Let’s call a thing what it is shall we, a spade is a spade after all

It’s not so much the pettifogging that annoys, although there is a tinge of that, it’s the hijacking of an honourable description that really irks:

A typical household has 40 plastic carrier bags stashed away at home, ministers have claimed, as new figures showed the number of bags used by shoppers rose for the fifth year running.
British shoppers took home more than 8.5 billion single-use carrier bags from supermarkets in 2014, 200 million more than in the previous year, figures from charity WRAP show.

Charity: the giving of money to aid mariners in peril on the seas perhaps. Or alms to house the destitute. But the most important part of the description is voluntary.

Following the review we worked closely with Defra to develop a programme of work, in line with sharpening our
strategic focus, that will make a significant contribution to helping the UK achieve its environmental objectives
and obligations, such as achieving the 50% household recycling rates by 2020, but at less cost. As a result grant
funding from Defra for 2014/15 has been confirmed at £17.6m (2013/14: £25.7m), expected to reduce to £15.5m
in 2015/16.

Financial Results for 2013/14

WRAP‟s total income for 2013/14 was £65.4m (2012/13: £63.2m) of which the majority (98.9%) was grant
funding from government and EU sources. Although the underlying grant funding from Defra reduced compared
to the previous year, the addition of the Resource Efficient Scotland programme and the timing of activity in EU
funded grant schemes, notably the ARID capital grant scheme in Wales, resulted in a marginal increase in total
income.

This is not a charity. This is a tax funded arm of the central bureaucracy. As such it most certainly isn’t voluntary.

It has to be said that a caring society would indeed have a place in it for those who get their kicks counting plastic bag hoarding by household. But it’s not entirely obvious that those working hard on the minimum wage should be charged tax to pay for it. Perhaps it should be paid for, voluntarily, in a charitable manner, by those who share this minority taste?

At which point we are going to revert to calling a spade a spade. WRAP is not a charity, it is a collection of tax leeches.

Opposing environment-friendly rice with higher yields

The MIT Technology Review reports that scientists have produced a genetically modified rice strain that emits far less methane than traditional varieties.  It emits one thirtieth as much in summer and half as much in winter.  It does this because a single gene from barley has been inserted to make the plant yield 43% more grain per plant, so less carbon goes into the roots and the soil to be converted by microbes into methane.

Despite its enhanced yield and lower greenhouse gas emission, it is estimated that it could be 10-20 years before it becomes available to farmers.  This is because scientists will have to use traditional breeding methods to produce a rice that is scientifically the same, including the same gene.  As Chuanxin Sun, the report’s senior author, puts it: 

“Right now of course it’s a GMO issue, and we cannot deliver this variety directly to farmers. We have to use traditional breeding methods and breed the new, society-acceptable variety for farmers.”

It is thanks to completely unwarranted scare stories from environmental groups that progress in genetic modification has been held back.  Millions of children have suffered blindness or death because of opposition to ‘golden rice’ modified to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, to combat a shortage of dietary vitamin A in some areas.

Millions more live at precarious subsistence levels because they are denied access to GM crops with enhanced yield or greater saline or drought resistance.  Innumerable field tests have failed to show adverse effects on humans, yet many in the environmental lobby campaign for all GMOs to be rejected.  They do not hesitate to trample down experimental crops planted with the support of democratically elected governments.

Many of the NGOs will undoubtedly oppose the new rice, despite its hugely increased yield and smaller environmental footprint.  Scare stories are what they do, and they keep the subscriptions and donations rolling in.

From the Rockefeller Lancet report

Only a minor little point but symptomatic of how people really don’t quite get the basics sometimes. The Lancet has teamed up with the Rockefeller foundation bods to tell us all that we’d better have global environmental socialism real soon now or Aieee! We’re All Gonna Die!

We think we’ve been told this before really.

They talk about the joys of the circular economy and seem to miss rather an important point about it:

Several essential steps need to be taken to transform the economy to support planetary health. These steps include the reduction of waste through the production of products that are more durable and require lower quantities of materials and less energy to manufacture than those that are being produced at present; the incentivisation of recycling, re-use, and repair; and the substitution of hazardous materials with safer alternatives. These changes will necessitate innovations in design and manufacture that capitalise on the potential restorative powers of natural systems combined with strategies to reduce overall demand for resources that greatly damage the environment during the course of their extraction, production, use, or disposal—leading ultimately to the circular economy (panel 1; figure 19).11 Importantly, such a transformation could also bring benefits to health and wellbeing if occupational health standards are adhered to, including through reduced amounts of air, water, and soil pollution; increased employment opportunities; and changes in diet and physical activity.

It’s that “increased employment opportunities”. That’s a synonym for “everyone has to work harder”. And that’s really not a development that we’re happy about having. For the aim and point of this having an economy thing is that we minimise the amount of human labour that has to be performed thus maximising the amount of human leisure that can be enjoyed. The basic problem here being of course that all too many people don’t realise that jobs, employment, these are not benefits of a plan, they are costs of one.

Yes, it’s only one small point taken from a large and long report. But it is symptomatic of their lack of knowledge about how economics works. That lost more people are going to have to work reprocessing our rubbish is not a good part of their plan, it is a cost of their plan.

Energy efficiency isn’t quite as efficient as it’s cracked up to be

It’s true that this information is from the US. It’s also true that this shows more than a dash of Hayek’s “fatal conceit”. The idea that the clever people can plan things for us and we’ll all go off and do them just as we’re planned to do. Human beings don’t really work like that which is why planning so often fails. But to the information itself: energy efficiency programmes don’t have the effects the planners thought they would:

Conventional wisdom suggests that energy efficiency (EE) policies are beneficial because they induce investments that pay for themselves and lead to emissions reductions. However, this belief is primarily based on projections from engineering models. This paper reports on the results of an experimental evaluation of the nation’s largest residential EE program conducted on a sample of more than 30,000 households. The findings suggest that the upfront investment costs are about twice the actual energy savings. Further, the model-projected savings are roughly 2.5 times the actual savings. While this might be attributed to the “rebound” effect – when demand for energy end uses increases as a result of greater efficiency – the paper fails to find evidence of significantly higher indoor temperatures at weatherized homes. Even when accounting for the broader societal benefits of energy efficiency investments, the costs still substantially outweigh the benefits; the average rate of return is approximately -9.5% annually.

What we are looking for in an investment is a positive rate of return of course. The idea that the outputs of whatever it is that we do are worth more than the original value of the resources we have to put into doing it. A negative rate of return is evidence that we shouldn’t be doing this, whatever it is, because it is making us poorer.

Which is why, if action to deal with climate change there is going to be we have always insisted that that action should be a carbon tax. It’s analagous to the argument over Greece and the euro. The horrendous economic pain there is because they must go through internal devaluation. That austerity: in order to screw down the price level for local labour. It’s far easier, and there’s a great deal less pain, if just the one price, the exchange rate, can be changed and thus realign the economy in a much simpler manner. So it is with the carbon tax and climate change. By changing that one price we make it rational to perform those tasks where the savings are greater than the costs. Including, of course, those social costs of carbon emissions.

We thus don’t need to have armies of engineers making plans where the outcomes aren’t going to live up to the hype. It becomes in the rational self-interest of each consumer to do those things which help and not to do those things which don’t. So, consumers do those beneficial things.

We’re generally of the view that government is best kept out of the operation of the economy. Yet even we agree that sometimes intervention is necessary. But when intervening, keep that intervention to the simplest action that will achieve the task: in both of these cases that means just the one single change to the price level and then let the market calculate out the implications of it.

And so is the biter bit: serves them right

One of the more bizarre points of Osborne’s budget is that renewable energy generation technologies will be subject to the Climate Change Levy. Given that the levy is meant to be one of the clumsy, kludgy, ways in which the UK begins to have a carbon tax this is pretty odd really.

And as Guido points out, the boosters of renewables are having conniption fits:

Caroline Lucas: “We’ve seen yet another example of reckless short-term policy making that prioritises the profits of polluters over the public interest in a safe and habitable climate”

RenewableUK: “It’s another example of this government’s unfair, illogical and obsessive attacks on renewables”

Greenpeace: “This will make it more expensive for business to buy electricity from renewable power. He is man out of step with the times”

Friends of the Earth: “This is totally bizarre, making renewable electricity pay a carbon tax is completely counterproductive — like making apple juice pay an alcohol tax”

Friends of the Earth does have it right there: non-carbon energy generation shouldn’t be paying a carbon tax, that’s rather the point of it all.

Except, except, the nuclear industry has been subject to the Climate Change Levy all along. And there are no “no carbon” technologies at all, there’s always some emissions, from cement for windmill footings, the energy to purify silicon, the rotting of vegetation at the bottom of a reservoir behind a dam. And nuclear has rather lower emissions than some of those forms of generation.

Which is where the biter is bit of course. They all were perfectly happy that the low carbon system, nuclear, that they didn’t approve of had to pay the levy. Now that the hunger of a Chancellor for revenue is coming for them they don’t really have a logical point to stand on.

Oh dear, boo hoo, eh?