A currently fashionable insistence is that given the importance of climate change we must abandon market processes and use central planning to reorganise our world. This is of course incorrect as the greater the importance and complexity the more we’ve got to use markets and not planning. Electric scooters being today’s exemplar:
At first glance, the assertion that dockless electric scooters are more environmentally friendly than other modes of transportation seems sound. They don’t emit greenhouse gases. They don’t add to vehicle congestion. “Cruise past traffic and cut back on CO2 emissions – one ride at a time,” touts Bird, one of the most popular scooter companies in the US.
But scooters are not as eco-friendly as they may seem, according to a study published Friday.
Researchers at North Carolina State University found that traveling by scooter produces more greenhouse gas emissions per mile than traveling by bus, bicycle, moped or on foot.
The paper in full is here.
The results of a Monte Carlo analysis show an average value of life cycle global warming impacts of 202 g CO2-eq/passenger-mile, driven by materials and manufacturing (50%), followed by daily collection for charging (43% of impact).
That 202g per passenger-mile is more than the emissions from a flight on a 737-400 of some 185g (115g per passenger km). No, that’s not a fair comparison but the shock value is there.
Now note what happens when we use planning to decide what to do. Our central bureaucrat has to go through these calculations for everything. How much energy does it take to make the steel for a wind turbine? How much coal use in the steel making process cannot be avoided? What’s the scrap to virgin steel mix? What are the maintenance costs out in the North Sea? The bunker fuel consumption of the repair boats? What type of electricity is being used to power the conversion of sand into silicon for solar cells?
These calculations rather being prey to political correctness. That’s how Drax burning wood pellets from 3,000 miles away is counted as carbon neutral. That’s how we got first generation biofuels which are definitely more emitting than burning dead dinosaurs. That’s how Germany has managed to spend at least a trillion euros to go green and thereby increase emissions from lignite usage.
We are here because Hayek was right about the Pretence of Knowledge. It’s all simply too complicated to be able to calculate centrally. We therefore have to use the only calculating engine we’ve got with the necessary processing power - the market economy.
That is, stick our crowbar once into the price system - yea, a carbon tax - and stand back and let the market do the heavy lifting. It’s the only method we’ve got that actually works. Since we’d prefer not to be steaming Flipper in the fumes of the last ice floe then that’s what we’ve got to do.
The more complex and concerning the problem the more we’ve got to use markets.
A lifecycle analysis of a racing yacht crossing the Atlantic as compared to cattle class on an airliner would also be informative, don’t you think?