Electric cars, government incentives, and pollution (and an Open Thread, if you want one)

Nissan LeafAside from domestic responsibilities and computer problems, the main reason for my slowed blogging has to do with cars.  Electric cars, to be specific.

Years ago, when I was living my life as a round of carpools, we bought a lovely Honda minivan. I really do mean lovely. It’s the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned. I’m petite, but it provides me with a perfectly elevated seat; it handles like a dream; I like the doo-dads and thingamabobs it offers; and I’m just generally happy with it. The only downside is that it gets around 18 or 19 miles per gallon, which is not a plus with Obama gas prices.

Actually, there’s now another downside, too. With my kids in high school, I’m no longer driving that endless round of carpools. Instead, it’s mostly just me in a car that can seat passengers, not including the driver. Sometimes I add a passenger or two, and I often have groceries, but it really is a shame to burn up so much expensive gasoline to transport a few people and some shopping bags.

We started looking into alternatives and decided that the all-electric Nissan Leaf would be good. It’s a surprisingly spacious car, it handles well, it’s range easily encompasses my daily Marin roamings, and  then there’s the real kicker:  Between federal and state incentives for electric vehicles, we get almost $12,000 towards a three-year lease.

That last factor makes the car eminently affordable. We’ll be paying only slightly more per month on the lease than I was already paying for gas. We’ll keep the old car for short trips or heavy loads (or for times when all three drivers in the family are heading in completely opposite directions), but we’ll use only the Leaf for the local trips.  Our electric bill will increase negligibly, our gasoline bill will decrease dramatically, and our monthly cash flow will be affected minimally.

Nice as they are, I’m actually somewhat embarrassed by those incentives. Yes, it’s true that I pay substantially more in taxes than someone who doesn’t live a nice upper middle class life in Marin. But precisely because I am able to live this nice upper middle class Marin lifestyle, I don’t really need the incentive.

The incentives certainly encourage me to buy or lease an electric vehicle, so they fulfill the government goal of getting more people into EVs, but I think it’s wrong that lower-income taxpayers are compelled to support me in any way. They, after all, are still paying taxes but, even with the taxpayer-funded incentive, they still can’t afford a lease.

A Democrat in the California legislature finally figured out just how unfair this is and has a bill pending to add means-testing to the rebate:

Since 2009, California gave a $2,500 tax rebate on zero-emissions vehicles like the Tesla Model S and Prius plug-in hybrid. And here’s something that should surprise no one: The majority of those rebates went to households earning $100,000 or more. Now that could change.

A bill sponsored by California Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) attempts to address the fact that nearly 80 percent of those rebates went to households bringing in more than $100k and that almost half of Tesla Model S owners receiving a rebate are making at least $300,000.

“A $2,500 rebate to purchase an electric vehicle is not likely to matter to someone earning over $300,000 a year, but it does make a big difference to someone earning $60k a year,” said de León. “Every community deserves clean air, regardless of wealth.”

(Read more here.)

Although I think that bill is the right thing to do, I’m not going to stand on principle here and turn my back on any money the government wants to give me — or, more accurately, give back to me.  After all, thanks to the highest income tax in the nation, a lot of our family’s hard-earned money routinely goes to fund all sorts of ridiculousness, such as California’s infamous “train to nowhere.”  Getting some of my money back towards an affordable, practical car is a good thing.

I’m also ambivalent about the vehicle because I find the whole “zero emissions” thing stupid.  Yes, it’s true that there are no emissions coming out the back of my vehicle, but you can’t escape the fact that it nevertheless generates a lot of pollution elsewhere.  It has a honking big battery, which currently pollutes China even more than China is already polluted.

Additionally, the car relies upon electricity that’s produced by generating a fair amount of dirt.  As I understand it, most American electricity comes from burning coal or gas, or from a nuclear plan (clean, but always unpopular in Progressive circles).   Water’s great, but it’s a distant third, with all the clean energies coming in far behind.  And of course, those clean energies aren’t so great either, given that their unreliable, and that they either slice and dice birds or fricassees them.

It still seems to me that the best way to power our world is to continue to rely on fossil fuel — that most reliable energy source — but to continue to work on ways to decrease the pollutants flowing from its use.  All these other things are pie-in-the-sky stuff.  Indeed, the fact that government needs to coerce and bribe people to use electric vehicles perfectly demonstrates just how ridiculous they are.  If they really were an affordable form of clean energy transportation, private business would be cleaning up on them without any help from the government.

And while I’m on the subject of government’s role in all this, I’d like to put in my application to immigrate to the Republic of Bill:

Of Norway, petrodollars, free education, etc.

One of my old high school friends, an ardent liberal, posted the following on his Facebook page:

Norway smart - America stupid

Doesn’t that just make so much sense? Give free education and your nation will be wonderful.  Of course, both “Mr. Silhouette” and the friend who posted it suffer from no small amount of ignorance in making that assertion.  For one thing, I’m virtually certain that they don’t know that Norway can offer this free education, as well as a variety of other social benefits, in significant part because it’s floating away on an incredibly profitable sea of petrodollars.  Were Obama to allow the Keystone pipeline, we might be able to fund a few more educational opportunities in this country too.

The other thing that the cartoonist ignores is that Norway is a petite country (4,722,701 people compared to America’s 316,668,567).  More than that, Norway has a staggeringly homogenous population.  According to the CIA World Fact Book, the population breakdown for Norway is “Norwegian 94.4% (includes Sami, about 60,000), other European 3.6%, other 2% (2007 estimate).”  The numbers are a bit different for America:  “white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate).”  Even that’s misleading, because it’s just skin color (whites and blacks), and broad racial classification (Asian, Amerindian, Alaska native, etc.).  This breakdown utterly fails to take into account America’s cultural melting pot, with our genetic and cultural mix representing people from every corner of the earth.

The population differences between the two countries mean that, in America, it’s very difficult to convince everyone to do the same thing at the same time.  In Norway, on the other hand, people are practically born in lock-step.  (And don’t even get me started on Leftist educational trends in America that involve everything but education, or on the fact that we force non-academically inclined students into academic classes when they should be learning a trade.)

Finally, what neither Mr. Silhouette or my friend know is that Norway is having sufficient problems with its socialism — and that’s despite the fact that petrodollars are paying for the costly luxury that is socialism — that it is starting to turn right politically, away from socialism:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

This trend is occurring despite the fact that, so far, Norway’s economy has not only been stable, but it’s been growing at twice America’s 1.5% growth rate:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

Please read more of John Fund’s article to learn about the sea change taking place in Norway.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  if my Leftist friends put up a snarky political poster on their Facebook page, it’s invariably factual deficient or logically flawed.

An update about US energy production

In my post about Victor Davis Hanson’s talk, I wrote that the US is the world’s largest coal producer. It turns out that I was wrong. And by “I was wrong,” I mean just that. It was my error, not Hanson’s. I was simultaneously trying to listen to Hanson, eat a divine chocolate dessert, and take notes. That’s not a good combo, and I’m pretty darn sure I misrepresented his statement about US coal production.

Here’s the skinny, from Donkatsu:

U.S. has the world’s largest reserves of coal, almost half of the total, but we are second to China in production of coal. China is now a net importer of coal, which why it is increasingly profitable for the U.S. to export to the world – higher prices.

Russia has a shale formation in West Siberia, Bezhmenov, that is believed to be much larger than North Dakota’s Bakken. However, they need foreign technology to get it out. China has shale gas resources about equivalent to those int he U.S. but most of it is in regions without much water, a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing. (messaging – suppose the industry had called it “water stimulation” instead of hydraulic fracturing).

And there’s more, too, The U.S. is commonly portrayed by the egregious Tom Friedman and B. Obama, among others, as being on the sidelines of energy developments in the world. In fact, we are #1 in wind capacity, #1 in biomass (bigger than Brazil), #1 in natural gas, #3 in crude oil (headed for 1 or 2 soon), #2 in coal, # 1 in geothermal and #4 in solar PV.

Universities discover that you reap what you sow

Universities have long been the incubators of climate change hysteria.  They teach anthropogenic climate change there with the same certainty that they teach accounting principles.  There is no room for debate.  Students graduate as true believers.

But what happens when the students discover that their teachers are hypocrites?  They go after them:

A group of Swarthmore College students is asking the school administration to take a seemingly simple step to combat pollution and climate change: sell off the endowment’s holdings in large fossil fuel companies. For months, they have been getting a simple answer: no.

As they consider how to ratchet up their campaign, the students suddenly find themselves at the vanguard of a national movement.

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

Because I do not believe in anthropogenic climate change (as opposed to naturally occurring climate change, in which I strongly believe), I think we should be funding research into and production of any and all sources of energy.  Massive amounts of available energy improve people’s lives around the world.  I therefore hope that this de-funding effort doesn’t result in such massive financial losses that America is forced to abandon important energy sources.  Nevertheless, this movement appeals to me.  The universities thought that they could have both ways:  teach hysteria at the front end while making money at the back end.  It’s great to see them being called on their hypocrisy.

Cargo cults and E-cons

During WWII, New Guinea natives noticed that whenever Allied soldiers built airfields, airplanes would magically appear out of the sky bearing gifts. Thus, reasoned the islanders, all they had to do was to build airfields to propitiate the gods and magic airplanes would appear bearing gifts. Sounds logical.

Ha, ha, ha…silly islanders! But hold on…who are we to laugh? We practice the very same logic in our society today. Consider the ever-lengthening string of taxpayer-funded environmental “green energy” companies going belly-up busted broke. Here’s a recent list of these taxpayer-funded E-conomic disasters (up-to 34 and growing fast):

http://blog.heritage.org/2012/10/18/president-obamas-taxpayer-backed-green-energy-failures/

Quite clearly, our own environmentally sensitive natives believed that all one needed to do was to build bricks, mortar and steel into modern-looking structures, pick an environmentally friendly “technology” with a cool sounding name and, voila! Magic benefits would come out of thin air – endless BTUs of cheap, pollution-free, guilt-free, Gaia-approved energy that defied the laws of physics, engineering and economics. What did fall out of the air was never-ending wads of taxpayer cash.

Thus did the E-natives expropriate $-billions and $-billions of other peoples’ labor and monies to build their false idols and propitiations to Mother Gaia. And, now…nothing! The money is gone and the losses pile up as useless junk. Just as with the airport idols in New Guinea, Gaia remained strangely silent.

There is, of course, one very big difference between this modern chain of events and that of the New Guinea islanders. And that is this: the sharks and grifters (E-cons) who took their cuts from those $-billions of taxpayer funds in the form of inflated salaries, over-generous pension plans, consulting fees, legal fees, subcontracts, illegal equity payouts, Washington lobbyist budgets, Democrat party donations and union crony deals. Somehow, I suspect that these variables did not factor in the New Guinea islander cargo-cult politics. With bankruptcy, the paper-trail remnants of these shady, underhand practices will pretty much be shredded from public view.

The New Guinea Islanders may have been guilty of faulty logic and misplaced idol worship. The modern day cargo-cult environmentalists have been just as guilty of false-idol worship, but, supposedly, they had “education”, “science” and “reason” on their side.

However, herein lies the critical difference: today’s Gaia’s acolytes have waged a far-more corrupt and damaging game than any New Guinea native ever did, through the enormous waste of resources that can never be recaptured by a world that is currently bleeding capital in a time of desperate need. That lost capital will not be available to drive the economic growth that this world needs.

I can only hope that some day, soon, this growing list of E-con-driven bankruptcies will be submitted to extensive forensic audit in the public domain to cast light on those who benefited from this exploitation of the Gaia cult fantasies and to detail just how the taxpayers got shafted in this growing list of debacles.

Let there be a full accounting.

Then, bring out the pitchforks.

Oil boom!

Just recently, I happened to drive through the southern end of the Bakken Field in North Dakota on my way to Montana. I can tell you that an oil boom in the making is absolutely awesome to behold! There is black gold in them thar hills!

The I-94 freeway was a solid line of trucks ferrying equipment to the oil fields. Low-level hotel and motel rooms are booked 4 years out and cost in the upper $-100s per night. Everywhere over North Dakota’s (very attractive, in my view) rolling western plains you see oil storage tanks and pumps blending (yes, blending…they are not ugly or obtrusive) in the countryside. The crush of people from all over and construction in small-but-fast-growing towns like Dickinson and Williston is energizing. Oh, if I was young again…

I met a semi-retired petroleum engineer in Alberta that was working on the Canadian tar sands development. I asked him what he had heard regarding the size of the Bakken oil field. He indicated that, pessimistically, it contained 1x the reserves of Saudi Arabia, while the optimistic projection was 3x the Saudi oil reserves. Plus, there are all the other oil fields out there waiting to be developed (e.g., Western Colorado) and the natural gas fields scattered throughout the country.

Interestingly, he also told me that he thought the Obama administration made the right call on the Keystone Pipeline in that the forced redirection of the pipeline would be much more responsible (environmentally speaking), given the shallow ground water tables in Nebraska.

I don’t believe that this can be stopped. Cheap energy is at hand and it will change our country and the world.

Government perverts the marketplace, destroying true value analysis.

I have been following with interest the running comment thread on my post asking about whether electric cars are actually cleaner, or if they just shift pollution outside of the consumer’s view.  Very quickly, and probably inevitably, the post shifted to a cost-benefit analysis, which aimed to compare fossil fuel to alternative fuels.  Just as quickly, each side started accusing the other of hiding the real price of these energy sources behind government funding, whether in direct funds (alternative energy) or tax benefits (fossil fuels and alternative energy).

After reading everything, my question about the clean-air benefits of electric cars remains unanswered.  I don’t think anyone delivered a killing blow about electric cars’ virtues or failures.  What is patently clear, though, is that government interference perverts the marketplace, preventing a true analysis of each energy source’s true costs and, by extension, its true benefit in decreasing pollution.  It’s impossible to tell whether there wouldn’t be more utility in putting energy into clean methods for extracting, refining, and using fossil fuels, as opposed to having the government prop up the creation and use of alternative energy.  Only the marketplace can provide this true value analysis, and the government is completely corrupted the marketplace.

If I was king of the world, I would do away entirely with all direct or indirect subsidies.  Only in that way can we measure what really works.

It’s not your imagination: Obama’s fuel policies are hurting you badly

Sadie sent me a link to a calculator that shows precisely how Obama’s energy policies are hitting you every time you pump gas.  And those are just the costs you see.  These increased fuel prices affect every aspect of American life, because oil truly is the liquid that powers the entire United States.  Higher fuel prices mean more expensive goods and services (including food), whether at the production or transportation level.

“Keynes” and other back-pats

Here’s a Robert Samuelson article, “bye bye Keynes” that should give us all pause: the arguments he uses to write Keynes’ obituary are arguments that we all posited in our own excoriation of Keynes in years past, in response to a string of commentators, ranging from A to Z.

I’ve been reviewing our last few years at Bookworm Room and I think that we all deserve a round of huzzas and raised beer mugs or wine glasses, whatever is at hand. We’ve been so right about so many issues, be it “Keynesian”economics; anthropogenic global warming; the Islamist threat; U.S. fossil fuel reserves; “green” energy; Iraq; Obama; the EU’s collapse…and on and on und so weiter.  Sometimes, our prescience has preceded events on the ground by years.

To all of you Bookworm guests and, especially, to Bookworm, our hostess: I’m so d*** proud to know you! I am so much smarter for having enjoyed the many experiences of your insights and commentary.

The problem with introducing freedom into industrial societies — or the tyranny of fossil fuels

Two things happened on November 26, two entirely unrelated things, that nevertheless ended up merging into a single thought in my mind:  In the modern world, fossil fuels equal liberty.  If you cannot assure the people the former, forget about trying to foist upon them the latter.  Let me walk you through my thought processes.

The first thing that impinged onto my awareness was a conversation I had with a most delightful 85-year-old Jewish man who, except for WWII and the Israeli War of Independence, has always lived and worked in South Africa.  During a wide-ranging conversation, I asked him what the situation was like today in post-apartheid South Africa. “Horrible,” he said, “just horrible.”  According to him, the moment Nelson Mandela left office, the new ANC government began to be as racist as the old apartheid government, only with the benefits flowing to the blacks, this time, not the whites.  It’s not Zimbabwe, yet, but he sees it coming.

What was most fascinating to me was this man’s claim that the black people are deeply unhappy with the status quo.  Yes, ostensibly they have civil rights that were denied them under the old regime.  The problem, though, is that the country is so horribly mismanaged under the current government that, while they have civil rights, they lack electricity, clean water, food and transportation.  The blacks he speaks to therefore look back longingly on apartheid.  While their lives then were demeaning and economically marginal, the old government was stable and efficient.  Excepting those who lived in the most abysmal poverty, apartheid-era blacks could rely on what we in the modern era consider to be the basics for sustaining life:  not just the bare minimum of food and water, but also electricity, reliable long-distance transportation, and plumbing — all of which are dependent upon a modern fossil fuel economy.

The second thing that happened on November 26 was that Danny Lemieux put up a post commenting on Bruce Bawer’s Thanksgiving article examining the possibly naive American notion that all people crave freedom.  Danny had this to say:

I believe that I can understand the pull of serfdom for many people. Just think of all of the difficult life decisions that are taken away from the individual serf: as wards of the state, they don’t have to worry about where they will get their food (of course, they can forget about shopping at Whole Foods as well), whether they will meet their financial needs (albeit at a subsistence level), understanding politics, moral values, education, finding a job…etc. It is, in other words, regression to the mind of a child. They can simply exist for the moment of the day: no responsibilities but, also, no hope. Like vegetables, if you think about it.

I agree with Danny (and Bruce Bawer), but I I’d like to add to what both say, by dragging in fossil fuels.

What may have made the extraordinary American experiment in individual liberty possible was that it happened right at the start of the industrial era, before people’s expectations were raised by the industrial and post-industrial era.  At the end of the 18th century, people’s material expectations were limited by the technology of the time (electricity was a lightening bolt; clean water was the creek behind your house; transportation could be found in the bones and muscles reaching from your hips down to your feet).  Fortunately for America’s future, she was rich, not only in space, but in the natural resources that would become so necessary in the next two centuries, including fossil fuel and the drive to put that fossil fuel to work.  Put another way, at the moment our nation was born, our material expectations were low, but the possibilities proved to be almost endless.  The exquisite historic timing that brought together our new freedoms and the nascent industrial revolution made the American miracle possible.

Nowadays, the source of all physical comfort is fossil fuel.  Except for those people who still live a virtually stone age existence (whether in Indian, Africa, Latin America or Asia), every single person in the world benefits from fossil fuels.  They give us light, water treatment plants for clean water, food in the fields and in the marketplace, transportation, clothing, housing, every bit of our technology, everything.   Nothing in our modern world would be possible without them.  Fossil fuels drove Hitler’s maniacal push to the Soviet Union and ended the Japanese ability to fight a war.  (If you’re interested in more on oil’s central role in WWII, check out The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power.)  No wonder the global warmists, with their anti-Western mindset, are so determined to destroy fossil fuel.

In a modern world, one that premised upon expectations of fossil fuel’s blessings (an abundance of food, clean water, ready transportation, technical, etc.), giving people freedom without meeting those expectations — which are, by now, the minimal expectations for creature comfort — is doomed to failure.  It is no longer enough to couple free speech with a horse, a plow, and some seeds.  Nor will people be excited about freedom of worship if they have only a small flame to light the night-time darkness.  Today, America’s famous four freedoms will satisfy people only if they are coupled with the riches flowing from modern energy.

What all this means in practical terms is that, if you invade Iraq and destroy a tyrant, but simultaneously knock out the power supply, you will not have a happy population.  Post-industrial people would rather have tyranny and electricity (and the food, water, transportation and other things flowing from that electricity), than freedom in a world limited to stone age energy sources.  Proverbs 15:17 therefore got it wrong.  As you recall, that proverb says “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”  Our modern experience with trying to bring people to the American model shows that most would say, “Better a stalled ox and a well-lighted barn where tyranny is, than starvation and the darkness of night where freedom lives.”

 

Oily memes repeat, repeat, repeat!

One lesson of advertising is that, no matter whether true or false, to make a message stick, one must repeat, repeat, repeat. This is how false messages become enshrined into the ideological orthodoxy of the Left and ripple out to the collective consciousness of the masses.

Now, there are many ways to deliberately distort a message. One commonly used tactic is to deliberate omit information that provides necessary context. Thus, the message may be true as it stands, but it misleads by what it does not say.

Here is an article that simultaneously illustrates how the Left establishes talking points for wide dissemination based on distorted information, while demolishing one particular such talking point that was found to reverberate repeatedly on this blog: the claim that the United States uses 25% of all world oil production but contains only 2% of the world’s oil reserves.

Yes, the U.S. has only 2% of the world’s “proven reserves”. However, as defined, “proven reserves” represents only a very small fraction to total reserves. When total reserves are factored in, U.S. petroleum holdings are likely to rival Saudi Arabia’s. Read it all – it really is very clearly presented

http://spectator.org/archives/2011/05/27/energy-myths-of-the-left

The article then goes on to demolish the argument that the U.S. uses a disproportionate amount of the world’s oil production.

Observe, however: the usual response of the Left when confronted with information that proves anathema to developed orthodoxy is to personally attack the source (shades of Galileo!) rather than distort the information (a classic Alinsky tactic). Orthodoxy  must be protected at all costs!

And, rightly so. For once these tactics are exposed for what they are, the credibility of the Left is forever put into question and people go elsewhere for their information.

Whenever any information emanates from the Left, it should be viewed with great caution. Left-wing memes are like highly damaging computer viruses: easy to create and very laborious to detect and remove. Caveat emptor.