CIVIL DEFENSE PERSPECTIVES
September 1997 (vol. 13, #6) 1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1997 Physicians for Civil Defense
Professional anti-nuke Amory Lovins has invented something even better than a perpetual motion machine. Rather than generating energy from nothing, his idea destroys energy capacity and turns a negative into a creative force (with the aid of positive government subsidies).
Turn off your space heater and repeat: Your eyelids are closing, and your feet are becoming heavy and warm.
Turn off your labor-saving appliances and turn on your energy-
consuming saving labor.
If you lose your job in an energy-intensive industry, volunteer for the U.N.
army peacekeepers, get an environmentally responsible job (as an EPA inspector?), or turn in a polluter and collect the bounty (see p. 2). The sum of the individual costs will turn out to be a net positive benefit for society as a whole, thanks to the magic of compound negawatts.
Negawatts are but one of the methods proposed to substitute for the burning of carbon-based fuels. Policy paper #280 (Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not Green) by the Cato Institute analyzes them and adds the environmentally sound step of calculating the ``externalities'' that environmentalists want industry to internalize (copies $6 from Cato, 1000 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, tel. (202)842-0200).
The renewable resource best beloved of ecophiles is wind power. Despite decades of subsidies (amounting to more than $1,200 per installed kilowatt), wind power remains stubbornly uneconomic. One problem is that the wind usually refuses to blow hardest at times of peak demand for electricity, generating only about 7.5 megawatts per 50 MW of nameplate capacity at peak. (Perhaps there are 42.5 negawatts?) ``Wind farms'' are thus sometimes called ``tax farms.''
The cost of wind power, about 10 cents per kWh, is one of the highest for any kind of present-day electricity generation (cf. 4 cents per kWh for high-cost nuclear).
But even environmentalists are turning against wind power because of the ``avian mortality'' problem. The windmills act as ``bait and executioner'' because rodent populations multiply rapidly at the base of the windmills that protect them against predators. ``How many dead birds equal a dead fish equal an oil spill?'' is the question. The 1,731 installed megawatts have killed some 10,000 birds. On a percentage basis, windmills at Altamont Pass kill eight times as many bald eagles as the Valdez oil spill every year. (Though it is a federal crime to kill a bald eagle, no windmills or wind farmers have been prosecuted yet.)
Other externalities include visual blight and the environmental impact of manufacturing large quantities of steel and concrete.
Another favorite, solar power, while coming down in price from around 25 per kWh to a claimed 8 cents due to improved photovoltaic cells, still costs three times as much as new gas-generated capacity. The often-ignored externalities are also substantial. Just producing the concrete for a 1,000 MW nameplate solar capacity results in carbon emissions equivalent to burning 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas, a year's worth of fuel for a similar gas-fired plant.
Solar plants are also bird killers. Bird deaths per megawatt at Solar One operated by Southern California Edison, primarily due to collisions with mirror-like surfaces, were 10 times as high as at Altamont Pass. The installation of the Kramer Junction Luz site killed numerous desert tortoises and ground squirrels as they were displaced from their natural habitat. Moreover, the production of photovoltaic cells results in toxic chemical pollution (arsenic, gallium, and cadmium).
Hydropower, long a favorite of renewable energy buffs, has fallen from favor. Capacity may actually decline due to concerns about endangered fish.
Biomass is a new favorite, but of course it has to be burned, releasing stored CO2, along with nitrogen oxide and particulates. (And environmentalists seldom like to mention that more than 60% of the biomass input comes from wood.) It is estimated that at least $930 million in additional government subsidies would be needed to enable biomass to approach commercialization.
Geothermal is not a renewable resource. Also, it is scarce, found mostly in scenic areas that environmentalists are loath to disturb, produces toxic waste, and sometimes emits CO2.
Once they disqualify all of the feasible sources of electricity, ecophiles are left with conservation or energy efficiency or doing without: Negawatts.
Between 1989 and 1995, American utilities spent more than $15 billion on ratepayer-subsidized conservation (``demand-side management'' or DSM) programs, and the Dept. of Energy spent about $9 billion. Although global-warming activists claim that dollars spent on conservation increase the standard of living and return net economic benefits, two rigorous studies have shown that no DSM program showed benefits greater than costs, and in most, benefits were only about 25% of costs. Moreover, the question now is not how much savings might have been achieved, but how much cost-effective energy conservation remains to be done; the law of diminishing returns is showing its effect. Negawatts, too, are a depletable resource.
DSM programs are also susceptible to ``environmental review on a total fuel cycle basis.'' One electricity planner at a major utility stated that DSM is our ``dirtiest energy source'' because of the miles traveled in motor vehicles to service the participants.
But the most important externality of negawatts is the effect on human life. Bill Clinton, in his June 26 speech to the UN environmental conference, spoke of 400 Americans who died during a heat wave in Chicago. ``We can expect more deaths from heat stress,'' he said-while calling for measures that will deprive more citizens of air conditioning. He also noted the rapidly rising incidence of childhood asthma-which may be caused by increased concentrations of indoor allergens, thanks to negawatts. (Meanwhile, his EPA bans CFC-powered inhalers needed by asthmatic children and imposes mandates that will steal money from ambulance and other medical services.)
Negawatts don't kill birds and turtles. But they do kill human beings.
If the average American is $2700 per year poorer as a result of the Kyoto treaty, we can expect at least 100,000 premature deaths. If the rest of the world follows America's lead-or simply experiences the effects of devastating the world's strongest economy, the death toll will be in the millions.
In August, 1991, 18 EPA agents burst into the offices of Higman Sand and Gravel with guns drawn. After 53 years in business with a spotless record, the owners found themselves in federal court, accused of illegally storing hazardous waste. The EPA agents had found a small quantity of paint thinner dumped on the property. At trial, it was discovered that the paid informant had done the deed. He stood to gain $24,000 if the owners been convicted, in addition to the $2,000 he had already been paid for the hot tip. (See The Relief Report, 7/31/97, www.nationalcenter.org.)
The State of the Environment
Although pollsters say that 75% of Americans believe pollution and the environment will get much worse, nearly all objective measures show that the US environment is improving:
Carbon monoxide emissions have dropped 14.9% since measurements began in 1974. Nitrogen dioxides have dropped 33.8% since 1975, sulfur dioxide is down 50.3%, and lead emissions are down by 97%.
Overall air quality has improved 42% since 1980, and water quality by 27% (Charles Oliver, Investor's Business Daily, 5/5/97, citing the Pacific Research Institute and the Fraser Institute.) Automobile emissions have been cut in half since 1965 despite a doubling of the number of cars in Southern California. Tailpipe emissions from new cars are said to be so minuscule that if a person spills a tablespoon of gasoline, the emissions are greater than those produced by driving the car for about a day and a half.
Bill Clinton has endorsed stringent new clean-air standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone, citing concern for asthmatic children. An analysis by the George Mason University Center for Study of Public Choice estimates an annual cost of $54 to $328 billion for the ozone rule and $55 billion for the particulate matter rule, making this possibly the costliest regulatory action of the decade. (The EPA cost estimate was $6 billion.) Many states cannot even meet existing standards. Industrial states say the new ones are impossible: ``I can tell you ... we will go to war, we cannot survive,'' said Rep. Ron Klink (D-PA). EPA Administrator Carol Browner said that California will probably have to abandon diesel fuel, which powers generators, trucks, trains, and ships.
The EPA claimed that its new standards would save 40,000 lives. They were forced to reduce the projected number of lives saved to 15,000, partly due to a mathematical error. Then Dr. Kay Jones, former senior advisor to Clinton's Council on Environmental Quality, who discovered the error, re-analyzed the estimates and concluded that only 850 lives would be saved.
However, using the Office of Management and Budget estimate of one life lost for every $9 to $12 million drop in aggregate personal income, the cost of the standards alone could cause 7,000 additional deaths. Moreover, since ground-level ozone also screens out ultraviolet-B light, the proposed drop in ozone could cause 2,000 to 11,000 cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer per year and 13,000 to 28,000 cataracts (see Wall Street Journal 6/9/97 and National Review 7/14/97).
The EPA received an unprecedented 25,000 comments about the standards. They have been accused of trampling all over basic scientific methods such as peer review, and systematically cherry-picking only the data that support their viewpoint.
Officials of industry who have engaged in selective reporting have gone to jail (National Review 7/28/97).
Reclaiming Mine Tailings
A more difficult reclamation problem can probably not be found. Mine tailings are made of rocks pulverized as fine as talcum powder and made sterile by chemicals used to extract copper and other minerals. Machines that spray a carefully measured mixture of seeds, fertilizer, and plasticized mulch have had limited success in getting grass to grow. One heavy rain can wash the skin-thin layer right off the steep slope.
Terry Wheeler's innovation is now widely used at mines in Arizona. But at first people were incredulous, even when they saw the grassy slopes with their own eyes.
He calls his innovation a FLOSBee: a four-legged organic soil builder. This entity is widely believed to be the earth's most effective destroyer of grass.
To do the job requires only hay and FLOSBees. The FLOSBees trample the hay into the tailings and add the requisite microorganisms from their gut. Areas that supported nothing but dust storms for many decades have been successfully reclaimed. Diehard critics of the FLOSBees raised concerns about the health of the critters and the quality of the beef they produce. But tests of the blood and tissues for toxins and unusual concentrations of trace elements have shown no ill effects over a period of eight years.
People who see Mr. Wheeler's handiwork often say, ``I never even knew anything like this was possible; all we ever hear about is how everything is in such terrible shape.''
Mr. Wheeler states: ``Maybe the most valuable thing these cows can do is wake people up to the fact that humans can use nature's own processes to heal the scars we have to make to be able to live'' (Range, Summer 1997).
A Conspiracy Theory?
``The oil companies and the coal companies in the United States have joined in a conspiracy to hire pseudo scientists to deny the facts...The energy companies need to be called to account because what they're doing is un-American in the most basic sense'' (Secretary
Joe Bruce Babbitt on Diane Rehm's radio show, referring to the critics of the global warming hypothesis. When asked if he had written a response, he said ``Well, I hadn't thought about it till just now. Sort of getting sufficiently worked up about this. I might just do that.'')
A Man with the Solution
``Now we will work with businesses and communities to use the sun's energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by installing solar panels on one million more roofs around our nation by 2010. Capturing the sun's warmth can help us turn down the Earth's temperature'' (Bill Clinton to the UN environmental conference 6/26/97).