Thursday, June 27, 2013

Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them

Book Review: Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them by Steve Milloy (Regnery Publishing 2009)

Though this is not the normal perspective from which my information comes it is good to get varying perspectives, even if they are overly paranoid. This book is decidedly anti-green. In fact, every possible green agenda is debunked in some way. Quantitatively I would say that about 50% of the book is over-the-top anti-green paranoia, maybe 20% is seriously worth considering, and the other 30% has some plausibility. Many important issues about how we live and rules about how we live involve determining how such living and rules will affect the environment. These are not black and white issues and there is not a thoroughly compelling consensus on a lot of them as to what is best to do. Well organized ‘green’ factions with considerable lobbying power pervade all levels of politics nowadays, for good or ill. The greens are a force that cannot be ignored and in fact must be considered in detail. However, the political greens can be quite biased, especially regarding key policy decisions. Most of the disagreements about the environment are in terms of policy determination. The questions are often: What limits do we set? How much of this or that pollutant or greenhouse gas is acceptable? How should regulation proceed? What processes should be encouraged and subsidized and which should be discouraged and penalized? What is a fair way to go? Most of the answers are not simply and there are often questions and disagreements as to the certainty of the science.

Milloy paints the green agenda as one of restriction and regulation. He sees the greens as coercing our behavior to one of conservation, reduced comfort, and reduced hope. I guess he sees the sustainability movement as a conspiracy to take away our freedoms. What he doesn’t see is how our inefficiency and recklessness with the environment has already limited the freedoms of others. He notes that green activist groups are well funded, like National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, and even the more extremist Earth Liberation Front (ELF).

Milloy, of course, is very suspicious of the reality of global warming as well as of ideas that suggest limiting economic and population growth. He seems overly concerned with we losing our standard of living, having to conserve energy. He ridicules Paul Ehrlich’s Population warnings in his 1968 book “The Population Bomb” which never came to pass- not even close. He talks about the greens politically playing on “green guilt.” I think his main concern is that he does not like being told what to do by what he perceives as a left-leaning political faction and he does have some good points there. It is all about what policies will prevail and who gets to set them. He sees reducing one’s carbon footprint as reducing economic growth and in terms of the “old” system he is right, but a new system is slowly becoming more apparent as conservation and waste reduction also mean growth – doing the same with less. He criticizes the “shadiness” of the carbon offset market promoted by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth.” He criticizes current carbon trading markets and rightly so as at the early ones in Europe did not work as planned and inadvertently benefited certain corporations. He sees the greens as a “Big Brother” aspect, especially in regards to proposals of mandatory waste reduction but taxes on consumption will probably be the eventuality. “Smart growth” and rationing will be incentivized more and more as fossil fuel supplies eventually dwindle and prices rise, at least after the current surge of resource availability slows down. Many are getting a jump on things now before full scale global warming effects kick in. While he successfully rails against Ehrlich’s blundered predictions of population growth and its implications, such growth is still most certainly taxing the earth and its resources. What he does not mention is that voluntary population reduction has occurred in several countries with educated and reasonably wealthy populations and women’s rights. These three: education, economic opportunity, and perhaps especially, women’s rights, are very important in this regard.

Many green factions campaign against the use of fossil fuels so much that any possible delaying or hindering of development is considered a victory. Some fossil fuel projects may be more potentially polluting than others but often the science is not clear-cut and much influenced by propaganda. Lawsuits from environmental groups can tie up projects for years, costing corporations heavily. Opposition to oil, gas, and coal development can mean that the U.S has to rely more on OPEC and imports, though this has not been the case in recent years due to the efficacy of shale gas (and oil) development. New refinery capacity has successfully been blocked by green groups, mainly due to unacceptable emissions levels of NO2. He complains about the expenditures (in the tens of billions) refineries have to make to comply with the Clean Air Act, and many other statutes. Perhaps if he had to live next to a refinery and have his family’s life shortened, he might think otherwise. New coal power plants have been opposed and now finally many of the oldest and dirtiest are being phased out, along with their pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But greens have also opposed natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels, as just as undesirable. Basically, it is a war against fossil fuels. But they also oppose nuclear energy and many have campaigned against wind farms – claiming that they destroy scenery. Potential wildlife habitat destruction has also been implicated in opposition to wind and solar projects. One acknowledged blunder of greens is that biofuels often cause as much or more ghg emissions as fossil fuels over the whole cycle of the process.

Milloy sees a “hidden agenda” of green policies, stating their goals as: “zero population, limiting the development of physical infrastructure, impeding economic growth, and redistributing wealth.” He also seems to think most of our energy problems are due to regulations. Both are rather paranoid assumptions. He sees greens as promoting the expansion of government and of government power over the people. He quotes George Will when he equated environmentalism with collectivism and suggested environmentalists really had an ideology agenda. While I am sure that some do have such agendas, I think Milloy’s and Will’s notion that environmentalists as a whole have a coherent plant to produce scarcity is rather ridiculous.  

He presents a chapter on the issue of car usage – gas taxes, congestion fees, promoting walking/biking/mass transit, etc. He says the greens promote road usage fees in a bid to get more cars off the road through the means of driving up the cost of driving. Reduce driving by making it more expensive. It is a form of taxing/feeing consumption. This is undeniably true but the money goes for better infrastructure and sometimes such scenarios can relieve congestion, parking, and overusage. He tackles the economics of hybrids and concludes that the payout is slow. Of course, it depends on how much one drives. For me, as a long driver, my hybrid paid out excellently – After 5 or 6 years, the gas $ savings over my previous vehicle (SUV) actually paid for the vehicle. He rallies against improving CAFÉ standards for mpg in cars and trucks with the observation that the best method for doing so is making vehicles lighter, which also makes them less safe in crashes. Of course, safety improvements in lighter vehicles should be pursued as well. He notes that greens also typically oppose highway expansions. Proposed light rail projects have been both promoted and proposed by greens for various reasons.

Next, he tackles water conservation. It should be noted that this is a regional issue – some areas have abundant freshwater, while others don’t. Chlorination of water supplies has saved lives but has also been criticized as being toxic. Tapwater is generally not trusted these days and I have lived in places where it was barely drinkable. Bottled water is equally derided by greens due to the toxicity and disposal of the plastic bottles. Better to filter at home or buy large containers of filtered water, though tapwater, and occasional bottled water are fine, methinks.

He also criticizes vegetarianism/veganism, eating locally, and the slow food movement. He rails against limiting pesticides as well, saying that they are safe at legal levels – but we all know they are dangerous at higher levels and accumulate in the soil and the bodies of human and animals. They also pollute ground, groundwater, surface water, and the ocean. These substances are designed to kill. He makes some comments against organic food, saying it is not more nutritious, that cows and chickens raised organically use more land and have more emissions that factory farms, and that chemical fertilizer use makes for greater yields on less land. What he doesn’t mention is that soil depletion is more of a problem in conventional farming. I don’t buy the argument that organic livestock has more emissions, though there may be a bit more runoff to streams. He also promotes biotech and GMOs as vastly increasing yield per acre, esp. of cotton, corn, and soy, most of which all three are now GMOs.

The section on health and safety is interesting. Often, there are tradeoffs when eliminating one dangerous thing in favor of others. After DDT was banned, more children died of malaria transmitted by mosquitoes than before. Removal of chlorine from a water supply in Peru may have been responsible for 10,000 deaths and a million illnesses. Bicycle usage may result in more accidental deaths than car usage. Removal of asbestos fire retardant may make structures more flammable. He gives an interesting account of what can happen when one breaks a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). These contain mercury and can be dangerous when broken. The recommendations for safe disposal are rather extensive. They are also supposed to be recycled – which we do. I had one break in the basement but just got it cleaned up quick – unaware that the mercury was potentially as dangerous as it is. Green campaigns against fire retardants may make houses more flammable and burn faster. Removing dead and damaged wood from areas prone to forest fires to limit fuel for potential wild fires has been regarded by environmentalists as a pretext for logging. He repudiates the link between mercury and autism, though now the mercury-containing thimerosol is no longer used in vaccines. He gives a blurb also on the prospects of “geo-engineering” – putting aerosols like dust or sulfate particles in the atmosphere to cool the planet – Bill Gates is actually working on such schemes – or adding iron to the ocean to encourage the growth of CO2-removing plankton. He notes that some effects of this may be unknown and could go awry.

In a section about greenism as “Big Brother”, the author notes the abhorrence given to so-called global warming deniers, with calls to hold them publically accountable. While I have studied climate for some time and agree that climate change is a very large potential problem, it is by no means clear how, how fast, when, and where things will play out and policy issues are still very much debatable. He speaks of green government micro-regulating our lives.

Milloy parodies green-ism to seem much like a cult where people are indoctrinated by the key messages of the movement. Of course, that could be said for any movement. Basically, I think he is saying that they are promoting their biases as official doctrine, or perhaps they are providing a clear message with clear scenarios that can be easily followed. Of course, the exact same thing can and has been said of global warming skeptics. He points to what I call “greener-than-though” attitudes and the good/bad dichotomy of seeing various factions as saving or harming the earth. The truth is we are all harming the earth and we all can help save or heal it. He also goes on about the invasiveness and inconvenience of things like garbage and recycling rules.

He has a section on the invasiveness and harshness of environmental law, referring to some EPA Clean Water Act enforcements of inadvertent wetlands disturbances in the 1990’s. He depicts EPA enforcement (some of whose agents are armed) as a kind of green police force. He says laws can promote “green vigilantism” though most of such things do little damage.

Also mentioned (parodied, criticized) are various “eco-monks” (those who live on little), the eco-elite – rich people whose jet-travel carbon footprint alone dwarves the entire footprint of most humans, and the land-grabbing business tactics of groups like the Nature Conservancy. He picks on the easy targets like Al Gore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Richard Branson. Google and Arnold Schwarzenegger are others. He also criticizes T. Boone Pickens’ wind energy plan which was all but shattered by increased supply and lower prices of natural gas. Of course, he blames green conservation policies and regulation as driving up the cost of energy – but money does need to be spent to mitigate pollution and ensure safety. He also rails against green CEOs and green lending guidelines.

He rightly criticizes the Kyoto Protocol as potentially giving certain countries such as France, who rely more on nuclear energy, and Europe as a whole, a competitive advantage over the U.S. in terms of fuel prices. There are other reasons too that the KP disfavors the U.S. and many environmentalists have also acknowledged that such is the case. Developing countries like China and India may also get an advantage but with current pollution problems in China, the benefits of regulation are beginning to become apparent. Notions of “global governance”, promoted by some European heads of state regarding environmental policies are also dismissed as biased against the U.S. He even denies that the banning of CFCs and the subsequent re-thickening of the ozone layer did any real environmental good!

He rails against ideas of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as being manipulated by green activism but most I think would disagree with that as his arguments are weak here. He also criticizes the “Equator Principles” adopted by several prominent banks to evaluate loans on the basis of potential social and environmental consequences and concludes that such ideas impede economic progress and profitability. Of course, it is much easier to make money by avoiding environmental regulations and mistreating employees and local citizens – at least in the short term, but backlashes to such inconsideration can eventually hurt profitability as well. Of course, he criticizes any company seeking to improve the climate at the expense of profits. He refers to environmental protection as a “luxury” most available in the context of free market economics. He mentions Paul Driessen’s dubbing of green policies as a form of “eco-imperialism”. He also criticizes the greening of the U.S. military – the biggest single user of energy, even though many prominent military strategists support the innovative energy conservation policies coming about.

He devotes a whole chapter to Obama, as the first green president and notes his endorsements by the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. While he strongly criticizes what he thought to be some of Obama’s early environmental proposals, these did not come to pass in such a way and Obama has been more guarded in approaching energy and environmental policies than he depicts. He is correct about Obama’s push to phase out coal-burning power plants, as many environmentalists concur that phasing out the dirtiest of fossil fuels when there are currently abundant cleaner and often cheaper alternatives (natural gas), is a good idea. His prediction that Obama’s policies would lead to higher electric prices has not come to pass. Milloy also advocates against developing a “smart grid” which he says would include “smart metering” or the government regulating electric usage, though that is unlikely. He is, of course, critical of Obama’s first-term push for “green collar jobs” that can’t be outsourced. He compares it to a Depression-era public works program. But over the last 5 years we have not been forced to “live small” as he suggests. Though he bitches about pollution abatement required by the EPA and statutes such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, it cannot be argued that these laws have not improved our air and water. He makes fun of efforts to make cellulosic ethanol. He derides efforts to green the bailout during Obama’s first term.

He notes that green policies can be economically debilitating, although in reality such things as the current focus on energy efficiency and recycling can payout quickly and quite well. He sees the alarmist (must act now) factions of global warming alarmism as coercive and rebels by debunking anything and everything. He believes the greens are very well organized, well-funded, and over-represented in government, though many greens think the opposite. He cites polls where green policies are not favored. He fears “sweeping governmental reforms” proposed by the greens but that is unlikely the way I see it. He sees all green policy as advocating Big Government. His notion that organic agriculture is more wasteful, less sustainable, and more fossil-fuel intensive than conventional agriculture, misses the whole point of organic farming – reducing soil depletion, eating food without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, crop rotation, etc. Though yield per acre may be better in conventional agriculture, it comes at a cost. He sees green buzzwords like “smart” and “optimum” as catchy, hard to disagree-with depictions that put detractors immediately on the defensive.

Milloy recommends anti-green grassroots activism. He tells a rather humorous story where he was eating ice cream at a Ben & Jerry’s and noticed their statement about dioxin – that no levels of it are acceptable. But knowing that some dioxin is released whenever any organic materials are burned, it is commonly in the environment all over the place. They had the level of dioxin measured in some of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and found it to be 200 times the EPA safe level and presented their results at the Dioxin 2000 conference. I think the key point here is that clever soundbites and headlines about this or that harm are not always as they appear and many of these complex issues require much study and consideration, especially in determining which policies are best. He sees the greens as seeing themselves on a “higher moral plane” (again the greener-than-thou notion). Of course, he is in favor of expanded coal usage, tar sands, oil shales, and other of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel. Perhaps he should go to China to the smoggiest cities where inefficient coal-burning power plants without pollution-control devices are shortening lives and starting to piss people off – if he wants to see how his own vision would work. Milloy represents the formidable force of the anti-green faction with his It may not be accurate much of the time but it is a balancing force against the potential runaway power of green policies, and one that should be taken into consideration.

While this book may seem ill-informed and silly to some, it does raise many issues that we should consider. Many of these issues do not lend clear indications of what policies should be. Biased factions, both green and non-green, seem to get the most airplay but compromise, collaboration, and consideration of the views of others are important.

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