Outsourcing Manufacturing, Importing Smog


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

224 Responses

  1. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I still don’t know why people are so concerned about Florida, anyway. It’s hot, it’s muggy, it’s so full of stupid Fark has a tag for it…Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Check out CommunityPower.
    Then tell me we need GovernmentallyProvided subsidies again.

    Sometimes, just sometimes, if you build it, they will come.

    (Also, who doesn’t like giving out (private) subsidies for essentially free?)Report

  3. Avatar Damon says:

    “And a whole lot of it is our fault.”

    Really? I don’t recall voting for any policies or making any technology that “made globalization more feasible”

    One of the reasons all the CO2 agreements fell apart was that the growing econcomies had no intention of hobbling their economies for a “first world concern”.

    Now IF, you wanted to tax imports based upon the pollution, you’d have to logically tax the pollution impacting and harming US, not Canada or Mexico–that’s their problem. How you going to calc the delta?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      When we vote for free trade, we vote for the pollution that comes from it. When we buy products from China, we are voting with our wallets.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Please document where I voted for a free trade treaty with China.

        And if I buy a Land’s End T-shirt, and LE moves production from South Carolina or Brazil, to China, explain the mechanism I can use to determine this BEFORE I place an order? Sorry, buying something from a manufacturer than can move production in a heartbeat doesn’t mean my purchase is explicit culpability.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Did you vote for anyone who signed us up for the GATT? How about NAFTA?

        MFN for China happened under Clinton (I’m not sure if the legislature got a say…).

        But broadly speaking, we’ve been more English and less American System for ages now, and nobody in politics wants it any different (except maybe Paul. Because Paul).Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        obvs. you ought to read their profit/loss statements and keep abreast on managmnt changes.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Exactly, I am voting against the costs imposed by excessive regulatory burdens. Especially when they aren’t even burdens I can vote against.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Good for the EPA. Trying to ensure that folks won’t get eaten out of house and home is a GOOD THING, isn’t it?
        If you don’t believe me, try quantifying how much heat leaks out of your local chimneys. (I think that’s legal). I can assure you it is way, way worse for a wood stove.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        Not that I recall for any of them. I sure as hell didn’t vote for Clinton-frankly because he lied about the pot smoking. Very doubtfull about the rest too.

        Like I’m going to be reading 10K filings before making a T-shirt purchase 🙂Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Every item of clothing sold in the U.S. has, as a matter of law, a country of origin label. The federal govt has done you the service of making it a little bit easier than checking the firm’a tax records.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I meant “our fault” in the more collective sense. If you haven’t voted in favor of free trade, haven’t voted in favor of increasing the cost of manufacturing here, and haven’t unnecessarily purchased any products overseas, then you are yourself theoretically in the clear.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        @James Hanley

        And i can see that info when I order online? Funny, never noticed it.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I mind that you’re in illinois, and therefore you might not have voted for anyone who got elected, ever.
        But GATT was bipartisan:

      • Avatar Kim says:

        you can if you order off woot.Report

      • Plenty of online retailers, including Amazon, provide country of manufacture information on most items they sell.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        @Will Truman

        Yes I know that was your intent. My response was 1) part pedantic, 2) serious in the sense that it annoys me to no end when people assign guilt for developments that arise from one alleged “cause” like there is a clear delineation from A to B, when it fact it’s pretty damn murky. It’s a convenient tool which is usually followed by “so you have to pay more to fix it”.

        I’m not trying to bust your chops in particular Will, for what that’s worth.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Damn ,

        So you know it might be a free trade item, yet it’s not important enough for you to ensure you avoid by the brutally onerous effort of brick-and-mortar shopping?

        That’s complicity, friend, not helplessness.

        And, wait, you voted against Clinton because he lied about smoking pot? Of all the reasons to bite against him, that’s the one you publicly espouse? I’m…I’m…flabbergasted.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        @James Hanley
        No, I don’t shop at malls or retail stores unless I have to. I do this for personal reasons: I loathe the mall. The traffic sucks too.

        And I didn’t vote for Clintion because he lied about pot smoking, I didn’t vote for him because he lied. “I didn’t inhale”. BS. I’d had more respect for him if he’d manned up and said “sure I smoke pot”. It was a sign he lacked character.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        that I can see as a reason for voting for HW. But for Dole? Dole was publically flipflopping on his signature issues by the end… (deficit reduction versus cutting taxes).Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        were you also willing to vote against Ryan because he lied?
        (I’m not going to even get into Palin.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I’m not bagging on your for shopping online. I’m just saying that you could easily find out where the items you’re considering purchasing are made, but that’s obviously less important to you than avoiding retail stores. And that’s OK; I’m not bagging on you for that preference ordering. It’s the claim that this makes you a wholly innocent–helpless–party in the free trade issue. That just doesn’t follow.

        As to Clinton, anybody can vote for or against anyone for any reasons they want. It’s just that that particular reason seems…not particularly relevant to either governing ability or policy positions. It seems like voting against a candidate because they lied to their mom about how late they were out the night before. And, dude, they all lie, so unless you tell me that out of principle you refuse to vote because you’ve never found a candidate who never lies, I’m not buying that it’s truly about the lying itself.Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        I beleive they need to tell you it’s imported when selling online, but there are no legal requirements for companies to disclose country of origin on their websites.
        Anyway, you probably shouldn’t blame t-shirts for smog. Blame them for lousy water, perhaps, but apparel making isn’t particularly energy intensive as manufacturing concerns go.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Well, frankly, I didn’t vote for Dole or Ryan or Palin.

        I voted for Bush 1 once. After the “no new taxes” I never did.

        I’ve pretty much washed my hands of both sides. They are all liars and thieves.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        From the perspective of Will’s point, that “it’s our fault”, ie I own some of that fault, here’s what I said to him that wasn’t the snarky part. “2) …when people assign guilt for developments that arise from one alleged “cause” like there is a clear delineation from A to B, when it fact it’s pretty damn murky. It’s a convenient tool which is usually followed by “so you have to pay more to fix it”.”

        I’m tired of being accused of being at fault, and thus having to “do something” to fix it. Even IF I bear some minor responsibility, there are others VASTLY more responsible. The differences are so disproportionate.

        As to Clinton, IIRC that was the turning point in my decision not to vote for him. I wasn’t leaning towards voting for him, so when this issue came up, it was easy to check him off the list. I don’t recall how long ago it was, but it was about that time or perhaps a bit earlier, that I swore off voting in national elections and a bit later, state elections. So yeah, I don’t vote on principle-although it more than the fact that they all lie that caused me to reach that decison.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I’m tired of being accused of being at fault, and thus having to “do something” to fix it.

        Think globally, act locally! Just kidding. I’m the guy who doesn’t care if you buy foreign-made goods, and don’t think any fixing needs to be done. It was only the “there’s no way to know” bit that I was snarking at. (Hey, I know where to look on my clothing to see where it was made, but I don’t, because I don’t care. If there’s a problem–which I’m not persuaded there is–I am a part of it.)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Shame you can’t vote for Bernie Sanders isn’t it?
        He’s honest as they come.

        Know why I don’t mind folks being liars?
        Because I’m far more concerned about blackmail and favors owed.
        Those two are much much better predictors of whether they’re going
        to do what’s right for their constitutents, or for the multinationals.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Liars, beholden to corporations, etc.

        It’s all the same. Politicians working for the constitutents? LOLReport

      • Avatar Kim says:

        oh, some do most of the time (they aren’t all blackmailed — Bernie’s not worth anyone’s time). More do some of the time…

        Besides, you have the choice, if you choose to take it — who do you want running things?
        Which corps?

        Or you can just let Goldmann Sachs run everything… That’s the price of inaction, ain’t it?Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I’ve said this before but it seems like environmentalism/conservation both depends on certain levels of national wealth and personal wealth and non-stakes in the environment.

    Developed nations can care about things like carbon emissions and conservation. Developing nations just want to play catch-up and think it is unfair to sign things like the Kyoto Treaty. In some ways, it is unfair.

    But this happens on the local level as well. West Virginia has a of battles between people on all levels of the coal industry (from CEO to politicians to coal miners) being opposed to environmentalists and sometimes using some rather disturbing tactics. The famous story was about a woman testifying in front of the West Virginia legislature. She presented a picture of how her tap water was black because of coal. The photo was also of bath time for her kids. Some politicians began opining about how the photo might be child pornography. You bet that shut her up quickly. There was also a very ugly judicial election in West Virginia that was really about a proxy in the coal wars.

    In the 1980s, there were fights between loggers in the Northwest and hippies and upper-middle class yuppies who were concerned with mono-forrests and also wanted to save various animals from extinction. The loggers saw the environmentalists and newbies and a threat to their livlihood.

    The environmentalist movement needs a plan for dealing with these issues. I don’t think they have one.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      The alternative is genocide.
      Which, while a plan in ink, one hopes won’t actually get used.
      But, hell, how much does one Democrat in america ever affect
      another country’s politics?Report

    • Avatar notme says:

      “The environmentalist movement needs a plan for dealing with these issues. I don’t think they have one.”

      First they would have to care. The enviro nuts know best what we need and like all zealots they won’t stop till they get what they want.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        So was Nixon one of those nuts who knows best what we need and wouldn’t stop until he got what he wanted?

        You remember Nixon? Republican president, signed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts into law, set up the EPA?

        Too funny to mention: “Barack Milhous Obama” is a fringe-right meme.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        yeah, there’s a reason folks call Nixon the last liberal president.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        Nice try comparing apples and oranges. I doubt Nixon ever envisioned the EPA writing regulations that would result in shutting down perfectly good coal fired power plants as they have under Obama or have an EPA employee that wanted to “crucify oil companies.” So please try again.


      • Avatar zic says:


        Have you seen this document? It dates from April 2, 2007:

        The Clean Air Act’s sweeping definition of “air pollutant” includes “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical… substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air… .” § 7602(g) (emphasis added). On its face, the definition embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe, and underscores that intent through the repeated use of the word “any.”[25] Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons are without a doubt “physical [and] chemical … substance[s] which [are] emitted into … the ambient air.” The statute is unambiguous.

        While the Congresses that drafted § 202(a)(1) might not have appreciated the possibility that burning fossil fuels could lead to global warming, they did understand that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete. The broad language of § 202(a)(1) reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence. See Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 212, 118 S.Ct. 1952, 141 L.Ed.2d 215 (1998) (“[T]he fact that a statute can be applied in situations not expressly anticipated by Congress does not demonstrate ambiguity. It demonstrates breadth” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of “air pollutant,” we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles.

        The Supreme Court ordered the EPA, in 2007, to regulate greenhouse gasses based on the Clean Air Act.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        Surely even liberals can regulate greenhouse gases without shutting down or making new coal fired plants uneconomical? Or is this an admission that they are incapable of doing so? They knew the the new regs would force a shut down and were ok with it.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        You seem to want to argue about the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, which is not relevant here. What is relevant is the degree to which you regulate those gases. Do you put business out of business to satisfy the militant enviros? Clearly with coal, the answer here is yes.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @Notme, as I understand this, it’s coal plants (and other electrical generation plants, too,) are began tripping into problems a long time ago. They wanted to make upgrades to existing plants — upgrades that increased generating capacity, and went beyond just maintenance of their existing equipment — without having to be compliant. They wanted the old rules to apply to new equipment, in other words. This was a legal battle for several years, too. In the meantime, states that are downwind were suing because of problems upwind states were creating. So those existing old plants were already creating externalities that had other states concerned.

        I live in one of those states, and hear, it’s mercury. Go look up how many fish from Maine waters it’s safe to eat each month. That mercury comes from coal-burning plants, the very plants we’re discussing, in the Ohio River Valley on the prevailing weather pattern. While you’re at it, you might look up asthma rates by state, and chart it along a weather map of prevailing weather patterns.

        So there were numbers of other problems beyond ‘environmentalists.’ There were health care costs, lost opportunity costs, etc.

        The owners of those old coal plants have the opportunity and the right to work with the EPA and bring those old plants into compliance. They opt not to do that because it is expensive; in other words, (and this is the Libertarian in me speaking) the externalities had been turned to the correct place: the source of the pollutants that are making fish inedible in Maine’s pristine wilderness lakes and causing steep increases in asthma in down-stream communities.

        This is not just environmentalist regulating old coal plants, it’s coal plant owners deciding the plant isn’t justified when the actual costs are included in operating the plant.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Very well said, zic. In a properly functioning market all business costs are internalized. The complaint being made by notme is that we’re demanding a properly functioning market through the internalization of coal power’s costs.

        Left unconsidered in her complaint is the economic drag created by coal’s pollution, in premature deaths, severe asthma attacks requiring hospitalization, and a vast number of missed work days each year. Anyone who’s serious about making an economic argument concerning coal power needs to add those things into the analysis, or they’re not really being serious.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        I have to give you credit for being clever. First it was greenhouse gases and then you switch to mercury. Last time I checked mercury wasn’t a greenhouse gas, or is it now?. The bottom line is this, when the EPA enviros were looking to set the carbon emission levels they knew that certain level would make old or new coal fired plants uneconomical. They aren’t stupid and knew what they were doing but obviously for political reasons won’t be honest about it. They hate coal and will do anything to kill it.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        You think I’m strawmanning?

        Here’s the Clean Air Act the Supreme Court decision included, from the quote above:

        The Clean Air Act’s sweeping definition of “air pollutant” includes “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical… substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air… .”

        They ruled the act makes no distinction between particulate matter that causes atmospheric warming or that creates acid rain; it’s all particulate matter that’s emitted, and the Clean Air Act makes a federal agency, the EPA, responsible for monitoring and regulating those emissions. So it doesn’t make a difference if it’s carbon or mercury. The ‘climate change’ part is not what matters, the emissions are what matter. And those same mills were already trying to skirt the emissions regulation when it came to mercury.Report

      • Avatar notme says:

        I think you are really good at trying to change the subject.

        Once again I’m not arguing about what the law says about the EPA’s legal authority. That seems to be all you want to argue about. I’m only talking about the degree to which the substances are regulated. The EPA enviros clearly wanted to kill coal and finally found the way to do so by setting the carbon emission levels as low as possible to make the plants uneconomical. I think it is amusing to find coal unions angry at the this admin for letting the EPA end their jobs.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        The EPA enviros clearly wanted to kill coal …

        Is there evidence for this claim? I’m asking seriously. I mean, I understand that enforcing regulations against coal companies could constitute that evidence. But is there any other?

        Are they, for example, in bed with natural gas?Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        Surely someone that’s done as much environmental reporting as you have knows that coal is a dirty world to the enviros and has been for some time? Surely you know as well that natural gas burns much cleaner and is considered better more PC? See this site


        They even have a handy coal fired power plant shutdown count: 162 closed and only 361 to go!!!!Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        This as an article from Newsweek criticizing the Dept. of Energy for not handing out enough money for Clean Coal technology from the stimulus. I presume each of the coal plants you say were forced to close could have applied.


        Please notice the bottom paragraph:

        The Energy Department told the watchdog that it didn’t receive the number of bids it had anticipated, so it decided to direct some money to existing programs in order to use the stimulus money by the deadline.

        So did any of the owners of those coal plants apply for money through the stimulus program? From what I’ve read, there was a dearth of applicants, so more money was shifted into R&D studying carbon capture technology.

        You may want to hold this discussion on an emotional level, outside the regulatory environment. But that’s not where the discussion actually happens; it’s a business looking at the CIP and profit and loss and making business decisions, including if it would be worth seeking out funds for cleaner technology.

        It may make the locals feel good to blame the environmentalists for their lost jobs aid increased electrical rates; but those plant closings were are not that simple. If it was just help upgrading the scrubbing equipment, they could have gotten that. The plants were old, outdated, and inefficient to run; and any upgrades to keep them profitable previous to the 2007 decision would still have required compliance. It wasn’t worth the investment, they fought it as long as they could, the refrained from doing certain kinds of maintenance because it would trigger compliance requirements, hastening the lifespan of the plants. And when they couldn’t continue polluting at the levels they had been, they closed.

        But what replaced the electricity? Because the power demand didn’t disappear.

        Natural gas.

        These are utility companies, most are publicly traded. And they determined that it was cheaper to generate with natural gas then upgrade old coal plants. Now, we’ll fight over groundwater pollution from fracking.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        To briefly add to Still’s question. The head of the EPA is appointed by the Prez. That is where the overall leadership comes from. Some people like to talk about bureaucracies as if they act entirely on their own without a head. But, especially, on big and controversial topics there is a lot of direction coming from the top. In what way does the political leadership want to “kill coal”. How does that help the D’s or whoever heads the EPA? Big Coal may not like what the EPA does but that doesn’t equal killing it.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        So what? It’s not wrong to be opposed to something. It’s not wrong to express that opposition, either. I’m sure if I went out and looked I could find all kinds of counters on websites; abortion counters on pro-life sites, perhaps.

        But a coal-plant counter on the Sierra Club’s website does not public policy determine; does not industry policy set. It’s just one voice in a whole host of voices expressing what some people want. The energy industry has voice, too. They pay out many millions for lobbyists each year and have actively sat with the staff of the energy department and members of Congress to help write US energy policy. Sometimes to the exclusion of the Sierra Club and its ilk.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        There you go again. You ask about proof that enviros don’t like coal and you go off on a tangent about clean coal research. It is hard to have a discussion with you about this when you keep trying to change the subject. Gas may eventually replace all the lost coal megawatts but you know as well as I do that it is not going to be a one for one immediate replacement as the coal plants shut down. First the corps have to build a new plant or modify older ones for a new fuel source and I doubt the enviros will let them do anything without a fight.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        You ask about proof that enviros don’t like coal and you go off on a tangent about clean coal research.

        You gave proof the some enviros don’t like coal. But your earlier claim was that “the EPA enviros clearly wanted to kill coal…”, and you haven’t given any evidence for that claim other than that the EPA regulates coal companies.

        Do you think the Sierra Club is determining EPA governing policy? IS there evidence of that?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @notme, the coal industry has a voice in the regulatory process. So do environmental groups. It’s a discussion, and one the supreme court ordered the nation to hold. There was a huge amount of money circulated in the stimulus for implementing clean coal technology, and it went abegging. There were not enough applicants to even hold a competitive bidding process.

        The coal industry, when there was something in the neighborhood of $1.5B opted not to upgrade those plants with cleaner plants; it opted to shutter them. Enviros would have been happy to have those plants cleaned up.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        In what way does the political leadership want to “kill coal”.

        Boone Pickens made ’em an offer they couldn’t refuse.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        But I must admit to getting quite a chuckle from the Lloyd Bentsen quote:

        There you go again.

        Did you think that was Reagan?Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        I understand you want to play at being naive about this. No I don’t think and have never said that the anti coal folks run the EPA but clearly the EPA shares their vision. The EPA’s new carbon emission rule would limit newly built power plant carbon dioxide emissions to 1,000 pounds-per-megawatt-hour, which only combined-cycle power plants that are powered by natural gas are able to comply with. How strange the EPA regs now stop all new coal plants from being built just like the environs want. I guess that was just a lucky coincidence. The EPA didn’t have to adopt such a strict limit but they did and it is has what one might call a disparate impact.

        Look at the SC stated goals:

        The Beyond Coal campaign’s main objective is to replace dirty coal with clean energy by mobilizing grassroots activists in local communities to advocate for the retirement of old and outdated coal plants and to prevent new coal plants from being built.

        Our goals include:

        Retiring one-third of the nation’s more than 500 coal plants by 2020
        Replacing the majority of retired coal plants with clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal
        Keeping coal in the ground in places like Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin


        Notice the language, they want to retire one third of the plants but only replace the “majority” of them. I guess that means less energy.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Bentsen may have said it at some point, but the iconic “There you go again” did come from Reagan. Bentsen gets “You’re no John F. Kennedy” Admiral Stockdale gets “Who am I? Why am I here?”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        they want to retire one third of the plants but only replace the “majority” of them. I guess that means less energy.

        Nice job mis-quoting them, notme. You’ve revised “replacing the majority…with clean energy…” to “only replace the majority.” That’s not the same thing at all. Demand’s not going away, so they know all the power from closed coal plants will have to be replaced. Options are include natural gas, potentially nuclear, but they hope that a majority of them will not take that route, but will instead be green sources.

        I think they’re dreaming, but that’s no excuse for building your argument on a false characterization of their words.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        Will is right. It was Reagan to Cater. At least try and get the quote right.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        At least try and get the quote right

        Great timing, notme; comedy gold!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        W gets “Mission accomplished”. Mondale gets “Where is the beef?” Marion Barry gets
        “Bitch set me up!”Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        Nice try at quibbling but if you don’t replace all of the lost megawatts does it really matter what you replace the majority (but not all) of them with? I’m going to take four dirty chocolates from you but only give you three green lollipops. 4 is less than 3 not matter what you get back. Even a child wouldn’t take that deal.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Both Bentsen and Reagan said it; Bentsen in his debate with GOP nominee for VP, Dan Quayle; reflecting Reagan using it in his debate with Carter. In the VP debate, it was the response that basically gave Bentsen the win; in part, for invoking Reagan.

        The point being that both energy interests and environmental interests have a right to express their interests; Reagan doesn’t get all the quote glory alone, and environmentalists don’t own all the burden for plant shuttering.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Come on, you made a mistake, and instead of just ‘fessing up you spin it.

        Do you think we’re that easily fooled?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I dunno, I think Reagan does pretty much own that line*. I can’t find any reference of Bentsen saying it. (Which isn’t to say that he didn’t, but it didn’t seem to make the same splash that Reagan did with it, or that Bentsen’s JFK line did.)

        * – Maybe Mondale gets a little bit for turning it around in 1984 (“There you go again again…”)… but I’d still give RWR custody.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        What’s kind of funny is that almost all of these quotes are deflective responses to legitimate points being made.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        What mistake did I make? Did I mis-quote the SC about only replacing the “majority” of the lost megawatts? As I said before, what matters is the fact that the SC only wants to replace the “majority” of the lost megawatts not all of then on a one for one basis.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        They did not say they only wanted to replace a majority. They said they wanted to replace a majority with green sources. That means the rest will be replaced with non-green sources.

        This is not hard. A person doesn’t even have to agree with them to understand. I certainly don’t–I think the replacement needs to be nuclear because I don’t think it’s at all feasible at this point to replace a majority of lost coal megawatts with green sources. Yet I can grasp what they’re saying and actually argue against their real point, not make an obvious strawman of it as you are doing.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        notme, I’m not being naive about this. I’m trying to understand why you think the EPA wants to kill coal. And after mulling over your comments for a bit, I think I’ve figured it out. Tell me if I’m right!

        The EPA wants to kill coal because enviros are advocating for the closing of over 50% of current coal fired electiricy plants by 2020, and this advocacy is reflected in policy. But they must realize that their goals for replacing current and projected energy needs with renewables cannot be met. Which leaves a gap in meeting that demand, which they must also know to be the case. But they must believe failing to meet those needs is worth it because killing coal is more important.

        Is that it?Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        I’ll be gracious and say your interpretation is one that could be valid but only if you add the extra language that isn’t actually present. You added, “That means the rest will be replaced with non-green sources.” That extra language, which isn’t present in the original, does change the meaning. If you want to add the extra language fine, but don’t accuse me of misquoting them because I didn’t added it.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        James and notme: based on that page, neither of you can say with any confidence what the Sierra Club has in mind for the energy that had been supplied by the remaining retired coal plants — it just says what it will do with the majority, not what it will or won’t do with the remainder.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        I don’t believe I ever tried to fathom, guess or divine what the SC’s intentions were for the megawatt the deficit once they achieve their goal. I simply recognized the fact that under their plan they only want to see the majority (but not all) replaced with green sources (added to make James happy)Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        Well, but you assumed that their statement meant less energy. FWIW though, I’d deduct more points from James for the false accusation with a smattering of misplaced ridicule.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        you wrote

        I simply recognized the fact that under their plan they only want to see the majority (but not all) replaced with green sources

        Is this why you think the EPA wants to kill coal? I’m sorry if I appear dense about this, but I’m not understanding your argument or evidence for that claim, unless you’re equating a desire to transition to renewables as equivalent to a desire to kill coal.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Changing “replace a majority with green energy” to “replace only a majority” (both paraphrases) doesn’t send any warning sensors off in your mind, eh?

        That’s a shame. Deduct all the points you feel you need to take; I’m not persuaded any you’d give me are worth having.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        For what it’s worth, and without rendering judgment on this particular call, I take points-granted and points-deducted from KenB as seriously as any other quality commenter.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I simply recognized the fact that under their plan they only want to see the majority (but not all) replaced with green sources (added to make James happy)

        Nice spin, notme. Slow down before you get yourself all dizzy, though.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        OK, I’ll throw this out to anyone who wants to extend me a kindness. Can you explain to me how the evidence and arguments notme has presented in this subthread lead to the conclusion that the EPA wants to kill coal? That is, explain how the claims being made justify that specific conclusion. I really would like to know how that argument goes (and not necessarily to criticize it; I’m just curious about how all those things get to where they’re intended to go).

        I’m really not seeing, but that’s probably a blind spot in my part. I assume there’s an obvious but unstated premise I’m not picking up, or the logic is escaping me, something like that.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        That’s fine, Will, however it’s meant to be interpreted. But ironically, kenb’s accusation of a false accusation is false. (The addition of the word “only” to the SC position, fundamentally changes the meaning. Ask a lawyer.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        You’re trying to be nice, but don’t hold your breath. Ideologues don’t defend arguments with the kind of logic you’re asking for. They’re seeking rhetorical trump cards that aren’t supposed to be examined too closely, just as magicians don’t really want you examining their equipment closely, lest you expose their tricks.

        In all honesty, I’d wager that there are some EPA staffers who’d like to eliminate coal power entirely. Agency employment involves a large degree of self-selection, and pro-environment people are more likely to work for the EPA than pro-business people, and coal is of course an environmental problem from start to finish, from the digging to the burning.

        But of course there being some EPA staffers who’d like to eliminate coal–assuming, that is, that my prediction is right–does not mean “the EPA” is out to destroy coal power. It’s a diverse agency; it includes people who care about the environment without being single-minded ideologues; it includes people who recognize that we don’t yet have good means to replace all that power lest we go to nuclear, and who recognize that’s got its own set of environmental problems, as well as currently being a political no-go; it includes political appointees whose goals for the agency may at times conflict fundamentally with the goals of many of the permanent staff; and its regulation of CO2 was effectively mandated by the federal courts. All of that adds up to “the EPA” not, collectively as an agency, wanting to kill of all coal plants.

        But that doesn’t score rhetorical points. That doesn’t give a good enemy to hate. That doesn’t make politics a good team game where we can proudly boast our colors. It’s too wonkish, not a clear good v. evil story.

        You’re asking for something that’s not on offer; something that is diametrically opposed to what’s on offer.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        Cheers, Will. I should learn to stay out of these things, though — obviously no one was asking me to arbitrate.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Well, it started out as a principle of charity thing, but then, after I posted what I thought was THE ARGUMENT and received no response, I thought maybe I was missing something. I like your description of the EPA – surely there are all sorts who work there with diverging agendas and interests and desired enforcement priorities. I agree with it (even tho I couldn’t have articulated it). So I don’t think the claim that the EPA wants to kill coal is defensible. I was just interested in the argument – what it might be if there is one, if the claim is more than a polysyllabic grunt of dislike – cuz I’m not seeing it. Well, except for the two I offered.

        Maybe notme could chime in and clear this up. 🙂Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater the part that gets me is the built-in assumption that it’s always and adversarial relationship between the regulator and the industry. First, if I recall correctly, one of the problems identified with the Deep Water Horizon oil spill was the opposite, too chummy. This has been, for a long time, a concern in the environmental community — industry and government in bed together.

        What I saw, examining the relationship, was somewhere in between. Often, regulators would actually help solve problems; they can bring resources to the table that an industry might not have access to on its own. I saw regulators who were often very aware of the costs and problems they created for businesses. I know environmental managers in several industries; and if they have a problem — meaning running outside their permitted levels — they deal with any direct personal safety issues there might be, and then the regulator is the next phone call. In part because if it’s not, the presumption of hiding and cover up will always cloud how they handled the issue.

        Any time I hear anyone setting up the us/them of regulatory wars, I get pretty suspicious the speaker is talking ideology and not actual practice. That’s not what I witnessed reporting on businesses who were polluting air, water, or ground, and carried out their business with regulations in place due to that pollution. (And you know that I say this as an environmentalist; I think the loon population has more rights to clean water then coal burning plants have to emit mercury.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Coal killers to the left of me, regulatory captured to the right.
        Here I am stuck in the middle with you.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        KenB’s judgment is vacated for lack of standing, The case of Jam3z vs. NotMe is remanded to Trumwill for final disposition.

        (Does anyone read Ambrose Bierce any more? I’ve always loved this one:

        A Man in a Hurry, whose watch was at his lawyer’s, asked a Grave Person the time of day.

        “I heard you ask that Party Over There the same question,” said the Grave Person. “What answer did he give you?”

        “He said it was about three o’clock,” replied the Man in a Hurry; “but he did not look at his watch, and as the sun is nearly down, I think it is later.”

        “The fact that the sun is nearly down,” the Grave Person said, “is immaterial, but the fact that he did not consult his timepiece and make answer after due deliberation and consideration is fatal. The answer given,” continued the Grave Person, consulting his own timepiece, “is of no effect, invalid, and absurd.”

        “What, then,” said the Man in a Hurry, eagerly, “is the time of day?”

        “The question is remanded to the Party Over There for a new answer,” replied the Grave Person, returning his watch to his pocket and moving away with great dignity.

        He was a Judge of an Appellate Court.

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Mike, why do you hate me. Can I recuse myself on the basis that I am not an impartial party? But since it’s my post, I will plow forward.
        The Sierra Club stated their goals as:

        -Retiring one-third of the nation’s more than 500 coal plants by 2020.
        -Replacing the majority of retired coal plants with clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal.
        -Keeping coal in the ground in places like Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin

        Notme said:

        Notice the language, they want to retire one third of the plants but only replace the “majority” of them. I guess that means less energy.

        To which James responded:

        Nice job mis-quoting them, notme. You’ve revised “replacing the majority…with clean energy…” to “only replace the majority.” That’s not the same thing at all.

        So the source of the disagreement is whether or not we can infer from Sierra Club’s description that the unmentioned 1/3 means (a) the energy will not be replaced or (b) the energy will be replaced by sources unmentioned.

        Notme’s paraphrasing of TSC’s did leave off the part about less energy, though that can indeed be “the same thing” if the default assumption is that the lack of specificity, in combination with TSC’s opposition to other forms of energy, is or should be that less energy overall should be used. Which circles back to the original argument.

        The Sierra Club could have clarified this itself by simply suggesting where the other third would come from, if anywhere, but they didn’t. Can we then infer that they would not replace it?

        TSC declines to state what, if any, other than the listed forms of energy, it finds acceptable. That, to me, is a problem. A cursory further investigation reveals that TSC is an opponent of natural gas exploitation and nuclear energy.

        On the other hand, it is entirely possible that in order to close coal plants they would reluctantly agree to suspend their “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign and uniform opposition to nuclear energy. Just as they do not specify natural gas or nuclear as alternatives, neither do they specify conservation.

        I thereby affirm KenB’s initial ruling. With regard to the secondary ruling involving sanctions (point deductions), however, I come to a different conclusion. Notme’s general tone and demeanor throughout the conversation and more generally invites impolite response on the basis that he/she continually asserted bad faith on the part of his/her opponents prior to this specific altercation.

        Please allow me a moment to hide beyond the podium before you throw rocks.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I appeal the ruling.

        Yes, the Sierra Club could have written their position more clearly. But consider this:

        Say I expect 1/3 of the lightbulbs in my house to burn out in the next year, and I say I’m going to replace the majority of them with LED bulbs.

        According to the debate here so far, this could mean one of two things.
        1. I am not going to replace the other;
        2. I am going to replace the others with something other than an LED bulb?

        Assume a gun is put to your head and you are required to place a large wager on the answer you select. Which do you choose?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        James, well it depends. Are you on the record as opposing people the manufacture, sale, and purchase of non-LED lights? Do you have a history of saying that should all be using fewer lightbulbs? If so, I might actually believe #1. Otherwise, I would of course believe #2.

        In this case, I find it perfectly reasonable to believe that Sierra Club would want to shut down the coal plants and then continue to oppose natural gas exploitation and nuclear energy. More reasonable than to believe you don’t care if there’s a light in your basement, anyway.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        OK, this has been a really strange debate, people. First, why are y’all feeding the troll? He/she took a small part of one section of one webpage, and it sparked a debate that’s spanned 2 days.

        Look, the Sierra Club’s plan is not contained in what the he/she quoted. It’s contained across that entire website. They want to get rid of coal plants, replace them with clean energy, and reduce energy usage. I don’t know if they’ve talked about the percentage of energy usage they’d like our total to be reduced by, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were around 1/6, or what you’d lose in energy production if you replaced exactly half of the 1/3 of the coal plants they want to get rid of by 2020. The only person who thinks that these three things, in combination or alone, are bad, is the troll, and I’m not sure he/she’s serious about anything he/she says here.

        So again, the quoted passage is pretty much useless without the overall plan, the overall plan calls for both reducing the number of coal plants and reducing overall energy usage (and therefore overall energy production needs), while replacing as many coal plants as needed with clean energy. So, they do not want to replace all of the coal plants, because they do not want us to use as much energy. A big part of their campaign is Energy Efficiency, and the power production part of their campaign doesn’t make sense without it.

        In conclusion: the quoted passage is useless without the context, so there’s no point arguing about the quoted passage without the context, and DNFTT.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        In this case, I find it perfectly reasonable to believe that Sierra Club would want to shut down the coal plants and then continue to oppose natural gas exploitation and nuclear energy. More reasonable than to believe you don’t care if there’s a light in your basement, anyway.

        So I got notme’s argument right on the first shot. Thanks Will.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        That’s a good point. I had intended to make it earlier, but let myself get caught in the weeds of the argument. But let’s keep in mind that “replacing the rest with something else,” could mean increased energy efficiency as well as gas or nuclear.

        Whichever way we look at it, the way the SC’s plan was represented was invalid. And it was invalid in a way that suited the ideological dispositions of a person who’s consistently quite ideological.

        I’m not sure why some people find it objectionable to point that out (other than the DFTT issue, which is a fair critique).

        For myself, I despise ideologues. Not people who have a particular ideology, but those who view everything so strictly through that ideology that they are compelled to mis-represent everything coming from another ideology and to always attribute malevolence to those others. I was grading student responses to a federal budgeting simulation yesterday, and one was from a student who said (paraphrased), “It was easy to balance the budget; I just cut everything because I read about economics at the Mises Institute’s website and I know that we don’t need government to help us out.” Grrr. I doesn’t matter than I’m a libertarian–they guy missed the whole point of the assignment, which was to realize the difficulties of balancing a budget when not everybody has the same priorities as he has.

        I don’t give it a pass. Maybe that makes me an a-hole, but I think the world would be a better place if ideologues were, as a matter of course, strapped down and shocked each time they did that.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        First, why are y’all feeding the troll? He/she took a small part of one section of one webpage, and it sparked a debate that’s spanned 2 days.

        I won’t speak for any of the other feeders here, but I was curious about exactly what I said I was: an argument for the claim that the EPA wants to kill coal. That claim is so radical if true, and struck me as so difficult to non-circularly justify, and so obviously false, that I wanted to hear the rationale behind the claim. Further, it’s a pretty common sentiment expressed by conservatives (in particular and as a general type) about the EPA that I wanted to get to the bottom of why it (the view) has gained so much credence. Notice I never demanded a sound, objectively defensible justification for the claim. I don’t think that can be done. Instead, I wanted to hear the argument conservatives tell themselves.

        As to the second point you made above – basing a conclusion off a tiny cherry-picked sampling of the rhetoric – that was part of the point I was getting at. Was notme trying to be intentionally misleading when she used that example to justify her negative views of the EPA and envirnomentalists generally? I don’t think so, actually, and if I’m right about that then notme wasn’t trolling. But the premise of his/her argument – that the SC and the EPA by extension are fully willing to let energy needs go unmet, and accept all the economic and individual hardship doing so would entail, in order to kill coal strikes me as so prima facie absurd that there’s something else going on here underlying that conclusion. It’s that gap in the logic – that other thing – that I find fascinating and wanted to have filled in.

        Of course, notme could have been intentionally misrepresenting the specific policy (which was James’ point) to further his/her argument. But personally speaking here, I don’t think he/she did. I think what notme did was present an accurate picture of how he/she views those policies: that there purpose is to kill coal even if that means leaving energy needs unmet. Or in other words, ending the use of fossil fuels isn’t the SC and EPA’s primary objective given the constraint of meeting energy needs, it’s the sole objective irrespective of whether people suffer from lack of energy sources.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I wish the EPA wanted to kill coal, with the caveat that we have something to replace it with (in combination with a reduction in energy use, of course). Coal is dirty, period, and coal mining is a horrible, horrible business, both for people and the environment. If we could ween ourselves off of coal entirely in my lifetime, that would be an incredibly good thing.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        That goes a long ways to making notme not a troll. I too eagerly await the death of coal. The case against it from top to bottom (as someone on this thread said) is pretty decisive. Does the EPA, as a group? Perhaps?

        If that’s right, then notme’s comments are just descriptive and apply to a certain set of commonly held beliefs. But that’s not the only claim notme made, or even the primary one: he/she made the additional claim that achieving that end is worthwhile goal even if that lost energy hasn’t been replaced. And on one reading of notme’s comments, it seems he/she thinks the energy gap resulting from killing coal is intended by coal haters, which attributes to them sinister motives and – if the claim were correct – a certain nasty kind of evilness.

        There is definitely some trolling going on here, and in notme’s comments in general. But it’s not trolls all the way down.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Still, I think you’re giving NotMe’s enviros-want-to-kill-coal too much credence here. While yes, it is the case that Chris, you, and others would prefer a world in which coal power wasn’t a necessity, there is very little indication that this is a goal in anything more than the abstract sense. The EPA does not appear to want to shut down all the coal plants or anything like that. Rather, they are shutting down some of them (that declined to upgrade) and it doesn’t appear that it will go further than that. Even if every last EPA official would ultimately want to see coal replaced by power supplied by wind, sun, and water, there isn’t any indication that they aren’t taking overall need into account.

        The most that can be said outside of the abstract is that they do want us to use less coal and are (as you point out) indifferent to whether or not that means we use less energy in the overall (increased efficiency in this context is still less energy – we could increase efficiency and continue to use coal). While I do think that there is a contingent of the environmental movement that has a pastoral fetish of little or no electricity, I don’t think the movement – the EPA and not even TSC – can really be defined in those terms. Whatever else might be said, the EPA is leaving a lot of coal plants open, and TSC’s plan allows for leaving many of them open.

        NotMe’s position on this is extremely hyperbolic. Which is fine, as hyperbole has its place. But NM hasn’t actually admitted that it’s hyperbolic and seems to have been trying to defend it as if it is not.

        I don’t think this equates to trollism, in and of itself, but there was a reason I had mostly stayed out of it prior to Schillings’s summons.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Will, I’m not being overly charitable, or taking the expressed views “too seriously”, or any of that. I’m trying to get to the roots of why notme thinks those things and on what grouns those comments are justified. That’s all.

        NotMe’s position on this is extremely hyperbolic.

        Not really. It strikes me as pretty run-o-the-mill boilerplate conservatism. As just one example, recall the last Republican primary when the delightful issue of which Departments of Government each candidate would shutter if they were elected came up? Every single candidate said they’d shut down the EPA (Except for maybe Romney, because he didn’t want to get baited into wearing the clown shoes.) Anti-EPA sentiment runs deep among your people. (Heh.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        It strikes me as pretty run-o-the-mill boilerplate conservatism.

        That’s not at all mutually exclusive with hyperbolic.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        And I think Perry said he’d shut it down twice since he couldn’t remember the third of the three departments deserving the chop block.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Still, his comments here, alone, would not make him a troll, to be sure. His collective presence on this blog certainly suggests that he is one (are we sure he’s a he?).

        Anyway, leaving him aside altogether (from now on), the best way to judge the EPA is by its behavior, and its behavior in no way indicates that it wants to get rid of coal anytime soon. I’m sure anyone who is concerned about the environment and sustainability wants to get rid of coal eventually, but that’s not feasible now, and even if it were, the EPA’s behavior is not motivated solely by environmental concerns and never has been. Like any other government agency, it has to navigate the treacherous waters of politics, and is subject to the influence of moneyed interests. And coal is an interest with a whole hell of a lot of money, and political sway.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        (are we sure he’s a he?)

        I’m pretty sure we’re sure he’s a she.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Will, what’s to be gained from interpreting notme’s views as hyperbolic? Is it so that I can easily dismiss them? Presumably, notme has an argument in there somewhere. I think I know what it is, and it’s not entirely crazy. He/she thinks that envirnomentalists are pushing a whole agenda out of a hatred of coal. And in some sense that’s true. But without filling on the context of why hatred of coal is (or might be, depending on how seriously you take issues like emissions, and strip mining and etc) disliked, the claim that “coal is bad” reduces to an unjustified grunts of emotionalism that could only be accounted for by politics.

        Getting that sorted out, getting past the reduction of an evidence-based claim to irrational emoting, seems to me like a good thing. All too often critics of quote-unquote liberal causes attempt to do just that. We saw this very thing your earlier post about the IP, in fact.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I think she’s a she, too.

        God made a grave mistake when He didn’t include a gender neutral personal pronoun in our language.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        IP? I feel like I should know what you’re referring to, but I’m drawing a blank. Immigration policy?

        I have an appreciation for what you’re trying to do here. I just don’t think it will actually be particularly productive or illuminating.

        Also, in case it wasn’t clear, I wasn’t saying “it was hyperbolic” as a defense. I was using it to say that it wasn’t actually a very defensible claim. I consider the focus on it (though well-intended) to be a distraction from actual discussion on environmental policy.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I’ll drop it.

        Innocence Project.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I am pretty sure that those who are pretty sure that notme is a she, are conflating notme with JustMe, who is a she.

        [receives Meta Award of the Week]Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        There’s an internet hipster version of the liar’s paradox that reads, “Everything I say is meta.”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I don’t even know what meta’s phor.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Ce n’est pas meta.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I don’t even know what meta’s phor.

        He’s for World Peace.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “God made a grave mistake when He didn’t include a gender neutral personal pronoun in our language.”

        they certainly did.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        God (singular!) knew what I meant.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Ah, I think glyph’s right. Mea culpa.

        There’s a perfect solution to the problem of confusing commenters, though. OT should enforce a strict perfectly-unique-names policy–any name that the software algorithm determined to be too similar to any other commenter’s name would automatically be rejected with some name that was never used before. The liberty to choose our own names is intolerable.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Ensuring unique-enough names would actually solve a lot of problems. For instance, no one could confuse you with that J@m3z weirdo.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I hate that f***er.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I’m not an “enviro”, for whatever that’s worth, and I want to kill coal.

        The energy density of coal is not great. The byproducts of mining it are bad. The byproducts of burning it are bad.

        Basically, it was an entirely fine fuel for 1840.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        All we need is to not need it anymore…Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      @newdealer I think the problem with a lot of environmental activists is that they think of the environment as a sacred value, and people are really bad at making trade-offs involving sacred values. This makes the kind of meeting of the minds needed for compromise very difficult.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        This seems rather spot on. Many but not all environmentalists have a sort of mystical reverance for nature for its own safe rather than wanting to protect the environment so humans have a place to live. Thats why you get a few extremists like the Voluntary Extinction Movement, which makes environmentalism look out there to many people. On a less radical level its why environmentalists have trouble embracing positions that would help them. There was an anti-urban bias in a lot of early environmentalism but we know that big cities like Paris, Tokyo, and New York are in many ways good for the environment. They allow millions of people to live on relatively small areas of land, freeing the rest for nature.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        There is a truth to this but it seems like there should be a middle ground between ours to preserve and ours to exploit*. I still think the anti-urban bias that Lee mentioned below exists in environmentalism. Plus they like their resource war fantasies and even if not as extreme as the Voluntary Extermination Movement (aka vastly stupid people).

        *Those bro-dude idiots who toppled the ancient rock formation in Utah last year are an example of ours too exploit which is just wrong as well.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Wait, the US Military is environmentalists now?
        (who else is preparing for resource wars??)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I can’t find it, but there was actually an interesting article recently about the military’s green efforts and how they were exceeding Europe’s.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        This is correct. The Deep Ecology movement in particular emphasizes that everything in nature exists for its own purposes, not human purposes, and has intrinsic value, and that value cannot be calculated in the market place; it is in fact invaluable, and so cannot (legitimately) be commoditized by placing a market value on it.

        The decisive shift to a human-health centered focus in environmentalism, broadly conceived, seems to have been with such events as Love Canal, and the response to such events through the Toxic Substances Control Act. “Mainstream” environmentalism cares primarily about ensuring the environment is safe and scenic for humans.

        But I’d caution against seeing all others as extremists. The extremists are the ones who get the attention, but there are an awful lot of people who just believe that nature has its own intrinsic value that is too little considered. They’re not the religious zealots the extremists are, but they may still have that “mystical reverence for nature for its own sake.”

        They tend to be folks who spend time in nature; not necessarily hardcore backpackers or adventure types, but even urban dwellers who have a fairly unspoiled setting nearby that they can easily get to for brief walks in the woods. (While I agree with you about the environmental value of concentrating people in a small space, my one qualm is that the less green space they have, the less likely they are to support environmental protections other than human safety ones. Ideally, every city would have a large urban “wilderness” park, or one very close by. Like Forest Park in Portland. I don’t know NYC, but every image I see of Central Park, vast as it is, makes it look very “civilized” (so to speak), which isn’t ideal for my purposes. But if my impression is wrong, I’d be delighted to hear that it has a substantial “untamed” area. (And if my impression is right, understand that I’m not really bashing Central Park; it’s obviously awesome as is, and NYC would be much the poorer for its absence.))Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Crazily enough, the US military is very, very interested in fuel efficiency – after all, force projection and supply/logistics are heavily-dependent on how far vehicle X can go without refueling. The US military uses a crapload of fuel, and would always like to know how to do more with less.

        A buddy of mine who works in a green/energy policy think tank has done extensive work with the military in this arena.

        Strange bedfellows, for sure.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        The military has a division to look into the National Security aspects of environmental disasters (it’s been around since the dustbowl). They’re currently really panicking over the Climate Change.

        But the ENTIRE military is prepping for resource wars. Because they’re probably coming.
        God. Nothing like reading the Army War College to get the brutally honest take on things.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Yeah, what people forget is that oil seems to get the best efficiency still for transportation (particularly the military).
        So we could still see oil wars, even if we’re mostly doing solar/wind.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        James, I have no problem with people who view nature as having its own value independent of human needs. Its really hard to have a dedicated environmental movement without such believers Nor do I have problems with declaring large swathes of the world no go areas for development and exploitation purposes. To really protect the environment and get more people to care about it, the well being of nature must be tied to the well being of humans in most people’s minds though.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        To really protect the environment and get more people to care about it, the well being of nature must be tied to the well being of humans in most people’s minds though.

        I couldn’t be more in agreement.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Yeah, what people forget is that oil seems to get the best efficiency still for transportation (particularly the military).

        Yep. From a military planner’s perspective, JP8 is truly wonderful stuff. High energy density (by both weight and volume), easy to handle, stable enough to store away for months/years and then be used immediately, etc. DoD is putting significant amounts of research money into fuel cell technology as an alternative to mechanical generators, but it’s all intended to use JP8, not hydrogen or methane or any of the fuels studied for civilian use. And no one’s found anything else that makes it possible to meet the mission requirements of contemporary jet aircraft (although as you note elsewhere, they’re concerned about supplies and are looking at ways to make non-petroleum JP8).Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Of course, notme could have been intentionally misrepresenting the specific policy (which was James’ point

      To be clear, it may not have been specific intent. But there is a wilfulness about choosing to wear ideological blinders that, I think, renders the specific intent question moot. Putting on the blinders signals an intent to engage in misrepresentations. That goes for right, left and wherever-the-hell libertarians fit on that spatial scheme.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Yeah, agreed. Sorry to have implied you thought it was intentional.

        In fact, if it was intentional there really isn’t anything interesting to discuss here (and maybe there isn’t). It would be a clear cut instance of trolling and the stated views could be easily dismissed on the grounds that the speaker knew the expressed interpretation was, as a matter of fact, wrong.

        The difficulty of determining whether a comment results from a mistake, or a lack of careful reading, or deeply felt ideological commitments, or is intended to piss off liberals, etc, is what makes trolling so effective, tho. And it’s entirely possible I’m being trolled by thinking notme is actually honestly expressing his or her views about the EPA and envirnomentalists in these threads. I dunno. How’d I ever know?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Trolling works best when it runs on wish fulfillment.
        Here your wish is to have a good-faith interlocutor.
        However, I think even if you do have someone
        arguing in good faith… you might not be able to convince
        them if they’ve got ideological blinders on.
        [One tool for getting people to take the ideological
        blinders off is mockery]Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        No worries. I’m not certain I was particularly clear about that, although ideally I would have been.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        [One tool for getting people to take the ideological
        blinders off is mockery]

        Only if those blinders can be easily removed, which is pretty much the opposite of an ideologue.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    After doing a lot of environmental reporting, I think this might be overly simplistic.

    In the long run, it is cheaper to run a greener factory with fewer emissions. This means that you’re burning your fuels cleaner, and so losing less heat, for instance. That you’re recycling water better. That you’re reclaiming materials to re-use better.

    The problem isn’t that it’s more expensive to run a cleaner factory, it’s that it’s more expensive to build a cleaner factory; the costs are upfront, and the anticipated life of the factory has to be much longer then the return possible from the cleaner operation to justify the investment if money is the only measure.

    We did not export manufacturing jobs to China because of lax environmental regulation, we exported the jobs because of cheap labor costs.

    So the more perplexing problem here is that industry will follow the cheap labor, it will move at need, and the chances that they’ll stick in one place long enough to recoup the cost of cleaner processes decreases; so with money as the guiding criteria, without regulation governing the up-front investment, the cheaper building methods will be chosen over the cheaper long-term operation method.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Labor costs are going to zero, as we mechanize.
      Job losses will be massive going forward.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Well, at least we can count on the alternative you mentioned above to “reduce the surplus population”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I disagree with this prediction. Someone has to fix the robots. Or at least, someone has to fix the robots that fix the robots. Same thing with building them and programming them. We’re generations away from a fully mechanized labor market; we can leave solving the problem of an economy with a fully mechanized labor market to future generations. We’ve plenty of economic problems of our own right now.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, not here. Nobody’s put the plans on the books here, yet.
        Of course, being isolationist might have its advantages then…
        (take an awful lot for Asia/MiddleEast to get over here. Of
        course if they do come, it’ll be with guns and nukes).Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        50% jobloss worldwide in 20 years is still catastrophic.
        And it’ll be worse in America.

        The continuing problem is what to do with our brownshirts?
        Koch’s solution is enroll them in the Teaparty.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        It’s not total job loss, Kim.

        In Maine’s paper industry, they make more paper in fewer factories with about 1/4 the labor force that they had when the Clean Air and Water acts were passed. Then, the floors were filled with people overseeing the machines, Now, the floors are mostly empty, a few people running the controls. But there are more people tending equipment in similar fashion throughout the factory, too, because it’s both more technical and less polluting. A lot of that technology is in the greener process.

        So the nature of the jobs changes to one of human overseers, who are highly skilled, and fewer of them required for total production.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        it was nearly total job loss in pittsburgh.
        (but, you’re right. we’re just working on taking
        away that 1/4 of the labor force now. )Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        it was nearly total job loss in pittsburgh.

        That’s because the industry itself left; the jobs left Pittsburgh, they didn’t vanish, they moved to China; and they’re probably done at the lower employment level of robot overseers, not brute laborers.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        “Labor costs are going to zero, as we mechanize.”

        That is hilarious considering the constant push by liberals to raise the minimum wage.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        it was nearly total job loss in pittsburgh.

        For a particular industry, perhaps. Not for Pittsburgh itself.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        James, Upwards of 17% unemployment… (which naturally doesn’t count people who emigrated quickly).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        17% isn’t withing sniffing distance of “nearly total,” even if you add in the out-migration.

        Not that the population decline isn’t significant–according to the Census Bureau, Allegheny County’s population has dropped by almost 300,000 in the last fifty years. But the BLS shows employment in Pittsburgh alone at 1.2 million jobs. So while 300k of 1.2m* equals what we technically call a “shitload,” it’s pretty darn far from nearly total.
        *I know those aren’t technically comparable, one being city or MSA, the other being county, but doing it that way actually favors Kim’s argument, because employment in Allegheny County will exceed employment in Pittsburgh alone, so the comparison actually overstates the out-migration to current-jobs ratio.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Everything runs on tipping points (you know that).
        Braddock is at 10% of it’s peak population.
        the city of Pittsburgh’s peak was well before the steel left.

        Yeah, we aren’t talking total blackout. (Detroit is down to 40% of
        peak population, which makes a good comparison to Pittsburgh,
        which is only at 50% loss from peak).Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      The outsourcing to China was made for an overarching reason: Cost. Labor is a big component of that, but everything that has increased the costs over here has encouraged investment over there and everything we’ve done to make investment over there cheaper has encouraged investment over there. That includes environmental regs (yes, some do pay for themselves in the longer term, but a lot of them are because we don’t want sludge in our rivers), union labor wages, and a plethora of other factors. Including laws and initiatives I support.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Yes, in part.

        But everyone building a factory in China knew that there would be potential for changes in environmental regulations, too; they’d just been through that here.

        More importantly, cheap labor isn’t in China so much now. It’s in Pakistan, in Africa. China’s well on the way to shifting from being the cheap-labor nation to the a skilled-labor nation which exports technology to cheap-labor nations; providing the factory robotics made by skilled workers instead of the buying the robotics for floors of unskilled factory workers.

        And those better paid, more highly skilled workers in China are also beginning to complain about the smog; the environmental regulations are coming. This will also be technology that the Chinese will export.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        They also know that labor costs are going to rise. But often the companies that outsource aren’t actually taking all that much long-term risk. They don’t build the factory in China, they just hire a factory in China to do their bidding. So when labor costs grow, or environmental legislation comes, they relocate elsewhere or reassess. It’s all a part of the calculation.

        Which (and this is not at all in disagreement with anything you’ve said) I’ve long been talking about how the notion that China is going to be for all time the same country that it is today. Of course they’re going to agitate for change. I’ve historically talked about it with regard to labor, but it applies to environmentalism as well. As countries become wealthier, their demands start to change. China doesn’t want to be our errand boy forever. They want to design and make their own stuff (which is obvious now, but was not as obvious when I was saying this ten years ago) and that stuff may actually be produced elsewhere.

        Unfortunately, while China is agitating for change and breathable air, their economic model is still attached to increasing energy consumption, and their coal use will keep going up for a while. The result of the masses primarily being that it may go up less than it otherwise would, or they’ll find a way to move it further away from the masses. I’m less optimistic that they will actually start making a dent (though, as always on such things, hoping that I am wrong).Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        Honestly, Chairman Mao did a lot more to create the outsourcing trend than anyone by essentially destroying the capital stock of one of the world’s largest nations.

        The pressures of stricter requirements here is a piece, no doubt, but no amount of reduced regulation was going to hold back the tide of outsourcing once trade barriers were reduced given the massive imbalance in capital/producitivity/wealth between North America/Europe and most of Asia.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        environmental regs (yes, some do pay for themselves in the longer term, but a lot of them are because we don’t want sludge in our rivers),

        Are you posing those as opposites?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Not as opposites, but as different things. Sometimes protecting the environment doesn’t save money. And when it doesn’t, people want us to do it anywayReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        All of the Communist states were absolutely horrible when it came to environmental issues. The politicians and civil servants in charge of the economy made no attempt to protect nature in their industrialization drives. They were just as obsessed with growth as any business person and the costs of growth be damned. The lack of democracy ensured that no environmental movement could grow as a counter-veiling force.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        OK. I would emphasize, though, that sometimes it only appears that environmental protection isn’t saving money, because the costs of the regulation are concentrated (and easy to measure) while the benefits are dispersed (and hard to measure).

        That’s not to say that all environmental protections have a positive cost-benefit calculus, but from what I’ve seen most of the major ones (in the U.S.) do, particularly including the CAA and CWA.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Oh, I’m not even talking about cost-benefit. I’m just talking about monetary cost. We can view the benefits as exceeding the costs, but have it still be cost-negative in the monetary sense. The benefits are just non-monetary. It was a pretty limited point in response to a limited point Zic was making.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Even in strict monetary costs, precisely because the direct monetary costs are often concentrated (even if the ultimate costs are dispersed, e.g., via taxpayer funded remediations) while the monetary benefits (reductions in medical costs, lost work time, etc.) are often dispersed.

        Adding in non-monetary costs does make that type of outcome more likely, though. I’m not rejecting your general point.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      This seems…overly rosy. After all, everyone in the community will bear the burden of pollution, but only the factory owner will bear the cost of installing new anti-mercury smokestacks or what-have-you. There are some win-wins that are left on the table, but those wouldn’t necessarily lead to an optimal level of pollution. Maybe the solution is for government to subsidize pollution control equipment, although that raises a whole host of other issues, but we can’t rely on even the most long-term thinkers in the business world to conclude that it’s in their interest to control their own pollution.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        hmm. this leads to us asking “what is the optimal quality of life” and “how much does a life cost”?Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        The cost of the upgrades is split between the factory owner and the people who buy his products. Given that they’re the two groups which benefit from the pollution, it seems just about right that they’re the ones who bear the cost of curtailing it.Report

  6. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    Subsidies could help the technology become cheaper, but mostly on a short and medium term basis because at some point cost will be cost and it will likely become more important than the existence of Florida.

    I’m unconvinced by pointing to Germany to refer to high costs of transitioning to renewable energy. As the article you link to points out,

    [Economic and Energy Minister Sigmar] Gabriel, who last month assumed control of the biggest energy overhaul of any developed country, is overseeing the shuttering of Germany’s atomic fleet by 2022, ordered by Merkel after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

    As recently as 2010, 22.4% of German energy was generated by nuclear power (Wikipedia, “Nuclear Power in Germany”). Shutting down all German nuclear power plants on the aggressive timetable Merkel has laid out seems like the aggravating factor.

    And why just short and medium term subsidies for renewables? Fossil fuels and nuclear are still covered under an umbrella of direct and indirect subsidies – liability caps, exploration subsidies, and the like. In the renewables sphere, acting as patient investor, the US government can easily deal with upfront investment / cash flow problems that businesses and individuals may encounter when transitioning to renewables (via a national infrastructure bank for instance).

    And lastly, there’s the current volatility-geopolitical cost of having the global economy heavily reliant on energy from the Middle East. If the region looked like modern day, positive peace western Europe, we’d have nothing to worry about. A currently tumultuous Syria, Saudi Arabia-Iran struggling to one-up one another, and their regional proxy battles could all do very unpleasant things to energy prices. Who wants to put energy price stability on the Strait of Hormuz?Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      The global economy is decreasingly reliant on oil from the Middle East, though, of course, instability there will always have an effect on oil prices.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        I think the second part of your sentence outshines the significance of the first part. Taking a quick look at the EIA’s country analyses*, China got 52% of its oil from the Middle East in 2013. Japan got 83% of its crude oil from the Middle East in 2012. That’s the second and third largest economies in the world pretty reliant on Middle East energy.

        And just quick bullets on the Strait of Hormuz (from EIA, “World Oil Transit Chokepoints”): “almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide”, “roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil”, “almost 20 percent of global liquefied natural gas trade”.

        The sooner energy users can scale up alternatives like renewables the better.

        * http://www.eia.gov/countries/#allcountriesReport

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I don’t disagree, but the concern doesn’t indicate renewables in particular. I.e., no unit of energy supplied by renewables relieves global dependence on an unstable Middle East any more than a unit supplied by fossil fuels extracted in more stable regions. And there’s no reason to assume that renewable energy will be immune to shocks from poetical instability, or at least unpredictability.

        The point being, if you want to say that we should switch to renewables to mitigate carbon emissions, just say that. Because a valid response to concerns over instability in fossil-fuel-producing regions is to call for stepping up production in more stable regions, like north-central North America. Right now, that’s a cheaper and quicker way for the world to become less dependent on Middle East energy in particular. renewables are a relatively slow path to that, but they’re really the only path to potentially alleviating the carbon output from our energy consumption. I think that’s what you mostly care about, and it the more important reason to be committed to developing renewables. So we should focus on that, IMO.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        And there’s no reason to assume that renewable energy will be immune to shocks from poetical instability, or at least unpredictability.

        Awesome, if I do say so.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        And there’s no reason to assume that renewable energy will be immune to shocks from poetical instability, or at least unpredictability.

        The exposure of renewables to the kind of political risk we’re talking about here seems low. I wouldn’t be so foolhardy as to promise immunity to shocks, but when I think wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, exposure to political risk isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. And unpredictable? I think we can be fairly confident of Sun Belt, well, sun. Also, are the US’ major river systems going anywhere anytime soon? If tide/wave power projects work out, there’s another fairly predictable / politically stable event that could produce energy.

        I take your point that diversifying fossil fuel energy sources away from the Middle East is one possible strategy for dealing with political instability there.

        f you want to say that we should switch to renewables to mitigate carbon emissions, just say that.

        Also a fair point. And yet, if I’m making a case for renewables, I don’t want to give up arguments that might persuade those who’re as yet unpersuaded by the climate change arguments. You want the stool to have as many legs as possible, and national (in)security arguments have been a useful tool in mobilizing US resources in the past in a way that “Climate change matters!” has, as of yet, not.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Cost will be cost also applies to fossil fuels. I’m not making an anti-renewable argument here. I’m just saying that the cost of renewables (including subsidies) will actually have to be comparable to the cost of fossil fuels (including subsidies).

      As energy costs rise, we will deal with a lot of international stability to feed our habit as affordably as possible. Just as we will deal with upending our own landscape. If affordable, reliable, and scalable renewables and/or nuclear make this debate unnecessary, that would be a good thing as the problem would be solving itself.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Libertarians and conservatives look away.

        Ahem: Sometimes the government can decide, by fiat, what will be.

        Perhaps more precisely, the direction the nation is to go in and exerting state power to influence major actors to head in that direction. Just as Kennedy can say, we’re putting someone on the moon in the next ten years, the leadership of the US can say: we’re going to have X% renewable energy by Y date.

        Yes, there are many, many limits on this willpower of the state. But the process whereby this is decided (the comparable costs of fossil fuels and renewables) is heavily determined by state choices. Maybe I’m reading you wrong, but “cost will be cost” seemed like a passive formulation where the state didn’t have a hand in deciding what the sides of the balance cost (even beyond the what externalities are internalized discussion).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Sometimes the government can decide, by fiat, what will be.

        Absolutely! But it will have to reckon with the costs of that decision. If governments choose more expensive forms of energy (for the environment, for global stability, for whatever reason) it can obviously do so. But somebody is going to have to pay for it. You can shift the costs, you can maybe economize them, but at some point it the costs have to be paid.

        It’s a pretty non-controversial point.

        I only mention it because as costs rise, cost-consciousness is likely to become more of an issue. I foresee greater price-sensitivity. The powers that be could decide otherwise, but I think our global addiction to energy will rule the day. Not that it has to (I don’t think it does), or it should (I don’t know), but that it will. For renewables to win, as energy costs rise, I believe they will have to be price-competitive in as direct a comparison as possible (including direct subsidies, excluding a lot of externalities).

        This is a speculative statement, not a normative one.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I didn’t mention scalability and reliability there, but obviously those are important too.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I wish I could offer some reason to think these assessments are overly bleak. But I can’t. Hopefully clean energy capacity undergoes a real leap forward in the not distant future.Report

  8. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The challenge, as I see it, is figuring out how to convince leaders in China that clean air in the United States is important to China’s future. Very little of China will get swallowed up by rising seacoasts in worst-case climate change scenarios.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      It shouldn’t be as difficult as that. Just getting them to decide they care about moderately cleaner air in China should be enough to deal with the spillover effects of “dirty” air, i.e. that has effects like acid rain, from China into America. But you’re right that getting them to decide to take real action on carbon emissions/greenhouse gases will be difficult, especially as long as we ourselves don’t.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      They’re as fished as anyone else (if not moreso as they are still a relatively poor country) with climate change altering rainfall patterns and increasing ocean acidification. Regardless, it’s sufficient for China to act on its own interests to cut back on the debilitating local & regional air pollution.

      Which, of course, they haven’t. But what else should one expect from an authoritarian, still-commie-on-paper country?Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      I don’t think we have to do even that. I think that people in China will realize that it’s in their best interests to clean up their own air. Wealth tends to do that for societies. I think we should focus our efforts on that line “you should clean up your pollution because it’s in YOUR best interest”.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      I think the people in China that have to breathe that shit all day every day will be the primary mover in making the air cleaner in China.

      I really don’t think the U.S. will do a goddamn thing. Even if we tried to do something, the global economy moves goods and services around an awful lot of trade barriers.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        China’s already moving on that, starting to go big on nuclear power. But while they’re developing that, they’re not yet in a position to reduce their coal usage while they continue growing.Report

  9. Avatar Francis says:

    The more straightforward solution, to tax imports on the basis of the pollution caused by the source country, is anathema to current business, economic, and policy theory.

    Why? And is that even correct? Isn’t there actually an entire discipline of tax theory dedicated to capturing negative externalities?Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “On what basis would we be able to demand that they sacrifice their exploding economy for our air?”

    This is a really great — and oft ignored — consideration. America and other nations built themselves up to be global powers in part because they engaged in behavior we now consider problematic (if not worse). Colonization, slavery, mass pollution, etc. And while our prior bad acts don’t justify others engaging in them now, it is a little problematic for us to get on our high horse about things. Even acknowledging that we were wrong to have done those things doesn’t undo the effects of them.Report

  11. Avatar North says:

    A fine article and a fine comment thread. Some disjointed ramblings.

    Yes I’d concede that we bear some responsibility for the pollution in other countries.. other countries also bear as much (more likely more) responsibility. It is theoretically possible for them to develop without this manufacturing stage.. but I don’t think it’s been done historically. Certainly not on a large scale.

    With China especially and with developed nations in general we have a kind of race happening. Can they develop to the level of affluence and governmental sophistication that will allow them to transition and bow to the natural environmental impulses that higher levels of prosperity bring before the ecological cost of the industries hoisting them up become toxic? Historically the answer has been yes but past results do not predict the future obviously.

    What is the hold up on development? I would submit that bad government is the primary culprit. Countries can develop at an enormous pace when they have good government. For the record good government in this case is one that is stable, relatively low in corruption, relatively consistent in their laws and has a feedback mechanism between the governing class and the population (free media and elections being the best of these sorts). Our current slow growers are in most cases suffering for lack of good government. In theory rising affluence increases the pressure on governments to move towards being good but again this is a slow process. Consider Germany and Japan, the one a somewhat naturally liberal nation that suffered a period of generational insanity, the other a sophisticated society forcibly frog marched into liberal government. Both developed from post war -ruin- into thriving first world nations in very short order.

    Trade increases affluence, affluence encourages liberalization, liberalization encourages development, development increases affluence, eventually environmentalism adds itself to the mix. Environmentalism in the developed world seems to labor under the delusion that environmentalism can flourish absent affluence. I am deeply skeptical. Edenic forest tribes don’t long to preserve their virgin groves, they long to not be hungry, sick or dying at 40 and it goes downhill from there. You pretty much have to have much of Maslow ‘s pyramid base filled in before environmentalism becomes pertinent and I would hasten to point out that it presents first as an immediate health/safety concern, not as an aesthetic choice. Third world nations people give not a rip about improving the environment sufficiently to let them live to be 60 if their economic situation only lets them live to be 45. I’m far from an expert but I can think of zero ecological causes that have been long standing successes without the accompanying economic development of the indigenous people. Antarctica maybe? Since no one lives there?

    Watching the developing world I’d admit the urge to despair is strong. The ethnic, cultural and religious strife is massive and the tribalism and lack of education of the masses is a big impediment to liberalization. Egypt for instance, had every opportunity to liberalize but the raw brutal fact is the population isn’t ready to do it yet. It should be noted that military juntas and dictatorships seem to be actively counterproductive. Not only do they retard development and foster massive cronyism and corruption but they also are a scapegoat. Consider fundamentalist Islamic government; it’s primary source of survival is the ability to blame dictatorships for its failings. Had Egypt managed to retain Maliki, for instance, his continued ineptitude would have disgraced the Muslim brotherhood.. now, thanks to the Juanta, the brotherhood is growing in stature and Egypt regresses. Granted some dictators have catapulted their states forward… Franco in spain for instance but they seem the highly rare exception to the rule.

    But how to foster improving government and educating population? I see no hope of it at the barrel of a gun. It’s expensive, bloody and frankly doesn’t work. If anything such Bush-Neocon interventions only discredit liberal values in the eyes of the protectorate populations. It’s possible that chest thumping “Rubble don’t make trouble” agendas might be better than “being greeted as liberator” ones simply because the locals understand fear and strength whereas they give blank stares at the ideas of pluralism and diversity. The urge to despair is, as I said, strong but we should not forget how many hundreds of years it took the developed world to get to where it is. Now the path is blazed and the technology is present to lubricate the transition… perhaps our brother and sister nations can make the transitions in generations rather than centuries. I would not be surprised in the least if the majority of Asia begins climbing into the first world in my life time.

    And of course, the clock is ticking. The global ecology could put the whole process to sleep or end it entirely. Even technology itself could be a problem. 3d printing stalks the tech centers of the first world like distant thunder, automation beckons, what will happen to the developed world if technology renders their primary resource: cheap labor, obsolete? I honestly don’t know.Report

    • Avatar Francis says:

      Yes, but.

      In Thailand, for example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory seems to be found all over the place. And like the relationship between the original owners and workers at Triangle, the Thai owners are becoming staggeringly rich and the workers are doing only a little better than they did historically. (and, of course, dying unexpectedly.) After all, there are still huge numbers of rural poor willing and able to drive down wages. And the new pool of urban workers lack the political clout and sophistication to drive up the returns to labor and drive down the returns to capital.

      It really wouldn’t be the end of the world if US consumers / voters exercised their political clout (instead of their economic clout) and insisted that those who have the privilege of exporting into the US economy obey a set of rules about wages, working conditions and environmental pollution. We voters imposed a version of those rules on ourselves. I’ve never really understood why we (the American voter) would allow the owner of capital to find a location where those rules don’t apply and still get to sell to the American consumer.

      (yes, trade increases wealth. But if all the increase in wealth goes to a tiny minority, then that minority now has the economic power to wield political power that perpetuates the system. Discussions about “fair trade” that don’t talk about the distribution of wealth created thereby are just another form of economic oppression.)Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Francis, the Shirtwaist factory and it’s ilk existed here in the states and it wasn’t the choices of shirtwaist customers that made them reform. We can make any kind of regulation we want to try and impose on foreign markets with regards to humane treatment. Historically the result has been trade wars but assuming we somehow avoid that then the outcome would most likely a corrupt ineffective enforcement bureaucracy that evades the regulations or, if the regulations do prove effective, then an impoverished Thailand as the factories decamp for elsewhere. Why on earth would a factory owner pay american wages and adhere to American standards in exchange for Thai worker efficiency? It’d never happen. Which brings us back to protectionism and trade wars. Frankly if you wanted to start fostering World War conditions in Asia I dare say that’d be a good start.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I’ve never really understood why we (the American voter) would allow the owner of capital to find a location where those rules don’t apply and still get to sell to the American consumer.

        Did we “allow” this to happen? I think there was quite a bit of resistance to the idea of capital flight and flexibility and whatnot. Those decisions (the old GATT meetings and the newer WTO ones) were conducted in private for the most part and unilaterally enacted and enforced by gummint without any citizen input. Most of the time people didn’t even know those meetings were occurring.

        As for constraining capital flight via some sort of tax on repatriating profits, I think that’s been floated as a domestic policy. I don’t know enough about it to say one way or the other if it’d be a net good, but I sure like the idea.

        Imposing a tax on a foreign firm for failing to adhere to minimal standards we define seems quite a bit dicier. I think North’s right about that, given that the current state of play is open access to markets for all comers.

        (I have to admit I’m saying all this under the full realization you know more about this stuff than I do, and are entirely familiar with everything I’ve just said.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’ve never really understood why we (the American voter) would allow the owner of capital to find a location where those rules don’t apply and still get to sell to the American consumer.

        The focus here is on allowing suppliers to sell to consumers. The contrasting approach is to focus on allowing consumers to buy from suppliers. The analyses take different tracks, and normally produce different conclusions, depending on whether we focus on suppliers selling or consumers purchasing.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        unilaterally enacted and enforced by gummint without any citizen input.

        As treaties, those had to be approved by the U.S. Senate to be binding U.S. law. Are you suggesing that the public was unaware that treaties like the WTO, and–if I may toss in another one–NAFTA–were being brought up to a vote in the Senate, or that they had no opportunity to communicate their views to their congressmembers?

        Or are you wondering if that was the case?

        Not arguing here, just trying to parse your position.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @james-hanley, there’s also feedback loops between the consumers and suppliers. I interviewed the man responsible for purchasing paper for Time magazine once. They purchase an enormous amount of paper for their dead-tree publications. They had a certification process for their suppliers that included environmental standards. I paraphrase, it was a while ago, but he said that they reported on environmental issues, and the problems associated with not including some of the highest environmental standards in that certification were too great; it created problems of credibility in their reporting, so they took it very seriously.

        There are efforts underway in clothing manufacture — consumer pressure for labor standards resulting in certification of labor practices.

        Similar certification efforts in rare earth minerals used in battery production and computer chip technology and chocolate.

        I don’t want to make these certification programs industries use to police their suppliers into more then they are, but their very existence suggests that the feedback mechanisms are there, that consumer concerns have an impact outside of regulation; in fact, I’d guess this is part of the process that sets up regulation in places where there isn’t any.

        First guys in to meet the standards gets a market advantage, too, if everyone else has to play catch up. There’s some incentive, once you’ve invested to meet your markets higher standards, to force your competition to have to do the same.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Absolutely Zic, and best of all none of those measures can provoke any form of government level retaliation from other nations because they’re not themselves national interventions. The down side of course is there remains a vast expanse of the market that gives mild credence to humanitarian concerns, environmental standards etc and they are pretty price sensitive.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Are you suggesing that the public was unaware that treaties like the WTO, and–if I may toss in another one–NAFTA–were being brought up to a vote in the Senate, or that they had no opportunity to communicate their views to their congressmembers?

        It’s been a long time since I read about all this stuff so don’t pin me down on any FACTS. I’m only claiming that the treaties authorized under GATT until the WTO emerged were largely unknown to the general public, and the WTO enjoyed a pretty similar level of general public ignorance until only a few years prior to Seattle. NAFTA was widely criticized and protested and whatnot, and that – it seems to me – is what put the WTO in the public spotlight. All the stuff prior to NAFTA occurred for the most part without any public knowledge.

        To your point about Congress ratifying or authorizing those treaties, granted. The representative side of representative democracy was in full force. So the formal conditions were met for legitimacy. If I had a complaint to make about it, it’s that the citizenry didn’t – for the most part – know what they’re representatives were getting on about.

        And by saying that I’m making any judgment on the rationale, efficacy, morality, etc of those policies. Just that they were made largely without public input and when the public finally became more aware the horse had already left the barn.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:



      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I agree. I wasn’t actually arguing a position, just noting that it seems a person’s choice between starting with “what should we allow sellers to do” or “what should we allow buyers to do” generally leads to predictably differing outcomes.Report

  12. Avatar James K says:

    Sorry Will, but I have a hard time taking this argument seriously.

    First off, one extra day’s worth of smog per year is a 0.3% increase in smog levels. If that smog all showed up at once as a giant cloud of death, you might have a problem, but presumably it is spread over the whole year, thereby making it far too little to have a meaningful effect on anything. And one quarter of sulfites is an irrelevant number, without knowing how much it is in absolute terms and how harmful that much sulfite actually is. I’m not a chemist, but I know enough about numbers to know when someone is trying to make a number sound scarier than it actually is.

    Second, binging globalisation into this is basically a red herring. Air currents do not understand the concept of karma. The pollution blowing over your country would be blowing there no matter who China was manufacturing stuff for. Globalisation is only relevant in that it has helped make China rich – which is a very good thing, both for the Chinese people and for the rest of the world. For one to wish that pollution away to is wish China back into grinding poverty. All so that your already fantastically wealthy country may have very slightly cleaner air.

    I have a great deal of experience with dodgy anti-globalisation arguments and I suggest that you are being sold a bill of goods here.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I don’t live out there, but I consider the actual smog issue on the west coast to be largely symbolic. Less, in fact, than if we’d built the stuff here with our more significant environmental regulations. However, in a world of global warming and climate change, we are affected by Chinese pollution. Indeed, it makes climate change policy something of an intractable issue. That is the real takeaway.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Finally a comment which gets to the root of the error in the post (I agree with James).

        Will’s main post suffers by framing the issue by looking not at costs and BENEFITS, but instead focusing just on costs.

        Free trade got us a basket of outcomes. Less local first world pollution, more third world pollution, cheaper goods, different mix of jobs based upon comparative advantage, higher worldwide prosperity, one billion people out of extreme poverty in developing countries, substantially lower worldwide inequality, developed world employment angst, and some amount of acid rain.

        The appropriate way to evaluate this is to sum up the pros and cons. Yeah, free trade got us less local pollution but more pollution somewhere else. It also saved millions of individuals lives and gave a billion impoverished people a chance to rise out of desperation.

        As someone above said, prosperity brings the will and capability and technology to substitute environmental quality for other desires. It is a necessary foundation. The path to a good environment for seven billion people needs to go through prosperity, and widespread prosperity requires free trade and global markets.

        We chose wisely. The last few decades have seen unprecedented advancement in the human condition. To have Will mis-characterize this as folly is absolutely astounding.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        with 50% job loss in the next 20 years, I’m finding it hard to understand where this prosperity for the masses is supposed to come from.
        Particularly when the rich like slavery — it makes them feel better than the rest of us.

        How much of the Earth will be rendered uninhabitable by Climate Change (here’s a hint: I’m not bloody talking about sea level rise.)? How many cultures will we irrevocably destroy?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Roger, the limited scope of my post was by design. I was looking specifically at overall environmental effects as it pertains to the global environment. On that score, the case is pretty strong that globalization has a negative effect even if it has positive benefits elsewhere that outweigh it on the whole.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        We chose wisely. The last few decades have seen unprecedented advancement in the human condition. To have Will mis-characterize this as folly is absolutely astounding.

        Where did he say it was folly? Are you perhaps reading more into his words than he actually said?

        Far as I can tell, his argument is that globalization runs at cross purposes with US domestic environmental regulations, regulations we USers ostensibly think are justified. That’s it. How does pointing out something that’s pretty doggone obvious and descriptively accurate get interpreted as his saying globalization is folly?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        You have framed the issues using half of one half the ledger. Which course of action has fewer costs on a single dimension? You then answer it like it leads to something of any significance.

        Should I buy a matchbox car or a new Honda Accord? Let’s see, matchbox cars cost $2 and Accords cost $28,000. Wow, we should all buy matchbox cars! They cost less.

        Environmental impacts are one of many costs. There are many, many other costs that need to be added (the cost tradeoffs of pollution control being one for example). Then we need to add the benefits (as I did above). From this you make an actual decision or value judgment.

        The BIG picture is indeed that we exported manufacturing to places with lower costs and lower environmental protection to the clear advantage of humanity. Global average pollution levels and/or global warming are not the only benefits or costs (whether the latter is indeed even actually a cost rather than a benefit is a huge assumption by the way, a strong argument can be made for a net human benefit for at least 50 years).

        “However, in a world of global warming and climate change, we are affected by Chinese pollution. Indeed, it makes climate change policy something of an intractable issue. That is the real takeaway.”

        And on the other side of THIS ledger we have the issue of what the world would have to look like to make it a “tractable issue” (opposite of intractable?). Well we could set up a central bureau of totalitarian master planners. That would send shivers of delight to those on the far left. But the rest of us wonder if there might be some costs that go along with that solution.

        Global warming, if we assume it really is a problem, is an intractable one. It is a very hard one to solve. It is one in which we do not yet have a solution. I can envision many possible solutions over time, but as of now I only know which paths tend to have the best problem solving track records. I suggest these paths.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @roger What you say is very important, but to a different discussion. The subject of the post is not “Globalization, a good thing or a bad thing?” wherein we would want to count all sides of the ledger. The subject is, rather, what the effects of globalization are on the environment.

        It does not follow from the answer to that question, which is negative, that we should de-globalize. At most, it raises questions about the tradeoff between the environmental costs and economic benefits (as well as other potential costs, and other potential benefits). But that is beyond the purview of the post itself, which is primarily about the environment and its relationship with globalization, disparate environmental laws, and energy.

        Or to put another way, I would say pretty definitively that cutting off all fossil fuels would wreak far more havoc economically than it would reap benefits environmentally. I’m not sure anyone here would disagree with that. But that doesn’t change the fact that power consumption is causing harm to the environment or our lives. On balance, it’s unquestionably positive, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t present environmental challenges. Talking about those challenges is not an argument (or not a good one) against the use of any and all fossil fuels. It is, at most, an argument for keeping the environment in mind when we set energy policy.

        To go back to globalism, this post is at most an argument for keeping environmental concerns in mind when we establish trade policy. Maybe the answer to that should be “Trade should trump environment. Always.” or maybe it’s something more nuanced like taxing imports on the basis of what they do to the environment (to capture externalities). But this post doesn’t really take much of a position on that. I’d actually characterize it more as an expression of environmental nihilism.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        If the free market doesn’t solve a problem, either it isn’t a problem or it doesn’t have a solution.


      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        We chose wisely [choosing globalization and more free trade]. The last few decades have seen unprecedented advancement in the human condition. To have Will mis-characterize this as folly is absolutely astounding.

        Honestly, what in the world?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Roger, I’ve got to pile on. Nowhere did Will say it was folly. That’s a bad mischaracterization of what he said.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        I agree with everything you said in your above comment. Great clarification.

        To support the environmental nihilism thread, one could even say that tougher local environmental laws are often likely to lead to lower worldwide environmental quality. In other words, if our concern is worldwide pollution then we must consider the regulation and the effects of that regulation to lead to polluters fleeing from said regulation.

        A similar issue comes about with reductions in energy use. Efforts to reduce petroleum use, in say, California, will lead, all else equal, to lower demand and lower prices of oil. This leads paradoxically to higher petroleum use in other countries.

        Nihilism indeed. It is a regular Pillsbury Dougboy (when we push in one place it just pops out somewhere else)Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        On that point I agree completely. Climate change is the collective action problem from hell.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Sulphites make a lot of nasty stuff.
      Air pollution from half the world over causes asthma (in the Caribbean was where people were doing the research). And it only happens when the wind blows (same as up here. south-west wind means bad air day).Report

  13. Avatar Kim says:

    Yeah, you’re gonna hear a lot from me about this one. I live in the state that has the highest number of deaths from Power Plants. I live in a city whose mortality rates vary based on how high your altitude lives (check the post-gazette, they’ve got the stats).
    I can’t sleep at nights because of the pollution when there’s an inversion.

    Those 20+ year old power plants??? Grandfathered through every single fucking EPA rule since Nixon himself. Except the damn mercury. So don’t you bloody well say that the EPA hates coal. The EPA hasn’t fucking regulated the polluters that are killing my city. Hasn’t been able to.

    Coal Plants are fucking fine and dandy — so long as they use the environmental scrubbers and all of that. 20+ year old plants that have been grandfathered produce so much carbon monoxide they set people’s carbon monoxide detectors off inside their house, sometimes. And then the fire department needs to go to 30+ houses to say “the air’s bad outside. thanks for calling us anyhow.”

    And we haven’t even touched the sulphur. Know how bad that is? Can’t exercise on a bad air day, or you will have 20 year olds passing out from the fumes.

    You are telling me that you would rather have cheap coal (rather than cheap gas, get real.) than have my husband be alive in 10 years. Pardon me if my calculus is a little different than yours.

    And, last I checked, you don’t live here. I invite you to spend some time up here before you say one more red word. People report being allergic to the air up here — in their medical records.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Coal Plants are fucking fine and dandy — so long as they use the environmental scrubbers and all of that. 20+ year old plants that have been grandfathered produce so much carbon monoxide they set people’s carbon monoxide detectors off inside their house, sometimes.

      Another reason to live where I do. In the last 10-12 years, state government in Colorado has (sometimes taking the lead, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming by the citizens): (1) allowed construction of a new 766 MW coal-fired unit, but required that all three units at the site be equipped with state-of-the-art emissions controls; (2) required decommissioning of 900 MW of old coal-fired capacity (or conversion to natural gas); (3) required emissions controls be added to several other older coal-fired plants; (4) put in a serious renewable energy requirement which is being met by a number of shiny new wind farms.

      We have some advantages, not least of which is being sufficiently isolated from other population centers that we don’t have to have an ISO running things. The two big non-municipal utilities in the region are therefore free to sign long-term contracts with the wind farms to take all the wind power available, when it’s available, and throttle back other sources as necessary. Under that type of arrangement, both Xcel and Tri-State claim that they can buy power from independently-owned wind farms at a cost lower than generating it themselves from new natural-gas-fired plants. Xcel has had a few nighttime hours when they’ve met over 50% of total demand with wind. That will become more common as more wind farms come online.

      At the end of this month, I’ll have lived here for 26 years. The Denver metro area’s air quality is enormously better than it was when I moved in, despite another million-plus people moving in after me. Certainly for the last several years, the only days when I had qualms about jumping on the bicycle for a strenuous ride were the ones when the weather pattern had trapped smoke from a large forest-fire in the area.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      This also highlights the perverse risk analysis that leans so heavily against nuclear power. Coal kills far more people per Joule than nuclear does, but because it doesn’t do in big, flashy incidents everyone ignores it.Report

  14. Avatar Kim says:

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure Nixon didn’t envison oil companies with a 10% chance of ending all life on earth, either. When you fuck up shit that badly, yeah, I’m going to say a crucifixion is warranted.Report

  15. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    The environmentalist movement needs a plan for dealing with these issues. I don’t think they have one.

    I’ve known environmentalists who consider employees of whatever industry they oppose this week to be akin to criminals, so their concern for those jobs is equivalent to a Republican being worried about putting a drug dealer out of business.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Indeed MRS and that is a massive gaping vulnerability in environmentalism that they have never seriously grappled with. Consider AGW… things were rocking along quite merrily towards AGW policies and then, boom, the bottom falls out of the economy. What happened to all the pro environmentalism fervor? Heaved out the window the moment the bread and butter issues started going wobbly. Environmentalism that ignores (or worse is opposed to) the subject of human flourish will fail, always, unless it somehow is imposed in an illiberal governmental system.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Does the death of the middle class necessarily come with the end of environmental policies?
        How much of the world is doomed? Places uninhabitable, you know what I mean.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        things were rocking along quite merrily towards AGW policies and then, boom, the bottom falls out of the economy

        I’m under the impression that consumption dropped significantly when the economy collapsed; part of why prices for gasoline dropped slightly. But I do not grok oil markets, though I’ve tried; they have the weirdest futures trading rituals there is; I suspect success in oil commodities requires sacrificing live hamsters on sterno piers or some such other arcane practice.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Indeed Zic, consumption plummeted but that wasn’t the reason that all the force pushing for AGW policies stalled out. The environmentalists didn’t say “Oh the depressed economy is reducing consumption, never mind.” The former lukewarm supporters simply stopped caring about the environment when their bread and butter issues became insecure.Report

  16. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    The world’s love affair with energy is not just for manufacturing productivity (although that’s really important in terms of getting rich), but that as individuals get richer they want to consume increasing amounts of energy in their personal lives. China’s new car sales are now 50% higher than the US. They are starting to get tract housing and suburban sprawl. There’s a Chinese Motorboat Association, and even a Chinese Motorboat League with professional racing. They have far more personal TVs, even though market penetration is much lower. Refrigerators. Heck, hundreds of millions of people gaining access to electric lights. The energy industries not only have to keep up with the manufacturing demand, but with the workers’ demand for personal kilowatt-hours (some in the form of liquid fuels).

    Personally, I think the effort to provide a middle-class lifestyle for seven-going-on-nine billion people will end badly for most of the world. Not for the same reasons Kim does, but I’m almost as pessimistic overall. Where I differ from some of the pessimistic prognosticators is that I think some regions can come through okay.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      That’s true. I focus on manufacturing productivity in part because it makes the things that we want to spend money on affordable. Chinese people buying cars and motorboats depends on those things being affordable. But you’re right that even after you’ve bought a lot of these things, you kinda want to be able to afford to use and charge them.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Shrug. You’ve seen Argentina, haven’t you? Some folks came out okay.
      Keep your friends close, and make sure you have someone you can trust
      to watch your back.Report