Some Environmental Reading for the Long Weekend

Here’s a grab bag of stories to read while recovering from the brat and steak you ate yesterday. It’s what the Founding Fathers would want.

Using the Free Market to Save the Rhino

Here’s a great (and moving) piece from NPR’s Planet Money on a proposal to encourage the breeding of rhinos in an effort to flood the market with rhino horn (which grows back) and undermine poaching by driving prices down. At the current rate, poaching will cause a decline in the rhino population in 2016.

There is debate about whether this is the correct strategy or whether we should further stigmatize the use of rhino horn as a traditional medicine. I say both. If breeding rhinos fails to drive prices down, we are still increasing the population. If we put all our efforts into increasing the stigma of buying rhino horn fails, we’ve lost ground with no backup plan.

Here is the audio. I warn you, the beginning of the audio includes a rhino being shot and crying for help. It is really heart-rending. But the story is excellent and worth listening to.

When Government Fails, Free-Market Environmentalism Is There To Pick Up The Pieces

Here in Seattle, we have a taxpayer-funded county employee, who calls himself the “Eco-Consumer,” whose entire job is to spread left-wing environmental messages Last month we noted that the taxpayer-funded “Eco-Consumer” lamented the fact that car sharing programs might take people off taxpayer subsidized buses even though the Smart Cars of Car2Go are likely as efficient as buses per passenger.

Now, with the transit strike in San Francisco shutting light rail down, car sharing programs are booming and providing an alternative to transit. As the Associated Press reports:

Avego is one of many startup rideshare companies marketing their services with gusto after this week’s strike by the workers who transport more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco.

Sign-ups jumped from hundreds before the strike to thousands over the weekend, said Paul Steinberg, Avego’s director of operations for the Americas. “We’re getting creamed,” he said.

The online rideshares, peer-to-peer taxis and carpool apps have faced criticism and calls for bans because they compete with taxis. Some offer prescreened cars owned by professional drivers with black sedans or SUVs, while others provide ways to find commute partners and share the travel costs. Some of the services get around safety regulations and government fees by offering a donation-based system.

The problem with relying on government is that you can’t rely on it. By giving people personalized options to commute, car sharing and other free-market approaches are filling in for commuters where the transit strike has failed commuters.

You can read the whole article here.

An Environmentalist Does the (Ugly) Math on the Impact of Local Food

One of the most persistent beliefs of the environmental left is that buying local food is good for the environment. The evidence, however, shows that buying local produce often is much worse for the environment. A piece from earlier this year does the math and, again, finds that buying local food can be much worse for the environment. The author notes:

I have no idea where my food comes from, but I hope it’s shipped by rail from a California factory farm. Don’t get me wrong—I’m an environmentalist, not an agribusiness executive. But I’m an environmentalist who can do math, and the numbers on locavorism, like much else in green-urbanist food ideology, don’t add up.

He notes that efficient transportation over long distances can use much less fuel than inefficient, short trips.

A typical semi truck, meticulously packed and scheduled by corporate bean-counters, will carry 20 tons of food six miles or so on a gallon of diesel—that’s 120 ton-miles per gallon, in the jargon of freight fuel-efficiency. A freight train gets a whopping 480 ton-miles per gallon. Compare them with, say, the local farmers at the Union Square Greenmarket, whose light trucks and vans typically haul more dead weight—farm-stand, vehicle and driver—than produce. The most fuel-efficient farmer I talked to there reckoned that at peak harvest he burned nine gallons of diesel to bring two tons of potatoes 127 miles from Roscoe, N.Y., for an efficiency of 28 ton-miles per gallon. Hauling each spud from upstate thus requires as much fuel as moving it 585 miles by corporate semi or 2,340 miles by rail.

This doesn’t even get into the issue of growing food where the yields are best. Transportation accounts for 10 percent or less of total energy in growing food, so growing where yields are high is far more important.

As always, I have to make it clear that if you want to buy local food for whatever reason, that is fine by me. I visit my farmers’ market almost every week. I keep my bees at a small local farm and I am very happy to do so.

If, however, you are buying local food because you believe it is saving the planet, you probably want to rethink that. It’s what the Founding Fathers would want.

Comments (14)

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  1. Frank says:

    “Using the Free Market to Save the Rhino”

    – John Stossel did a piece on this issue with the Buffalo as an example. It was certainly an interesting piece.

  2. August says:

    “There is debate about whether this is the correct strategy or whether we should further stigmatize the use of rhino horn as a traditional medicine”

    Perhaps we should focus on stigmatizing poaching, which wouldn’t be impacted by this strategy.

    • Terrel says:

      Very true. That is another way to look at it.

      • Jeff says:

        I don’t think stigmatizing poaching as “bad” will stop people from committing the crime…it’s already illegal. There is already a negative stigma attached to it. I don’t think that the kind of people that kill rhino’s…care about societal stigma.

        • JD says:

          Agreed. There could be some marginal gains, but nothing worth the effort. We should focus on other things.

    • Tim Clark says:

      Stigmatizing doesn’t work on crime since criminals aren’t interested in public opinion. Making it illegal and reducing supply has made the Rhino horn very valuable. Flooding the market with the product at a lower cost will undercut the poachers and reduce the benefit from selling the horns on the black market. Whether the use of rhino horn based medicine will ever decline is not guaranteed, but if the goal is to save the species, this plan has worked for many other endangered species such as the Buffalo, Tiger, and other African Rhinos.
      When people profit from the legal sell of a product, they have an incentive to protect their product and ensure supply is high.

  3. Baker says:

    I love the numbers on the inefficiency of local food.

  4. Howard says:

    Funny how when government fails (quite often), the free market can pick up where government left off and succeed.

    • Terrel says:

      How about government promoting and enforcing free-market solutions? Is only when government tries to overextend itself when it starts having lots of inefficiency problems.

  5. Kyle says:

    “When Government Fails, Free-Market Environmentalism Is There To Pick Up The Pieces”

    This is definitely true. Is Todd Myers asserting that government fails inevitably in environmental regulation? “The problem with relying on government is that you can’t rely on it”

  6. JD says:

    There is a reason why Cows are the most “hunted” animal, but will never go extinct. If regulations were lifted and Rhinos were able to be freely bred, traded and consumed there would be no shortage of Rhino Horn and the Rhino would surely never sniff extinction. It is the “protection” of these animals that causes them to go extinct by distorting market incentives. Why would we ever want to exhaus