Got a headache from all the recent back and forth over rhetoric and politics of climate change? Last week, Frito-Lay served up a refreshingly rhetoric-free reminder that the future is coming no matter what we might do to encourage (or stop) it. Under their net zero initiative, the salty snack behemoth will be taking an Arizona potato chip factory almost entirely off the grid, running it on renewable energy and recycled water. The project stands out to me mostly for what it is not:
Here's an interesting biodiesel stat: [T]he region's supply of fryer grease is limited. Each Oregonian contributes about a gallon of used cooking oil a year to the grease market. [Emphasis added.] That's really not much grease -- especially considering that Oregon residents consume about a gallon and a half of highway fuels per person each day. So as much as I love biodiesel, fryer grease just isn't going to power rush hour.
Yes, OPEC is now "pledging $750 million for research into climate change technology" (while opposing a cap-and-trade system). [Note to President Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Bjørn Lomborg -- it ain't a good sign when your climate strategy is the same as OPEC's.] OPEC, however, seems a tad confused on just what a technology-based strategy could do for oil:
In an attempt to rebut accusations that buying and selling carbon offsets amounts to a whole lotta nothin’, a coalition of three groups has announced new voluntary standards for the international offset market. The standard attempts to verify that money spent on carbon offsets goes directly to a project that does indeed help the climate. Says Mark Kenber of London-based nonprofit Climate Group, which helped develop the standard, “We’re trying to give the basic assurance that [offset buyers are] getting what they’re paying for.”
Alan Durning's article makes a lot of good points about the need to do more than just improve the efficiency of our personal transport. It's a great article, but it also contains a few inaccuracies that I feel obligated to clear up before the global warming deniers (among others) try to use them. I can tell from the comments on Alan's post that some readers are under the mistaken impression that his conclusions are a reflection of the EPRI/NRDC (PDF) report cited, but many are actually counter to that report. For example:
"Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is the crack cocaine of the developing world." – Alan Zarembo, L.A. Times, 18 Nov. 2007
The U.S. ethanol boom has been brought up short by market glut, making corn-based fuel “2007’s worst energy investment,” a Bloomberg News Service article declared today. President Bush made ethanol a centerpiece of his energy plan and lavished it with subsidies; ethanol distilleries that went up quickly in anticipation are now having to shut down. Producer Pacific Ethanol Inc., backed by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, dropped 70 percent in New York trading this year. The biggest producer of the fuel, U.S. ag giant Archer Daniels Midland, may have to begin exporting it. Analysts suggest that the ethanol market may stabilize …
Much of the debate around the big issues of our day -- from energy to healthcare -- hinges on whether one is "pro-market" or "pro-government," with Cato and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page lining up on one side and any number of PIRGs on the other. Unfortunately, neither side appears to understand the pro-market position. Herewith, my attempt to add a bit more rigor to the debate. So what does a market look like? At the most basic level, a market is defined by its characteristics. There are various definitions out there, but they all come down to the same basic tests: No barriers to entry No barriers to exit Price transparency (e.g., prices reflect costs) No participants can independently affect price Meet these tests and Adam Smith's magic starts to work, whereby the self-interest of each participant leads to social benefit for all in the form of better products and services, at lower prices. Why? Because life in a perfect market sucks! If you're running a firm in a market as defined above, you don't sleep well at night. New entrants keep cropping up. If you can't stay competitive, you're going to lose your money. Tiny changes in raw material costs have big impacts on your profits, which you are completely powerless to change. This causes you to do two things:
CNN did a short segment on our presidential climate forum and the difficulty of raising the issue’s political profile. It’s actually a fairly astute piece. I appear toward the end.
We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.