Earth Day: Be Very Afraid

Today is Earth Day, an annual event during which scammers traditionally attempt to frighten people into giving up their money and freedom. Our friend Mark Perry offers an amusing list of 18 scaremongering predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970. For the full list, go to Mark’s site, but here are my favorites.

6. [Paul] Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

9. In January 1970, Life reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”

13. Paul Ehrlich warned in the May 1970 issue of Audubon that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons “may have substantially reduced the life expectancy of people born since 1945.” Ehrlich warned that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and he predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out. (Note: According to the most recent CDC report, life expectancy in the US is 78.8 years).

14. Ecologist Kenneth Watt declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”

15. Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.

16. Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look that, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

Nelson, by the way, was one of the principal organizers of the first Earth Day.

18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

Mark, however, somehow missed this one from Ehrlich.

On the first Earth Day in 1970, he warned that “[i]n ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.”

Personally, I’m far less afraid of environmental degradation than I am of environmentalists.

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?

The Most Irrational Law in America

The most irrational law in America might be…wait for it…The Endangered Species Act. Some people believe that ESA violates the rights of more Americans on a day to day basis than any other law on the books. You can have much of your life savings invested in land, and then some bureaucrat shows up and says you can’t use your own land because of an endangered rodent or toad. Most recently, the law was enforced against landowners even though the critter did not even live on the land in question.

A federal appeals court declined to rehear a case brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for designating private property as critical habitat for an endangered frog that hasn’t lived on those lands for decades.

FWS officials designated 6,477 acres as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog in 2012. About 1,500 acres of the critical habitat was private land in St. Tammany Parish, despite the fact no frogs had been spotted there for decades.

Landowners sued, but were rebuffed by federal circuit court judges in June. They appealed their case, arguing the government can’t designate land as critical habitat for an endangered species that doesn’t even live there.

In an 8-to-6 decision, judges declined to rehear the case. But lawyers representing the landowners said they planned on taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ESA actually hurts endangered species as well by undermining the incentive of landowners to protect wildlife. If the legal sanctions weren’t so draconian, many landowners might be persuaded to work with conservationists to protect endangered species. But because the law is so unreasoning and punitive, landowners have the incentive to go scorched earth. If you find a nest of a kangaroo rat, the incentive is not to preserve it, but to burn it quickly before the authorities find out and take control of your land.

Brian Seasholes, an ESA expert, said the current way the government designates critical habitats ends up hurting more species than it helps.

“Ironically, this decision will most likely end up harming the dusky gopher frog and many other endangered and at-risk species by causing more landowners take actions to avoid the Endangered Species Act’s draconian penalties,” Seasholes told TheDCNF.

Seasholes said landowners have taken drastic actions to keep endangered species off their lands, “including ‘scorched earth’ (destroying habitat), ‘shoot, shovel and shut-up’ (killing species), going silent, denying researchers and government personnel access to their land, and refusing to become involved in species conservation efforts.”

Furthermore, I confess that I don’t even understand the point of the Endangered Species Act. In all seriousness, what is the point of this law? Ostensibly it is to prevent species extinction, but extinction has always occurred since the beginning of life on Earth. Something like 99 percent of all the species that ever lived are extinct. Life on Earth is in a constant state of flux, with old species being replaced by new. To stop species extinction is simply not possible. So why even try?

Environmentalists argue that human activity has caused a dramatic increase in the rate of extinction. But the fact is that nobody really knows how much higher the extinction rate is now compared to the rate that prevailed prior to human civilization.

Some environmentalists claim that tens of thousands of species are going extinct every year.

In 1979, Berkeley ecologist Norman Myers published a book called “The Sinking Ark,” which claimed 40,000 species were disappearing each year. The next decade, a biologist who worked for the World Wildlife Fund predicted up to 20 percent of all species would disappear by the turn of the millennium. That didn’t happen, but the drumbeat of alarms continues: A much-publicized paper in 2004 warned that by 2050, climate change could put 1 million species at risk of extinction.

Stuart Pimm … published a paper this summer warning that species are currently dying off at 1,000 times the rate they were before the human era, and in the future are likely to perish at 10,000 times that rate.

These numbers, however, are just guesses and not based on documented extinctions. The amount of documented extinctions is comparatively tiny.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which keeps the most definitive list of extinct and threatened species, has counted just over 800 total confirmed animal extinctions since the year 1600.

So that’s an average of about two per year, not tens of thousands. And these are extinctions due to all causes, not just human activity. The late economist Julian Simon noted the following excerpt from a 1992 book written by two ecologists.

[F]orests of the eastern United States were
reduced over two centuries to fragments totalling 1-2% of their original extent…during this destruction, only three forest birds went extinct — the Carolina parakeet … the ivory-billed woodpecker … and the passenger pigeon …. Although deforestation certainly
contributed to the decline of all three species, it was probably not critical for the pigeon or the parakeet (Greenway, 1967). Why, then, would one predict massive extinction from similar destruction of tropical forest?
(Simberloff, 1992, p. 85)

Closer examination of the existing data on both well-and little-known groups, however, supports the affirmation that little or no species extinction has yet occurred (though some may be in very fragile persistence) in the Atlantic forests. Indeed, an appreciable
number of species considered extinct 20 years ago, including several birds and six butterflies, have been rediscovered more recently. (Brown and Brown, 1992, p.
128)

So 200 years of destruction and absolute devastation of the virgin forests of the eastern U.S. caused between one and three bird extinctions. That’s it.

Scientists don’t even know how many total species exist, as estimates range widely from 2 million to as many as 100 million. The claims of high extinction numbers are based on assumed species number near the high end of the range.

There’s a sense in which the big numbers, however, tend to work against the conservation argument. If there are 100 million species, and a huge number go extinct due to natural causes, why should humans bear significant costs in order to save just a few species here and there? Why should one frog make thousands of acres off limits to humans? Especially since that frog might be unlikely to survive the next glacial period, a few thousand years from now. Why should the timber industry be devastated because of the spotted owl?

And in any event, if we do care about insuring that these species do not disappear forever, we have the ability and technology to preserve their genetic line even if they can no longer live in the wild.

Don’t get me wrong; I like animals, and I’d be genuinely bummed if, say, rhinos or lions went extinct. I’m sure millions of other people feel the same way, and for that reason, it would be desirable to expend considerable resources to protect them.

The other consideration is how important the species might be to the broader ecosystem. So for instance, plankton dying out would be catastrophic because it would threaten whales and other marine animals.

It seems pretty clear, however, that trying to preserve any and every species with little or no regard to cost makes no sense. Yet that is essentially the mandate of the ESA, perhaps the most irrational law on the books.

The Mystery of Slow Growth

Economists have long been concerned with the ‘productivity slowdown,’ which refers to the fact that productivity growth since about the early 1970s has been significantly slower than it was during the 1950s and 1960s. During the past 15 years, productivity growth has been even slower. Economists don’t really understand the cause of the productivity slowdown, and view it as something of a puzzle. Speaking for myself, however, I feel a lot less puzzled when I see headlines like this.

A tiny unborn hummingbird is getting in the way of a big project at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

The discovery of a nest and egg in a tree is stalling the start of upgrades on the bridge that connects the East Bay and North Bay, officials said Tuesday.

The species, Anna’s Hummingbird, is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that forbids the removal of the egg and offers other protections to birds.

The nest, about half the size of a fist, was discovered about a week ago when work was set to begin.

It was found on the Richmond side of the $70 million bridge project, in one of about two dozen trees that were to be removed to widen the freeway, officials said.

Under the protection act, the tree must stay put until the hummingbird baby is gone.

One egg the size of a marble holds up a $70 billion project. Can’t they just hatch the egg in a lab or something?

The productivity slowdown started in the early 1970s. The first Earth Day event was held in 1970, and the Environmental Protection Agency was created that same year. But maybe it’s all just a coincidence.

A couple of years ago, a made a visit to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Something I learned there was that the harbor could not serve as a deep-water port until the coral reef blocking the channel was removed. Demolition of the reef started in the first decade of the 20th century so that by 1912, battleships were finally able to enter the harbor.

If today’s environmental rules and sensibilities had existed in 1900, that reef would never have been removed, and Pearl Harbor would never have functioned as a deep-water port and would never have hosted a naval base. Honolulu might today be nothing more than a sleepy little village.

Exit question: How many radical environmentalists are currently living in Honolulu, with their lives there made possible by the existence of that port?

It’s Always About the Nutella

Migrant refugees fleeing the war-torn countries of Morocco and Algeria apparently started a huge fire in Dusseldorf after authorities failed to supply them with Nutella.

nutella2

nutella-jarWe wonder how much the decision not to provide ‘refugees’ with Nutella was influenced by political correctness. Leftists happen to be boycotting Nutella because they believe it is destroying the planet.

Denying migrants Nutella seems to be just the latest example of leftists putting their environmentalist ideology ahead of basic human rights.

Is the ‘Ozone Hole’ a Hoax?

For thirty years now we’ve heard that we’re all at risk of getting skin cancer due to the ‘ozone hole.’ As a result of the ozone scare, cheap but effective refrigerants like Freon were phased out by the Montreal Protocol of 1987. We are all therefore forced to use more expensive and less effective refrigerants.

This summer, a series of articles appeared in the media claiming that the ban on Freon and other CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) is finally working to ‘heal’ the ozone hole. The international political and managerial class is patting itself on the back for supposedly solving the problem.

In the 1980s, ozone in the atmosphere dropped like a rock at the initial onset of the affliction. The implementation of the 1987 Montreal Protocol—widely considered a triumph of international cooperation—quickly phased out industrial CFCs, and the ozone layer stabilized, though it was still at a depleted level.

The size of the ozone hole varies from year to year, influenced by changes in meteorology and volcanism, which can make it difficult to identify a healing trend. Scientists believe it has remained relatively stable since the turn of the century, but the October 2015 hole was the largest on record.

Scientists have long thought the ozone layer was recovering slowly, but [Susan] Solomon and her team—comprising researchers from MIT, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the University of Leeds—are the first to rigorously uncover evidence of the healing.

But is the ozone hole even really man made? Some scientists believe it is actually a natural phenomenon.

[The Montreal Protocol] was created to eliminate CFCs but the plan only appeared to work. There is no hole in the ozone, even at its thinnest, which occurs in winter when there is no sunlight; it is one-third the global average.

The term was created to scare people: “We’ve torn a hole in the sky, and harmful radiation will give children skin cancer!”

I appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Ozone. It was a political circus. Friends of the Earth had representatives there with no scientific knowledge; I asked them.

Ozone is created by the ultraviolet (UV) light portion of sunlight hitting free oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere. They assumed the level of UV radiation is constant. In fact, it varies widely and is the major cause of ozone variation, but that’s what allowed them to focus on and blame CFCs. [Emphasis in original.]

Even if CFCs were damaging atmospheric ozone, as alleged, it’s not clear the effects on humans would be significant. In 1995, professor Fred Singer testified as follows.

A projected 10 percent UV increase from a worst-case global ozone depletion is the equivalent of moving just 60 miles closer to the equator….New Yorkers moving to Florida experience a more than 200 percent increase in UV because of the change of latitude.

I confess that I really don’t have the scientific expertise to be sure if the ozone scare was scientifically valid or not. But one thing that makes me suspicious of the science is the economics. Dupont was the manufacturer of Freon, and was actively involved in developing the Montreal Protocol. Freon and other CFCs were cheap and not very profitable. But at the time of the ban, Dupont held the patent on the CFC substitute, R-134a.

In a 1997 paper written by MIT’s James Maxwell and Forrest Briscoe titled, “There’s Money in the Air: The CFC Ban and DuPont’s Regulatory Strategy” published by UCMERCED University of California, Merced’s Business Strategy and the Environment the other, much longer, side of this story is told.

In examining the paper, the first thing discussed by the authors is, “DuPont, the world’s dominant CFC producer, played a key role in the development of the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.”

The authors go on to state their argument that in pursuing “its economic interests, along with the political impact of the discovery of an ozone hole and the threat of domestic regulation,” DuPont was responsible for molding the “international regulatory regime for ozone-depleting substances.”

In 1986, the Freon division of DuPont conducted its own evaluation of the ozone and announced a “significant reduction” in the ozone layer.

The EPA responded with a call to reduce 85% of CFC production – immediately. The paper states that DuPont decided to support a CFC ban since the company mindset was that it could gain a “competitive advantage” with the sales of its new chemical substitutes that would be sold as specialty chemicals at a much higher price than the CFC.

Finally, the paper concludes “DuPont’s organization and strategy were key to the successful leveraging of the Montreal process.” This was achieved through the Freon Division’s interaction with “public officials” and various groups, positioning DuPont to “exploit the situation when regulatory discussions were stepped up.”

Always follow the money.

Yellowstone: One Hundred Years of Mismanagement

Many years ago I told an Australian student that, in my opinion, a certain famous Australian national park should be taken out of government hands and privatized. He looked at me like I had two heads. He probably imagined the place paved over by Disney with parking lots and people standing in line to get on rides. But the truth is that governments around the world have poor records of protecting and managing parks as well as historic and cultural sites. For instance, irreplaceable buildings have been collapsing at Pompeii for years due to the dysfunction of Italian government. There’s also evidence that the U.S. government manages forests less effectively than does the private sector.

Back in 2005, author Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park) gave a fascinating talk at the Independent Institute. In part of his talk, Crichton included a devastating summary of 100 years of government mismanagement of Yellowstone National Park. Government officials in managing Yellowstone have been guilty not just of hubris and ignorance, but have also broken laws and engaged in cover ups. In other words, typical government behavior.

Theodore Roosevelt…in 1903, as President,…went to Yellowstone for a dedication ceremony… Roosevelt saw a thousand antelope, plentiful cougar, mountain sheep, deer, coyote and many thousands of elk. He wrote at that time, “Our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.”

But in fact, Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the Park Service acknowledged that whitetail deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.

What they didn’t say was that the Park Service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting the animals for decades, even though that was illegal since the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew best. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.

What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error, but to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then, it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years, the number of elk in the park exploded…

Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals on his visit, and he’d noticed that the elk were more numerous than in his previous visit. Nine years later, in 1912, there were 30,000 elk in Yellowstone. By 1914, there were 35,000.

Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and although they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. Bears were increasing in numbers, and moose and bison as well.

By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and he urged scientific management, which meant culling. His advice was ignored. Instead, the Park Service did everything they could to increase the number of elk. The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline. Overgrazing changed the flora. Aspen and willows were being eaten at a furious rate and did not regenerate. Large animals and small began to disappear from the park.

In an effort to stem the loss, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and the cougar, and they were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out. New studies showed that it wasn’t predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators therefore had only made things worse.

Actually, the elk had so decimated the aspen that now, where formerly they were plentiful, now they’re quite rare. Without the aspen, the beaver, which use these trees to make dams, began to disappear from the park. Beaver were essential to the water management of Yellowstone, and without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer and still more animals vanished.

The situation worsened further. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930, so in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. Of course, there were rumors all during that time, persistent rumors that the rangers were trucking them in. But in any case, the wolves vanished soon afterward. They needed to eat beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.

Pretty soon, the Park Service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive elk were not responsible for the problems in the park, even though they were. The campaign went on for about a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.

Now, we’re in the 1970s, and bears were recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged in the park….There were more bears, and certainly there were many more lawyers, and thus the much-increased threat of litigation, so the rangers moved the grizzlies out. The grizzlies promptly became endangered. Their formerly growing numbers shrank. The Park Service refused to let scientists study them, but once they were declared endangered, the scientists could go back in again.

And by now, we’re about ready to reap the rewards of our 40-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear and all that. The Indians used to burn forests regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every year. But when these are suppressed, branches fall from the trees to the ground and accumulate over the years to make a dense groundcover such that when there’s a fire, it is a very low, very hot fire that sterilizes the soil. In 1988, Yellowstone burned, and all 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned.

Then having killed the wolves, having tried to sneak them back in, they officially brought the wolves back. And now the local ranchers screamed. The newer reports suggested the wolves seemed to be eating enough of the elk that slowly, the ecology of the park was being restored. Or so it is claimed. It’s been claimed before. And on and on.

I wonder if part of the problem with putting a bureaucracy in charge of a national park is the tendency to do too much. It almost sounds like the park would have been better off with a bit more benign neglect. The Park Service should have intervened less, starting with not feeding the elk. But if the park service weren’t doing much in Yellowstone, the bureau wouldn’t be able to make their case to Congress for more funding, which is what every bureau wants to do. There is perhaps a built in bias to do too much.

Congress should just auction off Yellowstone to the highest bidder.

Pro-Rhino Non-Profits: Saving Rhinos, or their Budgets?

Justin DelPrince brings to our attention this fascinating Snopes report on the possibility of reducing Rhino poaching by marketing synthetic Rhino horn. At least four companies have announced plans to produce artificial horn that is genetically indistinguishable from the real thing. One company claims it can sell the fake horn at only one-eighth the current black market price of horn. If flooding the market with fake horn can successfully take the profit out of selling real horn, this will solve or at least greatly reduce the problem of poaching.

The really interesting part of the story, apart from the technology, is that the major non-profits dedicated to protecting Rhinos have come out against marketing artificial horn. The International Rhino Foundation along with Save the Rhino International issued a joint statement that made a number of points, not all of which seem logical.

  • Selling synthetic horn does not reduce the demand for rhino horn or dispel the myths around rhino horn and could indeed lead to more poaching because it increases demand for “the real thing”.

It’s certainly plausible that synthetic horn might not ‘dispel the myths’, but dispelling myths won’t be necessary if synthetic horn takes the profit out of real horn. If synthetic and real horn become equivalent on the market, then real and synthetic horn will sell for the same price: as little as one-eighth the current price. At one-eighth the price, poachers are not going to risk arrest and Rhino attacks to procure real horn. That’s the point.

There are some possible, though perhaps improbable, scenarios in which synthetic horn might increase the demand for real horn. For instance, the relatively low price of synthetic might introduce more consumers to horn. Synthetic horn might serve as a kind of starter good that eventually causes more consumers to seek out the real thing. But for that story to work, consumers would have to be able to distinguish between real and synthetic. And it’s not clear to us how that would be possible, given that the two are chemically identical. Sellers of real horn would have the incentive to demonstrate authenticity, but again, it’s not clear to us how they would do so. If sellers of real horn can’t demonstrate authenticity, then nobody will willingly pay more for their product. In that case, we don’t see how synthetic horn would increase demand for real horn.

Regarding the ability of consumers to distinguish real from fake, the bullet points from the non-profits contradict each other. First, they assert:

  • Users buy from trusted sources and value “the real thing.”

Those sources would have to be very trusted indeed if the real and fake are genetically identical. We’re not sure we’d trust some of our own family to this degree.

  • How can consumers and law enforcement officials distinguish between legal synthetic horn that looks real, and illegal real horn?

This bullet point contradicts the previous one. In any event, consumers not being able to distinguish real from fake is not a problem, it’s the solution! This inability to distinguish would destroy the market for real horn.

  • Companies benefitting from making synthetic horn have shown very little commitment to use their profits to help the core problem of rhino poaching; besides which, those profits would meet only a tiny fraction of the total rhino protection costs that would remain to be met as long as demand reduction campaigns falter, as they would with the marketing of synthetic horn.

Translation: “Makers of synthetic horn won’t share their profits with us, the Rhino non-profits, and even if they did, it wouldn’t be enough to fund our operations.”

So long as synthetic horn successfully destroys the market for real horn, what does it matter how the producers use their profits?

  • Finally, the manufacture / marketing / sale of synthetic horn diverts funds and attention from the real problem: unsustainable levels of rhino poaching.

Translation: “The real problem is that the manufacture / marketing / sale of synthetic horn diverts funds and attention from the International Rhino Foundation and Save the Rhino International.”

That’s our (admittedly cynical) interpretation. If you set up an organization–a non-profit or government bureau–dedicated to solving the problem of ‘X’, that organization will never solve ‘X’, because doing so means putting itself out of business.

Do pro-Rhino non-profits really want to see Rhinos thrive, to the extent that the animals would no longer require resources for protection?

Maybe, but we have our doubts. As Lily Tomlin used to say, “I get more and more cynical every day, but still find it hard to keep up.”

Government’s Hidden Death Tolls

Government intervention in markets undermines efficient resource allocation, which destroys wealth. That fact is often acknowledged by economists, although not often enough. What is recognized even less often is that government intervention kills people. For instance, goodness only knows how many deaths result from the fact that getting a drug approved by the FDA requires on average 10 years and $1 billion. To further illustrate the point, consider two more examples that we happened to run across just in the past week.

First, TSA airport security screenings kill an estimated 500 people per year. That estimate was cited recently in a lawsuit filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute against the Department of Homeland Security.

CEI et al. argue that TSA’s final rule fails to consider one important factor related to the deployment body scanners: a potential increase in highway injuries and deaths. If that sounds crazy, let me explain. Past research suggests that post-9/11 airport security policies were so invasive that a number of would-be air travelers decided to drive instead. Given the fact that auto travel is far more dangerous than air travel, three Cornell University economists found that TSA’s invasive, time-consuming airport screening policies resulted in about 500 additional highway fatalities annually in the years following 9/11—more than a fully loaded 747 per year.

TSA’s defenders would counter that airport security saves many lives by deterring terrorist attacks. How many? Nobody knows. Oddly enough, it seems easier to estimate how many lives TSA loses than saves. And parenthetically, note that TSA, in its many years of operation, has never caught a terrorist. Not one.

And here’s the other story we ran across. Government has apparently started a new running death toll as part of its quest to save the planet from that destroyer of worlds–the plastic bag.

A whopping 97 percent of consumers don’t regularly wash their [grocery] bags, according to a report from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University. Their researchers swabbed 84 bags for bacteria, and the findings were outright nasty: coliform bacteria in half, E. coli in 12 percent.

When San Francisco banned plastic bags, the number of E. coli infections spiked. Even worse, the number of foodborne-illness deaths rose a whopping 46 percent in the three months after the bag ban began.

Hard, Soviet-style socialism kills deliberately–a bullet to the back of the head. Soft socialism kills more by omission–outlawing something that could have saved you. The latter is more insidious, because it’s harder to establish moral culpability.

Federal Regulation Relies on ‘Secret’ Data (Bumped)

Milton Friedman used to challenge his audience to “name one government program that doesn’t do more harm than good.” Indeed, whether the program in question is Head Start, Fannie Mae, or even Social Security, an objective analysis seems to indicate that the overall costs exceed the benefits. But what about the regulatory state? What about those tens of thousands of pages of government regulations published in the Federal Register? The federal government claims explicitly that these regulations do more good than harm, in other words, that the benefits exceed the costs.

In fact, agencies like the EPA are required by law to do scientific cost-benefit analyses before issuing new regulations. So all those regulations are backed by science, right? Well, maybe not.

Yesterday, the U.S. House passed a bill, H.R. 1030, The Secret Science Reform Act. The purpose of the Act is “to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Secret Science? What is going on here?

We actually didn’t know anything about this issue until it was brought to our attention last summer by our friend Dan Sutter. It seems that most of the government’s claimed net benefits for the entire regulatory state rest on just two data sets that are old and kept secret by the government. Outside parties have not been able to obtain the data in order to verify the government’s conclusions. This is the so-called ‘secret science.’

The two data sets at issue are more than 40 years old: the Harvard Six Cities study and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study. The data sets are “decades out of date, much challenged and never released — even the EPA never saw the raw data — and were never independently verified.” Astonishingly, these two dubious data sets are what the government relies on to justify most of the alleged benefits of the entire federal regulatory state.

At forbes.com, Geoffrey Kabat offers an excellent overview of the ‘secret science’ problem.

The HSCS enrolled 8,111 adults in 6 US cities and followed the cohort for 14-16 years.  The CPS II used data on roughly 500,000 adults for whom air pollution data for metropolitan areas throughout the US was available and followed the cohort for 16 years.

Both studies showed that exposure to fine particle air pollution (that is, particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, or PM2.5) was linked with increased mortality.  Their results provide the basis for most EPA regulations targeting air quality and have been used to make claims of large numbers of lives saved due to regulation.

However, the association observed in these studies was a weak one and raises a number of questions that have not been adequately explored.  First, the association of PM2.5 with mortality shows geographic heterogeneity – no such association is seen in the western US, where the climate is dry and PM2.5 make-up differs from that in the eastern US.

Second, the results of the studies have been presented in a way that focuses narrowly on PM2.5 and precludes putting the association in perspective relative to other predictors of mortality, including cigarette smoking, income, and other factors.

Third, reports from these two studies tend to cite only supporting studies and to ignore studies that have not found an association of PM2.5 with mortality.

These points have been presented in a thoughtful and temperate analysis by Stanley Young and Jesse Xia of the National Institute for Statistical Sciences.

It should also be mentioned that the prevailing view on the health effects of air pollution is set by a small group of researchers who both carried out the studies used by the EPA as the basis for regulation and are also involved in the implementation of EPA policy, giving the appearance of a closed loop.

Others have pointed out that using particle size as criterion for health effects is a crude approach, reflecting our lack of understanding of the effects of specific pollutants.

Sounds like the science is far from settled. Furthermore, there also seems to be a lack of transparency regarding the two data sets. The EPA even failed to comply with a subpoena from Congress to turn over the data. In a letter to EPA written two years ago, Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Lamar Smith allege that

Administration officials have repeatedly failed to respond to Congressional requests to make the underlying data publicly available.
When any information has been provided, it contains significant gaps that make full replication and validation of the studies’ original results impossible (not to mention independent reanalysis).

But beside the lack of transparency, the really amazing thing is that those two unverifiable data sets are what supports the bulk of the government’s claimed benefits for the entirety of the federal regulatory state.

From the Vitter-Smith letter:

As has been noted in multiple communications from Congress, federally-funded analyses of two well-known data sets – the “Cancer Prevention Study” and the “Harvard Six Cities Study”- are the basis for nearly all health and benefit claims from CAA [Clean Air Act] rulemaking in this Administration. Beyond EPA’s reliance on these data sets, this science also provides a disproportionate share of overall federal regulatory benefit claims.

As the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) noted in their most recent report to Congress, nearly all of EPA’s claimed benefits – which represent between 60 and 81 percent of the estimated benefits for the whole federal government – are attributable to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) – health associations derived from these two data sets.
In other words, this secret data is the lynchpin for a majority of the regulatory benefit claims made by this Administration for the entire federal regulatory enterprise. When you and the Agency make the claim that the CAA will generate $2.0 trillion in benefits through 2020 and that CAA benefits exceed costs by a ratio of 30-to-1, these undisclosed data are the origin of 85 percent these benefits. The recently-finalized NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] for PM2.5 depended on this secret data for more than 90 percent (final rule) and 98 percent (proposed rule) of the total monetized benefits. [Emphasis added.]

So, to summarize:

1. Although dozens of federal agencies issue regulations with the force of law, the bulk of the claimed benefits (60-81 percent) comes from rules written specifically by the EPA.

2. But “nearly all” of EPA’s alleged benefits involve regulation of fine particulate matter, PM2.5.

3. The ‘science’ backing regulation of PM2.5 rests on two old data sets that EPA refuses to share, even when subpoenaed by Congress.

As readers of this site know, we are pretty cynical about how government operates, and so we’re not easily shocked by reports of government dysfunction or depredation. But we must confess that the possibility that most of the entire federal regulatory enterprise relies on two decades-old and secret datasets is something that we do find absolutely shocking.

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