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Thank you, John Sterling

Green Projects Are Hogging Resources

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The environmental left has been relentless with their efforts to shape public policy and opinion in favor of renewable energy sources while waging all out war on the oil, natural gas, and coal industries.  Over the last several decades, the radical left has convinced politicians as well as the voters to support vast amounts of taxpayer funded research, direct subsidies of green technology, and more recently mandated use of green energy sources.  


But green projects, proposesd in the name of conserving resources, are really resources hogs.    

It seems that whenever the smart guys in government implement policies to save us from ourselves and make the world a better place, we get stuck with the bill as well as a whole new set of problems that they created.  As time passes, the body of evidence continues to mount that much of the radical left's claims were overstated, half-truths, and in some cases outright lies.  

Just in the last few days, we came across the following four reports that show yet again that all the homage paid to the green gods has not resulted in the benefits promised, and often creates a whole new set of problems.   

Outsourcing Carbon Emissions

The global warming alarmists have long promoted government policies designed to reduce a given nation's total greenhouse gas emissions.  That was an objective of the Kyoto Accord, and indeed, considerable hoopla surrounded a claim that since 1990 developed nations had reduced emissions by 2 percent.  But, as is often the case, there is more to the story.  

H. Sterling Burnett of the Heartland Institute reports on the findings of a study conducted by the Centre for International Climate and environmental Research in Oslo, Norway that "emissions from increased production of internationally traded products have more than offset the emissions reductions achieved under Kyoto Protocol."  


As developed nations began manufacturing less and importing more of the goods they consumed they were effectively outsourcing emissions to foreign countries; typically nations with environmental standards below the participants in Kyoto.  China alone accounts for 75 percent of the world's outsourced emissions and 75 percent of the growth in global emissions during the past decade.  With an export-based economy, China produces far more emissions that any other nation.

When the emissions from the manufacture and transport of imported goods are figured into the equation, the study found that total global emissions from the developed nations actually increased as much as 12 percent since 1990, rather than the 2 percent decline often cited.  "This shows the difficulty in reducing emissions overall," according to Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  "It's like squeezing a balloon – squeeze on one end, and the other end blows up." 

Economic Benefits Outweigh Environmental Impacts of Shale Drilling 

The radical environmentalist's favorite new target is the technology called hydraulic fracturing (fracing) that has been around since the 1940s and used on millions of oil and gas wells to unlock trapped energy reserves.  Radical leftists claim fracing could pose grave environmental risks, particularly to water.  However, several exhaustive studies by the EPA determined that the fracing poses "little or no threat to (underground drinking water)."  Further, the EPA could find "no confirmed cases" of water well contamination or underground movement of the fracing fluid.  None of that has stopped the lefties who aren't about to let the facts get in their way.  Their objective is to shut down the whole fossil fuel industry.  


As with virtually any human activity, there is some degree of environmental surface impact and the occasional accident does happen when wells are drilled.   Three researchers at the Manhattan Institute in New York decided to analyze the real amount of risk compared to the backend reward for increased domestic production. 

The scientists studied the Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania where fracing has been used extensively for over 60 years.  They found that the "typical Marcellus shale well generates about $4 million in economic benefits while generating only $14,000 in economic damages from environmental impacts."  That is a ratio of 1:285.  Almost anybody would jump at the opportunity for that kind of return on investment.  But, then, the anti-oil and gas crowd is also the anti-free market capitalism crowd.  They pretty much just dislike everything that makes sense for America.  

Renewable Energy Sources Require Vast Amounts of Natural Resources

What's wrong with this picture?  Green energy was supposed to purify us of our decadent ways and make us more responsible stewards of our natural resources.  

For sure, the two most obvious renewable energy resources available are wind and sunlight, and they are free and continuously replenished.  But, the conversion of them into large amounts of energy requires vast amounts of natural resources, most notably land. 


In an op-ed for the New York Times, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute analyzed ramifications of California's highly ambitious mandate that will require one-third of all the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.   Bryce put a pencil to the challenge.  

One third of California's electricity is about 17,000 megawatts.  Bryce supposed that California's mandate might be split evenly between solar and wind.  That's a bunch.  Already under construction in the Mojave Desert is the $2 billion Ivanpah solar plant.  It will cover 3,600 acres of land; about 5 ½ square miles.  When complete it will provide just 370 megawatts.  To meet just half of the mandated requirement of the new legislation – 8500 megawatts – 23 Ivanpahs would have to be built covering 129 square miles, about five times the size of Manhattan.    

The enormous land requirements for a renewable energy facility create additional environmental concerns.  For example, in April, the Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction at Ivanpah out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act.  

If the other half of energy required by California's renewable mandate comes from wind generation, the land requirements are even greater.   The Roscoe wind farm in Texas covers 154 square miles and has a capacity of 781.5 megawatts.   At that rate, California would need 1,675 square miles covered with wind turbines.  That's considerably bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island.  


In addition to California, 28 other states (including my Colorado) have adopted mandated requirements for renewable energy sources.  "In the rush to do something – anything - to deal with the intractable problem of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental groups and policy makers have determined that renewable energy is the answer," Bryce says.  But, he adds, in doing so they have "thrown in the ditch" was the deeply held essence of environmental protection advanced by the economist E. F. Schumacher; "Small is beautiful."  

To be true to the stated objective of reducing greenhouse gases and true environmental stewardship, Bryce says policy makers and activists "must exploit low-carbon energy sources" – natural gas and nuclear power.  "They have small footprints," he concludes.  

Biofuels Responsible for Surge in Food Prices

Food prices are escalating in the U.S. and that's a problem, particularly for the increasing number of families that are cash strapped.  However, globally the price escalation of basic commodities has international agencies like the United Nations warning of a food crisis.  Analysts are trying to figure out what is behind the rapid surge in prices. 

According to Timothy Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University, supply isn't the problem.  In the July 2011 issue of Scientific American, Searchinger says the spike in prices is almost totally due to demand created by government mandated use of biofuels.


Since 2004 biofuels from crops have almost doubled the rate of growth in global demand for grain and sugar and pushed up the yearly growth in demand for vegetable oil by around 40 percent.  When crops like corn and soybeans utilize more acreage, it restricts acres normally dedicated to other crops driving up those prices, too.  In the U.S. about 40% of all corn is used for ethanol production.  

"Our primary obligation is to feed the hungry.  Biofuels are undermining our ability to do so," Searchinger determined.  "Governments can stop the recurring pattern of food crises by backing off their demands for ever more biofuels."   

We've dedicated numerous columns to the problems and myths surrounding the false promises and unintended consequences of chasing the renewable energy gods and ethanol, in particular.  Government mandates have artificially raised the price of food, farm land, and fuel.  When the bubble finally bursts, it won't be the politicians and environmentalists who get burned, it will be the innocent families that got stuck with the bill and farmers left holding the bag when the inflated prices collapse. 

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