiastic adherent of the theory that — after some sharp economic dislocations in the near term — the new system of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions will do more than curb global warming. He said it should also force the marketplace to create cleaner energy sources and conservation tools that will be a long-term economic boon. …
Further, Whitehouse said, “There’s no doubt that costs are going to rise” for gasoline and other carbon-based fuels, which is why he and other advocates of a campaign against global warming have also put mechanisms in the bill to cushion the blow on the poor.
But Americans will more than recoup what they lose from the short-term price hike in coal- and petroleum-based fuels, Whitehouse predicted, if the final legislation includes the proper mixture of tax credits for energy conservation, energy subsidies for poor people and other forms of government aid. …
But Whitehouse would not commit himself to opposing a bill that does not contain the subsidies and other cost-offsetting mechanisms that he favors. He reasoned that the cause of fighting climate change is too important.

Read the whole article. It’s edifying to hear the good senator express his confidence that the government can “blunt” the blow to regular families “really from the very beginning” and to realize that even the most wildly unblunted outcome would hardly affect his family. That sort of perspective affects how much weight one gives to points such as Ed Achorn’s:

One of the people driving the fundamentalists nuts is Danish author Bjorn Lomborg, notwithstanding that he is a True Believer himself (“Global warming is real and man-made,” he writes). Mr. Lomborg, who once headed Denmark’s Environmental Assessment Institute, argues in his new book Cool It (Knopf, $21) that alarmism and emotionalism, global treaties and energy rationing are not the best ways to deal with the problem.
Mr. Lomborg contends that, rather than strangling economic growth with costly “solutions” that will do little to alter CO2 emissions, the world would be much better off using its wealth to fight AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and poverty, while radically increasing research and development of fossil-fuel alternatives.
He dares to note such politically incorrect facts as that far more people die from cold than from heat; that the number of polar bears (the poster children of the alarmists) is actually growing, and that hunting presents a far greater threat to them than warming; and that the United Nations estimates that sea levels will rise by only about 5 inches by 2050, no more than what we have experienced since 1940 — and a small fraction of the 20 feet that Al Gore projects by the end of the century.

Except inasmuch as he’s worried that his waterfront Newport summer-mansion isn’t sufficiently high above sea level, Senator Sheldon hasn’t much personal investment in the accuracy of the fashionable environmental hysteria du jour. Whitehouse elides much when he argues that the economic impact is akin to “the problem that carriage-makers had when Henry Ford became successful.” As energy and fuel prices increase because of regulation, everybody within a certain margin from the economic tide (as opposed to the oceanic tide) must fear the erosion.
If Mr. Whitehouse had more on the line, perhaps he’d be more inclined to seek solutions that might indeed cause only “industry-by-industry problems,” such as what Cliff May calls the “alcohol solution”:

… in his new book, Energy Victory, Dr. Zubrin does not just complain. He proposes a way to break free of dependence on a resource controlled by those who have declared themselves our mortal enemies. The technology already exists. It’s not expensive. All that is lacking is for voters to make this a priority — and to communicate that to the political class.
Right now, 97 percent of the cars on America’s roads run on gasoline. Only three percent are Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) — automobiles that can be powered by either gasoline or alcohol fuels, or any mixture of the two. The additional cost to make a new car an FFV is only about $100 per vehicle
For the sake of individual security, the government mandates that all cars have seat belts. For the sake of national security, Dr. Zubrin proposes, the government should mandate that all new cars be FFVs.
In three years, the change would put 50 million FFVs on the road. The free market would then mobilize to do what it does best: Entrepreneurs would compete to produce alternative, non-petroleum fuels for these potential customers.

According to May, Zubrin’s solution would have international political benefits (taking power from America’s enemies), environmental benefits (less CO2 and less damage resulting from spills), and economic benefits (the energy source would play to areas of U.S. strength, such as agriculture). Somehow, though, I suspect that the excuse to sacrifice the first and third benefits is part of the attraction for Sheldon Whitehouse’s elite pals of the fashionable stances that they take toward the second.

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16 years ago

Until you get biofuels from sources other than foodstuffs – like corn – what you are doing is starving third worlders. Theres no diplomatic way to put that. There are subsidies for ethanol that are a great benefit to ADM and other ‘environmentalist agribusinesses’. Ethanol is less efficient than gasoline and needs more energy to produce than it yields. There may be good feedstocks in the future, but corn-o-hol is a bad deal in every sense of the word.

16 years ago

The studies showing that production of ethanol fuel involves a net energy loss are dated — if they were ever valid in the first place.
And the one recent study clinging to the idea that ethanol production is an energy sink was co-authored by a negative population growth advocate, which makes me worry that he’s allowed to creep into his research a view that renewable energy talk shouldn’t be distracting people from what their real goal should be: government-controlled population planning.
From what I’ve read, it is true that it would take too many acres of corn to produce enough ethanol to replace a substantial quantity of imported oil. But using that as a reason not to pursue ethanol-fueled vehicles is a bit like saying that there should be no new oil exploration, because no single new oil field is likely produce enough oil to replace a substantial amount of foreign oil either.

16 years ago

Hadn’t seen the mention of the study that showed that ethanol is 34% net positive on energy. It would be educational to see the same type of calculation for gasoline, but I’d bet getting a grant to perform the calculation would be difficult.
Ethanol from corn remains a bad use of food. If Archer-Daniels-Midland still needs subsidies after 20+ years, then I hope it remains a small program meant to encourage necessary R&D into alternative feedstocks – organic waste, non-food biosources, etc.
Have you seen any calculations on how much of our farmland it would take to make a significant dent in oil imports?

Robert L. Balliot
16 years ago

There are, in fact, a myriad of solutions available to us right now – great solutions that would revitalize the economy:
Wind Power

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