The Environmentally Friendly Internal Combustion Engine

Most environmentalists believe that the world’s worst polluter, the State, is the only way to save the environment. They scoff when you mention the environmentally friendly advances that have been made by market actors. Worse yet, they often disparage market advancements that have greatly improved the environment, such as the internal combustion engine:

The internal-combustion engine began improving the environment, however, long before global warming became a concern. Consider the fact that in 1900 a large percentage of the available horsepower really was horse power, or mule power, or ox power. As the power of the internal-combustion engine began to be substituted for animal power in the early 1900s, we began to substitute the emissions coming out of the tailpipes of cars and trucks for those coming out of the tailpipes of animals. The result was that the environment started becoming far cleaner and healthier.

Consider horse manure’s effect on the environment and health of New Yorkers in 1900. Robert Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, writes:

We complain a lot about air pollution today, but there were 200,000 horses in New York City, at the beginning of the 20th century defecating everywhere. And when you walked around in New York City, you were breathing pulverized horse manure—a much worse pollutant, than the exhausts of automobiles. Indeed in the United States, the automobile was considered the solution to the horse problem because pulverized horse manure carried a lot of deadly pathogens.

No serious person denies that photochemical smog from gas-powered vehicles is a health risk. It would be silly to do so. It would be even sillier, however, to deny Fogel’s observation that the air and water pollution from horse manure was a far greater health risk than the pollution from cars and trucks. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, and diphtheria were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans in the early twentieth century. As cars and trucks began replacing horses and other beasts of burden, these deaths began to decline dramatically. Medical improvements get some of the credit, but most of the credit during the early decades of the twentieth century goes to the reduced filth in the environment from animal waste.

People forget the past. Environmentalists, who often rant about how much more environmental damage humans are causing today than in the past, seem to have forgotten just how terrible living conditions were barely a century ago. Humanity’s agricultural knowledge was far more limited, which means farmers commonly practiced more damaging forms of agriculture. Horses were the primary mode of transportation, which introduced a great amount of biological contaminants to metropolitan areas. Trash was often discarded in place instead of collected and moved to a designated dump.

Our species has come a long ways in terms of environmentalism and not because of the State but because of rational self-interest. Having a cleaner environment benefits us so market forces have been hard at work reducing humanity’s environmental impact. This hard work continues today. Energy production continues to cause environmental damage. While the State has continued to hinder cleaner forms of energy production such as nuclear power plants, the market has been hard at work making more power efficient devices. Devices that use less energy reduce the load on power production facilities, which means less new facilities have to be built to meet demands. Mining is another activity that causes notable environmental damage and the market is once again responding. Apple has announced that it will rely on recycled materials instead of newly mined materials and other companies are likely to follow suit.

Environmentalists should be cheering the market, not condemning it.

Volkswagen Gives Americans What They Want, Americans Buy Volkswagens, Statists Confused By Markets

A lot of electrons have been annoyed by people writing about the Volkswagen scandal. In an effort to give customers the performance they want while still passing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unrealistic tests Volkswagen wrote some clever software. It’s no surprisingly Volkswagen sales increased in the month of October. Well, it’s no surprise unless you’re a statist who doesn’t understand how markets work:

There is a world in which consumers swiftly punish Volkswagen where it counts — the coffers — for its massive, systematic deception of the Environmental Protection Agency in which it cheated its way around diesel emissions tests for half a decade.

This isn’t that world.

Volkswagen of America just reported its October sales, the first full month of reporting since the scandal broke, and guess what? Sales are up 0.24 percent year over year, likely thanks in part to enormous discounts being offered to prop up volume. Now, perhaps they would’ve been up more in the absence of the scandal. But if consumers haven’t outright rewarded VW for deceiving them, they certainly haven’t done much to punish the automaker, either.

I don’t really know what to do with this. Governments and law firms around the world are rearing to shake VW’s piggy bank, but it’s a little confusing to me that car buyers wouldn’t be looking elsewhere while this all plays out (and it is very much still playing out). Are these buyers just not following the news? Are they not concerned, because America is generally less excited about diesel engines than Europeans? (Note that Volkswagen has suspended sales of its 2016 diesels, pending approvals, so Americans have made up the sales difference versus October 2014 with additional gasoline and hybrid purchases.)

Consumers only punish manufacturers when they feel they’ve been wronged. Why should I, as a consumer, be angry if I know an automobile manufacturer can’t sell its product in the United States without passing random government tests that demonstrates nothing of value (more on this in a second) and find out the manufacturer cheated the test to give me a better product? On the other hand I, as a consumer, have ever right to be angry when the government attempts to interfere with my acquisition of a desired product. The EPA tests, as I mentioned above, aren’t even testing real-world conditions so there’s no reason for consumers, even those who are dyed in the wool environmentalists, to give two shits about them.

And don’t make the mistake of construing this increase in sales with consumers not caring about environmentalism. Most consumers care greatly about environmentalism, which is why fuel mileage is advertised to heavily these days. Generally consumers want a balance between performance and fuel efficiency (of course the EPA’s fuel efficiency tests, like its emissions tests, aren’t accurate but that’s a different can of worms). If a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is too low consumers face undesirable increases in their fuel bills. But market forces are something statists don’t understand so they become confused by situations like Volkswagen’s sales increase and come to the faulty conclusion that it means consumers don’t care about environmentalism (and use that conclusion to argue the necessity of the EPA).

What we’ve learned from this Volkswagen scandal is that producers, when faced with idiotic regulatory tests, will find creative ways to give consumers what they want and be rightly rewarded. If you want to be angry with somebody be angry with the EPA. It’s been feeding the public bad data for decades and using that data to restrict availability of goods, which has forced manufacturers to cheat in order to fulfill the wants of their customers.

Apple Doing More For China’s Environment Than China’s Government

I continue to be amazed by people who believe governments are an effective way to protect the environment. It’s such a stupid belief because governments are the biggest polluters whose only interest in regulating pollution is getting a piece of the action through permit issuances. The only way to reduce pollution, which is the only way to change anything, is direct action. Oftentimes direct action to reduce pollution involves individuals whose property has been damaged by a polluter filing a lawsuit (of course such action has been illegal in the United States ever since the federal government started involving itself in pollution licensing). But that’s not the only way.

Apple has announced a plan to build solar power plans in China:

Six months after Apple said it wanted to stop climate change, rather than debate the issue, the company has announced two new programs that it says will reduce the carbon footprint of its manufacturing partners in China. The two schemes aim to avoid the production of more than 20 million metric tons of pollution between now and 2020 by building solar energy sources in the country’s northern, eastern, and southern grid regions, and by partnering with suppliers to install clean energy projects over the coming years.

At the same time, Apple also announced that it has completed 40 megawatts of solar projects in China’s Sichuan province, capable of producing the same amount of energy used by Apple’s retail stores and operations offices in the country. Apple says the completion of the projects makes the company carbon neutral in China, but that doesn’t factor in the energy used by its manufacturers and suppliers. The two new schemes are intended to offset that energy usage, producing more than 200 megawatts of electricity through the new solar sources — enough to power 265,000 homes in China for a year — and by helping suppliers build projects that will offer more than 2 gigawatts of clean energy.

This move by Apple will do more good than any amount of petitioning the Chinese government. In fact if companies did similar things in the United States it would do more good than any amount of Environment Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

The EPA Investigated Itself And Found It Did Nothing Wrong

After dumping millions of gallons of polluted mining water into a clean river the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) performed a quick investigation and decided it won’t suffer any punishment:

DENVER — Unlike BP, which was fined $5.5 billion for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EPA will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.

“Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and other lawmakers have called on the EPA to hold itself to the same standards as it would a private company in the aftermath of Wednesday’s accident, in which an EPA-led crew uncorked a 3 million-gallon spill of orange wastewater from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

However, “The EPA does not fine itself the way that you would fine an outside company like BP,” said Mr. Sansonetti, who served from 2001 to 2005 under President George W. Bush.

OK, I was joking about it performing an investigation. But this harkens back to what I said yesterday. Depending on the state to protect the environment is foolhardy because it has no incentive to actually protect the environment. When a company violates its regulations it merely demands a piece of the action in the form of fines. And when it violates its own regulations is declares “sovereign immunity,” just like a “sovereign citizen” would, and says it may pay the cost of cleanup and compensation for damages but only if Congress appropriates money for it:

What the EPA can be expected to cover is the cost of the cleanup and compensation for the damage caused, funding that would have to be appropriated by Congress, meaning that the taxpayers will foot the bill.

“That’s going to have to be appropriated because that sort of thing is not included in the EPA’s budget,” said Mr. Sansonetti, now a Denver attorney.

Not only will the agency go unpunished but it won’t even have to pay the costs out of its budget! Consider this fact what motivation does the EPA have to protect the environment? It seems like the agency wins whenever the environment is polluted. If a private entity pollutes a river the EPA enjoys a cash payment and if it pollutes a river it does nothing unless it receives additional money from Congress to fix its fuck up.

Go ahead statists, explain to me how the state is necessary to protect the environment after this fiasco. I could use a good laugh.

Without Government Who Would Pollute The Rivers

I’ve been told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lone barrier that stands between us and the entire country being turned into an uninhabitable wasteland by greedy corporations that want to fill our lakes and rivers with industrial waste. But I’ve also been told that socialism can work so I don’t put a lot of weight into what others have told me. The EPA, as with most government agencies, doesn’t really do what its name implies. It doesn’t protect the environment so much as licenses pollution. When somebody is dumping waste into a body of water the EPA steps in and demands a little piece of the action in exchange for looking the other way. And if nobody is polluting a body of water the EPA steps in and does it:

DURANGO — A spill that sent 1 million gallons of wastewater from an abandoned mine into the Animas River, turning the river orange, set off warnings Thursday that contaminants threaten water quality for those downstream.

The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed it triggered the spill while using heavy machinery to investigate pollutants at the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton.

I know somebody reading this will feel the need to point out that the EPA didn’t do this on purpose, which I’m sure is true. That’s not the point. The point is the lack of recourse. When an individual or corporation dumps waste into a body of water people usually sic the EPA on them. But what happens in this case? Who watches the watchmen? Does the EPA sue itself and transfer some of its money to itself? Will another agency, maybe an oversight committee, step in to find the EPA and therefore transfer some of the state’s wealth from itself to itself?

Herein lies the problem. Then government, which is the biggest polluter, is held entirely unaccountable because it has declared a monopoly on environmental protection. As it has declared this monopoly for itself there is no way to hold it accountable because it’s in its best interest to not enforce its own laws against itself. And if anybody else tries to hold it accountable it attacks them for breaking the law.

The biggest failure of environmentalism is its reliance on the state. A state has no interest in protecting the environment, its interests lie in polluting it without consequence and getting a piece of any polluting action.

Using The Market To Fight Poachers

Poaching is an issue in various parts of the world. Most species of rhino, for example, have been hunted to near extinction, in part, because a lot of cultures believe its horn carries magical properties that make human dicks bigger (or harder or whatever). Governments have been trying to solve this problem in the only way they know how, creating prohibitions. These prohibitions, like all prohibitions, have failed. Fortunately the market is here to bail us out. A group of researchers have come up with a clever way to reduce the demand for poaching rhinos:

Pembient, based in San Francisco uses keratin — a type of fibrous protein — and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is then 3D printed into synthetic rhino horns which is genetically and spectrographically similar to original rhino horns.The company plans to release a beer brewed with the synthetic horn later this year in the Chinese market.

The Chinese and Vietnamese rhino horn craze has caused an unprecedented surge in rhino poaching throughout Africa and Asia bringing the animal to the brink of extinction. In South Africa, home to 80 percent of Africa’s rhino population, 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014.

Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient says his company will sell rhino horns at one-eighth of the price of the original, undercutting the price poachers can get and forcing them out eventually.

Who said counterfeits were always bad? Rhino horn is worth a lot of money so poachers will continue to take bigger risks in pursuit of the few remaining animals on the planet. By creating an artificial substitute that is indistinguishable from the real deal and flooding the market with it the demand for rhino horn can be fulfilled and therefore reduce. This is the strategy that stands a chance of reducing rhino poaching because it address the root cause.

What Happens When You Densely Populate a Desert

Things aren’t looking good for California. Not surprisingly for a desert water is in short supply. Unlike most deserts California happens to be very densely populated, which has lead to a major crisis:

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

Assuming this estimate is accurate California is in for some very bad times. So what’s to be done? Let’s ask the statist that wrote this article:

Several steps need be taken right now. First, immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state’s water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is already considering water rationing by the summer unless conditions improve. There is no need for the rest of the state to hesitate. The public is ready. A recent Field Poll showed that 94% of Californians surveyed believe that the drought is serious, and that one-third support mandatory rationing.

Second, the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 should be accelerated. The law requires the formation of numerous, regional groundwater sustainability agencies by 2017. Then each agency must adopt a plan by 2022 and “achieve sustainability” 20 years after that. At that pace, it will be nearly 30 years before we even know what is working. By then, there may be no groundwater left to sustain.

Third, the state needs a task force of thought leaders that starts, right now, brainstorming to lay the groundwork for long-term water management strategies. Although several state task forces have been formed in response to the drought, none is focused on solving the long-term needs of a drought-prone, perennially water-stressed California.

Not surprisingly the statist’s answer is stupid. Rationing, making new agencies, and establishing a task force isn’t going to accomplish jack shit. The problem is that California, at least the southern portion of the state, is a desert. Since the state decided to declare a monopoly on water rights in the region it ignored the very real fact that deserts are not the greatest places to pack a lot of people and agriculture into. Now California is densely populated and a major agricultural state. The only thing surprising about this fiasco is that it didn’t enter a critical level like this sooner.

So I return to the original question, what’s to be done. Fixing this problem isn’t feasible with central planning so the only viable answer is to remove the state from water rights and management and allow the market to do its thing. I would predict doing this would increase the cost of water in California dramatically and therefore encourage people and agriculture to move elsewhere. This is likely the only long-term solution for California’s water shortage but people don’t want to hear it because they prefer the fairytale that statism has been telling them, which is any economic rules can be nullified so long as enough people vote hard enough.

The United States Government Promoting Poaching

The federal government has amasses a rather sizable amount of ivory. Its intention is to crush the six tons of illegally gathered elephant remains. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS):

We’re sending a message to ivory traffickers and their customers that the United States will not tolerate this illegal trade. We’re standing with nations that have already destroyed their illegal ivory and showing our commitment to working with partners around the world to stop this trafficking and save elephants.

Leave it to the government to think destroying illegally acquired materials will convince people to stop illegally collecting that material. The supply of ivory is quite limited since its sole source is from a very small portion of the body of a slow growing mammal. Ivory’s status as an illegal material and its relatively scarcity makes it quite valuable indeed. So what happens when six tons of it are crushed into useless dust? It becomes more scarce and therefore more valuable. With the potential for higher profits poachers are willing to take higher risks.

What the FWS is doing sounds good on paper but will only exacerbate the problem. It would be no different than the Drug Enforcement Agency capturing tons of cocaine and burning it. All that would do is cause an increase in the price of cocaine and encourage more production and sales.

Poaching, being an illegal activity, can’t be fought by making the value of poached animal remains more valuable. That further encourages poaching, especially in poorer regions where a subsistence farmer could stand to greatly improve his life by selling a single poached animal carcass. Instead of creating incentives to poach animals we should think of ways to disincentivize poaching. The only way to do that is to devalue the materials. Ivory, for example, could be devalued by finding a viable replacement, such as an indistinguishable synthetic, which could increase the overall supply without requiring the poaching of elephants.

The State Fails to Protect the Environment Again

Stories like this really demonstrate how ineffective the state is as protecting the environment:

BP had accused Houston-based Halliburton, its contractor, of destroying evidence and asked it to pay for all damages.

The major oil spill three years ago followed a blast at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers.

“A Halliburton subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanour violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation,” the company said in a statement.

I’m fairly certain that any expenditure under $1 million is taken out of Halliburton’s petty cash account so this fine isn’t even a consequence, it’s pocket change given to a beggar. Also, I’m not sure how a corporation can be put on probation. Is the federal government going to strap an ankle bracelet to Halliburton’s headquarters?

The federal government, along with statist environmentalists, continue to claim that the state is the only effective steward of the environment. Time and time again we see this “steward” enabling more and more destruction by protecting wrongdoers from consequences. By all rights the companies invested int he Deepwater Horizon should have been made to pay every dime of the cleanup and restoration processes. But we know that few companies would be willing to take major environmental risks if they were forced to suffer the consequences if something were to go wrong. Because of this they beg the state for protection and the state, seeing the amount of money they can expropriate from these organizations through regulatory fines and taxes, complies.

Rising CO2 Levels Causing Deserts to Green

Some interesting research has come out of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) that shows deserts have actually begun to green because of the rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere:

In findings based on satellite observations, CSIRO, in collaboration with the Australian National University (ANU), found that this CO2 fertilisation correlated with an 11 per cent increase in foliage cover from 1982-2010 across parts of the arid areas studied in Australia, North America, the Middle East and Africa, according to CSIRO research scientist, Dr Randall Donohue.

Many proponents of global warming have been claiming that the rising CO2 levels have lead to an increased in temperature, which has lead to an increasing rate of desertification. Others have been claiming that the Earth is in a state of CO2 starvation, which has cause a decrease in plant life. If CSIRO’s research pans out the latter group could be proven correct if deserts continue to green as CO2 level increase.

The most interesting aspect of this research, in my opinion, is it demonstrates how little our species knows about the consequences of various planetary changes. This is an important lesson because many people become so enamored with certain ideas that they become willing to use force to propagate them. Such zealotry should be avoided as our species is discovering new data every day that stands to change our previous conclusions. At one time many people thought the Earth was flat but today we know it is roughly spherical. Today a majority of people believe global warming is a man made phenomenon but in the future we could learn that it’s being caused by an extraplanetary phenomenon. Because of this I believe it would be prudent to avoid using force to coerce individuals into reducing CO2 output. As time goes on we may even learn that increased CO2 levels are beneficial if it leads to a reversal of desertification.