Saturday, November 17, 2007

Politics of the damned?

When I moved to Kentucky the first time (in 1975) I was given a postcard with a humorous poem about life in Kentucky. The final line of the poem is "the politics are the damnedest in Kentucky." During every one of the nearly 19 years that I've lived in this state, I've seen lots of supporting evidence for that statement, but the performance of state representative Jim Gooch (Democrat from Providence, KY) tops the list. In his capacity as chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee (!!) Gooch organized a hearing to dispute the idea that the Earth is warming.

Chairman Jim Gooch, D-Providence, a longtime ally of the coal industry, said
he purposefully did not invite anyone who believes in global warming to
"You can only hear that the sky is falling so many times," said
Gooch, whose post makes him the House Democrats' chief environmental strategist.
"We hear it every day from the news media, from the colleges, from
Hollywood." (Lexington Herald-Leader Thurs. Nov. 15, 2007 )

Neither of the two speakers invited were scientists because Rep. Gooch said "It really wasn't my intention to get into so much science today."

I spotted this story in the Herald-Leader while waiting for my car to be serviced. (Thank you, AutoWorks of Whitesburg for always having a current newspaper in the waiting area!). When I got to work, I searched the article out on-line. The most interesting aspect of reading the article on line was perusing the comments posted by readers.

My favorite comment, by Tom Burns was "I believe the large vacant cavity that is
Jim Gooch's skull is a prime location for trapping carbon dioxide."
The sad thing about the comments is that a significant minority of posters applauded Gooch, and echoed the speakers sentiments that the only thing "only thing man made about global warming is the hysteria." A line used in several variations by many of the posters in agreement with Gooch and his invited speakers.


E. R. Dunhill said...

I’m all for frank discussions on the subject, including the underlying science and the economic implications. Many people on both sides still don’t understand the problem and continue to think that this is a partisan issue. But, it’s pathetic that anyone would claim to rebut scientific conclusions without the use of science, and frustrating that so many people identify with this approach because it supports a particular outcome.

Sue said...

erd, you are absolutely right, there does need to be lots of open discussion on the issue of global warming. Among scientists there are still many open questions about the mechanisms of climate, how much contribution from different factors, what specific consequences will there be and where will they happen.
For those of us who are not climate scientists, there is also much to discuss -- what types of options (politically and economically) for response do we have, how do we envision a new path, how can we minimize the human pain, and maximize the climate benefits, how do we choose between various options?

E. R. Dunhill said...

More and more I see the internalization of economic externalities as a huge piece of this puzzle. People must recognize en masse the tangible value that is being lost, destroyed, and given for free. Free-market thinkers have a sound philosophy in many respects. The problem is that the anti-climate change mantra does not actually advocate a level playing-field. Rather it advocates continuing to turn-over common property to a few, without any compensation to the owners. I'm just not sure yet how to get others to understand that pollution has a real, tangible, bottom-line cost.

Sue said...

erd, the problem of internalizing externalities is indeed at the root of many environmental issues. A key factor is the separation that exists between those that economically benefit (profits or wages) from an activity, and those that pay the price of the externality (poorer health, quality of life). Some times the separation is merely geographic, but often it is both geographic and a matter of social inequality. That suggests that solving the environmental problem also requires solving the inequality problem, something that Lester Brown addresses in Plan B 2.0. I think some of the things that Professive have been writing about, specifically the ideas of Shellenberger and Nordhaus, are pointing in the right direction. Economic issues of equity and jobs have to be addressed in tandem with environmental issues. There are some grassroots groups that do this -- I've involved with one here in Kentucky called Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. I'm sure there are others out there as well.

Jessica G said...

This (I believe) is a prime example of overshoot and collapse...

In regards to Rep. Gooch...the sky is falling. Did he not notice Africa? Wait. Why would he concern himself with Africa when he's too busy with big coal in Kentucky.

"Economic issues of equity and jobs have to be addressed in tandem with environmental issues."
I could not agree more. The environmental issues normally directly effect the poorest people who are normally ignored and brushed to the side, along with the environmental issues.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Lest I forget: I'll have to work Lester Brown into my reading plan. I can recommend Peter Barnes' Capitalism 3.0, and I'm finally inching my way through the Harvard Business Review on Business & the Environment. The HBR titles never disappoint.
I'm still not sure how to connect the dots on actually internalizing some of the most significant externalities. Existing large business interests are doing an effective job of convincing many conservatives and fence-sitters that anyone who uses the word "environment" is a stupid hippie. I'm just not sure how to communicate that these firms are not asking to be left free to run their businesses; they're asking for the continuation of huge handouts from the government and from the general public. Efficiency, closed-loop processes, and biomimicry comprise the seeds of an industrial revolution, one which has the potential to make a great many people wealthy, employ many others, and reduce disputes over certain resources.
The concern I keep coming back to though, is that of ownership. The Lovinses, Hawken, McDonough, Braungart, &c, advocate a shift toward producers providing services, not selling products. From a design and material-cycling standpoint, this makes excellent sense. But, it means that the end-consumer does not enjoy the economic benefit of ownership; the consumer simply pays ad infinitum. We need to rethink our financial products and services as we advance into such an economy.

Sue said...

Hi Jessica, as always nice to have you stop by!

Sue said...

erd, Brown's Plan B 2.0 has some very specific ideas about how to deal with externalities (but not how to get people to agree politically with those ideas!), and has detailed notes on the cost of varous plans (and how eliminating the existing subsidies can pay for the new programs). Brown likens the effort to deal with AGW to the mobilization by the U.S. and other western powers during World War II (an analogy that you made previously on another post comment so you should find Brown's work interesting).

In talking about a shift from products to services, you suggested that "it means that the end-consumer does not enjoy the economic benefit of ownership; the consumer simply pays ad infinitum." It will take me a while to think about this to come to a thorough response, but my first thought is that The right kind of "services" would transfer knowledge and skills that are "ownable" as much as material objects are ownable. And while I can see practical value to "owning" a car (i.e., I don't have to ask anyone's permission to go someplace or follow any one elses time table), I'm not sure that the "economic" value of the vehicle (which one still does have to pay and pay and pay for -- gas gets consumed, repairs have to be made, insurance has to be paid) is at all greater than the economic value of regular, reliable, and well designed public transporation would be. One notices that in New York which does have an effective public transporation system, middle class people often do not bother to own cars (at least not at the same rate per population) as the rest of the nation.

E. R. Dunhill said...

My concern over ownership is this:
Using again the case of a car, one economic benefit of owner ship is that the first costs ultimately provide the owner with an asset. At the end of making car payments, the owner still enjoys the benefit of using the car. Moreover, the owner may ultimately recover some portion of that first cost by selling the vehicle. The car, whether owned by the user or by a service, requires fuel and maintenance either way; this is a cost that will be covered by the user in either event. As long as Americans long for the suburbs or a faux-rural lifestyle, solutions like Zipcar aren’t use-competitive with owning a car. In such scenarios, the use-case that is the best match for owning a car is leasing a car. The places I really see the ownership gap are those activities in which the level of use is unlikely to change.
Zipcar (and other solutions that change the level of use) is a great solution for many people. As with many green solutions, there is a generation gap. C’est la vie. I also think Americans need to get their heads around public transportation. This issue seems to be less generational to me. Again, I’m not quite sure how to cross the divide in thinking.
All of this said, I had a bit of an “a ha”, the other day. While riding the train home from the office, it occurred to me that the co-op may be a great model for solving the ownership problem in some cases. In such a model, user=owner, to some extent.

Sue said...

erd -- your last comment suggests to me a response too long to include in the comments area so I'm doing a new post ("Cost of Owning a Car?" December 2, 2007).