Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Comparing the environmental platforms of the two major parties

Here I'll briefly compare the environmental policies of the two parties, based on their current drafts. Note these are not the finalized versions. My preference goes to the Republican platform, and I discuss the shortcomings of both parties at the end.

Republic draft [pdf]

Democrat draft [pdf]


The R (Republican) draft, as expected, opposes the D (Democrat) ideal of "keeping it in the ground." I agree on principle. I think limiting domestic supply to prevent carbon-driven climate change is a poor strategy. If America was an isolated market that might be effective, but in a global market, restricting supply will simply drive up prices and cause an offset in production in other places, namely the middle east. Ultimately the end result will be a large transfer of wealth from the United States and other developed countries to repressive regimes that are propped up by the flow of western money and support. That is a tremendous cost to pay, and for what benefit? That American-based fossil fuels will stay in the ground. But for how long? It's possible that the world passes on to a clean economy in a couple decades and that oil is never tapped. But more likely, when things start getting desperate, there will be plenty of political willpower to tap that sweet American crude.

The Rs take an approach of being good stewards to the environment, but still using all resources available to power the economy. Their take is that poverty is a bigger threat to the environment than responsible use of it. They advocate for the removal of restrictions forbidding the export of energy resources to foreign markets.

 The R platform proposes moving much of the environmental regulation of federal lands in to state control. As a states' rights enthusiast, I am inclined to support the notion. While it might be true that some states will give overly lax oversight, it is also true that the federal ownership of land is extreme, especially in western states, and they seem to acquire more as fast as they can. In some states the federal government owns over 50% of all land, and it's 85% in Nevada! So clearly anything that helps the states wrench some control of their land from the federal government should be considered.

The R proposal would eliminate government subsidies to all energy sectors. This is common sense, of course. The exception I would make would be to newer technologies. The policy towards electric cars is fairly reasonable. As we know a cottage industry of of cashing in on government money has grown up around solar power. As technologies mature than any government subsidy is a waste of money. If the government must subsidize nuclear power for it to survive, then perhaps it is simply not efficient enough to be used.

The Republicans oppose a carbon tax. I don't support such a tax either, but then it might be the simplest way to steer the economy in a cleaner direction. The problem, as always, is if say America reduces fossil fuel use, it will just get cheaper (supply and demand) for another country to burn. There are other possible taxes, such as vehicle taxes, but surely the Republicans would oppose those too as a hindrance on the economy.


Right off the bat, it is clear the D agenda is much different than the R. They state, in the very first sentence that combating climate change is of upmost importance. Now I'm personally a bit of a skeptic regarding the carbon-driven global warming theory, however I will concede that it is possible to some extent, and that if you had good reason to believe its validity, it would be reasonable to make preventing it a primary environmental concern.

The Ds propose some lofty goals, but are somewhat vague as how to get there. They wish to transition to 50% renewable energy within the decade. I suspect they underestimate the enormity of such an endeavor, and the practicality of the solutions. For instance, hydroelectric power comes from dams, and yet environmentalists are getting dams brought down in the US. And hydroelectric is the only reliable renewable. Others, such as wind and solar (the only approach specifically mentioned) are highly volatile, in addition to being capital intensive and having some environmental impacts of their own. This volatility means that renewable energy production must be accompanied by a large amount of peaking power plants, generally gas fired, that are ramped up when solar and wind are lacking, and sit uselessly idled otherwise. The only way to remove this necessity will be some breakthrough in efficient energy storage, which isn't even mentioned. For a party that claims to be on the side of the "best science", the Ds seem to ignore the engineering hurdles of their aggressive agenda. Nor do they make any mention of the increased energy costs of their plan. In Denmark electricity is almost 4 times the US cost, and that is after avoiding many of the engineering problems previously mentioned, because they are a small country plugged into the much larger and more stable European grid.

The Ds mention investing in improved efficiency of the vehicular fleet, which is probably something best handled by the free market, unless they mean investing in research in emerging technologies. They do dedicate a full sentence to improving public transport, which is a sentence more than the Rs gave. Investment in public transport should be a priority at all levels of government in situations where economies of scale can justify the expenditure. I do not buy the notion that the free market can provide efficient mass transport; that is entirely the realm of organized government planning. If the Rs are all about pragmatism then they should at least consider funding public transport as a plank in their platform. The Ds also propose extending subsidies for "clean" technologies, which, as we've talked about, should only apply to emerging or immature technologies. They must eventually bear the scrutiny of market forces.

The D's propose to power the government with 100% clean electricity. This is a stupid proposal for more reasons than I care to mention, and I would hope it is stricken from the draft.

Finally, and most importantly, is the section labeled Environmental and Climate Justice. The R platform labeled the D approach as radical environmentalism. I found the phrasing to be strong, until I read the this section in the D platform. In it they equated climate change to environmental racism, which only provides evidence that 21st century liberals can make absolutely anything a racial issue. Further the wording would suggest that corporations should be held legally liable for misleading the public about "scientific reality of climate change." This is an alarming proposition, and it echoes the recent decision by the Portland school board to ban any materials that question anthropogenic global warming (AGW). A majority opinion, or even the consensus they claim to have, does not make scientific theory a law. And as long as it's a theory, there is room for dissent. AGW isn't even provable as best as I can tell. It's one thing to base policy on the likelihood of AGW, it's another to give the theory weight of legal law, and prosecute non-compliance. Frankly it's tyrannical.

And further, is the onus really on the energy company to provide the relevant climate change studies? I mean, if government is basing policy on the promises of the private energy sector, maybe they're the ones failing at their jobs here.

The Democratic environment platform is not very convincing. It comes off as platitudinous, or at least more driven by activism than pragmatism. I hope it is a very rough draft and that the final will show much more refinement. (no pun!)

Shortcomings of both


Neither party mentioned agriculture in their discussion of environmental policy, a glaring omission. Clearly our form of industrial agriculture has many negative effects on the environment, and makes heavy use of energy and water resources. Both parties should be encouraging sustainable farming and a focus on local sourcing of food. The supply lines for produce reaching all the way to South America, not to mention the recent decision to allow American meat to be processed in China and then sold back in the US, are environmentally absurd. And yet not a word from either party. I guess no one wants to piss off the wrong industry.

Nuclear Waste

The R platform mentions this, so good for them, but it's not very heavily prioritized. And amazingly the Ds make no mention. Centralized processing and storage of nuclear waste should be a top national priority. Wherever it goes, Yucca Mountain or somewhere else, both parties must make this a priority, and must unite to make it happen. This waste being haphazardly scattered about the country is a disgrace, it is reckless, and it is a calamity waiting to happen. How did Fukushima not kick this into high gear? This needs to happen yesterday, not after a couple of accidents, or, god forbid, some national-scale calamity. This shit is a ticking time bomb. If our country can't handle the waste, we can't handle nuclear power.

 Urban Planning

I see no mention of suburban sprawl or our commuter culture. No advocacy for work policies that reduce commutes, such as working from home, or Panama shifts or other strategies to reduce the number of work days. There are many positions the parties could take; anything is better than our suburban sprawl. Not only is it energy intensive, but it is very sensitive to future supply shocks in the oil market.

Fusion Power

No mention was made of funding for fusion power, which is our most likely clean energy breakthrough. If our parties were serious about clean energy, they'd be pushing for a Manhattan Project type of push for fusion power. Renewable energy will not fully replace fossil fuels. We need to realize that, even outside of environmental concerns, we'll be really screwed economically when the oil starts drying up if we have nothing to turn to.


The pollution caused by global trade is enormous. The stat, as I remember off my head, is that the 12 largest cargo ships create as much pollution as all the cars in the world combined (when measured in sulfur dioxide). Shortening supply chains and protectionist trade policies actually will have a huge environmental perk. Liberals have always supported this, and now the Republican nominee also supports protectionist trade. There's no reason we can't make progress on reducing the environmental footprint of globalism.

No comments:

Post a Comment