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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Maybe Lindsey is Right

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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Yesterday, in the context of criticizing a dumb Thomas Friedman column, I more or less took for granted that Lindsey Graham’s threat to abandon working with Democrats on climate change if they took up immigration reform next was evidence of bad faith, especially since Graham has been supportive of the immigration reform effort. Jon Chait doesn’t see it that way:

Hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it seems unfair to accuse him of having “negotiated in bad faith.” Graham has been painstakingly attempting to assemble a political and business coalition for legislation to mitigate climate change. He has also been working on immigration reform, but the Democrats’ weak signals of interest before last week have helped contribute to an atmosphere where nobody expected a bill to advance this year, and thus little headway has been made. There has been no House immigration bill, whereas the House has passed a climate bill already. Graham was set to unveil his bill on Monday when Harry Reid pulled the carpet out from under him by announcing that immigration would come first and climate — which gets harder to do as the elections gets closer — probably never.

Yglesias, Ezra, and Drum all  more or less agree.

For my part, for the sake of not getting stuck on a somewhat minor point, I’ll assume Graham is, indeed, working with Democrats in good faith here, and really does want to see some sort of action on climate this year, and he’s angry because he feels Reid has decided not to go that route, essentially hanging him out to dry. It’s understandable, in a way, but at the same time, that just makes Graham’s tantrum more bizarre. After all, if Graham really wants to achieve something on climate but thinks Democratic leadership has decided against it, the last thing it would make sense for Graham to do is bail on the effort. That doesn’t make action on climate more likely, and gives Democrats an angle to blame Republicans for the lack of action on climate. In every way, it makes it less likely that climate legislation will be taken up this year, if you assume that Graham means it at least.

The key point here is the last paragraph in Ezra’s post. We sort of take it for granted that Congress can only handle one issue at a time, but there’s no reason that has to be true. Graham is ostensibly supportive of both climate legislation and immigration reform, and if he remains committed to getting something done on either or both fronts this year, he can let Harry Reid know that he’d like for work to be done on both. Reid is backing off somewhat today in the face of the amount of work that’s already been done on climate, as well as Graham’s threat, I’d imagine, but if there’s a Republican or two committed to working with the Democrats on one, or both, issues, there’s no reason something can’t be done on climate and immigration this year.

Why Is The Mustache Getting Paid?

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

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Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times today is just gob-smackingly stupid. That’s fairly normal for Friedman, of course, but today’s is a real doozy even by his standards. Here’s how he opens:

I’ve been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I’m sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 percent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion:

Become the Green Tea Party.
Oh no, it gets even dumber:

The manifesto is easy, too: “We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America’s national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 “Patriot Fee” on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt.”

This is just beyond stupid. For one, there’s the name. Do you really see the right-wing calling themselves the “green tea” anything? The people who use arugala and dijon mustard as short-hand for effete elitism now? Yeah, didn’t think so. But more than that, this just kind of ignores the fact that, you know, the teabaggers are the right-wing. They don’t care about the climate. They don’t believe in global warming. They’re the assholes who tell you how they’re going to leave all their lights on or drive around as much as they can in their SUV on Earth Day for the sheer joy of being assholes. And, oh yeah, they’re not big fans of taxes either. I suppose Friedman would probably argue that his “Patriot Fee” isn’t a tax, but good luck getting them to buy it. But what’s extra confounding is that Friedman concedes that he knows this is all stupid nonsense:

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

Ok, so you just wasted 300 words. Awesome. What’s the point then?

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical center, a center committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

This critical piece of energy legislation was supposed to be unveiled by the three senators on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed late Saturday because of Senator Graham’s fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House were planning to take up a highly controversial immigration measure before the energy bill.

If this is what the Obama administration is doing — to score a few cheap political points with Hispanics — it is a travesty. The bipartisan energy bill is ready to go. It is far from perfect. Indeed, it is a shame the fossil fuel industries still have such a stranglehold on Congress. But it’s the best we’re going to get, and we have got to get started. However, without a centrist Green Tea Party movement — one that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits — even this effort will never pass.

A couple of things here. First of all, what the hell would a “radical center” even look like? The center, by definition, is defined by other points. So a “radical” center, I suppose, would dogmatically insist on plopping itself right in the middle of the left and the right and refusing to move? Or refusing to acknowledge that maybe being precisely in the middle isn’t the right place to be? I mean, where does one find the middle of something like the debate over whether or not to invade Iraq? Declare that they won’t support invading Iraq, but that they could get behind invading the Ivory Coast? It’s all very confusing to me, as these poorly thought out pieces of pretension from writers like Friedman usually are. But I digress.

The other problem here is that this is just drastically ignorant of the underlying politics. Lindsay Graham has, in the past, been a supporter of immigration reform efforts. He’s touted his support for comprehensive immigration reform, in fact. There’s no obvious reason why moving forward with legislation on that issue should cause him to drop support for another worthwhile bill he’s supported. It’s a naked political ploy by Graham to turn his back on the bill, and gum up two Democratic initiatives at the same time ahead of the election. If Democrats acquiesce and shelve immigration reform, Graham will just find another reason to oppose the bill, the same way he used the passage of healthcare reform to pivot to a position of being unable to support immigration reform anymore. But then, even if Democrats do go ahead with immigration reform and climate legislation, it doesn’t really make much sense to blame them for Graham’s temper tantrum. Lindsay Graham is a big boy. He’s a United States Senator fergawdsake. And, at best, he’s using his potential support for a bill he ostensibly supports, regarding an issue he ostensibly recognizes as being vitally important, to ransom the very large Senate majority into dropping another item on their agenda. That’s despicable behavior, particularly if you actually believe Graham appreciates how serious climate issues are. And yet, Friedman is chastising the majority over it, rather than calling out the United States Senator acting like a psychopathic adolescent.

I don’t really expect major newspaper columnists to write intelligent things anymore, but it still puzzles me why publications that seem to regard themselves seriously, like the Times, pays people who seem to know nothing about American politics to write about the subject on such valuable space. Especially if they’re having financial problems.

Much Love For The Steel City: The G-20 And The Rust Belt Renaissance

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

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By Tommy Brown

As the apparatchiks of the globalized economy departed my fair hometown this past Saturday, I am happy to report that Pittsburgh came out looking very well in pretty much all aspects. Our image as Steeltown USA (“hell with the lid off”) and/or a dying Rust Belt town crippled by the loss of the industry that defined us for generations has been put to bed, hopefully for good.

The most powerful men on the planet and their international entourages pleasantly surprised to find a formerly depressed city that had shed its industrial roots and reinvented itself for the information/service economy of the new century.  Maybe even a model for the dozens of other Rust Belt cities between the Mon Valley and Chicago dying a slow and painful economic death.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s some articles from the national and international media:

From Forbes:

. . . President Barack Obama sees in Pittsburgh a way forward for the American city in the 21st century. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “It’s an area that has seen its share of economic woes in the past but because of foresight and investment is now renewed–giving birth to … industries that are creating the jobs of the future. And I think [Obama] believes it would be a good place to highlight some of that.”

Pittsburgh boasts world-class culture and president-approved industries crucial to the growth of the nation (education, health care, technology, energy), but it will never be New York. Pittsburgh is also a conglomeration of neighborhoods, where mom-and-pop stores are still a staple and people greet their neighbors in the supermarket, but it’s no small town. In the city’s historic South Side, mega-chains like Urban Outfitters coexist with tiny consignment boutiques that have persisted for over a decade, and a Cheesecake Factory is just a stone’s throw from a row of old biker bars.

Pittsburgh is, in other words, a big city with a small-city mindset. Or maybe it’s a small city with big-city ideas. Either way, it is negotiating–sometimes precariously, sometimes with aplomb–a balance between these two spheres. As city councilman Bill Peduto says, “It is figuring out how to become global while staying local.” Which is perhaps the greatest challenge in this age of rapid globalization and economic turmoil.

From WaPo’s “Pittsburgh Shows How the Rust Belt Can Be Polished Up”:

Pittsburgh has shaken off its smoky image, transformed by an industrial collapse that drove out half of the city’s population in the early 1980s. As the Group of 20 gathers Thursday, members are more likely to ask what Pittsburgh can teach them than why they had to come here.The city’s unemployment rate is well below the national average. Wages and housing prices are stable or up. Nearby Cleveland has experienced rampant foreclosures, but here they are relatively uncommon.

The city’s main industries — health care and education — are thriving. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, an $8 billion health-care company, employs 50,000 people in western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh’s health services business has almost tripled in size since 1979, creating more than 100,000 jobs.

It is quite a turnaround for a city that lost 120,000 jobs between 1981 and 1984, after its steel industry collapsed. Thousands of young residents fled the city to find work, and unemployment reached 17 percent among those who remained. Much as with Detroit today, many wondered whether Pittsburgh could continue to exist.

“But here we are, still a major center and doing well,” said Christopher Briem, an urban studies expert at the University of Pittsburgh. “The lesson is that there’s life after your defining industry dies.”

From the BBC, with the can’t-resist-the-stupid-pun headline “Pittsburgh Steeled to be Host City”:

Another [thought by the White House] was ensuring that the Pittsburgh story told a positive story about Obama’s America.

Later in the article. . .

And the symbolism?

Well, the population of Pittsburgh seems remarkably on-message. Local politicians, business leaders and folks in cafes and bars will all tell you the same story.

Pittsburgh – the grimy old steel town that was a powerhouse of American heavy industry and made its money under choking clouds of smoke from its mills and mines – is no more.

Locals have been making their feelings clear about declining industries

In its place is a clean, green example of regeneration. A city where pleasure cruisers carry tourists between the wooded banks of its three rivers and where people make a living in services such as health and education or in hi-tech business.

No-one puts it better than Frank Coonelly, president of the city’s baseball team the Pittsburgh Pirates: “It’s a remarkable transformation, not just of the economy but of the city itself from an industrial steel town to a city that now really is driven by hi-tech and service sectors.

“People who think of Pittsburgh as a smoky steel town, when they come in here this week they’ll see quite a different thing.”

It feels like the perfect message for the Obama administration to send out from a city which is about become the backdrop for 1,000 TV reporters from around the world.

And a piece from Voice of America on our new wave of immigration in a city that has always been defined by an ethnic makeup of Irish, Italian, “hunky” (those of Eastern European descent) and black:

European immigrants flocked to western Pennsylvania at the dawn of the industrial age to work in the steel mills and factories of Pittsburgh, which was the world-famous “Steel City” well into the 20th century. Over the past 50 years, however, heavy industry has been leaving Pittsburgh, along with tens of thousands of jobs. But over time Pittsburgh essentially “reinvented” itself, and the city is now best known for high-technology enterprises, medical specialties, banks and universities. That transformation has prompted a new wave of immigrants, this time including many from south Asia. Families originally from India now are one of Pittsburgh’s largest ethnic communities, and they are thriving.

Your Humble Author has to admit a certain amount of hometown pride in seeing a city that when I was a child and teenager was written off as another Gary, Indiana or Baltimore in the making become the example for other ailing metropolises to adapt to the 21st century.

When No Bill Really Is Better

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I really can’t emphasize enough how wrong Matt is in this post. It might be true that there’s not much difference between auctioning permits and giving them away from an environmental stand-point in a vacuum, but this stuff doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And when you account for likely political outcomes, a give away regime is about the worst thing you could possibly do.

Cap-and-trade is already politically dicey, and for reasons that are easy enough understand; it means people’s energy bills are going to increase. But this can be offset by rebating revenues earned from the program to consumers, if  the permits are auctioned. This is nice because it not only lessens the burden consumers have to bear, but if the rebate is allocated on a flat basis, consumers who consume less than average amounts of energy actually come out gaining money after the rebate, which creates a lot of incentive for consumers to lower their energy usage.

But if there’s no auctions, then there’s no revenue. And if there’s no revenue, there’s no money to rebate. This means consumers are going to be hit with the increased energy costs, with nothing to offset them. You’ll still have incentives to use less energy, obviously, but the difference is that the program will be extremely unpopular with the average voter. And as something that directly takes money out of their pocket, it will be the sort of very unpopular thing that actually sways votes. A cap-and-give away regime passed by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President would spark a massive backlash against the Democratic Party, and create an opening for big electoral gains for Republicans. It would be about the closest thing to political suicide I could imagine Democrats coming up with. And that might be a sound trade off if you could somehow guarantee the program would remain in place forever, but is there anyone who doesn’t think a newly elected Republican governing majority wouldn’t shred the program with extreme haste? And then you’re left with no carbon pricing regime, a new Republican Majority, a Democratic Party that will be exceedingly unpopular and will never shake the perception that all they do is raise taxes on everyone, and cap-and-trade will be a dead concept entirely. It really is the worst possible course of action.

Healthcare Is Note Climate Change

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Brian Beutler has the list of 26 Democrats who voted to shut off the reconciliation process to efforts at carbon pricing, and offers the following observation:

With this vote they committed themselves to the idea that climate change legislation should be subject to a filibuster, and their large numbers suggests, perhaps, significant opposition to passing any major reform legislation (read: health care) through reconciliation.

That just doesn’t seem right to me. For one thing, climate legislation a lot of legislators would like to avoid altogether, for the simple reason that there’s little to be gained politically from it. Most of the cost comes up front, and the intended benefit (averting ecological catastrophe) is both well into the future and, if done right, will be something that goes unseen. It’s not the sort of thing the U.S. Senate does a good job of addressing, in other words.

Healthcare is another matter entirely. Most Americans will come into contact with our healthcare, and insurance, system, and be left unsatisfied. And, of course, there are tens of millions of people priced out of the insurance market altogether, and countless others who stand to be left uninsured if they lose their job, an even starker fear in a tme of economic troubles. In other words, there are a lot more people with an interest in healthcare reform than there are with a real interest in climate policy, and a much larger pool of voters who want to see the system reformed now, which means there’s a larger incentive for politicians, especially Democrats, to address healthcare. Ideally you wouldn’t want to pass that sort of package through reconciliation, but I don’t think a desire to get some Republican support for a proposal, or the unwillingness to take riskier political action through the same process, should be confused as an outright unwillingness to use reconiciliation for healthcare reform. Especially since nearly every key player in the equation has specifically left open the possibility.

Mileage Taxes

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

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This is a very bad idea:

For years, Oregon has been diligent about reducing the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, but its environmental consciousness has come at a stunning price — gas tax revenue is down $4.8 million a year compared with 2006.

That drop, caused by lower fuel consumption and a slowing economy, has prompted Oregon to consider a new way to pay for road repairs: Democratic Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski’s upcoming budget calls for a highway tax based on mileage, not gasoline purchases.

I’m sensitive to the need of the state to raise revenue, but they need to come up with something much better than this. Aside from the sheer creepiness of putting GPS systems in every new car that allow the state to monitor how much (and presumbaly where) you drive, the incentive structure of this is just terrible. Yes it’d be nice to get people driving a lot less, but there’s a certain baseline to how low that can go. If you have to go to work, take your kids to school, or some other fairly non-negotiable activity, then there’s really no way around your need for that amount of driving. That’s why more efficient vehicles are important, if you can’t reduce the sheer amount you’re driving, you can still reduce your fuel consumption by getting better mileage from your vehicle, and a sufficient tax on gasoline can encourage people to buy more efficient cars, thereby limiting the amount of emissions. But just taxing the amount of mileage people are driving irrespective of how much fuel is being used for that does nothing to get people to conserve energy.

Shouldn’t You Have To Think?

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

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I understand that, because he sinks a lot of money into the publication, foreign policy writing at The New Republic is necessarily going to reflect Marty Peretz’s crazy views on Israel and hatred for brown people Arabs. And on some level, I can tolerate that so long as I can keep reading Jon Chait, Noam Scheiber, Michelle Cottle, Eve Fairbanks, and Jonathan Cohn. Hell, it even got us Jamie Kirchick. But then they go and run drivel like this, written by someone with a demonstrated lack of knowledge like Leon Wiseltier, and it makes you wonder why any good writer would actually want their name attached to such an outlet. To wit:

The latest refinement of the Democratic creed of soft power is the view that environmentalism is a foreign policy. A week after the Russian invasion of Georgia, I was present at a conversation about whether the crisis around Russia’s borders could be relieved in part by the greening of Poland. I agreed that Putin has been emboldened by the new riches of Russia’s natural resources, but I averred that even if Poland found a way to emancipate itself from foreign fuel, so that every one of its schools was powered by the sun and every one of its cafes by the wind, there would still be a foundation in reality for the anxiety about Russia. The new Russian imperialism is animated by more than the new prices of commodities. Chávez does not owe his socialism to his petroleum. And the horror in Sudan has not been perpetrated by the weather. The verdure of the Democratic foreign-policy discussion is a proper retort to George W. Bush’s astounding delinquency about climate change; but energy does not explain everything. Green is not the only color. Indeed, monochromacy is a form of color-blindness. Even if we were to conquer our oil habit, we could not stand idly by if, say, jihadists came to power in Riyadh. (Israel is not the only reason.) A green world will not be a good world.

Matt already got to this, but I think garbage like this deserves to be taken down at least twice.

Firstly, as Matt says (and I’ll use the same link), anyone who doesn’t think climate is a source of the problem in Darfur doesn’t know anything about the conflict in Darfur. Secondly, Wieseltier’s petro nonsense is just that, nonsense. It might be true that oil has nothing to do with why Putin, Chavez, and, um, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin are the way they are, but high oil prices indisputably has huge consequences for them. In the case of Chavez and Palin, their general popularity is derived mostly from the fact that they’ve taken the revenue boom associated with higher oil prices and, in one way or another, distributed it among the masses. Everyone likes free money, and people handing out the checks tend to be very popular, other flaws be damned.

In Putin’s case, the implication is even more stark. Russia in the 1990’s was a broderline 3rd world state. But the increased revenue high energy prices have brought about have allowed Putin, bulwarked by public support for the “renewed honor” of Russia to do things like wage a war in Georgia and meddle in Ukranian politics that take a lot of money and leverage. Without high hydrocrabon prices, Russia has neither, and they go back to being a glorified 3rd world country with nuclear weapons and 1980’s weapon systems.

As for his last point about Saudi Arabia, it’s not entirely wrong. We probably wouldn’t take kindly to al-Qaeda taking over any country regardless of their hydrocarbon supplies. However, that’s not the only consideration to make. The House of Saud is a brutal, monarchical regime. It’s not beyond imagination that the people of Saudi Arabia may one day decide they’ve had enough and revolt. And if they do, the United States will assist the monarchy in brutally repressing and punishing the populace for it. Why? Because instability and domestic unrest in the Kingdom will cause global oil prices to explode, and the fact that any resulting government will probably not be fond of the Western powers who enabled the monarchy for decades, will make our protection of OUR allies imperative. If Saudi oil were unimportant, its people may actually have a chance, and indeed the United States may even assist them in dumping their oppressors.

There are any numner of ways to debate the issues Wieseltier brings up. But to assert that oil plays no role inthe nature of regimes in Russia and Venezuela, or in our relationships with problematic Middle Eastern regimes, and that a post-fossil fuel economy wouldn’t fundamentally change that, mostly for the better, is to demonstrate either abject ignorance in regards to the nature of international relations or an intentional disregard for facts and truth in the matter. With The New Republic, you can basically flip a coin on that question.


Monday, September 15th, 2008

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Ezra looks at the impact of subsidies on corn and, subsequently, public policy:

A couple notes. There’s an interesting chicken-and-the-egg issue here with corn subsidies. Our immense creativity in how we use corn is directly related to the fact that it’s been subsidized to the tune of $50 billion over the past 10 years. Since it’s artificially cheap, it’s artificially ubiquitous. We take corn to the lab to remake it into sweetener, take medicines from the lab to keep cows alive as we force them to feed on it (cows don’t digest corn naturally), pump money into ethanol when it’s not energy efficient, etc. As Donner says, ”
frankly, any ingredient that you do not recognize on the label of a processed food or beverage is probably made from corn. Xathan gum? A fermented sugar made from corn. Lecithin? Made from corn. Vanilla extract? Vanilla and corn syrup. Malt extract? Often made from corn, not barely. Dextrin? As Michael Pollan would say, corn, corn, corn.”

Those are some of the distortions upstream, at the producer level. Downstream, at the consumer level, meat is much cheaper, sweetened foods are much cheaper, ethanol seems like a good idea, and so on. And as you might imagine, pumping subsidies into cheaper red meat and sweetened sodas is not exactly the sort of thing you’d do if you were setting policy with public health, or future health costs, in mind.

Now, there’s 2 ways to look at this. One is the effect that individual priorities have on the way we view policy tradeoffs. Ezra’s principal interest is healthcare policy, and so he views these questions through that prism. So of course, he’s going to tend to think of the effect of cheap corn, or more accurately the products made with cheap corn, on health and healthcare. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s obviously a concern that should be had. But there’s an economic aspect that’s missed when you look at it in different ways.

Cheap food, corn especially, is almost vital to the US economy as we know it. The ability to spend less of our money on food than any other developed nation is one of the main reasons we have so much disposable income. Increase the price of food, and the money left over to consume other goods decreases, since “food” isn’t necessarily an expendable good. I can live without a leather couch, I can live without a 3rd bathroom in my house. I can even live without a car if the area I live in allows it. But I can’t live without food, no matter how hard I try. So, in this respect, corn subsidies are a fundamental part of the US economy, for better or worse. And all in all, $50 billion over 10 years isn’t really that much money.

Now, there are aspects of this that are bad, obviously. Cheap corn makes mass meat consumption cheaper than it otherwise would be and this, especially with beef, contributes massively to global climate change. And of course I’m not going to argue that something should be done to make that externality show up in the price of meat, in order to better reflect the whole cost of mass meat production, and curb global climate change. But that also has to be balanced out against the need for cheap food in general, and few things can be grown as cheaply as corn in this country. The trick is balancing these concerns. Where do we start? Well, I don’t know. I know it violates the blogger’s code to admit this, but I don’t have the answer to every question. Ending the tariffs and restrictions on real sugarcane so that it can compete with corn syrup would be a nice place to start, as would some sort effort to reflect the carbon impact of meat production in the cost of meat while still maintaining a generally low cost of food. That’s not just a “moral concern,” it’s a political one as well. If people associate cap and trade or healthcare policy proposals with increases in the cost of their groceries, then those policies are going to be incredibly hard to implement in Washington.

But admittedly, I don’t really have any good answer on how to balance all of these concerns most effectively in the short term, so I’ll turn that over to people smarter than I. Of course, I reserve the right to criticize them later. After all, I can’t totally abandon the blogger’s code, now can I?

Meat and the Environment

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

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Ezra takes a report about the, relative, environmentally friendly nature of pork and branches into a general case against meat:

A pound of steak requires much more grain than a pound of chicken, or fish. Indeed, it’s apparently far worse than a pound of pork. Michael links to a New Scientist article that shows the ratios. Sadly, it’s behind a paywall. But he reports that “producing a kilogram of a cow requires about 6 kilos of grain. A kilo of a chicken requires about 2 kilos of grain, as does a kilo of dairy products. Producing a kilo of a pig only takes a little over 1 kilo of grain, making pork by far the best food bargain in terms of resource usage.”

That finding for pork seems a bit unintuitive to me, but since I can’t read the article, I can’t dig into the specifics. Still, the overall point stands: It’s better for the environment to try and cut meat out of your diet, but you can do a lot to reduce energy usage on the margins by simply switching from high-carbon meats like beef to lower carbon alternatives.

While I certainly won’t dispute that meat production is resource intensive (and right now that means carbon intensive), I don’t think that generally encouraging people to move away from things pretty widely liked such as Porterhouse and Sirloin is a particularly good way to cultivate grass roots support for progressive change. Were the environmental movement to become identified with telling people not to eat meat, let’s say by Republican demagougery for example, I suspect that might push away a good many non-progressives who might otherwise be sympathetic to environmental causes.

And let’s be honest, steak (and meat in general) is really, really good. And if you like to cook, it’s fun to prepare it. Few things can make me feel better after a stressful day than pulling a package of meat out of the freezer, experimenting with the preperation of it, tossing it on a charcoal grill, and enjoying the fruits of my labor as it were. Is it envrionmentally unfriendly? You bet. Is the best remedy for that problem me giving up meat, or at least steak? I don’t think so, rather, I see two much better long term scenarios that can rectify the environmental impact of my love of meat. First, and probably most obviously, is the development of real, viable, alternative energy sources. If we use non-carbon fuels to produce grain, the environmental impact of meat would decrease substantially. Secondly, we could overhaul our fiscal structure in such a way as to accurately reflect the price of carbon in our daily lives. For instance, we could start by eliminating, or at least limiting, subsidies for driving and cheap, carbon heavy, meat production. We could implement cap and trade policies, or simple carbon tax policies, that would further reflect the actual market cost of carbon in the things we buy, and naturally encourage people to live more environmentally friendly lives through economic factors. It could also have tangential economic and living impacts by, for example, encouraging small beef farmers to grow beef organically and market it locally, taking advantage of lower costs of production and a lower cost in the store to increase market share amongst beef consumers. In fact, this is akin to Ezra’s own argument in response to the “eco-friendly” Democratic convention:

The more Democrats present their environmentalism as a call for personal austerity or individual rectitude, the less likely they are to succeed. But that’s not what a cap and trade proposal does. It’s a market-based attempt to accurately price carbon in products, so that the economic incentives naturally point in a direction that doesn’t end up scorching the planet. It’s not about banning meat or keeping people from driving. It’s just about eliminating the silent subsidy that makes meat, gas, and other elements of a carbon-intensive lifestyle look much cheaper than they really are. But the key here is that cap and trade won’t ask people to “do” anything differently. They’ll just have to do what they always do: Decide what they need and then figure out the most cost-effective way to get there. In other words, shop. What they’re not being asked to do is personally figure out carbon counts and chart a low-energy lifestyle.

Fundamentally, I think, Ezra got it right the first time. Which is not to say he was wrong the second time, just that Democrats should embrace the argument that there’s no need to fundamentally and drastically “do” anything, just that we ought to embrace policies that more accurately reflect the price, economically and environmentally, of carbon and energy consumption in general.

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