Monday, October 19, 2015

Glibertarianism, thy name is Katherine Mangu-Ward. So here's something else more rewarding

Yesterday I listed to both KCRW and KQED podcasts about whether recycling is worth it, occasioned by John Tierney's decision to recycle his "I hate recycling" op-ed from 20 years ago. As someone occasionally supportive of libertarian perspectives, I was particularly annoyed by Katherine Mangu-Ward's glib responses to real environmental issues (she was on KCRW). In particular, I can't think of a question posed to her that she actually answered.

I get that "pivoting" is all the rage in political candidate debate forums, but maybe someone from magazine named Reason might look at that name and think about participating in a dialog instead of carefully marketed soundbites. At least John Tierney answered questions posed of him, although whether he did so accurately is another question.

The anti-recycling types on the shows variously said that rinsing out plastics with water, hot water, or hot water heated by coal-fired power uses more greenhouse gases than virgin plastic. No state other than West Virginia uses coal power exclusively, and the percentage decreases each year. Where I live in California, they tell us not to wash out plastics at all, just shake them out and put them in the bin. Turns out that Tierney's reference fails to back up his claim on this issue, although it could just be a matter of poor writing by Tierney.

The pro-recycling experts challenged the libertarians to think about how to handle the costs of trash. (And none of the anti-recyclers are actual solid waste experts, of course). There are more free-market ways to do it. Extended Producer Responsibility, saying the producer needs to figure out how to handle products after use but leaves it up to the producer to find the best way, is an example of outcome-based regulation, considered more free-market than standards-based regulation. Mangu-Ward would have none of it.

As for climate change, an adequate price for carbon (and adequate distribution of the proceeds from that price) would drop that issue from the recycling controversy. As long as we don't have it, then we need to use regulatory methods to address climate change.

So more rewarding than yesterday's glibertarian was something completely different I did today - my first volunteer day with Sunwork, a nonprofit using volunteers to do solar panel installations:

Fellow volunteers, working.

Fellow volunteers still working. Me, not so much.

Their niche is homeowners who want solar, don't have the expertise to install it themselves and don't use enough power to get a reasonable payback for the labor costs of commercial installers. Sunwork sells materials at cost, and charges for minimal professional help (one person out of a crew of five). People like me get some hands-on experience with this solar revolution that we've babbled on about on a theoretical level. One of the volunteers is a Nigerian business student who wants to go home and start a solar company. Other volunteers are the actual homeowners picking up experience - the homeowner was up there with us and had volunteered on two previous installs. At 2 p.m. today we turned the system on and it pumped out more power than the home used, pushing solar power into the system. Pretty nice.

UPDATE:  per William's comment below, I'd define a glibertarian as a non-homophobic conservative who can think rationally about drug laws. While that may be an improvement over standard-ssue conservative politics, the libertarianism is a fig leaf.


William Connolley said...

I wish you could talk to some real libertarians. The ones you're talking about just seem to be right-wing nuts.

The Sunwork stuff looks like a good thing.

guthrie said...

I would define a glibertarian as someone who is all talk and no walk; who will spout off all day about their freedom and is actively anti-government, yet seems entirely happy with the government taking away the freedoms of people who aren't quite like him (And it's usually a him, at least on the internet).
They are also market worshippers, at the altar of the (mythical) free market, and assume that markets and capitalism will solve all problems that can't be solved by more guns for themselves.

guthrie said...

Oops, forgot to say - actual right wing libertarians who are genuinely somewhere over towards anarcho-capitalist but not quite, are really rather rare.

Also important to remember that the word was applied originally to left wing anti-authoritarian types, and was nicked and repurposed by american right wingers 50 odd years ago.

Canman said...

I would like to suggest that resources spent on recycling plastic and paper could be better spent on separating hazardous materials. burying plastic and paper is a way of sequestering carbon. Rechargeable batteries contain toxic chemicals. If you tear apart a discarded microwave oven, there is no place you can take the magnetron, which contains toxic beryllium. I would suggest putting a deposit on them.

Canman said...

I'm suspicious of the claim that plastic bags last for thousands of years. I have found that twenty year old ones will crumble to pieces and are unusable.

Hank Roberts said...

PS, among the variety of different problems the US has with its drug laws, lack of regulation by the FDA is notable.

This is one of the markets in which the US has tried something akin to 'ibertarian "freedom" (I do wonder if this is what 'ibertarian means, elsewhere in the world)

and gotten what you'd expect -- fraud.

It's almost as wild as the financial/retirement industry with comparable mislabeling.

"... Earlier this year, the New York AG investigated supplements at major retailers and found that four out of five didn’t contain any of the labelled herbs. They contained “cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.” We’re not talking fly-by-night Internet products; these are glossy bottles of so-called Gingko Biloba and Echinacea and Garlic, sold in stores like GNC and Target and Walgreens, with relaxing names like “Herbal Plus” and “Spring Valley”:

When you buy a supplement, then, you’re effectively on your own — not just in determining whether the supplement is safe and effective, but even in deciding whether you’re eating what you think you’re eating...."

Russell Seitz said...

Then there's the gibbertarians, who work for peanuts .
You don't want to go there.

Mark said...

William Connolley: "I wish you could talk to some real libertarians. The ones you're talking about just seem to be right-wing nuts."

I'm guessing that this comment is a joke, but if not, how does one find a real libertarian? I think a necessary conditioning for being a real libertarian is that, when facts conflict with one's libertarian principles, one not resort to denying the facts. Any candidates?

Fernando Leanme said...

I think I'm a neoliberal libertarian. I love free markets, legal pot, shotguns, abortions and the right to deny anything I feel like denying. 😑

PhilScadden said...

I had a soft spot for libertarians after reading some high-minded stuff. However, it seems the run-of-mill libertarian is more of the "It is my right to do whatever I feel like and have no responsibility for the rights of others". Ie selfish parasites. This differs from conservative libertarians who are as above but wish to compel everyone else to do whatever they think is right. For a libertarian to get respect, then they need to be conspicuously concerned for rights of others as well and taking responsibility for their actions. (ie if I burn fossil fuels then I need to take responsibility for those suffering effects of climate change - my action- who didnt). The personal responsibility bit of the libertarian ideal seems to be missing somewhat - replaced with denial as convenient.

Russell Seitz said...

I'm suspicious of the claim that microwave oven magnetrons have beryllia windows.

David B. Benson said...

Libertarians are to be found in the libertary.

Canman said...

As a longtime reader of Reason, I was very interested when I came across an episode of Point of inquiry featuring Peter Ditto talking about his study of libertarians. I figured that he would dismiss us all as juvenile sociopaths and judging from the commenters at Reason's Hit and Run blog, he might have a case. I was surprised when he characterized us as logical systemizers:

I have since listened to three different podcasts where Jonathan Haidt has said that libertarians are the smartest, most rational people out there.

wheelism said...

"[L]ibertarians are the smartest, most rational people out there."

Veritable Ayn Steins.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

And I'm the smartest, strongest and most handsomest man around. If I had children they would be above average. In fact, I consider myself the pinnacle of 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution. I am the man!

And I'm not even libertarian.

Hank Roberts said...

> not even libertarian

Some of them are odd. Perhaps as many as half ...

But seriously, the fatal flaw in the ideology as presented in the USA is the "so sue me. or them. or whoever you need to stop" solution to any and all problems. It's a funnel funding litigators.

guthrie said...

Canman - sure, many libertarians, at least not the massively egotistical ones, are logical systematisers. Unfortunately the failure mode of that is usually along the lines of "Here is the perfect system, people should act like my perfectly logical system then all problems will be solved. Why aren't people perfectly spherical, that would be much more logical."
and so on. They get obsessed with their perfect logical system which can be proven correct and logical and leads to the best possible outcomes in all cases, except of course people aren't like that and no such system exists, except in the mind of the libertarian.

Unfortunately they make good cover for power and money crazed psychopaths.

BBD said...

They get obsessed with their perfect logical system which can be proven correct and logical and leads to the best possible outcomes in all cases, except of course people aren't like that and no such system exists, except in the mind of the libertarian.

Yes, like the entirely mythical free market...

Brian said...

Hank - I agree that lawsuits based on common law like nuisance and trespass are extremely inefficient. Regulation and financial incentives by taxing negative externalities are a lot better.

The mistake from the current Supreme Court though is in throwing out common law systems. They are a backstop that we need because we're failing to regulate carbon adequately.

Russell Seitz said...

"taxing negative externalities are a lot better.

The mistake from the current Supreme Court though is in throwing out common law systems. They are a backstop that we need because we're failing to regulate carbon adequately."

If he wants to cut CO2 rise to 1ppm/year, Brian should be careful what he wishes for

afeman said...

I've thought glibetarian was apropos because of the notion that fiddly regulation is unneeded because the market and lawsuits would emergently work out into the best of all possible worlds.

Brian said...

Russell, sounds like you were pretty close to a disbeliever in the existence of renewable energy in 2008. What do you think now?

FWIW, I think carbon-negative activities are going to kick in, in a big way after 2050. Those activities would allow some fossil fuel usage post-2050, although the carbon-negative actions have to be much bigger.

Russell Seitz said...

Brian, since 2008, the world has added a gigawatt of new fossil thermal station capacity for every thirtysomething megawatts of renewable juice.

Thou shalt not believe in thine own vaporware .

Kevin O'Neill said...

Russell writes: "Thou shalt not believe in thine own vaporware ."

Ahem. Physician, heal thyself.

"The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there's no going back. The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added."

Russell Seitz said...

Yes, Kevin, 2013 was a very good year for cherries,

When you're through picking, go run the integral of thermal stations commissioned since 2008.

Brian said...

Russell, I think we may be getting into betting territory. Got a prediction for 2016-2020?

Kevin O'Neill said...

Russel - cherry pick?

"October 5th, 2015 by Joshua S Hill

With costs falling and emerging economies stepping into the game, the International Energy Agency is predicting renewable energy capacity additions to grow 700 GW over the next five years."

Do you expect the same or greater growth in fossil fuels?

Russell Seitz said...

I predict that thermal power stations will be the largest sector of mainland US electrical supply in the year 2020.

Russell Seitz said...

What Kevin is saying is that it takes a year to gain 20 watts per capita of renewable electical capacity -

As that's less than 1 KwH a day, and US per capita consumption is 13,395 KwH a year , I am truly underwhelmed.

Brian said...

That gets us to replacement before 2050, the period you focused on in your 2008 Reason article. And that's with minimal acceleration in added renewables capacity.

The point is the current trajectory gives us options different from your 2008 forecast. I think that's pretty clear now, even if it may have been less clear in 2008.

Russell Seitz said...

Brian , the 2008 article was about the level of global, not US emissions need to limit CO2 growth to 1 ppmv/ year.

Are you saying the present level of renewable energy growth will meet that criterion , or that renerewables will provide ~ 8 billion people with 13,395 KwH per capita in 2050 ?

That works out to 1.5 kW per human 24/7

Brian said...

Russell, that's the takeaway I got from your comment, two entries or so up (assuming the global renewable energy per capita growth rate applies to the US).

Big picture: I think it is feasible and preferable to other outcomes for the US and other OECD nations to get to net-zero emissions around 2050, and then net-negative thereafter. That's based on the assumption that the developing world will also be trending towards net-zero about 20 years after the OECD. With significant, global net-negative carbon emissions beginning in the last few decades of the 21st Century, we might avoid a 2C increase or at least not have it last long and begin trending downward at a faster rate than would be the case if we relied solely on ocean absorption.

I think net-zero by 2050 is feasible partly in that I expect existing large hydro to stay in place, along with existing nuclear capacity (not increased, not decreased). Rest of power needs handled by renewables. I have high confidence that price trends for renewables from the last 30 years mean that by 2050 their costs will be at or lower than the current cost of energy. Intermittency will be handled by hydro, nuclear, geothermal, off-shore wind, continental grids connecting to wind power wherever it's blowing, and power storage. Power storage prices have also been dropping for decades.

Whether current installation rates match this needed trend, I don't know. I expect changes in prices will make it possible though, and any regulatory changes and incentives to reduce negative externalities and subsidies to carbon pollution will be greatly helpful.

I think it's a much more hopeful perspective than what you had in 2008, and the technology changes since then have made the situation much more hopeful.