by Dr. Roy Cordato
Senior Economist, Emeritas
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Weekly John Locke Foundation research division newsletter focusing on environmental issues.
This newsletter highlights relevant analysis done by the JLF and other think tanks as well as items in the news.
1. The truth about renewable energy: Historically and today it is associated with poverty, pollution, and sickness
This article by Bjorn Lomborg takes a look at renewable energy — its history and its defects. Renewables aren’t new. In fact, they are the oldest form of energy. In 1800 the world used renewable forms of energy almost exclusively, and their use has been declining ever since. As the world has turned to fossil fuels, it has become richer, healthier, and cleaner. It is worth quoting Lomborg at length.
Solar and wind energy account for a trivial proportion of current renewables — about one-third of one percentage point. The vast majority comes from biomass, or wood and plant material — humanity’s oldest energy source. While biomass is renewable, it is often neither good nor sustainable.
Burning wood in pre-industrial Western Europe caused massive deforestation, as is occurring in much of the developing world today. The indoor air pollution that biomass produces kills more than three million people annually. Likewise, modern energy crops increase deforestation, displace agriculture, and push up food prices.
The most renewables-intensive places in the world are also the poorest. Africa gets almost 50%of its energy from renewables, compared to just 8% for the OECD. Even the European OECD countries, at 11.8%, are below the global average.
The reality is that humanity has spent recent centuries getting away from renewables. In 1800, the world obtained 94% of its energy from renewable sources. That figure has been declining ever since.
The momentous move toward fossil fuels has done a lot of good. Compared to 250years ago, the average person in the United Kingdom today has access to 50 times more power, travels 250 times farther, and has 37,500 times more light.Incomes have increased 20-fold.
The switch to fossil fuels has also had tremendous environmental benefits. Kerosene saved the whales (which had been hunted almost to extinction to provide supposedly "renewable" whale oil for lighting). Coal saved Europe’s forests. With electrification, indoor air pollution, which is much more dangerous than outdoor air pollution, disappeared in most of the developed world.
And there is one environmental benefit that is often overlooked: in 1910, more than 30%of farmland in the United States was used to produce fodder for horses and mules. Tractors and cars eradicated this huge demand on farmland (while ridding cities of manure pollution).
2. Privatizing the commons to the benefit of oyster lovers everywhere
3. 2013 Ozone Report — the good news continues
The2013 ozone season began on April 1 and, as in the past, each week during the ozone — often called smog — season this newsletter will report how many, if any, high ozone days have been experienced throughout the state during the previous week, where they were experienced, and how many have been recorded during the entire season to date. According to current EPA standards a region or county experiences a high ozone day if a monitor in that area registers the amount of ozone in the air as 76 parts per billion (ppb) or greater. The official ozone season will end on October 31. All reported data is preliminary and issued by the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, which is part of the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. During the period from August 12-August 18 there were no high-ozone days recorded. For the state as a whole there has been only one high ozone day on one monitor recorded in 2013.
The table below shows all of North Carolina’s ozone monitors and the number of high ozone days for the week and the year to date.