Saving the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Could Endanger Oil Production

As a friend of mine said after reading this article, "Step on the thing and start drilling!" I’ve been to this part of the country and, with due respect to Midland/Odessa, there’s only one reason for the Permian Basin to exist: to serve up oil and gas for the rest of the country. This little lizard is doing to have to adapt or perish.

Lawmakers Say A tiny 3-inch long creature – the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard – is causing some havoc in the Permian Basin, which stretches from Southeast New Mexico to West Texas. The possibility of it getting added onto the Endangered Species List is giving oil drillers and politicians some big headaches.

Words of Wisdom: Environmentalist Grandstanding

Jason Avark writes:

The current state of environmentalism seems a form of moral preening — a very self-promotional way for “green” adherents to publicly display their moral superiority and, more the to point, gain political and social power by doing so. By characterizing themselves as “self-less”, environmentalists gain for themselves a wide-ranging exemption from criticism and dissent and also gain for themselves a political advantage to demand policies that advance their political power and personal careers apace.

Indeed. Green is the new pink was the new black and so on. Embracing radical environmentalism is a cheap way to gain acceptance into the cool, new, edgy crowd that sadly is little more than the same old wanna-be’s.

Real environmentalism is not unlike true charity – unsung and unrewarded, but done simply because the doer values the act more than that which is given up.

Cold Showers and How Sometimes Liberal Guilt is Hilarious

The overblown, self-important angst of some liberals is so stupid it’s painfully funny to watch.  The cold shower to this humor is the knowledge that such people will occasionally act on their feelings, motivated by their self-inflicted guilt, and attempt to force their conclusions on the rest of us.

 The latest case in point comes from Slate’s Nina Shen Rastogi, who wonders about her daily bathing habit.

I know that taking long, hot showers is an environmental no-no. But now that the weather’s getting colder, I just can’t face the day without one. Exactly how much damage am I doing to the planet?

Good grief!  Am I supposed to take a cold shower in the middle of winter to assuage Nina’s conscience?  The answer to her question is a resounding “Who cares?!”

Happily the bulk of the rest of Nina’s article focuses on the costs of heating water, flow rates, water temperatures, and the like – good, practical issues that homeowners should consider.

The reason they’re worth thinking about isn’t Nina and other liberals’ indulgent guilt, it’s because they are pocketbook issues.  Like so many other issues, that’s the only reason Americans should consider the duration of their morning ritual in the shower – the economics of the event.

Guerilla Environmentalism or Fraud?

Tim DeChristopher, a Utah economics student, is – for now – the proud possessor of the obligation to buy drilling rights from the federal government on 13 tracts of land he bid on at a recent Bureau of Land Management action.  DeChristopher now owes Uncle Sam $1.8M with no prospects of being able to pay up.  Did he take his environmentalism up a notch or did he commit a fraudulent act by bidding on properties he had no intention of buying?

In my opinion it’s both, with the emphasis on the latter.  This young man may not face criminal proceedings as a result of his actions but he should be made aware that they are a very real possibility and that a repeat of last month’s farce will result in the application of applicable law.

Why?  First, DeChristopher entered into a contractual obligation to the federal government with no ability or intent to meet that obligation.

Second, he fraudulently caused other bidders to pay more for their drilling rights that they ought to as a result of his bids that he had no intention of backing up.

As an economics major DeChristopher is undoubtedly aware of financial impact his actions had on other bidders.  And make no mistake, DeChristopher is a full-on green activist:

"I’ve been an environmentalist for pretty much all my life and done all the things that you’re supposed to do that are supposed to lead toward change," DeChristopher said, accounting for action that, as he tells it, surprised even him. "I’ve marched and held signs. I’ve volunteered in national parks. I’ve written letters and signed petitions. I’ve sat down with my congressman, Jim Matheson, for a long time.

While environmental activism can be a noble cause, it is illegal to deliberately enter financial agreements with another party while intending to default on one’s obligations.  The law is quite clear on this subject if I’m not mistaken, and rightfully so.  The lawful government has decided to auction these drilling rights and DeChristopher, while within his rights to protest the sale, had no right to interfere without intending  to complete the lease.

Environmental advocates like DeChristopher who want to preserve these lands in their pristine state can and should participate in government auctions for drilling rights.  This is a legitimate approach to gaining control over the use of public land – if they pay up.

I understand that not everyone will agree.  What of it?  On one hand, those who think DeChristopher is in the right can simply be dismissed.  They have a process that they must go through to promote that point of view, namely to get fraud laws changed.  Not going to happen.

On the other hand, there is a reasonable line of thinking that goes something like this:  The essential purpose of government auctions is to release public land for the purpose of mineral exploration and extraction; therefore, anything that interferes with that outcome is undesirable. 

(Certainly the BLM wants to get the current market rate for the leases it auctions but that’s only a desired condition of the outcome, not the outcome itself.)

Therefore, environmentalists who interfere with government auctions of mineral leases are in fact thwarting the government by bidding even if they were to follow through and pay the leases in full.

I do have a certain empathy for that viewpoint.  However, at the end of the day an auction for access to public lands is about allocating public lands to the most beneficial use possible.  The auction itself is merely a mechanism for approximating that benefit.  So if environmentalists put their cash on the barrel head and purchase the drilling rights on public lands, so be it.  But that’s what they need to do if they’re going to participate in the process with the rest of the grownups.

The Wisdom of Markets

Crowd-sourcing, capturing the “wisdom” of the mob, was what the cool kids were doing not so long ago.  Witness the rise of the Daily Kos and other such web sites.  One thing they failed to espouse in their almost universal progressive liberal dogma is that the idea of mining – and manipulating – the minds of the masses is not a new idea.  Free markets do that very same thing, efficiently causing desired products and services to spring into existence and eliminating the unwanted.  How could progressives have overlooked the most important example of their new idea?

Continue reading “The Wisdom of Markets”

Barack Obama’s Priorities

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama recently participated in an anti-global warming rally in California during which he said that few of the nation’s problems were more urgent than global warming.  To his credit, Obama tossed in a throwaway bit about dependence on foreign oil, too.  But if that particular speech can be taken at face value, the soon-to-be-inaugurated president’s priorities are wrong. 

Perhaps Mr. Obama didn’t heard about the whales trapped in the fast-moving arctic ice north of Baffin Island.  Meanwhile the siege in Mumbai continues with over 100 now known to have been killed.  Is the debate over global warming really that important?

Regarding Mumbai, CNN had Deepak Chopra on the air yesterday and while I’m loathe to put much stock in the Love Guru’s arch-rival, he did raise important, oft-asked and oft-ignored questions [emphasis mine]:

…who is financing this? Where is the money coming from? We have to ask very serious, honest questions. What role do we have in this? Are our petrodollars funding both sides of this war on terrorism? Why are we not asking the Saudis where that money is going that we give them? Is it going through this supply chain to Pakistan?

It’s pretty obvious that the answer is yes.  It has to be, even if only through the trickle-down effect of the Saudis’ oil money distributions.

That’s where the national priority ought to be, squarely on developing domestic energy sources.  Doing so would have the beneficial effects of deflating the artificial importance that oil-producing countries have in the world while ensuring a stable energy market at home on which business decisions can be made.

With respect to Michael’s opinion that oil-producing countries deserve special consideration vis-a-vis the economic shock that a move away from petroleum might create, I don’t think that’s true.  It would do the much-beset-upon youth of Saudi Arabia, et al, good to lose their cash cow so that they must learn to compete in a world in which the value of their ideas earns them their livelihoods rather than geological happenstance.  In the end, it’s up to oil-producing countries to pursue a political and economic course that maximizes and safeguards their long-term position, not their consumers. 

That same long-term perspective must be applied to the problem of man-made C02 emissions.  President-elect Obama should realize that, given that the U.S.’s natural resources point to coal and nuclear, it may be the case that the country’s pollution problems – and investment in nuclear energy – actually need to increase over the next few decades while research into efficient, sustainable clean energy sources continues.

Global Warming Science

Dr. David Evans, a pioneer in the modeling of climate change, now says that there’s no definitive evidence that man-made carbon emissions are contributing to global warming.  Moreover, he seems to question whether the phenomenon of rising temperatures even exists.

…since 1999 new evidence has seriously weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming, and by 2007 the evidence was pretty conclusive that carbon played only a minor role and was not the main cause of the recent global warming.

The satellites that measure the world’s temperature all say that the warming trend ended in 2001, and that the temperature has dropped about 0.6C in the past year (to the temperature of 1980).

Knowledge of this data is why the environmental movement now shies away from the term "global warming", preferring instead to talk about "climate change".

Read Dr. Evan’s editorial – it’s quite contrary to what Al Gore and the other climate change gurus are saying and, I think, more believable.

Finally, consider the question, "If man is changing the climate of Earth, what should be done about it?".

The only reasonable answer is through redoubled efforts to develop new technologies that provide the power that modern civilization demands.  No response that relies on utopian visions of our peaceful, non-industrial past is relevant.  Nor is such a retreat even possible without a de facto genocide.  Instead we must move forward by performing the hard work of developing new, clean sources of energy rather than retreating to the false, Luddite comfort of a bygone era.

Save Your Home from a Wildfire, go to Jail

Ross Curtis, along with family and friends, saved his Big Sur home from being destroyed by a wildfire.  Moreover the backfire he set seems to have helped officials contain the blaze.  His thanks?  Curtis was arrested and changed with 2 misdemeanors for his trouble.

As the fire closed in on three sides, Micah Curtis said, they used a flare to set controlled burns no more than a dozen feet from the blaze. That not only steered it away from their houses, he said, but also created a broader line of defense, which helped state and federal fire crews protect the village below.

Giving a tour of the property over the weekend, Micah Curtis bumped into a state fire captain doing mop-up work with an inmate crew.

The captain, who asked not to be identified because of the controversy, praised the work of the amateurs of Apple Pie Ridge.

"I’ll tell you what," the captain told him, "you guys did a good job of holding it."
Praise also came from other professionals.

"Awesome," a U.S. Forest Service crew leader said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You did an awful lot of work up here."

Taking the high road, Ross Curtis expressed his understanding for government officials’ actions. 

…he understands why fire officials are irate.

They explained it to him, he said, during his brief stay in jail. An unauthorized backfire, they said, can catch a team of firefighters unaware and perhaps put those crews in danger. Kill a firefighter, they told him, and you go to prison for life.

That’s one perspective and not an entirely unreasonable one for commanders who put men’s lives in harms way to take.

Another is that government officials should concern themselves more with the outcome of Curtis’ actions and less with the rules of firefighting etiquette.  Curtis acted boldly, took a risk, and saved his home.  This country needs more men like him, not fewer.

There remains the question of whether the wildfires should be fought at all.  Home owners in lower California know the chance they are taking by living where they do.  Is it the government’s responsibility to subsidize their choices by spending vast amounts of money and risking firefighters’ lives?

Environmentalists, Progress, and Fantasies

I enjoyed Jim’s letter to the Bryan/College Station Eagle so much I had to re-print it here:

Power to the people

The environmentalists claim the electric car is the answer to "saving our world." Let’s see, they have stopped construction of new coal fired plants for electric generation. Nuclear powered generation has been tied up in lawsuits filed by environmentalists and no new generators have been built for 30 years.

Environmentalists claim wind powered generators kill birds and make noise so they are bad. Environmentalists filed lawsuits and stopped solar panel electricity generators in Arizona and New Mexico because they claim it casts shadows on the ground where the panels are placed.

Exploration for oil and gas in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is at a standstill because environmentalists are worried about the love life of caribou. Hydrogen powered autos will cause global warming because they release water vapor which is the No. 1 greenhouse gas.

Are environmentalists really trying to "save our world" or are they trying to destroy capitalism and send the human race back to the Stone Age? Since environmentalists offer no clue as to where the electricity is to come from to power electric cars maybe their hot air can be used to generate electricity for the electric cars. Oops. Hot air contains greenhouse gases.


College Station

The most fundamental question of all – "Where does electricity come from?" – never seems to be asked or answered by hard-core environmentalists.

Their ostrich act reminds me of the government regulators so richly detailed in Atlas Shrugs.  In Ayn Rand’s novel the bureaucracy thoroughly tied the hands of the protagonist’s railroad company, then proceeded to make demands on it that were impossible to fulfill in the environment their own regulations had created.

Where will "eco-friendly" electric cars plug in if no more power plants can be built in this country?  Where will the hydrogen-based transportation system of the future spring from if no nuclear plants are constructed to drive the electrolysis process that hydrogen production requires?

Environmentalists seem to want to regulate mankind back to the stone age.  Undoubtedly they would be happier there in a time and place where no decisions had to be made or responsibilities assumed.  But getting there would entail a near species suicide because the economy and lifestyle they envision could only support a fraction of the current population.

There is environmental risk in developing new power-producing technology.  Spills, meltdowns, and pollution could happen as a result.  Will happen, on a greater or lesser scale.  Yet the way to a cleaner, safer, more self-sufficient nation is not to be found in historical regression.  Rather, we must move ahead with all possible speed and safety and trust ourselves to make the correct compromises between risk and reward along the way.

Fighting Fires with Money

The main reason that California’s fires are such a problem is because of the proximity of housing enclaves to the repeat burn zones.  Firefighters do extraordinary work saving homes each and every year in California.  But should they have to?

It might be time to decide.  Fire season seems to be starting early in the Los Angeles area this year.  When/if it does, we’ll all be getting a hefty bill to pay for the damage. 

Firefighters are battling a 300-acre wildfire on Mt. Baldy in the Angeles National Forest.

With winds at 15 to 20 mph and gusting to 60 mph in the area, about 240 firefighters had not brought the blaze under control as of about 2:30 p.m

Last year the cost of fighting fires in San Diego county alone was over $1B.  This is obviously a lot of tax money, some of which has been appropriated from people in other states and sent to subsidize Californians’ unfortunate decisions to build in high-risk areas.

President Bush had this to say last year:

"Americans all across this land care deeply about them," the president said after a Cabinet meeting convened to coordinate federal relief efforts. "We’re concerned about their safety. We’re concerned about their property."

All of which is true.  However, as the state’s population grows, the problem of density, location, and fire risk grows with it.

“We are increasingly building our homes … in fire-prone ecosystems,” says Dominik Kulakowski, adjunct professor of biology at Clark University Graduate School of Geography in Worcester, Mass. Doing that “in many of the forests of the Western US … is like building homes on the side of an active volcano.”

“What once was open space is now residential homes providing fuel to make fires burn with greater intensity,” says Terry McHale of the California Department of Forestry firefighters union. “With so much dryness, so many communities to catch fire, so many fronts to fight, it becomes an almost incredible job.”

I have a few friends in the San Diego area and for their sake I’m glad that the state and federal government intervened and eventually contained the fires that threatened the city.

However, the problem with this sort of government intervention is that it mitigates the risk that Californians took in building their homes and businesses where they build them.  Some would argue that is the entire point, to reduce the burden of people’s mistakes by spreading the risk around using the federal government’s tax-and-spend strategies as a distribution mechanism.  I disagree.

It’s well and good that the federal government is Johnny-on-the-spot to help victims of unforeseeable disasters.  But California’s wildfire problem is well-known, frequently repeated, and, as Dr. Kulakowski points out, Californians are actively creating more potential disasters every year. 

This is negligent behavior by definition.  Handing out federal largesse in this situation is rewarding bad behavior and only makes it more likely that there will be further emergencies to deal with in the future.