Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Canadian environmentalists bet against trade and innovation

There something funny and false about the logic of arguing for the environment while dismissing the benefits of freer markets and technological innovation. Environmentalists too often use science, including economic analysis, selectively, invoking it’s authority to protect wildlife while ignoring its value to human beings.

The Pembina Institute, a go-to Calgary-based environmental think tank, defends the Ontario Government’s renewable energy program of promoting wind and solar power by offering developers long term power contracts at 2 to 5 times prevailing market prices. Pembina's defense rests on one grim assumption: all other future sources of power will be vastly more expensive as well. The Feed in Tariff (FIT) program won’t hurt too much because eventually everything else will hurt a lot more as well. Click on:

Their reasoning will give comfort to governments that think they know where technology is going and don’t trust markets to sort out what’s most efficient. However, it flies in the face of historic experience and the global and promising search for new technologies to generate and distribute power.

By all means, include environmental costs in energy prices, but please let’s not defend arbitrary and extravagant  public procurement policies by saying everything will get more expensive anyway. That kind of Luddite thinking was disapproved by coal, crude oil and natural gas innovations over the last 150 years. Only monopoly public nuclear power has steadily become more costly over the decades.

At the same time, Dan McDermott, director, Sierra Club Ontario dismisses the future economic value of the proposed new Detroit-Windsor Bridge:

“Tighter border security, passport requirements and the lingering recession are just some of the reasons identified in the January, 2011, Sierra Club report authored by a team of traffic-flow experts which concluded that this 12-year drop is the new normal.”

McDermott concludes:

“The Detroit river crossing is an unneeded $5.3-billion boondoggle that would involve substantial environmental damage. The Michigan legislature’s caution is merited and worthy of praise.”

Surely, there are better ways to protect eight species of birds and a garter snake without dismissing the potential for greater Canada-US trade and the importance of that trade to the well-being of North America. The barriers at the Canada-US border were erected by choice. And can be undone by better choices. People can, Mr McDermott, reform their relations with one another as well as with the environment.

Finally, what’s this about using traffic flow experts to determine the need for a hundred year investment project? Why not use this year’s lousy spring to shut down the climate change debate?

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