Don’t you just hate it when you get a great idea for a post and find out someone just wrote it–and probably did a better job than you would have done?
The Volkswagen scandal had me thinking of other policy blowbacks of the past. Volkswagen gamed their emission results, leaving their new cars polluting far more than they were supposed to. But the real crime is in the mandating of more diesel (because it emits less CO2) than conventional car engines, which emit far less pollution (except when Volkswagen is gaming the results).
I intended to talk a bit about DDT, which environmentalists agitated against decades ago, leading to numerous unnecessary cases of malaria, many fatal. I also wanted to talk again about the UK’s policy response to BSE, which led to a remake of the country’s agricultural system and the massacre of 8 million cows, ignoring the advice of scientists that the small number of cases didn’t call for such a heavy-handed approach.
I wanted to talk about the UK’s method of converting to a greener fuel portfolio, passing along investment costs for green energy to consumer utility bills, which led to fuel poverty on such a scale that thousands of poor UK citizens freeze to death every year because they can’t pay their energy bills.
I was going to continue with more recent examples, but Matt Ridley beat me to it with a really good post on his Rational Optimist blog.
He writes of the Volkswagen scandal, “The great European switch to diesel engines was a top-down decision as a direct result of exaggerated fears about climate change. Convinced that the climate was about to warm rapidly, and extreme weather was about to get much worse, European governments signed the Kyoto protocol in 1997 and committed to reducing emissions of carbon dioxide in the hope that this would help. In the event, the global temperature stopped rising for 18 years, while droughts, floods and storms also showed no increase.
But in 1998, urged on by EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock, welcomed by environment secretary John Prescott and acted on by chancellor Gordon Brown, Britain happily signed up to an EU agreement with car makers that they would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25% over ten years. This suited German car makers, specialists in Rudolf Diesel’s engine design, because diesel engines have 15% lower CO2 emissions than petrol engines.
The EU agreement was “practically an order to switch to diesel”, says one clean-air campaigner. As subjects of Brussels, Britain obediently lowered tax on diesel cars, despite knowing that they produce four times as much nitrogen oxides as petrol, and 20 times as many particulates, both bad for human lungs.”
I would add that the air in London is heavily polluted, despite modern technology’s best efforts, primarily because of the proliferation of diesel fuel, especially in London’s fleet of buses. When I lived there I was surprised to find that air quality was no better than in Turin, the city I left for London, often criticized as the most polluted city in Western Europe. But London was just as bad.
Ridley goes on: “What is more, this is becoming a repetitive story. Almost every policy adopted to fight climate change has been a disaster, doing more harm than good.
Diverting agricultural crops into making ethanol or diesel to feed motor cars rather than people forces up the price of food, kills approximate 200,000 extra people a year and increases pressure on the rain forest.
Burning wood instead of coal in power stations has devastated forests and actually increased CO2 emissions: wood emits more CO2 per unit of energy generated even than coal and the argument that this does not matter because trees eventually regrow is unpersuasive.
Subsidising windmills has raised the price of energy, rewarded the rich, killed eagles and gannets, polluted Chinese waterways with effluent from rare-earth refining, and increased energy poverty – all without making a significant difference to emissions.
And now we know that giving tax breaks to diesel cars has made urban air quality worse than it would otherwise have been, killing possibly 5,000 people a year in this country alone. These were all mistakes made by people who thought they knew best.”
His post goes on, but for my purposes his point is clear. Our blunderbuss efforts to address climate change have done more harm than good. The unwillingness of the Climate Elect to admit this means the harm continues.
I’m not saying we should quit trying to address climate change. I’m saying if we don’t learn from the mistakes we have made, our efforts are hardly likely to improve.
Smart solar, natural gas, modular nuclear power. These are winning ideas. Letting the market dictate the pace of adoption, assisted by modest subsidies, can reduce the pain this massive conversion may cause.
Offshore wind, biofuels (outside of Brazil, where they make sense), shipping wood pellets across the Atlantic to biomass plants in England, and perhaps most of all, advantaging diesel cars that kill people today instead of normal ICE cars with modern pollution control devices–these are loser ideas invented to enrich a small group of investors and plutocrats put in place despite the peoples’ desires, not because of them.