Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fractured Expectations

The whole Left/Right political dichotomy leads people to believe some pretty strange things about each other, particularly when they listen ONLY to their own party's propaganda. It's amazing to me how many people do that, by the way. I can't count the number of times people have told me that they "can't stand to listen to ______"... so they don't. It doesn't matter what ______ said. There is the pre-conception that everything they say is a lie, so there's the perception that there's no need to listen to any of it. One of these days I'll have to post a quiz where you have to identify quotes as having been spoken by Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher. I bet it's harder than you think. But I digress.

Here's one. Capitalists, and particularly, Republicans, just hate the environment. If you were to watch the old Captain Planet cartoons from Ted Turner, you'd see the pig-like "Hoggish Greedly" (I'm not kidding) polluting because... well, because that's what he does. He builds gas-guzzling cars and pollutes. This bit of propaganda is aimed directly at kids.

The thing is, it's false. Republicans don't hate the environment, and never have. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman, naturalist, and conservationist. He established 5 national parks and 150 national forests. Republican President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act of 1970 (read the link. Do it.), the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (think dolphin-safe tuna), the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974 (which requires us to protect drinking water at its source),  the Endangered Species Act (once called "the Magna Carta of the environmental movement"). He had no intention of "living like a damned animal", but left an enduring legacy. Republican President Ronald Reagan was famously a rugged outdoorsman. On his watch the MMPA was amended to guard against the depletion of species, and to require positive action to improve their numbers. George Bush's house in Crawford, Texas is an environmentalist's dream, whereas Al Gore's Nashville mansion... not so much. (here's the Snopes on that one).  Nevertheless, while the Sierra Club once consisted of mostly "middle aged Republicans", Democrats today feel as if they exclusively 'own' environmental issues.

Where I live (upstate South Carolina, near the edge of the Sumter National Forest), we have more than our fair share of hunters and woodsmen, and we are overwhelmingly conservative. The folks here know that if you want to hunt tomorrow, you need a thriving community of wildlife today. That means clean air, clean streams, spacious forests. I don't know of anyone who would advocate dirty air and poisonous water... and yet, that's commonly expected of us by Liberals who frankly should know better.

...or maybe not. Liberals tend to congregate in urban areas, so it's not entirely surprising that as a group they hold some unrealistic, if reasonable, assumptions about the environment. They can be forgiven for thinking that hunting causes extinctions. Over-hunting and over-fishing can do that, but so can under-hunting. I've seen deer strip trees bare. If the population isn't managed, they'll easily over-populate an area and starve. If we refuse to allow wolves and other predators to roam free, then we must take their place. And it's counter-intuitive -- but largely true -- that the most successful survival strategy a species can evolve is "being useful to humans". Those that are tend to thrive, with a few notable exceptions. Handbags and meat aren't the only measure of utility in the animal kingdom. We humans form emotional and aesthetic connections as well. Thus, symbolic utility can save a species such as the bald eagle. You should never forget that those who "cling to their guns and religion" are starkly aware of the Biblical charge to not only have dominion, but to "replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:28)

One thing that's gotten press lately is that "energy efficiency" has been dropped from the Republican platform. It's perhaps a little more puzzling since Romney has an record of aggressively pursuing energy efficiency policies and legislation. It is absolutely true that Republicans want energy independence, and this entails more exploration and drilling for domestic oil. But supply is only half the story. Energy independence isn't quickly achieved merely by increasing supply, but by becoming more efficient as well. (I like the term "energy efficient". I don't much like "green". Besides being too slogan-like for me, as we're about to discuss, "green" isn't always energy efficient.)

First... why oil? Why not the gobs of other alternative means of energy production?  The answer to that is simple. Nobody's AGAINST alternative means of energy so long as they make sense and they actually work. The Left would take nuclear power and hydroelectric power off the table; but the fact is those are two clean energy sources that actually do work. Nuclear fuel doesn't magically appear... it's dug out of the ground, and we take the radiation with it. And dams create new habitats; they're transformative; not merely disruptive. Many of the other alternative forms we find are not as successful.

Ethanol, for example, is less efficient, more expensive and more corrosive than gasoline. Ethanol produces less CO2 per gallon than gasoline, but it's also less efficient... the end result being that ethanol produces 19% more CO2 for the same amount of energy liberated compared to gasoline, and results in lower vehicle fuel efficiency (25% lower on the average). Its primary advantages are that it is particulate-free and renewable. However, it requires a great deal of surface land to grow corn for the purpose. There's a judgement call to be made as to whether that ecological impact should go to fuel production or food production. Tacos or fuel tanks, that's the choice.

The best uses of solar energy are local and don't involve electricity. Passive lighting, water heating, HVAC systems are good examples. Photovoltaics, on the other hand, aren't so good at replacing conventional power generation. They're simply expensive and inefficient. The graph shown is purely that of power generation. However, when you factor in all the ecological impacts, we still find that not everything's green for solar.  Photovoltaics require batteries for storage and power regulation, and these pose difficulties for capacity and safe disposal. They also become less efficient over time. Also, solar panels require the use of rare-earth metals that are expensive and are found outside of the U.S. While this can be a decent supplemental energy source for local use, it's not so good for industrial generation and lessening trade dependence. Solar concentrators (that heat water used to power traditional generators) are better, but they still require a LOT of land and a LOT of sunlight. Unlike nuclear and hydro plants, they can't produce energy around the clock. Again, while it's sustainable, it's not terribly eco-friendly.

The same is true for wind and geothermal... good locally; not-so-good industrially, and if you're going to exclude the only items that actually work and are economical (nuclear and hydroelectric) as the far Left would like, then you're basically pursuing an energy policy of sweet dreams and nothing of substance.

The point here isn't about any particular form of alternative energy; it's that the Conservatives really aren't interested in any form of alternative energy that flat-out doesn't do the job. But when it DOES do the job, you'd better get out of the way.  Co.exist reports that Republicans are about 6% more likely to make 'green' home improvements than Democrats. Red states are more likely to be invested in 'green' energy (PDF). The reasons are economic. And you might think, "oh, well, sure... that's just the Republicans being greedy again!" except that the Democrats have these very same economic opportunities in front of them along with professed ideological motivations... yet on the average they still don't implement as much real, measurable, effective change.

And that's a fractured expectation.

Now, what Co.exist doesn't consider is that there is another ideological reason in play. Conservatives don't like independence in whatever form. To a conservative, if you can lower your country's dependence on foreign oil, that's good. If you can lower your family's dependence on the power company, that's even better. If you can do both while actually saving real cash, that's a trifecta.

(note: edited to add the word "don't" in the last paragraph. After 4 years, I just noticed the omission. Whoops. But that's OK... after 4 years, I'm also shown to have been right all along.)