Climate Change: Get Used to It

The news media’s biggest story this week was President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and leftists used to occasion to engage in their usual hysterical fulmination. What leftists and the media (but then I repeat myself) left largely unsaid was the fact that the Paris agreement was just symbolic, and would do essentially nothing to curb the long-term growth of atmospheric CO2. As Josh Barro points out:

A lot of people have been noting that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change will leave the US as one of just three non-participating countries in the world. We are nearly alone on this. Isolated.

But I don’t think this talking point means quite what people think it does.

It was possible to get nearly every country in the world to join the agreement because the agreement does not really do anything. The agreement allows countries to set their own targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and it prescribes no way to enforce those targets.

Since the agreement is fundamentally symbolic — an expression of global intent to combat climate change — Trump’s choice to withdraw is similarly a symbol of his intent for the US to unencumber itself from international commitments.

If lefties were serious and fact-based people, they would be asking themselves why the Paris signatories could do no better than produce a toothless and ineffectual accord. The answer, as Josh Barro correctly notes, is that no treaty with teeth would ever achieve consensus agreement. The developing world in particular is never going to agree to an accord with teeth because it would hamstring their economic growth.

The bulk of this century’s projected increase in atmospheric CO2 is predicted to come from the developing world: China, India, and Africa.

As the above chart shows, emissions from OECD countries are expected to remain relatively flat, while emissions from non-OECD countries are expected to grow significantly, until they eventually far outweigh emissions from the OECD. It follows that the only way to curb global CO2 emissions is to place significant restrictions on the developing populations in China, India, and Africa. Those populations, however, will never agree to restrictions that hamper their ability to achieve the prosperity enjoyed by the developed world.

Economic development requires industrialization. China, India, and Africa are not going to bring prosperity to their people by having them all work as organic farmers and low-emissions software designers. They are going to have to ramp up industrial capacity, and the fact is that you can’t power a steel mill with windmills or solar panels. That’s why China opens a new coal-fired power plant approximately every month.

If leftists took a break from emoting and virtue-signalling, they would have to acknowledge the political reality that China, India, and Africa are never going to agree to substantially restrict their CO2 emissions. The developing world is quite rationally not going to forego the chance to bring their people out of poverty just to satisfy the feel-good nostrums of pampered Western leftists. To believe otherwise is to engage in sheer fantasy.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that alarmists are correct about the warming effect of CO2. Realists have to acknowledge, therefore, that this warming cannot be stopped. The only rational response is to adapt to the change. Instead of lamenting the demise of a merely symbolic international agreement, environmentalists should focus instead on practical adaptations like building dams and researching drought-resistant crops. But that’s not so much fun as excoriating Donald Trump.

Short of some new breakthrough in alternative energy, which does not appear to be on the horizon, climate change is not going to be stopped. If you believe it’s real, then be prepared to get used to it.

Europe’s Fukushima Freakout

Back in 2011, I was in Rimini, Italy, and watched an anti-nuclear protest march down the street, beating drums. This was just a few months after the Fukushima nuclear accident, and the media had people in hysterics over the alleged dangers of nuclear power. Days later, Italian voters by a staggering 94% majority approved a referendum banning construction of new nuclear plants. In Germany, hysteria over Fukushima caused the government to announce that all nuclear plants would be shut down by 2022, and by now about half have already been shuttered. The move away from nuclear power has been bad for both the environment and the economy.

Now comes news that France is also turning away from nuclear. The just-elected French president, Emanuel Macron, announced that his energy minister will be Nicolas Hulot, a radical environmentalist. Following the announcement, shares in EDF, the big French nuclear company, fell seven percent overnight.

Hulot’s opposition to nuclear comes out of an emerging trend of thinking in France—and in Europe more generally—that holds that nuclear power ought to be phased out as soon as possible and replaced by renewables. Germany, motivated by an irrational fear of the energy source following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, is leading this charge to its own detriment. Berlin hasn’t been able to replace its shuttered nuclear plants with wind and solar, but has instead been forced to increase its reliance on lignite coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels around. As a result, the country’s emissions have risen, an entirely predictable consequence of snubbing the only source (other than hydropower) of zero-emissions baseload power.

Germany’s experience hasn’t been enough to phase France’s greens, though, and Hulot’s new position of leadership suggests that Paris is preparing to follow in Berlin’s footsteps. That would be a grave error, though, especially during a time in which Europe is placing such a heavy emphasis on emissions reductions. EDF itself has pointed out that environmentalist plans to replace France’s nuclear fleet with 100 percent renewables by 2050 are “not based on technological realities.”

A turn against nuclear in France is particularly shocking, because France has long been one of the most pro-nuclear countries in the world. Currently, France gets more than 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear.

Europe has apparently succumbed to an irrational fear of nuclear power. And it is indeed irrational, because nuclear is just about the safest form of energy. Even at Fukushima, where the tsunami caused three reactors to melt down, the number of deaths attributable to the incident currently stands at ZERO. Two people were hospitalized.

Of course, it is possible that a small number of people in the future might die from cancer. But nobody really knows how many, since the radiation doses were very small, and the effects of small doses are not well understood. A small dose of radiation is kind of like consuming diet Coke; safe in the short-run, but in the long-run, nobody has any idea what the health effects might be.

The so-called ‘linear no-threshold’ model tends to vastly exaggerate the impact of small radiation doses. The model’s linear extrapolation is analogous to assuming that if 70 percent of people are killed by falling 20 feet, then 7 percent would be killed by falling 2 feet. In any event, this model predicts 130 deaths as a result of Fukushima. So 130 deaths is most likely a gross exaggeration, with the real figure much closer to zero, and perhaps literally zero.

By comparison, more people are killed every year in coal mining accidents than have ever been killed by nuclear power. According to one estimate, in just one year (2013) in China, 1,049 coal miners were killed in accidents. Several major accidents that each take the lives of dozens of miners occur every year in China. For instance, last December, an explosion at a coal mine in Inner Mongolia claimed 32 lives. That figure might well eclipse the death toll from Fukushima.

Europeans take to the streets over non-existent nuclear deaths, but very real coal deaths get no attention. And using less nuclear means using more coal, which will cause more deaths.

The average European spends nearly a decade and a half in school. The ostensible purpose of schooling is to educate people for citizenship. Part of that education includes several years of science. Yet the typical European’s view of nuclear power is irrational fear based in ignorance; it is a view indistinguishable from that of an illiterate goat herder. If this sort of abject ignorance is the best the schools can do, then they deserve to be shut down rather than the nuclear plants.

Seattle Environmentalists Demonstrate Fen’s Law

Fen’s Law states that leftists don’t really believe any of the crap they lecture the rest of us about.

It’s the proverbial tree that fell in the forest without making a sound, or perhaps the raw sewage that spewed into Puget Sound without making a splash.

Since the region’s largest wastewater-treatment plant was disabled in a catastrophic flood last month, the Metropolitan King County Council and Regional Water Quality Committee between them have held multiple public hearings on the disaster.
Not a single person from an environmental group or the public turned out to testify or demand action on the crippled West Point Treatment Plant, or even take notice of one of the largest local public infrastructure failures in decades.
Tons of solids are pouring into Puget Sound every day because the plant is too broken to treat wastewater properly. Yet council members say they’ve barely heard a peep from environmental groups.

The Seattle area is no slacker for environmental activism; hundreds of people have turned out of late in the streets to demand the city change banks to punish Wells Fargo for lending money to help build the Dakota Access Pipeline. And Elliott Bay swarmed with “kayaktivists” in 2015 to protest drilling in the Arctic when Shell staged equipment at the Port of Seattle docks.

“It’s odd, I have to say, I haven’t heard from any of them, not at all,” said King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, whose district includes the plant. “It is bizarre.”

So they’ll take to the streets to protest oil drilling or a pipeline thousands of miles away, but won’t protest sewage right in their own backyard. It’s almost as if environmentalism is not really about protecting the environment, but about advancing some ulterior agenda. And what might that agenda be? Well, stopping drilling and pipelines both have the effect of impeding U.S. oil production.

And who benefits from less U.S. oil production? Well, for one, there’s Russia. The last couple of years, the Russian government has had to make steep budget cuts as a result of relatively low oil prices, caused largely by expanded U.S. oil production. The Russians would love to curtail U.S. production.

Right now, the more febrile domains of the internet are burning up with conspiracy theories regarding Russian influence over the 2016 election. While we’re trying to get to the bottom of that, maybe we should also be investigating potential Russian funding of U.S. environmental groups. After all, we wouldn’t want to let the Russians corrupt our precious environmental organizations, amirite?

Why Have Road Deaths Increased?

With the exception of one year in the mid-1960s, roadway fatalities per vehicle mile decreased each and every year from the 1920s until 2014. That trend was derailed in 2015 as fatalities increased by 7 percent. Now the results are in for 2016 and deaths increased by another 6 percent over 2015. In two years, therefore, highway fatalities have jumped by 14 percent. In some states, like Alabama, roadway deaths are up by a shocking 25 percent. Again, this recent spike in crash deaths has no precedent in roughly the last 90 years.

The reason for the increase depends on whom you ask. The New York Times, with its typically statist bias, claims that government is not doing enough to enforce safety laws.

Government officials and safety advocates contend, however, that more than anything else, the increase in deaths has been caused by more lenient enforcement of seatbelt, drunken driving and speeding regulations by authorities and a reluctance by lawmakers to pass more restrictive measures.

A patchwork of state laws leaves many areas where drivers can choose not to buckle up, with little likelihood of being stopped. Only 18 states have laws requiring seatbelts for both front and rear occupants and categorize not wearing them as a primary offense — meaning drivers can be pulled over for that alone. In 15 states, failure to wear a seatbelt in front seats is only a secondary offense — drivers cannot be given tickets unless they are pulled over for other violations.

“It’s still the same things that are killing drivers — belts, booze and speed,” Mr. Adkins said.

Well, I really doubt that people have in the last two years just decided to stop wearing their seat belts, but maybe there’s some truth to the ‘booze and speed’ part.

Quoting the insurance industry, a report by the Wall Street Journal (see below) emphasizes an increase in distracted driving due to smart phones. There’s not a lot of hard data, because nobody knows exactly what people do in their cars, but this is what the insurance industry is saying.

Personally, I have noticed while walking the dog around the neighborhood a shocking number of people looking down at their phones while driving. And these are people who are still driving within the subdivision, which means they are still only a block or two from home. People apparently hop into the car and immediately whip out the phone. If they had to make a call or send a text, couldn’t they have done so before leaving? It seems that people just can’t take a break from their phone addiction.

Another possible reason for the two-year increase in fatalities, however, is the drop in the price of gas. As gas prices fall, people drive more, especially young and sketchy drivers, and traffic density increases. Neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal had much to say about gas prices, but this effect needs to be accounted for.

For many months prior to the fall of 2014, the nationwide average gas price had fluctuated around $3.50. Then prices fell rapidly, and have until today fluctuated around about $2.30. That’s a drop of roughly 34 percent. Can this decrease in gas prices alone explain the 14 percent increase in fatalities?

Several years ago, Professor Guangqing Chi used data from Minnesota to estimate the impact of gas prices on the roadway death rate. He calculated that the elasticity of fatalities per vehicle mile with respect to the gas price was equal to -0.22. That means that every one percent drop in gas prices would be expected to increase fatalities per vehicle mile by 0.22 percent.

Multiplying this figure by the 34 percent drop in price yields a predicted increase in the fatality rate of 34(.22) = 7.5 percent. Using data from the Federal Reserve, I find that total vehicle miles in 2016, compared to 2014, were higher by almost exactly 6 percent. We therefore would expect an increase in total fatalities equal to [(1.075)x(1.06)-1]x100% = 14%. But 14 percent is exactly the increase observed. Remarkably, Professor Chi’s estimated elasticity predicts the increase in fatalities correctly to the exact percentage point.

I wish drivers would pay less attention to their phones, but Occam’s Razor suggests that the recent and unprecedented spike in road fatalities is essentially an unfortunate consequence of the significant drop in gas prices.

PLEASE Abolish a Cabinet-Level Department

Every time the media issues a report that President-elect Trump has chosen someone to serve as Secretary of Such-and-Such federal department, I am overcome with a profound feeling of disappointment. Instead of staffing these departments, they should be abolished. Indeed, the existence of most cabinet-level departments–Energy, Education, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, HUD, Transportation, etc.–cannot be justified on economic grounds. All these federal departments do more harm than good.

At the Washington Examiner, Peter Z. Grossman, an economics professor at Butler University, makes the case against the Department of Energy in particular. As Grossman correctly notes, DOE was created during the Carter Administration, a time when people wrongly feared that the world was rapidly running out of fossil fuels.

The DOE was conceived in dark and pessimistic beliefs and forecasts that have proven totally wrong. As Obama might say, the DOE is on the wrong side of history. As it stands the department needs to either be rethought or retired.

The original legislation justified a Department of Energy because, 1) we were rapidly running out of fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas; 2) as a consequence of this we were becoming increasingly dependent on energy imports — dependence that made us vulnerable to embargoes and political blackmail; and 3) so therefore we needed “a strong national [read government-directed] energy program.”

The hysteria that prevailed at that time was reflected in a full-page ad that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 1978. The ad asserted that within 9 years, that is by 1987, the world would completely run out of oil. That’s right; we were supposed to be out of oil thirty years ago! Instead, proven oil reserves currently stand at an all-time high.

Even before fracking proved the dire warnings to be utterly wrong, we had for the most part taken care of our energy dependence. We significantly reduced any possible vulnerability to an embargo by diversifying our suppliers; over sixty countries were supplying us with oil in the 2000s. Our No. 1 supplier? Canada. Mexico also has been in the top five. This information makes “foreign oil,” a bit less scary, no?

So DOE was created to protect us from a threat that did not really exist. And in the meantime, it has racked up a legacy of failure and imposed costly mandates on Americans.

[W]e’ve endured wasteful, panicked policies such as massive subsidies for the wind and solar power, and electric cars. Worst of all, Congress has saddled consumers with ethanol subsidies and mandates. These boondoggles cost us billions of dollars, and none of them are [sic] commercially viable in their own right. In fact, the DOE has produced no dramatic breakthroughs in energy technology despite 40 years of trying (and failing) to pick winners.

Grossman correctly points out (as Milton Friedman did long ago) that DOE’s very few useful functions can easily be taken over by other departments.

Many would argue that the DOE does some good, even essential work. It watches over nuclear waste, for example. And there is some useful research and development going on at many of the DOE laboratories.

But any valuable work done by the DOE could be carved off into independent agencies just as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was created by Congress so that the DOE would not have control over natural gas prices. Nuclear power concerns should be part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the labs could be placed under an independent agency such as the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA) that existed from 1974 until it was folded into the DOE three years later.

Grossman notes that Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, actually advocated abolishing DOE when he ran for president in 2012. Let’s hope Perry still believes that, and that he intends to take over DOE so he can dismantle it. I’m not holding my breath, however.

Below, check out the interview from 1999 with the great Milton Friedman, age 86 at the time. Out of 14 cabinet-level departments, Milt argues for abolishing nine and a half of them. At this point I would consider it great progress if the Trump Administration managed to abolish just one of those nine-and-a-half.

No Need to Worry about ‘Peak Oil’

‘Peak Oil’ is the theory that, as oil becomes more scarce, at some point in time production of oil will start to fall, and decline forevermore. The originator of the theory, M. King Hubbert, predicted in 1956 that U.S. production would decline after 1970, and world production after 2000.

In 1978, an environmental group spent a lot of money to place a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal claiming that within 9 years, that is, by 1987, the world would completely run out of oil.

Nearly 30 years later, U.S. and world production have risen dramatically, and proven reserves are at all-time highs. Planet Earth apparently contains massive amounts of oil, and nobody really knows how much. Just this week, news broke of the discovery of the largest oil field in U.S. history.

Federal surveyors announced that the Wolfcamp shale in the Midland Basin portion of Texas’ Permian Basin now holds the record for most oil, natural gas, and gas liquid deposits that are “undiscovered, technically recoverable resources.”

The USGS notes that within its survey spanning from north of Lubbock to remote regions southwest of San Angelo, an estimated and previously unaccounted for 20 billion barrels of crude oil; 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas; and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids are able to be extracted by means typically involving slant drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking”…

A government spokesperson underscored the historic nature of the finding in a release.

“The fact that this is the largest assessment of continuous oil we have ever done just goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more,” said Walter Guidroz, for the USGS Energy Resources Program. “Changes in technology and industry practices can have significant effects on what resources are technically recoverable, and that’s why we continue to perform resource assessments throughout the United States and the world.”

“It’s no surprise that Texas has massive oil fields, but these new findings from USGS are jaw-dropping. Fracking and horizontal drilling have turned the United States into a global energy superpower, and the untapped potential in the Wolfcamp means we won’t be surrendering that status any time soon,” group spokesman Steve Everly said. “For the few remaining advocates of ‘Peak Oil,’ this certainly isn’t their lucky day.”

At current prices, the new oil discovery is worth approximately $900 billion.

And yet, despite massive and growing world reserves, many people still argue that we need to impose austerity upon ourselves in order to ‘save oil for future generations.’ Check out the following hilariously bad advice.

One needs to take all the steps in order to lessen the impact of oil prices. Use oil only during major necessity. The citizen and the government must also be actively involved in these efforts. Try to use oil effectively without wasting the same. Some very small ways to save oil is to use bicycles instead of motor cars for short distances to save oil. Not only does it save oil, but it also helps to reduce the pollution in the atmosphere and maintains the ecological balance. People from the same organization can opt for the choice of car-pooling. Only use your vehicles at times of need and try and prefer using buses or for that matter, trains to reach your destination.

To save oil, one must have an idea about the traffic rules and act wisely when driving. It is better to switch off an engine when caught in the traffic signals. The modern inventions in technology have made people turn towards solar vehicles that use the sun as major source, and it is one of the best processes to avoid excess usage of oil. To save natural resources, some vehicles use bio-gas and battery. Try to use products that have high composition of ethanol to serve the vehicles for longer duration. [Emphasis added.]

Switch off your engine while stopped in traffic! Good lord.

When will Peak Oil finally arrive? Two hundred years from now? The idea that we need to worry about using oil is like the Vikings 1,000 years ago worrying that if they used too much wood, future generations would not have enough wood.

In Defense of Political ‘Corruption’

The Obama Administration this week actually did something we agree with; it approved the first of several necessary permits for Shell to drill some new oil wells in the Arctic, off the coast of Alaska.

Shell has proposed drilling up to six wells within the Burger Prospect in the Chukchi Sea, about 70 miles northwest of the Eskimo village of Wainwright. The Interior Department ordered a halt to a previous drilling plan after it ran into safety problems.

But on Monday, the Interior Department determined that a revised plan “would not cause any significant impacts” to human populations, the environment, historical places or endangered species.

The decision to grant the permit has thrown environmentalists into a tizzy. Bill McKibben, who teaches environmental agitprop at Middlebury College, expressed his frustration at

The Obama administration’s decision to give Shell Oil the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic shows why we may never win the fight against climate change. Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.

McKibben is correct that this victory for Shell is attributable to their political clout. And political clout involves the ability to deliver to politicians either money or votes. Shell wouldn’t seem to be able to control many people’s votes, so the source of Shell’s power must be money. By hiring lobbyists and contributing to political action committees and other pressure groups, Shell can use money to influence government policy in its favor.

This sort of influence of money on politics is what people often describe as money ‘corrupting’ politics. The idea is that without the influence of money, politicians and regulators would be free to objectively set policies that best serve the public interest. Or, in a more populist version of the theory, without money in politics, the policies enacted would more faithfully represent the will of the people. In this view, special interest money is corrupting, so the way to get better policies and governance is to remove or limit the role of money in politics. This is the argument for enacting legal restrictions on money in politics, such as so-called campaign finance ‘reform.’

The history of campaign finance laws, however, shows that removing money from politics is easier said than done. People will find ways to circumvent the laws, often with unintended and undesirable consequences. Trying to insulate politics from money is like trying to bind jello with a rubber band.

But leaving aside the practical and legal difficulties, would removing money from politics really be a good thing? Does money influence policy for the worse, or for the better?

Consider the case in question–Arctic oil drilling. In this case, it’s quite possible that the political market produced the efficient outcome. Allowing drilling is efficient if drilling produces more value than not drilling (leaving the sites untouched.) Shell was willing and able to devote resources to influencing the political market precisely because Shell expects to make money by drilling. And they expect to make money by drilling because drilling creates value.

The environmentalists also spend money on politics, and they’re willing to do so because they derive value from the opposite policy–not drilling. But in this case, the environmentalists couldn’t match Shell’s clout. Why? Perhaps because they don’t value not-drilling as much as Shell values drilling. In other words, because drilling creates more value than not drilling.

At least to some degree, the influence of money in politics makes the political system operate like a market. And markets are efficient. It follows that selling policies to the highest bidder, which most people call ‘corruption’, would generally improve efficiency.

The logic of the argument, applied to Arctic drilling, goes like this.

=> Drilling creates more value than not drilling (so drilling is the desirable policy) => Since drilling creates more value than not drilling, there’s more money available from drilling => Shell values drilling more than the environmentalists value not drilling => Shell is willing and able to spend more on influencing the political system to approve drilling than environmentalists are willing and able to spend to stop it => the greater resources on the pro-drilling side influence the political system to approve drilling => we get the efficient outcome.

The interesting thing is that, in an efficient political market, the politicians and bureaucrats who make the decisions don’t even have to know anything about the costs and benefits of the policy. All they need to know to make the efficient choice is to side with whichever party spends the most money!

Remove money, however, and the political decision makers would find themselves adrift at sea. We want the politicians and regulators to choose the efficient policy, but how would they know which policy, drilling or not drilling is efficient? To determine which policy creates the most value, the political decision makers would need to have an awful lot of information that would be difficult or impossible for them to obtain. Moreover, the policymakers would have little or no incentive to try very hard to obtain that information. And lacking the relevant information, the decision makers might easily be swayed by misinformation and political propaganda.

This same lack of relevant information would also undermine the results of direct democracy. For instance, suppose we held a plebiscite that asked the American public to vote directly on the question of whether Shell should be permitted to drill in the Arctic. In this case, the overwhelming majority of voters would possess neither the information nor the expertise necessary to evaluate the costs and benefits of drilling. Furthermore, a great many voters would be swayed by appeals based on emotion rather than logic. As a result, direct democracy would not reliably attain the efficient outcome.

Our argument leads to a startlingly counter-intuitive conclusion: opacity and special interest money can lead to better policies than can considered judgment based on transparency and open debate, untainted by money.

We don’t know the details of how, exactly, Shell went about winning over Obama’s Interior Department. That process was relatively opaque, and probably involved activities that Shell and their interlocutors in government would not brag about to their grandchildren. But that process, opaque and perhaps even somewhat sleazy, probably made the right choice on drilling.

In contrast, a freewheeling debate on drilling would likely offer up an object lesson on the limits of knowledge and human reason. For debate alone, without the influence of money, to settle on the efficient choice would require a considerable element of luck.

Opacity and influence peddling–good. Transparency, debate, and considered judgment–bad. The world doesn’t work the way most people naively think it does.

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Government is the Problem: Pipeline Edition

Last week, the Senate voted 62-37 to override President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline. The result fell a few votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome the veto. And so the pipeline, which has already been delayed for years, will be delayed at least a few more months, if it ever gets built at all.

Keystone-XL-MapThe obstruction of the Keystone pipeline shows clearly that government is the problem, not the solution. There simply are no good economic or environmental reasons for opposing the pipeline project.

There are no good environmental reasons, because over 100 years of experience demonstrates that pipelines are safe, and in fact the safest way to transport oil over long distances. The United States already safely manages approximately 330,000 miles of pipelines, and Keystone would add just another 1,700 miles to that total.

Each of the several states through which the pipeline would pass has conducted environmental studies of the effects of the pipeline. All these studies support the project. If the pipeline is not built, the oil will have to be transported by rail, which is much less safe. Trains carrying oil often derail, catch fire, and explode. Here’s what happened when a train carrying crude derailed in Quebec just the summer before last.

People on the terrace at the Musi-Café—a bar located next to the centre of the explosions—saw the tank cars leave the track and fled as a blanket of oil generated a ball of fire three times the height of the downtown buildings. Between four and six explosions were reported initially as tank cars ruptured and crude oil escaped along the train’s trajectory. Heat from the fires was felt as far as 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) away. People were jumping from the third floor of buildings in the central business district to escape the fire. As the blazing oil flowed over the ground, it entered the town’s storm sewer and emerged as huge fires towering from other storm sewer drains, manholes, and even chimneys and basements of buildings in the area.


The Musi-Café owner says that some employees and patrons felt the tremors of the train and thought it was an earthquake. They went out and started running. Other patrons and employees told some survivors that the tremors were an earthquake and that it would be better to stay under a table. Of those that went out, not all survived. Some were not able to outrun a “tsunami of fire”.


Forty-two bodies were found and transported to Montreal to be identified. 39 of those were identified by investigators by late August 2013 and the 40th in April 2014. Identification of additional victims became increasingly difficult after the August 1 end of the on-site search and family members were asked to provide DNA samples of those missing, as well as dental records. The bodies of five presumed victims were never found. It is possible that some of the missing people were vaporized by the explosions.

And here’s what it looked like when a train carrying crude derailed just last week in Illinois, near the Mississippi river.

screenhunter_7732How many more such disasters is President Obama prepared to see occur?

There is no good economic reason for opposing the project, because the pipeline would create value. Transporting oil via pipeline is considerably less costly than doing so by rail.

The only reasons for opposing the pipeline are political, about which we can only speculate. Maybe Warren Buffett has influenced the politicians to keep oil moving on his own BNSF Railway. Maybe the politicians are catering to the sensibilities of the contemporary religious movement known as environmentalism, which of course has little or nothing to do with actually protecting the environment. Or perhaps President Obama is merely using Keystone as a political bargaining chip in order to extract concessions from Congress. But whatever the reason, all sentient Americans of goodwill should be properly outraged by this failure of their political system.

This whole episode is reminiscent of the political struggle over the trans-Alaska pipeline, built nearly 40 years ago. The 800-mile pipeline had to overcome daunting physical challenges posed by the harsh Alaskan wilderness. In particular, the pipeline had to be specially designed to survive powerful earthquakes. Workers tried to continue construction throughout the winter, above the arctic circle, but had to stop as temperatures plunged below -60 Fahrenheit and motor oil solidified in the engines of vehicles. The pipeline route included a 1,000 foot near-vertical drop, and so welders had to use ropes to rappel down the side of a frozen mountain.

And yet, the greatest obstacle to constructing the Alaskan pipeline was not physical, but political. The project was very nearly killed, and squeaked through Congress by the narrowest of margins. The Senate vote, in fact, was deadlocked 48-48 and Vice President Spiro Agnew had to cast the tie-breaking vote. One of the votes against the pipeline came from a young, newly-elected Senator by the name of Joe Biden. As the Romans used to say, nihil sub sole novum.

Embedded below is a fascinating documentary that details the remarkable efforts required to construct the trans-Alaska pipeline. The completed project truly represents a paragon of human achievement, and a testimony to human ingenuity and the indomitable human spirit. This is one of our favorite documentaries.

A few notable excerpts from the video:

  • So many people flocked to Alaska looking to work on the pipeline construction that the Alaskan government had to place ads in newspapers asking people to stay home.
  • Each construction worker was given a book entitled “Staying Alive in the Arctic.” That way, notes a former worker, if you were freezing to death, you could always stay alive by burning the book.
  • “Amazingly, only 31 people died while building the pipeline.”

Thirty-one workers died, but no politicians or radical environmentalists. They were at home or in their offices, safe and warm.

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It’s not just vacuum cleaners

And it’s not just Europe. U.S. bureaucrats appear determined to make sure that nearly every appliance in your home A) costs more and B) works less effectively. facepalm

Spurred by President Obama’s climate action plan, the Department of Energy is pumping out new standards for refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, furnaces, boilers, water heaters, lamps and many more appliances.

The administration says the standards will not only help the planet but also stimulate the economy by saving consumers money on their energy bills that they can spend elsewhere.

But industry groups argue the standards, which will apply to both commercial and household appliances, could slow the economy, and that the Energy Department is rushing the new rules while overestimating the savings. Other critics argue the push to regulate household appliances is evidence of a nanny state.

Can a country still be said to be ‘free’ where citizens are not even allowed to choose their own appliances?

The rules will affect nearly every household in the country.

“We all have a microwave or a refrigerator or a dishwasher, so these rules do affect basically every American household,” said Sofie Miller, a researcher at The George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center.

We notice that our new dishwasher, thanks to existing regulations, does not clean as well as did our old one, manufactured some 25 years ago. We can hardly imagine how bad dishwashers will get after the next round of regulations.

Government keeps saying it’s on the side of the ‘little guy.’ But as usual, government regulation hits the poor the hardest.

Business groups say the new rules will be expensive for industry to comply with because it will require them to buy new technologies to develop appliances that emit less energy. That will raise the retail prices of household appliances, they say…

Lower-income consumers, however, will be at a disadvantage, [Miller] said. They will have a tough time paying for the more expensive appliances, and are likely to keep using older ones.

She also said that could defeat the environmental reasons for pushing the new rules.

“If you can’t afford a dishwasher, you’re stuck washing your dishes by hand,” Miller said, “which actually uses more water.”

Not everyone stands to lose from the new regulations, however. At least some producers will benefit.

While many of the efficiency rules target household appliances, others focus on business appliances, such as commercial ice-makers, commercial refrigerators and walk-in coolers and freezers.

The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute is challenging the later two rules in federal court. Yurek argues the rules could force as much as 40 percent of the industry out of business.

Ah, but eliminating that 40 percent of the industry would benefit the remaining 60 percent. As the Roman lawyers used to say, if you want to know why a law exists, ask yourself:  Cui bono?, Who benefits?

This report appears in The Hill, a mainstream outlet that has neither a conservative nor a libertarian ideological allegiance. Yet in the online comments, scores of readers expressed opposition to the regulations. At the same time, we noticed only one troll (a government employee, perchance?) who supported the regulations.

Despite the public’s opposition, we would bet that most of these regulations get implemented.

Power to the People?

Then, they came for the vacuum cleaners…

Government can’t catch terrorists or balance its budget, but they sure can protect consumers from powerful vacuum cleaners that work well.

Shoppers are panic-buying powerful vacuum cleaners to beat an EU ban that comes into force next week.

Last night retailers reported that sales had soared by nearly 50 per cent as consumers snap up any remaining stock in the run-up to the Brussels diktat outlawing machines of over 1,600 watts.

Many stores and websites have already run out of the most powerful models, with one reporting its busiest day for sales in more than a decade…

A list of up to 30 high-wattage household devices could be banned next spring following a draft EU report which examined ways to reduce power consumption.

Consumer magazine Which? said the new rules on vacuum cleaners would outlaw some of the best machines, which owe their strong suction ability to their high power consumption.

From September 1, companies will be prohibited from manufacturing or importing any vacuum cleaners above the 1,600-watt limit as part of a drive to reduce domestic electricity use…

Yesterday, there was evidence that consumers are stockpiling their favourite models to use in the decades to come.

Chris Wesson, posted a photograph on Twitter of two 2,000-watt Panasonic vacuums which he said his mother had bought.

He tweeted the comment: ‘Only my mum would stock up on powerful vacuum cleaners before this ban comes into effect. We now have five in our house…’

See, free-born citizens shouldn’t be forced by their government to stockpile vacuum cleaners. Or light bulbs. Or toilets, or refrigerant, or detergent, or shower heads, or… How long do people intend to put up with this crap?

Plus the claim that the ban will save energy is dubious.

The ban from Monday on powerful vacuum cleaners has angered manufacturers, who say it will do nothing to make machines more environmentally friendly and will simply reduce efficiency in the home.

Critics say cleaners satisfying the new rule may use less power but householders will have to use them for longer – so they are likely to use the same amount of electricity in the long run.

Yup, you’ll have to use the vacuum for longer, like having to flush a 1.6-gallon toilet twice.

The bureaucrats, of course, tried to downplay the impact on consumers.

Marlene Holzner, the European Commission’s energy spokesman, said the amount of wattage does not automatically indicate how well a vacuum will perform.

She added what counted was how efficiently a vacuum translated its electrical power into picking up dust, and this would be measured under the new rules.

But the respected consumer magazine Which?, basically the British version of Consumer Reports, countered that most of the best models will be banned.

Last week consumer watchdog Which? warned that many of the best models that appear in its Best Buy tables will be taken off the market as a result of the new EU rule.

Of seven awarded ‘Best Buy’ status since January 2013, five have motors with a power of more than 1,600 watts, it said. The maximum wattage will be lowered further to 900 watts by 2017. Current cleaners have an average wattage of 1,800.

So the plan is to reduce the maximum power to only half of the current average and to do so within less than 3 years. We have to believe that such a dramatic loss of power would have to significantly reduce cleaning effectiveness. The only way effectiveness wouldn’t fall would be if producers, motivated by profit, manage to offset the loss of power by dramatically improving technology within a short period of time.

Left-liberals believe that only the government can save us from the profit motive. The reality is that only the profit motive can save us from the government.