Tag: "agriculture"

The Challenge of Becoming a Green Nation (Part 2)

In my previous blog post, I critically examined our nation’s predisposition to view public policy, if formulated by a democratic process, as being sufficient for promoting the public interest in managing our nation’s energy economy. Abandoning decentralized, voluntary market transactions and embracing centralized, regulated energy resource allocations does not ensure a superior pathway for satisfying our nation’s long-run energy needs. Specifically, I noted that:

  • Competition over scarce energy resources exists, whether they are allocated in the private or public sectors.
  • Self-interest guides citizen choices in both the private and public sectors.
  • Power and influence were unequally distributed in both the public and private sectors.

These realities imply that there is plenty of room for inefficient development of energy resources to arise from poor public policy design. Further, we also need to understand the many challenges of implementing regulatory policy over our nation’s energy resources.

Observation #4: Critical knowledge for efficient and sustainable energy resource allocation is scarce and it tends to be concentrated in the same markets that the federal agencies are tasked with regulating.

This means that government agencies need to hire industry experts from the very markets that they try to regulate. Also, regulators from these agencies tend to be heavily recruited by special interest groups operating in the markets that are being regulated. With such cross-pollination of talent, there exist many opportunities for unequal influence to occur in the design and implementation of public policy which may not necessarily reflect the public interest.

An illustrative case is the recent announcement that the second highest EPA administrator resigned from his federal appointment to head a non-profit group that seeks to influence the EPA’s federal energy policy design and implementation. Whether we agree or disagree with this organization’s goals and objectives, it still illustrates how public policy is not insulated from the same concentration of influences that supposedly contaminate private sector resource decisions.

Observation #5: All of the costs surrounding any resource allocation decision must be fully paid, whether in the private or public sector. In the public sector, however, the benefits of public policy often do not accrue to those who bear these costs.

Most people understand how oil spills or auto exhaust emissions can impose negative spill-over costs on third parties. This often drives the call for greater regulatory intervention. Yet, few people recognize that similar cost externalities are often created when the government control over resource allocation decisions replaces the private, voluntary transactions in the marketplace.

For example, it is well-documented that food prices have risen ever since federal policy forced oil refineries to add ethanol (mostly made from corn) into our nation’s gasoline supply, in part to reduce fossil fuel consumption rates. When U.S. agricultural markets shifted 14% of its corn production away from food products, this moved the United Nations to ask the U.S. to lower its ethanol requirements to ease the impact of rising food prices on developing nations.

Observation #6: All the potential impacts from a resource allocation decision cannot be anticipated, even by the experts in a regulated market. The private sector has much more flexibility to adapt to these unforeseen impacts than the public sector and to send accurate signals of relative value in competing proposals for developing a resource.

By definition, private sector decisions are always voluntary and public sector decisions are always compulsory. Pursuing public policy to allocate energy resources replaces the potential of markets to find innovative solutions and forces the government to pick winners and losers in competing energy policy proposals. It also creates distorted price signals about competing plans for developing our nation’s energy resources.

Consider what transpires when the government imposes eminent domain upon a private landowner to facilitate a given energy policy. While the land owner is constitutionally assured a fair market price for the lost benefits for using the appropriated resource, we must remember that this same owner always had the opportunity to sell the resource at its market price, but preferred to not sell it. This means a voluntary sale would require a much higher price.

This reality implies that if the government were to acquire the needed resources to facilitate a given public policy through a voluntary market process, it would be far more expensive than simply imposing eminent domain. This makes it much more likely that the public policy in question would have been found inefficient, had it been forced to compensate the owners of all the needed resources for the full value of their lost benefits.

Andrew Morris (J.D., Ph.D.) is a law and economics specialist who serves as Senior Fellow at the Property & Environment Research Center. In a recent study he notes that,

Eminent domain laws are inadequate for coping with this growth in infrastructure, for protecting landowners’ rights in the face of expanding utility easements, and for giving utilities inappropriate price signals.

The bottom line is this: for all the concern that developing energy resources in the private sector would fail to reflect the public interest, there is no guarantee that public policy — even when designed and implemented in a democracy — would better reflect the public interest. We must dispassionately and carefully examine both public and private sector approaches to make an informed decision.

Congressional Hearing on Biotechnology

The Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture called a hearing to discuss the societal benefits of biotechnology and study the perception of it in domestic and international culture.

  • While media may display biotechnology in a different light, both republicans and democrats agreed that biotechnology was our future, and must remain relevant.
  • Democrats responded that by increasing yields, we can decrease the amount of land and water used to grow crops. This would in turn lower our carbon emissions.
  • Under the guise of trying to inform the public about biotechnology, it ends up being misinformation. Which is why labeling cannot take place.
  • A survey was done to ask consumers whether they enjoyed Biotech chicken which was resistant to diseases, or chicken fed antibiotics to counteract diseases — 85% said that they preferred Biotech chicken.
  • Corporations must begin to learn how to spread goodwill amongst its consumers. As of right now, Monsanto and the other corporations are doing a horrible job.
  • In order to inform the public better, a line of communication must be open between consumers and producers. Farmers understand the key benefits biotechnology has to offer, but consumers have not jumped on board yet.
  • One witness stated that increasing pressure on organics will actually put her out of business. Rising grain prices that are organic only cost more than twice the amount that biotech farming does.
  • A study was recently done that found the risk associated between conventionally farmed produce and biotech produce was exactly the same.
  • The reason that biotechnology is receiving such a bad name is because activists are misinformed and continue to spread lies about it.

Increased Human Emissions has its Benefits

Politically-funded and agenda-driven scientists who have built their careers on the theory that the exhaust from the burning of fossil fuels leads to a dramatic increase in temperatures and “the greenhouse effect” and who live well on the $2.6 billion dollars a year of Federal grants for global warming and climate change research cling to this theory and bend the data spread to support the glorified claims in their reports and papers. This is a well-informed, well-reasoned understanding of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, which is an exercise in political science, not climate science. Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute rightly called it “an alarmist document to scare people and build political support for unpopular policies such as carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, and EPA regulatory mandates,” in his May 6 analysis on FoxNews.com.

While the NCA (and Obama talking points), use the term carbon “pollution,” the “greenhouse gas” supposedly causing most of the trouble, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a natural substance essential for the survival of all life on the planet. Plants need CO2 to grow and conduct photosynthesis, the natural process that creates food for animals and fish at the bottom of the food chain.

In fact, the increased atmospheric concentration of CO2 increased agricultural output and production by $3.2 trillion between 1961 and 2011. Thus, the documented effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been positive so far.

Even with increasing human CO2 emissions, carbon dioxide is still a trace gas in the environment, constituting just 0.04 percent of the atmosphere Figure I shows that greenhouse gases compose 1-5 percent of the atmosphere, and Figure II demonstrates that CO2 composes only 3.62 percent of greenhouse gases. We still live in a world starving for carbon dioxide, especially given the crucial importance of CO2 to plant and animal life. Data shows that during the Pre-Cambrian period (about 550 million years ago) CO2 concentration levels were 15 times greater than today with no record of any catastrophic results, shown in Figure III. Human and natural emissions of CO2 are only 4-5 percent of total global emissions.

greenhouse gasesWater Vaporatmospheric co2

In addition, uncontested global temperature data shows there has been no global warming for 17 years and 8 months now, even as human global CO2 emissions have continued to accelerate to unprecedented levels. The Economist reported last year that from 2000 to 2010, human carbon dioxide emissions totaled roughly 100 billion tons of CO2, which equaled about one-fourth of all human emissions since the industrial revolution in 1750.

National Climate Assessment Misses the Mark

Although the National Climate Assessment (NCA) attempts to provide a comprehensive report on the state of global warming and climate change, it misses the mark in every possible way. First, the report claims nothing but negative effects of rising anthropogenic CO2 levels. However, CO2 composes a minute percentage of atmospheric gases, and the rise in emissions has actually been economically beneficial by exponentially increasing crop yield. Moreover, data reveals that the environment is currently entering a period void of any global warming. Second, the assessment states that the rising temperatures are causing more frequent and severe natural disasters. Yet, experts testify that no significant trends in floods, droughts, tornados, or hurricanes exist. In fact, according to these experts, the frequency of tornadoes and severity of hurricanes have decreased over time in the United States. Third, the NCA reports that rising sea levels have severely damaged domestic infrastructure. However, data reveals a deceleration in sea level rise, one that will remain negligible in the coming century. In light of this propaganda, the Obama administration is using this assessment to prevent natural gas and oil exploration which could support tens of thousands of jobs during a staggering economy. As will be explained in future blog posts, it seems like the National Climate Assessment has done nothing but perpetuate lies and hurt the economy.

Brazil’s Environmental Policy: A Model for the United States?

In a 2009 study conducted by the Public Library of Science on the evaluation of the relative environmental impact of countries, Brazil ranked 1st on a scale measuring absolute composite environmental rank. The study’s methodology used a lower rank to correlate with a higher negative impact. Thus, Brazil had the highest overall negative impact on its environment of any country. According to this study:

  • National Forest Lost Rank: 1st
  • Natural Habitat Conversion Rank: 3rd
  • Marine Captures Rank: 30th
  • Fertilizer Use Rank: 3rd
  • Water Pollution Rank: 8th
  • Threatened Species Rank: 4th
  • Carbon Emissions Rank: 4th
  • Absolute Composite Environmental Rank = 4.5 (1st)

While these numbers appear bleak for the country that just hosted the World Cup and the Olympics in two years, Brazil, according to the Economist, has become the world leader in reducing environmental degradation in recent years.

In the 1990s, Brazil felled rainforest the size of Belgium annually. However, in the past decade, Brazil has reduced deforestation by nearly 70 percent in the Amazonian jungle. If deforestation had continued at its 2005 rate of 19,500 km2 per year, an extra 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide would have been emitted. Thus, Brazil could also be viewed as a pioneer for climate change mitigation. Unlike other countries, such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil has been able to slow and stop these clearances. The reason for its success has been a result of incremental efforts in three stages.

  • Stage 1 (mid-1990s – 2004): The Brazilian government implemented its first bans and restrictions, one of which stated that on every farm in the Amazon, 80 percent of the land had to be set aside as a forest reserve. However, this was the worst period of deforestation because the share was so high that farmers could not comply with the code.
  • Stage 2 (2004 – 2009): The government, making deforestation a priority under president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, banned farming in nearly half of the Amazon rainforest, as opposed to the original ban on only one-sixth of the area. Additionally, buyers of Brazil’s soybeans declared they would not purchase crops on land cleared after July 2006, discouraging deforestation.
  • Stage 3 (2009 – present): The government banned farmers in the 36 counties with the worst deforestation rates from getting cheap credit until rates fell. Furthermore, a proper land registry, which required that farmers report their properties’ boundaries, was created.


Clearly, as the graph above reveals, Brazil has had great success over the last decade at protecting its forests and preventing deforestation. More amazing, even with these regulations to improve environmental degradation, Brazil has had a dramatic increase in food output. Thus, Brazil is proof that a country can achieve environmental and economic gains simultaneously. Although these government regulations would not likely succeed in the United States, perhaps Brazil serves as a model for the U.S. for its priority on environmental protection.

Although forest composes less percent area of the U.S. than it does in Brazil, protecting the infrastructure, creating more efficient energy resources, and improving resource management in the U.S. would serve useful for the economy and the environment. Additionally, as Brazil is proof, improving the environment does not necessarily mean hindering the economy. While regulating carbon emissions in the U.S. will likely cause more economic turmoil, using the bright green framework as the basis for future environmental policy may have success from both the economic and environment perspectives.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change

Although negligibly, climate change is happening, and addressing the issue in the short-term may prevent drastic future effects. When determining how to actually address climate change, two main strategies exist: mitigation and adaptation. While these two may appear similar, a nuanced difference distinguishes the two. Mitigation addresses the causes of climate change, while adaptation addresses the effects of climate change. Even though adaptation is a form of mitigation, it attempts to mitigate the harmful effects, not the causes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), adaptation strategies can be either protective (guarding against the negative impacts of climate change) or opportunistic (taking advantage of any beneficial effects of climate change).

While an exact range is not agreed upon, most studies predict that the global mean in temperature has and will continue to rise. Some predict marginal gains, while others predict a drastic spike. Nevertheless, most agree that climate change is happening, and the evidence clearly reveals a trend in increasing temperatures. However, even though a consensus exists with regards to the veracity of climate change, no consensus exists on its causes. If the exact causes are unknown, nations spending money on mitigation strategies are taking shots in the dark at trying to stop climate change. Thus, nations may find adaptation measures more economically sensible than mitigation, as these strategies are a guaranteed way of protecting society.

As adaptation clearly appears the appropriate method of addressing climate change, many different strategies have been proposed to protect various sectors and industries. However, while the strategies may differ, the process of planning effective adaptation strategies tends to follow a similar, cyclical pattern for most nations. Here are the most common and effective six steps, according to the National Research Council:

  1. Identify current and future climate changes relevant to the system.
  2. Assess the vulnerabilities and risks to the system.
  3. Develop an adaptation strategy using risk-based prioritization schemes.
  4. Identify opportunities for co-benefits and synergies across sectors.
  5. Implement adaptation options.
  6. Monitor and reevaluate implemented adaptation options.

With this established methodology for discovering and implementing adaptation strategies, the EPA has given various examples of policies for each sector.

Agriculture and Food Supply
  • Breed crop varieties that are more tolerant of heat, drought, and water logging from heavy rainfall or flooding
  • Protect livestock from higher summer temperatures by providing more shade and improving air flow in barns
  • Promote shore protection techniques and open space preserves that allow beaches and coastal wetlands to gradually move inland as sea levels may rise.
  • Identify and improve evacuation routes and evacuation plans for low-lying areas, to prepare for increased storm surge and flooding.
  • Protect and increase migration corridors to allow species to migrate as the climate changes.
  • Promote land and wildlife management practices that enhance ecosystem resilience.
  • Increase energy efficiency to help offset increases in energy consumption.
  • Harden energy production facilities to withstand increased flood, wind, lightning, and other storm-related stresses.
  • Removing invasive species.
  • Promoting biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Collaborating across borders to create habitat linkages.
  • Managing wildfire risk through controlled burns and thinning.
Human Health
  • Implement early warning systems and emergency response plans to prepare for changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme weather events.
  • Plant trees and expand green spaces in urban settings to moderate heat increases.
  • Developing plans to help elderly populations deal with more extreme weather.
  • Relocating communities where in-place adaptation is not feasible.
  • Considering how the private sector can support and promote adaptation.
  • Understanding the specific needs of sensitive populations.
  • Raising the level of critical infrastructure.
  • Changing construction and design standards of transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, levees, roads, railways, and airports.
  • Abandoning or rebuilding important infrastructure in less vulnerable areas.
Water Resources
  • Improve water use efficiency and build additional water storage capacity.
  • Protect and restore stream and river banks to ensure good water quality and safe guard water quantity

Often times, an effective strategy takes the dual-mandate approach, implementing adaptation and mitigation processes. However, with mitigation looking less effective each day, going all in on necessary adaptation strategies seems to be more appropriate. While mitigation strategies may buy a little more time in the long-run, adaptation strategies must take precedence as they will have definitive positive impacts. Rather than implementing new regulations to curb carbon emissions or regulate business, the federal government should work to prioritize the protection of these industries.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

EPA Advancing on Numerous Fronts

The Environmental Protection Agency has been all over the new recently with a flurry of activity. Joining the President’s strategy of going forward with their agenda and without Congress, the EPA is taking bold steps while receiving some harsh criticism.

The latest action by the EPA directs bold new standards/regulations on carbon emissions. According to the EPA, by 2030:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit.
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days — providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits.
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

While the EPA clearly states some benefits to the new carbon emissions regulations, greater consequences could result from such carelessly calculated action. Electricity rates could skyrocket and the entire economy suffer.

According to the Heritage Foundation there will be serious economic damage:

  • Cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) losses are nearly $7 trillion by 2029 (in infla­tion-adjusted 2008 dollars), according to The Heritage Foundation/Global Insight model (described in Appendix A).
  • Single-year GDP losses exceed $600 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars).
  • Annual job losses exceed 800,000 for several years.
  • Some industries will see job losses that exceed 50 percent.

Further action by the EPA has modified the Clean Water Act and directly affects the definition of water ways and the productive aspects of agriculture. EPA also modified the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA).

The EPA ruling on carbon emission gives the opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline greater hope that they will succeed in their fight on the pipeline front.

“Going it alone” is a reckless decision for the entire Obama administration. Already reinforcing greater partisan divisions in Washington, completely ignoring entire branches of our government will only lead to greater problems for our entire country.

Nationwide Survey Shows Dramatic Improvement in Honeybee Health

During the last week, there has been a great deal of attention to a study claiming pesticides are responsible for an increase in honeybee hive death. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), beekeepers and scientists have been working to find out what is to blame for the trend.

What has been ignored, however, is recent good news about CCD. A recent study by Bee Informed, a nationwide survey of beekeepers, the percentage of hives that died over winter fell from 30.5 percent in 2012-13 to 23.2 percent last winter, a 25 percent reduction in hive mortality.

The survey is extremely robust, covering an estimated 20 percent of all hives in the country.

This undermines the claim that pesticides are to blame for CCD. Unless pesticide use dramatically declined last year, which I am certain it didn’t, it is hard to cite pesticide use as the cause of the reduction in the first place. The most likely explanation for the improvement is that beekeepers are managing other risks, like varroa mites, that contribute to CCD. Such a significant decline in winter mortality indicates beekeepers are effectively changing their management techniques in response to losing hives.

It also shows how hyperbole about honeybees is harming thoughtful discussion about the causes of CCD. The Discover Magazine blog about the pesticide study concludes with this ominous paragraph:

CCD threatens not only bees but entire economies and the world food supply. Honeybees pollinate about a third of crops worldwide and, according to some estimates, as much as 80 percent of U.S. crops.

This is pure hyperbole. Total honeybee populations in the United States are actually increasing. A reduction in hive mortality will help this trend. Beekeepers are responding to CCD by increasing breeding. For example, one of my two hives died over the winter, but I will have four hives this year because I am buying newly bred bees and splitting one of my hives into two. Others are doing the same, which is actually increasing the number of pollinators.

Additionally, noting that farmers rely on honeybees is evidence that farmers are careful about using pesticides. Many who blame pesticides for CCD claim farmers are glibly using pesticides that harm the very honeybees they rely on for pollination. The supposed villains of the pesticide narrative, carless farmers, are the ones with the most to lose.

There will, undoubtedly, be calls for politicians to do “something” about CCD. This national study, however, shows that beekeepers are better at finding effective techniques to keep their hives alive and their honeybees pollinating our crops and flowers. Not to mention making honey.

Government Subsides Help Distort Science

A $500,000 study released this past Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Climate Change, detailed how corn-based biofuels release seven percent more greenhouse gases in the initial five-year time frame compared with conventional gasoline. The study which was paid for by the federal government found that regardless of how much corn residue is taken off the field, the process contributes to global warming.

But administration officials who have devoted more than a billion dollars of taxpayer funds as well as the biofuel industry disagree. DuPont claims that the ethanol it will produce will be 100 percent better than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol”.

But there are reasons to doubt DuPont and the EPA. DuPont is getting billions in subsidies to produce biofuels. Federal subsidies help its stock price; the company would be foolish if it did not defend biofuels. Meanwhile an Associated Press investigation last year found that the EPA’s analysis of corn-based ethanol failed to accurately predict the environmental consequences. California regulators earlier declared that corn ethanol would not reduce global warming and may in fact make it worse. Other federal studies have reached the same conclusion. David Tillman, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who has researched biofuels emissions from the farm to the tailpipe, says the recent study is the best he has seen on the issue.

This controversy highlights several problems. Despite claims to the contrary, politics seem to play a part at the EPA. The EPA could have simply released a statement that research in this area is still developing and it is sticking with its initial conclusion that biofuels improve the environment. By issuing such a strong rebuke, it seems the organization is not open to new information. Real scientists know new discoveries come along all the time. Scientists do not offer blanket statements, but politicians do.

Further, no matter how well intentioned, subsidies distort the market. Reducing carbon emissions is a good goal, but when government picks a winner everybody else loses. We do not know if there is a better solution that corn-based ethanol. We do not know if the EPA is investing in real science or attaching itself to its preferred winner. The EPA’s role should be to judge the best solution the private sector develops. When the EPA provides subsidies to one technology over another, taxpayer money and possibly scientific integrity are lost forever.

How The West Was Won – By The Feds

Well sometimes feels like we never won it when so much of our land and resources are under the direct control of the U.S. government and tribal authorities. If you take a look at the American “west”, you will see a very big difference from the other half of the country in terms of land owned by the government and land that is “free” to own by the public.

The federal government owns approximately 29% of the land area in the United States, more than 653 million acres. The U.S. General Services Administration’s report on Federal Real Property Profile, 2004 shows how much land the government owns in each state. The top 10 federally owned states:

  • Nevada 85%
  • Alaska 69%
  • Utah 57%
  • Oregon 53%
  • Idaho 50%
  • Arizona 48%
  • California 45%
  • Wyoming 42%
  • New Mexico 42%
  • Colorado 37%

Out of the top 10 states (all are in the American “west”), the federal government owns 505 million acres or 77% of the total land area owned in the United States by the federal government.

The White House acknowledges the fact that not only is the United States government the largest property owner in the country, but also a major source of government waste because of this fact. Efforts to make much of this property available to the public for purchase have been minimal. The White House Federal Excess Properties site shows the federal government’s effort in selling off properties.

The Federal Government is the biggest property owner in the United States, and billions of taxpayer dollars are wasted each year on government properties that are no longer needed. The President has proposed an independent Civilian Property Realignment Board to help the Federal Government cut through red tape and competing stakeholder interests to sell or get rid of property it no longer needs. Over time, this could save taxpayers billions of dollars and help to reduce the deficit.

This map shows just the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunities for downsizing the Federal real estate portfolio. Under the President’s proposal, more properties, in some cases with significant market value, would be added to this map and dealt with more quickly and effectively than they are today.

President Obama and Vice President Biden launched the Campaign to Cut Waste to eliminate misspent tax dollars in every agency and department across the Federal Government. Getting properties like those highlighted below off our books is a key first step in this effort.

The Civilian Property Realignment Board was cancelled by congress and a very painful and slow process for eliminating this waste is still in place.

Before any agency sells a surplus property, it is required by federal law to ensure that no other U.S. agency wants it. It must then offer a right of first refusal to state and local governments as well as nonprofits. Buildings must be assessed as potential homeless shelters and reviewed for environmental contamination and historic significance.

All of these federally owned properties have the potential to be transferred to state/local governments or to private interests. Benefits could include:

  • less government waste of resources and taxpayer dollars
  • increased efficiency of remaining federal properties
  • greater use of agriculture, energy and natural resources for private use

The bipartisan Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act of 2013 is intended to expedite the sale of federal property that is underutilized. A greater effort in this direction is very obvious and needed.