Sunday, December 28, 2014

NY's Fracking Ban: Environmentalists Phoney CO2 Obsession Revealed

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ban on natural gas fracking in his state has environmentalists rejoicing. As the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran notes in “Cuomo’s ban on fracking handicaps the fight against climate change,” “Gov. Andrew Cuomo recaptured the hearts of liberals everywhere last week by banning hydraulic fracking of natural gas reserves in New York State.”

But Moran, a relatively moderate liberal, is perplexed:

I hate to be a Green Grinch, but this is one of the environmental movement’s blind spots. Cuomo’s decision is a disaster for the environment where it counts most – on climate change.

Fracking has created a boom in natural gas production, driving its price below that of coal. And when a power plant switches from coal to gas, its carbon emissions are cut in half. That is the key reason America’s carbon emissions have been dropping since 2006, despite the political stalemate.

Citing work by Ralph Izzo, CEO of power company Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), Moran observes:

The scientific consensus is that emissions must be cut 80 percent by the year 2050. To get there, the United States would have to eliminate all emissions from electricity, transportation, and industry.

Leaving aside the veracity of the “consensus” claim, Moran apparently understands that one can’t simply cut emissions by 80% without doing enormous economic damage, which leaves environmentalists like Daly Bryk, “the energy guru at the National Resources Defense Council,”—quoted in the article—undeterred:

Bryk knows the energy market well, and believes that we can wean ourselves from coal without fracking. She wants to redouble efforts to conserve energy, by far the cheapest way to reduce emissions. She wants a crash program to build wind and solar power. She wants a national program to cut emissions in all sectors.

In other words, Bryk wants a totalitarian state in energy—i.e., a totalitarian state. Perhaps unwilling to acknowledge that Bryk is advocating what she is advocating, Moran writes:

“It’s true that natural gas is shutting down coal plants,” [Bryk] says. “But that doesn’t mean we need to double-down on that strategy.”

What that misses is an appreciation for how far we have to go. We can’t pick and choose our favorite tools in the climate fight. We need to use them all. And even then, we’re likely to come up short.

But it is not Bryk who “misses the point.” It is Moran who does. I left these comments:

Environmentalists claim that 80% of carbon emissions must be eliminated to avoid catastrophic climate change. But that begs the questions; catastrophic, from what perspective? There are basically two perspectives; unaltered, unimpacted, undeveloped, “pristine” nature, or the survival needs of man’s life.

From an environmentalists’ non-human impact standard of value, climate change is catastrophic, because—to the extent humans are responsible for climate change—it represents human impact on “nature.” But humans survive and thrive only by impacting and altering nature. Practically, the driving force of human progress is reliable, scalable energy—the vital industry of industries—and 86% of that energy worldwide comes from fossil fuels. From a perspective of human life as a standard of value, if we reduced CO2 emissions by 80%, “catastrophic” is too mild a word to describe the carnage man would endure.

Viewed from the perspective of the environmentalists’ standard of value—the environment in its “natural” state—their position on fracking makes perfect sense. As Bryk pretty much acknowledges, natural gas simply replaces one reliable, plentiful, economical form of energy—coal—with another. Since reliable energy is the fuel for industrial progress—which means, altering the “natural” environment to human benefit—reliable energy, as such, is the enemy. If CO2 emissions really was the environmentalists’ concern, they'd not only embrace natural gas—which emits less of it—but nuclear and hydro as well—which emits none. But they don’t, because aside from fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear are the only other reliable energy forms. Environmentalists only embrace so-called “renewables” because they know that renewable energy cannot sustain industrial civilization. Their support for renewables is mere window dressing. If renewables ever became truly viable, environmentalists would turn against them, too.

Climate change is real. Humans are probably contributing. So what? On balance, fossil fuel energy is enormously beneficial to man. Humans have never been safer from, or better able to cope with, climate dangers; or lived longer; or healthier; or more prosperously; or been better fed; or had a cleaner or more sanitary environment. Shutting down carbon emissions before a viable energy replacement can be discovered, developed, and proven in a free energy market would be cruel beyond words. Environmentalists don’t care. Their standard of value is non-human impact, not the needs of man’s life. To them, reliable energy is the problem that must be reversed, regardless of the immense suffering and death energy privation will cause man. That would eliminate electricity, transportation, and industry? Precisely the point. That’s why Cuomo’s ban on fracking will not handicap the fight against climate change. The environmentalists’ fight is against man-made climate change—cost no object—not climate change. As evidence, I give you this article.

Related Reading:

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein (Chapter 1, The Secret History of Fossil Fuels, available free. I am indebted to Epstein for identifying the fundamentally competing standards of value—environmentalist vs the humanist—at work in the energy debate.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas: What Would Jesus Teach Today?

In The Real Meaning of Christmas, Brian Regal, a fellow of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy, explained why Christmas should be celebrated by all people:

    [A] common refrain today . . . is the exaltation to "keep Christ in Christmas." This, I would suggest, is the much better argument than the "war on Christmas" angle. . . .
    Commercialization and atheists are the least of our problems here. Jesus said some of the simplest, yet most moving statements ever uttered: statements to inspire all human kind.
    Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Ufologist, one can’t help but be touched by the profound humanity of "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."
    He urged his followers to treat people as we would have them treat us. He rejected the pursuit of wealth and political power. He embraced the poor and the outcast, not Hollywood celebrities or mega-preachers. He said the meek would inherit the Earth. It’s unlikely he ever owned more than one set of clothes, let alone an assault rifle.
    Jesus did not say, "When I was hungry, you turned away from me," or "When I was sick, you cut my health care," or "When I was poor, you mocked me," or "When I was a stranger, you pulled a gun on me and stood your ground."

I have a different take on Christmas. Following is an expanded version of my posted comments:

I agree that Christmas is a holiday for all, but for a different reason. (I don't agree with Jesus's ethics.)

Christmas ceased being a religious holiday when Congress declared it a national holiday. A national religious holiday in a secular nation based on the separation of church and state is a contradiction in terms. Today, Christmas is a secular holiday by law, and everyone should feel free to observe it (or not) based on his own values. You want Christ in Christmas? More power to you. No Christ? Same sentiment. To each his own. To paraphrase Jesus, respect others' right to their values, just as you would have them respect your right to your values.

As to Jesus, the context of the time in which he "rejected the pursuit of wealth and political power" was one in which wealth was largely accumulated by thieving rulers. Poverty was the widespread norm, save for the politically powerful few, who took from the meager earnings of their subjects. The pursuit of wealth and political power were synonymous, so Jesus's position was perhaps understandable, if not justifiable.

But the rise of modern capitalistic, free market individual liberty unleashed productive work and win-win, mutually beneficial trade as the path to wealth. People pursue wealth, not by theft, but by creating wealth and then exchanging value for value, simultaneously enriching both themselves and others. The rise of the free market economy separated the pursuit of wealth (economics) from political power. As the Declaration of Independence states, the purpose of government was set to protect individual rights, not the power of parasitical rulers to enrich themselves at the expense of the average man. What would Jesus say to that? Would he understand the difference between the pursuit of wealth by legalized theft, and the pursuit of wealth by work? Hopefully. But his 2000 year-old ethical ideology is not applicable to a free market economy, to the extent that we have one.

Of course, political power can still be an avenue for pursuing wealth by theft, as is the case with the modern redistributionist welfare state. Regal implies that Jesus would endorse this legalized theft with his statement "When I was sick, you cut my health care"—a slap at those who oppose government handouts paid for by forcibly taking from someone who earned it. Jesus certainly preached the morality of what we know today to be socialism; self-sacrifice for the needs of others. But remember the context. Would he endorse the modern union of wealth pursuit and political power—forced transfer of wealth from those who earned it to those who didn't—over voluntary giving? 

The blind, dogmatic adherence to Jesus's 2000 year-old ethical ideology is resurrecting that ancient evil; the pursuit of wealth through political power. It's time to modernize our ethics. What would Jesus preach today if he observed the broad-based prosperity created by self-interested, reason-guided labor (productive work) and trade? What would he think when he observed "poor" people living in comparative luxury vs. the "rich" rulers of his day, as is the case in the semi-free industrialized nations? 

We need a new ethics. In the modern world of wealth creation, should Christmas be about the worship of poverty? No. It should celebrate the rise from poverty made possible by the liberty to selfishly and rationally pursue one's own happiness by one's own efforts. By all means, lend a helping hand to someone in need, if it's consistent with your values and personal circumstances. That doesn't require a holiday to justify. Christmas should be a celebration of the good things in our lives, including our life-enhancing material achievements and the free exercise of spiritual values like rationality, productiveness, honesty, and pride that made those achievements possible. Spirituality and good will toward one's fellow man are not the exclusive monopoly of religion.

This Christmas season, I'll celebrate family, food, cheery decorations, and the wonderful commercialization—the symbol of freedom of production and trade—that enriches all of our lives. Earned spiritual and material enrichment go hand in hand.

Related Reading:

The Creed of Sacrifice vs. The Land of Liberty—Craig Biddle

Books- Understanding Rational Selfishness

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas: A Holiday for All

Can non-Christians celebrate Christmas? Many do, and why not? I’m an atheist and I have no problem celebrating Christmas, even though it has no religious significance for me.

What’s great about Christmas is that it is both a religious holiday, being based upon the birth of the Christian icon Jesus, and a secular holiday as well.

How can I say that? I am indebted to philosopher Ayn Rand for identifying the resolution of that seemingly contradictory proposition. In answer to the question of whether it is appropriate for an atheist to celebrate Christmas, Rand answered:

Yes, of course. A national holiday, in this country, cannot have an exclusively religious meaning. The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property… of the Christian religion. (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

This makes perfect sense. A national religious holiday in a secular nation founded on the principle of separation of church and state (religious freedom) is a logical impossibility. Since to have a secular government means to have one that is neutral with regards to the fundamental beliefs of all of its citizens, an American national holiday by definition cannot be religious.

In fact, what we today call Christmas originally didn't have any connection to Jesus at all, writes Onkar Ghate in U.S.News & World Report:

Before Christians co-opted the holiday in the fourth century (there is no reason to believe Jesus was born in December), it was a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, of the days beginning to grow longer. The Northern European tradition of bringing evergreens indoors, for instance, was a reminder that life and production were soon to return to the now frozen earth.

The Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice with the holiday Saturnalia. In Northern Europe, the holiday was called Yule.

Indeed, as philosopher Leonard Peikoff notes over at Capitalism Magazine, the leading secular Christmas symbol - Santa Claus - actually contradicts some standard Christian tenets:

Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention. ... In 1822, an American named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem about a visit from St. Nick. It was Moore (and a few other New Yorkers) who invented St. Nick's physical appearance and personality, came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids' stockings, then goes back to the North Pole.

...Santa implicitly rejected the whole Christian ethics. He did not denounce the rich and demand that they give everything to the poor; on the contrary, he gave gifts to rich and poor children alike. Nor is Santa a champion of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for justice -- Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones.

When Congress declared Christmas a National Holiday, Christmas ceased being a religious observance and became a secular holiday. So, regardless of your beliefs, go ahead and enjoy Christmas on your own terms.

On that note, let me extend to everyone a hearty wish for a joyous, safe, and thoroughly non-contradictory…


Related Reading:

How the Welfare State Stole Christmas, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Was Jesus Really Born on Dec. 25?, by Andrew Santella.

Why Christmas Should be More Commercial—Leonard Peikoff

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lima Climate Convention Disappoints FOE—and That’s Great News for Rich and Poor People Alike

The United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a preliminary to a “New Universal Climate Agreement,” took place December 1-14, 2014, in Lima, Peru. The purpose of the conference was to “elaborat[e] the elements of the new agreement, scheduled to be agreed [to] in Paris in late 2015,” and take effect “post 2020,” according to the UNFCCC website.

Special interests were out in force at the conference. One was the Friends of the Earth, self-described as “a global network representing more than two million activists in 75 different countries.”

As’s Ronald Bailey reported recently from Peru:

"We are people who want to tell the truth about the climate crisis, and the truth is that we are on track to a climate disaster," asserted Alex Rafalowicz at a Friends of the Earth (FOE) press conference . . . . So how does FOE think the world gets off the track? By demanding that rich countries fork over their "climate fair shares." What's fair? It's only fair that by 2030 the rich countries cut their carbon dioxide emissions around 80 percent and pay poor countries more than $1 trillion annually to cut theirs.

Under FOE’s scheme, Bailey reports, “By 2030, the U.S. would be required to cut its emissions by 82 percent below the 2013 levels and supply $810 billion annually in climate debt payments.”

This is the plan of Friends of the Earth. As its name indicates, FOE’s standard of value is not man, but environmental non-impact; preserving Earth in its natural state. It aims to achieve “a more healthy and just world . . . by focusing on the economic drivers that are encouraging environmental degradation.” Healthy and just—for whom? “We fight for what’s needed over the longer term for all creatures on our planet, not for what is easy or popular in the short term.” This means that people are no more important than mosquitoes, and must sacrifice their electricity and gasoline, their jobs and comfort, their “environmental degradation”—for every other two-bit species on Earth.

Since man survives and thrives by altering and improving the natural environment  to human benefit, it’s safe to say that the good of man is not FOE’s concern. To the likes of FOE, the alteration of nature, as such, is a catastrophe.

But from a value standard of what’s good for man, there is no fossil fuel “climate catastrophe.” There is an environmental boon. As Alex Epstein shows in his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, by every measure of human well-being, from cleaner water to more and better food to longer and healthier lives to protection from weather extremes to greater overall prosperity, fossil fuel energy has improved the human condition—including the human environment—and continues to do so.

The correlation between prosperity and carbon dioxide emissions is clear. Yet, FOE wants to cap worldwide carbon emissions through a massive global regulatory/tax scheme by forcing massive cuts on developed nations, and restricting the progress toward a better life for less developed nations.

But here’s the question: Once “rich” countries, including the U.S.A., have been reduced to third world poverty—by cutting carbon emissions by 80%—where will the $1 trillion annual handout to the thieving poor countries come from? No matter. Justice is not FOE’s ultimate goal. Poverty is.

Americans should outright reject the anti-industrial agenda of Friends of the Earth and its primitive ilk. Rather than pay “climate debt” penance in the form of trillion dollar handouts to third world countries, we should encourage them to ramp up their own burning of fossil fuels, liberate their economies, and generate their own prosperity.

Actually, this is already happening. As AP reports, “Currently, most CO2 emissions are coming from developing countries as they grow their economies and lift millions of people out of poverty.” And, as AP reports, these developing countries aren’t about let UNFCCC or anyone else stop their progress.

As for FOE, it condemned the UNFCCC conference outcome, which “desperately lack[ed] in ambition, leadership, justice and solidarity for the people worst hit by the climate crisis.” FOE’s disappointment is great news for the people of poorer countries, whose only crisis was the lack of energy and industrial development that left them vulnerable to climate dangers; a crisis their growing fossil fuel-powered prosperity is helping to end.

Truth is, prosperity and protection from climate dangers goes hand-in-hand with large scale, reliable energy production, and today—and for the foreseeable future—fossil fuels are far and away the best source of that energy. In some distant future, something better may replace fossil fuels. But for now, fossil fuels are the only game in town, from the standpoint of human well-being as the value standard. It would be insane and cruel beyond words to “stop fossil fuels,” as FOE demands.

So, be proud of your carbon emission prosperity, America, and protect it. You earned it, and your lives depend on it.

Related Reading:

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein (Chapter 1, The Secret History of Fossil Fuels, available free.)

Friends of the Earth Anti-American Response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s Lima Speech

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Choice vs. Liberty in Education

If you've ever doubted that the fight for liberty requires a major educational campaign, consider the following.

In the discussion generated by my comments to the article NJ Catholic schools fight to keep doors open as future dims, there were several replies implying that government schools aren’t rights-violating or coercive because everyone has a “choice” not to send their child to government schools, or can choose their public schools through their choice of where to live.

For example, bayshore lady wrote, “Anyone who doesn't like the public schools is allowed to send their kids to any other schools they choose, if that school will accept them, and pay for it themselves.” I replied:

First, a parent has a right to choose private education, including homeschooling. It is not up to government to give permission (to "allow" it).

Second, that same parent has a fundamental right to use his own money as she sees fit. The two rights are linked. To say a parent has a right to school choice but not to spending choice is no choice at all for most parents.

kmop wrote “You already have a choice.  You get to choose where you live.”

This issue requires further elaboration.

These correspondents equate liberty with choice. But the essence of liberty is to be free to act and choose according to your own judgement without coercive interference from others, including government officials. The essence of freedom and individual rights is the absence of the initiation of physical force in human relationships. Government-granted “choice” is not freedom. “Choice” only in areas where government chooses not to initiate coercion and violate your rights is not freedom.

Freedom of choice is an aspect of liberty. Choice, as such, is not the essence of liberty. People living under dictatorships can have choice. Permission to choose can be rescinded at any time for whatever reason. Rights are inalienable, and cannot be violated by your neighbors, “society,” or the government. If a government forces you to orient your choices around its coercion—such as school taxes and truancy laws—you do not have real choice or real liberty. You are simply a subject of the state.

If you have to send your child to a government approved school based on your address, and are forced to pay taxes to support them no matter what, the “freedom” to “to send their kids to any other schools they choose . . . and pay for it themselves” is a cruel joke. Government schools are not laws of nature, impossible to alter. They are a man-made injustice that can and should be abolished. Short of abolition, my tax credit plan would move us nicely toward more liberty in education.

The premise that liberty is only what is allowed by government is a hallmark of statism; the system that subordinates individuals’ lives and wealth to government. The government’s proper job is to identify rights-violating behavior (robbery, rape, murder, fraud, extortion, etc.) and proscribe those actions through objective laws that prescribe appropriate penalties and restitution to the victims. Government proscribes only actions that violate the rights of others, and is forbidden by constitutional law to become a rights-violator. It is not up to government to determine what you are allowed to do. It is up to government to determine what you can’t do, based on the principle of individual rights. Apart from objectively defined rights-violating actions, individuals are free to act. These correspondents highlight the importance of philosophy. Only when people are educated on the true nature of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government will we be able to reverse the statist trend and advance toward a fully free society.

Related Reading:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Objections and Questions on My Catholic School Closing Comments Answered

My comments regarding the New Jersey Star-Ledger article NJ Catholic schools fight to keep doors open as future dims generated a lengthy discussion. Below are my replies to selected remarks and questions.

kmop wrote: “And how much would those tax credits amount to?  A poor person won't be able to afford a private school just on credits alone.”

I replied:

True. But no person's freedom should be restricted by another person's inability to meet their needs.

Nonetheless, my proposal addresses your concern. Please re-read my original post. If you can, you should read my article linked to above in its entirety.

bayshore lady wrote: “Most of the pro-voucher crowd,IMO,really don't care that the low income parents won't be able to afford private schools.What they want is tuition assitance for the schools they already send their kids to.”

I replied:

Perhaps. But I don't support "assistance" for private school parents. In fact, I'm totally against such government assistance. I support private school parents being free to spend their own money on their own children. Why should parents who don't use the public schools be forced to assist, through taxes, the tuition of parents who do?

kmop wrote: “If government is subsidizing the cost [of private education], [private schools] will need to follow government regulation.”

I replied:

True enough—if the government is actually subsidizing the cost of education.

If an individual is spending his own money, there is no justification for government regulation. Vouchers are subsidies. Tax credits are not.

bayshore lady wrote: “And those of us who have adult children would love a tax credit for not having kids in school,too,but it ain't gonna happen.My husband and I paid property taxes long before we had school age children.snd continue to do so after our kids have been out of school.”

I replied:

Under my tax credit proposal, the aggregate amount currently spent on public education would not decrease. Tax credits would be tied to the sponsorship of a child’s education, whether one’s own or someone else's. Every full tax credit = one less child for the government to educate. Otherwise, the taxpayer continues to pay into the public schools.

That said, I believe it’s morally wrong to force anyone to pay for the education of another person’s child. It’s wrong for government to dictate what is taught, how it is taught, and who can teach it. Parents have a moral right and responsibility to educate their child according to their own judgement with their own money, or money voluntarily contributed by others. The fact that public education has been around for a long time does not justify maintaining the status quo, morally or practically. Jim Crow laws lasted almost a century; “Separate but equal” for 6 decades. Should they not have been changed?

Abolition of the government schools is politically unpalatable today. My proposal is a middle ground: It maintains some elements of the statist status quo, while increasing individual rights, liberty, and competition in education. A good step in the right direction, I believe.

Kevin Foley asked: “Zemack, can you reconcile why it is acceptable to pay private/religious school tuition at the college level through the GI bill (which is tax dollars) but not at the primary/secondary level?”

I replied:

I consider GI education vouchers fundamentally different from the typical primary/secondary voucher scheme.

The GI Bill is compensation for services rendered to the country—in effect, part of the serviceman’s salary, like a fringe benefit. How he spends his benefit is his business. It is not really taxpayer money, any more than the money Ford receives in exchange for its cars is still the consumers’ money.

Kevin Foley wrote: “Sort of a contractual arrangement where your service is the consideration.  I don't disagree.

I see paying property taxes as a similar contractual obligation, only in that arrangement, the government dictates how tuition dollars can be spent, whereas the GI Bill they can't.”

I replied:

A contract implies a mutually beneficial voluntary agreement. Property taxes are not a contract. To the extent that taxes fund legitimate government functions—functions that protect individual rights, like the police or the military—they are valid. But it is still not a contract, in my view.

As to the school “tuition”—the education portion of the property tax—it is pure redistribution of wealth. That’s bad enough, but taxpayer funding of religious schools (through vouchers) violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That seems pretty clear to me.

Kevin Foley wrote: “The Supreme Court found in Zelman v Simon-Harris that vouchers used for religious education did no violate the establishment clause as long as 5 conditions were met.”

I replied:

This is the other problem with vouchers; the conditions attached to them. Vouchers threaten private schools’ autonomy; effectively taking the “private” out of the private schools. E.G.: Consider Louisiana's voucher scheme. That’s why I like tax credits (properly structured). They remove the incentive and justification for government to dictate how the money is spent.

Related Reading:

Catholic Schools Are Struggling to Stay Open: (Partial) Solution, Tax Credits

    My replies to TOS letters regarding my article Toward a Free Market in Education: