Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Celebrate Earth Day by Giving Up Eco-fads

by Todd Myers, Washington Policy Center, Director, Center for the Environment

This Earth Day we are likely to be greeted by images of Hollywood stars doing their part to save the planet. We will be encouraged to follow their lead. After all, if Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt are doing it, it can’t be just a fad, right?

The problem these days is that ecofads aren't just being embraced by celebrities, but by politicians and policymakers too. Of course we take the proclamations made by movie stars about going green with a grain of salt as we watch them jet across the globe. We understand that they are better at symbolism than substance.

Unfortunately many of the ideas advocated by pop stars find their way into policy. Not surprisingly these ideas fail to achieve the desired result and, in a number of cases, actually end up doing more harm than good.

This Earth Day we have an opportunity to move beyond environmental symbolism by rejecting ecofads and demanding policies that engage the creative economy to improve energy efficiency and environmental quality.

In 2006 Washington passed legislation requiring the use of biofuels in all vehicles. Politicians jumped at the chance to promote this trendy and popular solution.

Just two years later some significant problems have emerged.

Government subsidies cause farmers to plant on marginal land. Often it takes more energy to produce the crop than it yields in biofuel. Subsidies for biofuel exports have led overseas produces to ship biofuels to the U.S. for final mixing so their product can collect the subsidy, then be shipped overseas again. One can only imagine the additional greenhouse gas emissions involved in this remarkably counterproductive result of political efforts to jump on the biofuel bandwagon.

This is not to say that biofuels don't hold promise. The problem is that politicians looking to score quick political points fell prey to a fad and made bad decisions.

Or consider compact florescent lightbulbs.

For years environmental activists gave strong warnings about mercury in the environment, even encouraging pregnant women to avoid fish due to concerns about mercury. Even after a massive study in the British medical journal The Lancet demonstrated that fish, consumed in any quantity during pregnancy was good for the baby, activists continued to warn against the impact of mercury.

Now that climate change is the environmental cause du jour, many of those same activists are suddenly glib about the risks of mercury. Compact florescent lightbulbs (CFLs), which contain mercury, they now argue, are good for the environment. The EPA, however, provides this guidance for when one of the lightbulbs breaks: "Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one."

The City of Seattle offers subsidies to residents to buy CFLs. Meanwhile, the state is considering adding a fee for the bulbs to fund mercury disposal.

Finally, Brad Pitt isn't the only one promoting "green" buildings these days. Washington law now requires new state buildings meet the silver level of one "green" building system known as LEED. The justification for these standards, however, had more to do with following fads than science.

One reason given for supporting green buildings is that they didn't use old growth timber. This reasoning, however, is meaningless. There isn't a builder in Washington today, green or otherwise, who uses old growth lumber. Old growth is scarce and the cost is extremely high. LEED promoters don't know this, but rely instead on trendy, but incorrect, justifications for their favored policy.

As a result, "green" schools have become yet another ecofad.

Each of these approaches holds promise. The problem arises when politicians grab on to what is trendy and forget the science and economics.

Everywhere we look, market-based environmental solutions that harness market creativity and incentives are improving the efficiency of cars, reducing energy use and producing technologies that use resources more carefully (for example, aluminum cans use 35 percent less aluminum today than in 1972).

Earth Day is a good day to examine what we do to leave a sustainable legacy for the future. It is also a good day to tell policymakers to avoid ecofads that often do more damage than good.

Todd Myers is director of the Center for the Environment at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan public policy research organization in Seattle and Olympia. For more information visit

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008: Predictions of Environmental Disater Were Wrong

“By 1985...air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight
reaching the earth by one half” – Life magazine, January 1970

Seattle – Another Earth Day is upon us. This is a good time to look back at predictions made on the original Earth Day about environmental disasters that were about to hit the planet.

Most Earth Day predictions turned out to be stunningly wrong. In 1970, environmentalists said there would soon be a new ice age and massive deaths from air pollution. The New York Times foresaw the extinction of the human race. Widely-quoted biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide starvation by 1975. Documented examples are below.

On this Earth Day 2008, new predictions will again be made about looming environmental disasters about to strike our planet. If past experience is any guide, most of these predictions are wrong. People concerned about our planet’s future should be wary of statements from activists and other interested groups, so we stay focused on real environmental concerns, and don’t waste time on fearsome predictions that will never happen.

· “...civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970.

· By 1995, “...somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.

· Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor “...the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born,” Newsweek magazine, January 26, 1970.

· The world will be “...eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970.

· “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” biologist Barry Commoner, University of Washington, writing in the journal Environment, April 1970.

· “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from the intolerable deteriorations and possible extinction,” The New York Times editorial, April 20, 1970.

· “By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.

· “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.

· “...air certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.

· Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.

· “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

· “By the year 2000...the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

Our purpose on Earth Day 2008 is not simply to point out how often environmental activists have been wrong, but to learn from the mistakes made during past Earth Days. Learning from the past will give us a better understanding of our world and the threats that face it.

By being skeptical about routine portents of doom, we can stay focused on the real threats that face our planet, and on the reasonable and achievable actions we as a society can take to meet them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dino Rossi Plan -- Providing Vital Transportation Funding

The state needs a major investment to pay for important transportation projects statewide. In the past, gas tax increases have been used to fund new transportation projects. But the gas tax has run out of gas as a source of revenue. Revenues are declining as vehicle mileage improves and more people begin to drive hybrid vehicles. A new source of revenue is needed to move important transportation projects forward. Rossi will provide this necessary funding that will strengthen our economy now and in the future.

• Less than half of revenue from vehicle sales taxes

The Rossi plan will dedicate less than half (40%) of the revenue from state sales taxes on new and used vehicles for 30 years to transportation projects. This provides approximately $7.711 billion in revenue. It is logical to invest a portion of transportation associated revenue back into our transportation system.

• Stop charging state sales tax on transportation projects

The practice of charging state sales tax on transportation projects made sense decades ago when the federal government provided the majority of funding for most transportation projects. But as the burden to pay for projects has shifted more and more to the state, it is no longer practical to continue charging ourselves state sales tax. This provides approximately $2.433 billion in savings.

• Half of the current and future eastside subarea equity Sound Transit surplus

The Rossi plan will dedicate half of the current and future eastside subarea equity Sound Transit surplus to HOV projects on I-405 and S.R. 520. Sound Transit’s accruing eastside subarea surplus should be used for what it was intended - to finance transit related infrastructure on the eastside. This provides approximately $690 million.

• Reasonable tolling

Reasonable tolls on the S.R. 520 bridge will be charged as a way to help fund the new replacement bridge. Tolls may be necessary to help pay for new infrastructure, but should not be used on existing roads and bridges. Tolls will not start until the project is delivered, will only be used to pay for specific projects and will end once the project has been paid for. Tolls should not be used to control driving behaviors or as a way to force people out of their cars.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Crush or Flush Community Predicts Obama to win Pennsylvania

It is interesting to see mobile communities being used for polling. While I think the prediction is wrong, it seems to match well with the demographic who uses their cell phone for daily activities. I think we are going to see a lot more polls using cell phones for gathering information.

The Crush or Flush community of nearly one million registered mobile members in the U.S. has spoken - Obama will win Pennsylvania in the state’s primary tomorrow by a 55% to 45% margin. Over the last two weeks, Crush or Flush community members where shown two distinct branded picture profiles of both candidates asking them who will win the Pennsylvania state primary. The real time data was queried directly from our database and aggregated at a macro level to ensure the privacy of each community member.

Members also voted on which candidate was more ‘out of touch’ and which candidate was ‘more honest.’ Interestingly, Obama was considered more out of touch at 53:47 yet only slightly more honest than Clinton at 51:49. One would have expected Obama to fair better on these questions given his overall favored margin. These are the facts as we are reporting them from our database… please don’t be bitter with the results.

Crush or Flush is a social network where members meet people, chat and flirt by browsing real picture profiles and decide whether to ‘Crush’ or ‘Flush’ them. The Crush or Flush community is 59% male, 41% female, and 60% are between the ages of 18 and 30. Golden Ticket sponsored profiles consist of a photo of the brand or person and descriptive tags.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Gettysburg Address

By Abraham Lincoln

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.