Archive for Environment

Who Benefits From Eating Turtles? Turtles!

Dave Killion — August 2, 2012


This is a beautiful animation illustrating the life cycle of sea turtles, the challenges they face, and some of the ways in which human endeavour has supposedly increased those challenges. Beach development, poaching, plastic refuse, long lines, nets, oil… all are held to be responsible for decreasing the turtle survival rate from 10% of each nest to 1%. But we know this cannot be true, because populations of many animals (pigs, cows, chickens, etc.) flourish even in the face of development, pollution, theft, and chemicals.

In order for sea turtle populations to recover, it is necessary to eliminate those legal barriers which have criminalized the trade in turtles. Once the profit motive has been restored, sea turtles will be bred in such numbers that pressure on wild populations will dwindle to almost nothing, and the oceans will one day again be thick with these amazing creatures.

The Market Vs. The State

Dave Killion — July 17, 2012

Has The Economist slipped on the banana peel of logic?

“Between 2006 and 2012 gas went from providing 20% of America’s electricity to nearly 25%, mainly at the expense of coal. Cheap gas and environmental legislation under the Clean Air Act, aimed at emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and mercury (but not carbon dioxide) from dirty coal plants, accelerated a trend that is set to continue. For decades coal had provided well over half America’s electricity. In 2011 coal-generated power was down to 42%, its lowest level since at least 1949, when records began. The EIA says the switch will speed up in 2012, with coal falling to just 36% of the total.

Gas has wrought some remarkable changes. Over the past five years America has recorded a decline in greenhouse-gas emissions of 450m tonnes, the biggest anywhere in the world. Ironically, given its far greater effort to tackle climate change, the European Union has seen its emissions rise, partly because its higher gas prices (linked to oil) have led to an increase in coal-fired power generation.”

If you’re looking for me, I’m at the corner of Perplexed Street and Confused Avenue. If the more heavily regulated EU has had rising emissions, why include regulation as one of the reasons emissions have fallen in the US? Is it not more likely that regulation in North America would also have led to higher emissions, had they not been offset by declines brought about by the market forces which have led to lower gas prices? The trend suggests to me that there should be a decrease in government regulation, and a more strict protection of market regulation. Then we might see some real progress.

Happy News

Dave Killion — July 16, 2012

From the time I started school in the late ’60s, I have heard an endless procession of apocalyptic environmental predictions, none of which have materialized to any great extent. We still have trees, and copper, and oil. Air and water quality have been improving in more and more areas, and not only have mass extinctions failed to materialize, many endangered animal populations are rebounding and repopulating areas from which they had disappeared. In some cases, bad government stewardship has been replaced  by better government stewardship, and in other cases private citizens, pursuing either profit or personal satisfaction, have been the driving force. For example –

Return of the King Salmon

Can Brown Bears Survive in the Pyrenees?

Bialowieza Forest – Remarkable Remnant of Europe’s Primeval Past

We only hear one story like these for every thousand predictions of doom, but you can’t sell newspapers or get research funding by saying things are getting better. So, try not to be disheartened. Things are better than some people want us to believe.

Free Markets Are Good For The Environment

Dave Killion — July 12, 2012

Original image here.


Dave Killion — July 4, 2012

In my experience, few people appreciate the role of liberty in promoting resource conservation. In a free enterprise system, competition provides a never-ending impetus for market participants to produce more goods with fewer resources. At Slate, Seth Stevenson gives us a real-life example when he seeks the answer to “Why Are Poland Spring Bottles So Crinkly?” –

“If you’ve bought a bottle of spring water recently—a little, half-liter one, the single serve kind—you may have noticed how fragile it was. Cellophane-thin walls, so easy to squish and crinkle. Tiny, fiddly caps that seem to come off without any effort. Why have these bottles become so insubstantial?

The answer: environmentally friendly operations. Or, less charitably but perhaps more accurately, operations that cut down on raw material use and, along the way, have environmentally pleasant side benefits.

Often, we think of operations management as a quest simply to cut costs, or speed up processes, in the name of ever-larger profits. And it is that. But when companies tweak their operations to save money, they often end up having a positive environmental impact as well.”

Not only are the new bottles better for the environment relative to what they used to be, they are also less resource consumptive than the pop and juice bottles with which they compete. So despite complaints that bottled water is bad for the ecology, to the extent that they motivate people to choose water instead of another beverage, they lessen the damage caused by other containers. Free enterprise is just full of win!

Harbingers of Happiness, Returned

Dave Killion — May 11, 2012

Who's a pretty boy!

Here’s a letter to the Times-Colonist –

Your happy article on the reintroduction of western bluebirds (My nest or yours? May 11) was marred by the perpetuation of some myths concerning the disappearance of these beauties from our locality. Before blaming competition from introduced species, or loss of habitat, it is wise to consider why such phenomena do nothing to reduce the population of zebra finches, turkeys, budgies, or chickens. It takes only a moment to realize that the difference resides in who controls the property rights over these animals.

Amongst birds that can be privately owned and traded, populations flourish. But where collective ownership is the rule and trade is prohibited, reliance on government stewardship has consistently led to disaster. It is in the best interests of neither wildlife nor humanity to place the responsibility for bluebirds, marmots, or any other vulnerable creature into the hands of agents who lack both the knowledge and the incentives to optimally manage them. The results speak for themselves.

Criminal Animals

Dave Killion — April 25, 2012

My work entails leaving the office at about 10:00 to drive around to various locations. That’s the time our local CBC network hosts “Q with Jian Ghomeshi“. On Monday, Jian opened the show by talking about foxes that have been causing destruction at the London 2012 Olympic shooting venue. Here is the BBC on the topic.

Everything was fine until right up near the end, when Jian goes and says something about the area actually belonging to the foxes because they were there first. That they have a right to be there.

Here in Victoria, one hears that sort of thinking a lot, because there is an invasive deer problem that inevitably spurs debate about a cull, and bear and cougar are regularly sighted in the suburbs and even downtown. Any discussion of the topic is sure to result in a letter to the editor from someone proclaiming the animals’ rights. I think this is a little confused.

Human beings unquestionably have rights. When one of us violates the rights of someone else, then the violator is subject to the loss of some of his own rights. If animals also have rights, then why would it be expected that we must respect their rights while permitting them to violate ours? We wouldn’t do that with another human being. If someone came onto your property and destroyed your landscaping, you would say he’s a criminal. But would you charge a deer with trespass, theft, and vandalism? Of course not. In fact, someone who is sufficiently dismissive of the rights of others is viewed by society as no different than an animal. So I think we can dismiss the notion that animals should be treated as if they have rights. For the most part, we don’t even treat each other that way.

Climate Change Denial

Dave Killion — April 22, 2012

Alberta will be having a provincial election next week, and there is a good chance that Wildrose – the province’s most libertarian party other than the Alberta Libertarian Party – will come out on top. Recently, party leader Danielle Smith made headlines for talking about the weather

“The woman leading a front-running party in Alberta’s provincial election has cast doubt on the widely-accepted scientific theory that human activity is a leading cause of global warming.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith made the comment in an online leaders debate organized by two Alberta newspapers.

“We have always said the science isn’t settled and we need to continue to monitor the debate,” said Smith in response to a direct question from a reader.

In my experience, the folks concerned about climate change usually have four positions –

1) Climate change is happening

2) People are causing it (or exacerbating it)

3) It is going to have catastrophic consequences

4) It can be prevented (or mitigated) by speedy, robust government action

If you are not a climate scientist, but rather, a fiscal libertarian like Smith (or I), I don’t think you should even enter into discussions concerning the first three items. Science is hard, and very few of us have the time, education, or experience to evaluate all the information on this matter. More importantly, we don’t need to, because no matter the nature or degree of the threat, our response to it should be the same.

Humanity is eternally facing any number of apocalyptic threats; climate, meteor strikes, volcanoes, pandemics, and so on. The real question is whether the state is the proper agent for evaluating and acting against these threats. And the real answer is ‘No’. Not only do state actors lack the knowledge and the incentives to handle such matters optimally, but there is also the immorality of using coercive action through government. When collective action is required in the face of adversity, people do best when we rely on persuasion and voluntary interaction. And that’s the case Smith should be making.

Good News

Dave Killion — April 13, 2012

Feeding polar bears is expensive!

Polar bears have declined to cooperate with predictions regarding the imminent collapse of their populations –

“The debate about climate change and its impact on polar bears has intensified with the release of a survey that shows the bear population in a key part of northern Canada is far larger than many scientists thought, and might be growing…

…The study shows that “the bear population is not in crisis as people believed,” said Drikus Gissing, Nunavut’s director of wildlife management. “There is no doom and gloom.”

The subpopulation under discussion is over 60% more numerous than had been forecast. Environmental activists and researchers have reacted to the positive news with great delight.

Just kidding. Despite the good news, activists claim things are even worse than we feared! –

“…some details in the survey pointed to a bear population in trouble. For example, the survey identified 50 cubs, which are usually less than 10 months old, and 22 yearlings, roughly 22 months old. That’s nearly one-third the number required for a healthy population, (University of Alberta  professor of biological science Andrew Derocher) said. “This is a clear indication that this population is not sustaining itself in any way, shape, or form.”

Having been exposed to every sort of eco-hysteria since beginning school in the 1960s, and seeing as none of it has materialized, I am confident that it is only a matter of time before these ravenous beasts are so numerous there will be people advocating some sort of polar bear birth control program. Remember you heard it here first.

The Fracking Facts

Dave Killion — March 18, 2012

Having yesterday expressed my admiration for the ingenuity and creativity of humanity, I thought everyone might enjoy an example. Here is a very nice, clear explanation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling –

I was recently horrified to find that many members of the book club had a dim view of fracking, having heard very little of it outside of the (largely misleading) material the mainstream media offers, and having seen the notorious scene from ‘Gasland‘ in which a Colorado resident ignites his flowing tap water. Kevin D. Williamson, of the National Review Online, has also seen it, and here’s what he has to say

“The weird true thing is that water has been catching fire for a long time — “long time” here meaning way back into the mists of obscure prehistory and the realm of legend. The temple of the Oracle of Delphi was built on the site of a burning spring said to have been discovered by a bewildered goatherd around 1000 b.c., and sundry antique heathens across the Near East had rituals related to burning bodies of water. The geographically minded among you will appreciate that there are several places in the United States named “Burning Springs,” including prominent ones in such energy-intensive locales as Kentucky and West Virginia. There’s a Burning Springs in New York, too, and 17th-century missionaries wrote in awe about Indians’ setting fire to the waters of Lake Erie and nearby streams. Water wells were catching fire in Pennsylvania as early as the 18th century, well before anybody was fracking for gas.”

If you read Williamson’s whole article (and you should) you will find out that people in that particular Colorado community have been able to light their water on fire since the 1930s, and that Colorado’s gas regulators have publicly debunked the assertion that fracking was responsible for the situation. Fracking has its costs, no question, but these are minute in comparison to the benefits it makes available to us.