Thursday, April 24, 2008

Environmental Destructiveness

Environmentalists are usually viewed positively. After all, most people find it hard to dislike those who spend their time trying to clean rivers and protect polar bears. Even among conservatives, environmentalists are often viewed as good people who sometimes go a little too far. Liberals, of course, view them as living saints.

Actually, however, environmentalists have done massive amounts of harm. True, they have saved some endangered species from extinction, and have done some good work preserving forests and rivers. But they also bear a large measure of responsibility for a great deal of human suffering.

There are over 300 million cases of malaria each year. Over one million of these cases die. DDT is an effective pesticide. It is extremely effective against the mosquitoes that carry the disease, and many African governments want to use the chemical to control malaria.

Unfortunately for them, environmentalists (not just the more radical ones, but your average, middle of the road environmentalists) are absolutely against such a practice. DDT is bad for the environment. It is absorbed into the bodies of animals in close contact with it, and increases in concentration up the food chain (since predators are poisoned by prey contaminated by DDT). It had particularly deadly consequences for birds of prey, which received the largest amounts of the poison, which resulted in weaker-shelled eggs. Since their young had such a high mortality rate, bald eagles and other raptors faced dramatic population declines when DDT was in heavy use.

Since the ban of DDT, bird of prey populations have rebounded. Granted, maybe a bunch of African children died of malaria (malaria hits children hardest), but at least we can rest assured that the African fish eagle is doing okay.

Is this accomplishment really worth the price? DDT alone wouldn’t eliminate malaria (mosquitoes adapt and become resistant), but it would probably help. Unspoiled nature is beautiful and worth fighting for, but it is indisputable that the needs of people, especially when the people are desperate as those living in sub-Saharan Africa, come first.

Ethanol is one of the Holy Grails of environmentalism. As envisioned by environmentalists, it would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, provide clean energy, stop global warming, and cure malaria. Well, it can’t actually do the last one, but then, it can’t do the first or second or third ones either. According to a February Associated Press article, it may actually double the greenhouse gas emissions from the gasoline it would replace, so it does absolutely nothing to slow the spread of carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, even if ethanol did reduce greenhouse emissions, it wouldn’t work anyway. Even if every bushel of U.S. corn, wheat, rice and soybean were used for ethanol, it would cover about 4% of America’s energy needs. So ethanol is a) not all that environmentally friendly, and b) not that useful, even if it was.

Environmentalists are into symbolic things, however, and see ethanol as a Good Thing. Since the federal government feels a need to pander to environmentalists, and a need to pander to Iowa corner farmers for the Iowa caucuses, they provide generous subsidies for ethanol growth. As a result, over one quarter of all corn grown the U.S. is used in ethanol, and the amount rises each year.

Remember those poor Third Worlders dying of malaria? Environmentalists (and to be fair, greedy Iowa corn farmers) ignore that these people need to eat. Since much of the corn grown is used in ethanol, and much of the rest is fed to affluent Americans and Europeans, the price of food for billions of people as skyrocketed.

Rice, which is a main dish for billions of Asians, has increased in price 147 percent over the past year. People are rioting in Mexico over corn prices. India, Vietnam, and Kazakhstan have halted wheat exports. A third of the world’s grain markets are now closed.

It’s not hard to see that food costs will explode. In fact, they already have—global food prices have risen 83 percent over the last three years. These prices will hit poor, stressed countries the hardest, and those countries struggling with massive food shortages will see those shortages get worse. World hunger is a problem now—but if food prices continue to increase, it will become incalculably worse.

On the bright side, the amount of ethanol used continues to rise, making environmentalists and corn farmers happy. There might be a lot of African children starving to death (those are the ones who don’t die of malaria) because of the high price of basic food staples, but on the other hand, our cars are running on clean (well, not really clean, but still) energy. So I guess it’s all worth it, and I’m sure that those starving people can be comforted by the fact that they are really kind of environmental martyrs. So all’s well that ends well.

12 Comments:

At April 24, 2008 at 7:14 PM , Blogger Beth said...

It's things like these that make me just want to scream, man, it is so frustrating!

 
At April 25, 2008 at 6:21 AM , Blogger Name: Soapboxgod said...

God I love irony. Even United Nations has changed their tune with respect to corn based ethanol and whether or not it's "better" for the environment.

http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/wm1750.cfm

Dubious Effects on the Environment. The claim that ethanol production is good for the environment is misleading for a number of reasons. First, transporting ethanol is costlier and requires more energy than transporting other fuels. Ethanol must be transported by petroleum-using trucks, barges, and railroads, because any moisture in the pipelines will contaminate the ethanol and make it virtually useless.[3] Second, planting corn requires farmers to use a number of pesticides and fertilizers that harm the environment. 1995 Nobel Laureate P.J. Crutzen concluded that the nitrous oxide emitted from biofuel production contributes as much or more to global warming than the cooling caused by fossil fuel reduction.[4] Third, the proposed mandate would lead to greatly expanded ethanol production; consequently, more acreage would be shifted to corn--either by clearing forestland or by converting farmland previously used to grow products like soybeans or wheat.[5] The first option would damage the environment through deforestation; the second would push food prices even higher.

Stanford’s Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Mark Z. Jacobsen also has studied the misperception that corn based ethanol is more environmentally friendly:

http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/

And, from a blog of mine from July of last year:

What's more, were we to remove the subsidies afforded to ethanol, its prices would be higher than those currently of gasoline; prices mind you which are not exempt from fluctuating oil prices. Moreover, production costs of refining corn based ethanol exceed the benefit of its output (25-30% less energy with E85 compared to its petroleum based nemesis thereby equating to less mileage per gallon).

 
At April 27, 2008 at 11:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

DDT isn't even as hazardous as you make the chemical sound...for birds, other animals, or humans. The campaign to stop its use was the first successful enviroweenie propaganda blitz.

skh.pcola

 
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