March 6, 2012
Circular (Ir)rationality and Energy
Supplementing yesterday's post...
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That's a good point. And I certainly think the issue can be overstated in the other direction, as you point out. Populations over those same long time scales that I say we should project into the future have never in the past been what they are now, hence the need to harness human ingenuity and technological responses to make up for what nature cannot provide without our assistance. So I completely agree on that point. But this is the point, in my view - there is a balance to be had between the two. I find it unfortunate that so many people are either unaware of ecosystem services and similar concepts (the ways in which we can successfully invest in alternative fuels, etc.) on the environmental protection side, or are so ideologically opposed to even considering those facts, that we cannot work toward striking that balance between approaches - between human built and ecosystem service solutions; between responsible use of fossil fuels that remain and a planned, focused transition to the next fuel; between mass transit/fuel efficiency and development of domestic resources, and so on.
Posted by: Blake | Mar 6, 2012 9:35:35 PM
You have much more confidence than me in the ability of the environment standing alone to protect humans. I'll concede that in certain cases man-made structures are unnecessary, but levees, floodgates, and the like weren't invented without reason. And there's a strong argument that had the COE not been enjoined under the ESA from constructing a hurricane barrier in the 1970's, Katrina would not have been the disaster it was.
Posted by: Darren | Mar 6, 2012 9:05:31 PM
Those costs only outweigh benefits over short time scales, with faulty discount rates applied to future generations. This short-term view of cost-benefit is why we continually short circuit true economic efficiency - efficiency over longer time scales. For example, we perceive the benefit of filling in a wetland for economic growth and development as greater than the "cost" of preserving it. After a Hurricane Katrina, however, we see this was a fallacy - the long term costs and cumulative impacts of filling in such wetlands over time results in far more economic and human-life costs than the cumulative short term economic benefits (especially since even when there is no sudden disaster we still have to continually invest in man-made structures to handle services that the environment could provide far more cheaply - levees, floodgates, detention ponds, and so on). Until we can stop temporally severing cost-benefit analysis to a period equal to one generation we will continue to see these types of logical fallacies.
And of course the transition cannot be overnight. We need to responsibly use the fossil fuels upon which we have built our society while at the same time increasing investment in the next fuel and the next mode of transportation - we have to smooth out the transition. To blindly decry and oppose either option outright is not the right approach.
Posted by: Blake | Mar 6, 2012 7:55:13 PM
Joe criticizes alternative energy and mass transit because costs would far outweigh benefits. Joe also criticizes the President due to his opposition to private initiatives which would greatly expand American energy production and supply. Therefore, Joe is a hypocrite.
Great non sequitur!
Posted by: Darren | Mar 6, 2012 2:39:40 PM