Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Short History of Genius Public Policy Solutions

We're running out of whale oil.
Solution: More harpoons!

We're running out of billiard balls.
Solution: Shoot more elephants!

The world's fisheries are in collapse.
Solution: More nets!

We're running out of forest.
Solution: More chainsaws!

We're running out of gasoline.
Solution: More drilling!


Caveat said...

Word. Here's another:

Problem: "We haven't the resources to support the world's human population".

Solution: "Keep breeding."

Anonymous said...

There are several that apply!


PBurns said...

Eh? As clear as mud BS.


Anonymous said...

I see the point you're attempting to make, however one example doesn't lead to another.

You use four images and comments as premises leading to the fifth as a conclusion. One does not follow the other, leading to a false analogy at best. And definitely a case of style over substance, although the style is rather impressive. Add an appeal to emotion, and we're already at three logical fallacies.

I'm sure we could identify a few more given a bit more time. Hence the link to a listing and explanation of the more common ones.

Not your best work IMO, nor up to the standards you typically present. ;-)


PBurns said...

Bill, you still have not explained yourself other than than to say "I don't like it."

Perhaps you don't like it because you are uncomfortable with the notion that the way to get out of a hole is to first stop digging. But that IS how you get out of the hole -- you put down the shovel and do something different. You build a ladder, and you climb out.

Of course doing something different is CHANGE, and we know how much some people hate that!

As for the examples given, they are pretty good ones if you know about the history of resource extraction in this country.

Let's start with whales. The world was once lighted with whale oil, but after we had killed off all the whales, the price of whale oil shot through the roof -- that was one of the reasons we invented gas ligths and electric lights. Instead of doubling down on the old technology, we invented a new one. Of course we invented a new one only after we had gone to the North Atantic and the South Pacific and invented exploding harpoons, but we HAD to go to something different in the end. There was no other way. And we did.

Billiard balls were once made of elephant ivory, but when the price of raw materials shot through the roof due to their falling stock, the Brunswick Billiard Ball company offered money to anyone who could come up with a replacement, hence the development of the first plastics. Yes, plastics were invented as a replacement for billiard ball ivory.

Fish stocks are still in free falls, with commericial fisheries simply switching from one species to the next. Every single one of our world's fisheries are now in free fall. What we are doing now in the oceans has been called "the last buffalo hunt" because it is the virtually unregulated harvest of wild game. Trawler nets for fish have simply replaced punt guns for ducks and geese. Yet, there is some glimmer of light here too as farmed freshwater fish and deep water penned fish stocks are starting to come to market. Once again, we are changing the way we do business rather than doubling down on stupidity.

As for forests, our 400 year-old redwoods and our old growth forests are not coming back. Once gone, they are gone forever. And yet, we are still cutting down old growth in the Tongass and on the West Coast. Yes, you can plant trees, but drive down I-95 and go into the tree farms and listen for wildlife -- there is none. Trees are sommething short of a forest. As a hunter you know that.

Which brings us to oil. God's not making any more of that. And yes there are limits. The world cannot drill itself into a new economy any more than it can log its way into creating an old growth forest or shoot its ways into more ivory billiard balls, or replenish its fish stocks with trawler nets.

Lincoln said that as this country is new, so must we think anew. We cannot afford fossilized and foolish ideas like the notion that we can drill our way to salvation. We can't. We no longer live in an era of schooners and candles, and we cannot afford schooner and candle thinking.

The good news is that the world gets it, which is why hydrogen cars are coming on line, and electric cars, and cars that run on bio-diesel. The technology to drive The Next Economy already exists, and we are moving fast to put it into commercial production.


Anonymous said...

It's not just a matter of "I don't like it." The analogies are weak and avoid the practical applications. Technologies don't change overnight, and ignoring the need to transition from one to another sounds good but solves nothing.

The practical electric lightbulb was invented in the 1870s - 1880s,and was in wide-spread use by the 1920s. The first whaling regulations where implemented in 1931, and had some teeth by 1946. There was a sizeable technology overlap, even discounting that lamps had typically changed from whale oil to kerosene long before that.

Billiard balls, while interesting, are hardly an appropriate example. Unlike things like light, food, building materials and energy, the world survives quite well with or without them.

Yes, wild fish stocks are decreasing. Fish farming is increasing. Farmed catfish outnumber wild caught. The Atlantic Salmon farming industry is approaching if not already surpassed the wild caught, and the Pacific Salmon industry, even those touted as "wild" are probably more accurately described as "ranched". Huge numbers are raised in hatcheries, released to the wild, and subsequently harvested as they return years later. While many (too many?) fish are still truly wild-caught, we again see an overlap of technology as we transition from one to the other.

Tree farms will never replace natural forests for providing habitat, but they can produce building materials that reduce the dependence on natural forests. And while I can't comment on the tree farms on S. I-95, the ones here support so much wildlife that the owners open them to hunters and even take part in our state Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) as a means to control the numbers.

Certainly hydrogen fuel cells have great potential for transportable energy. But how many are currently in use? How many are projected to be in use in the next, say, 30 years? If by "electric cars" you mean fuel/electric hybrids, there's indeed some potential for fuel savings and we're seeing increased use. But if you mean true electric cars running on rechargeable batteries, that's merely a shift in energy production from the point of use to further upstream. There's no gain in energy, and in fact a net loss since every conversion has a loss factor, i.e., it's more efficient to burn the fuel to create mechanical energy to power the car directly than to burn the fuel to generate electicity to the convert a second time to mechanical energy.

Biofuels, at least as we are producing them in this country, are a joke. Ethanol from corn is again a net loss of energy in conversion, has enormous environmental costs, and is reeking havoc on the world's food supplies and costs. Bio-diesel, although possibly more practical, has many of the same limitations.

Don't get me wrong, Patrick. I support the concept of alternative sources of energy. But what do you propose we do in the interim until they become practical? Do you imagine that unlike whale oil, fish and forests we can end one technology and begin another immediately? And while we crticize more drilling, the Chinese are drilling closer to our coast than American companies can drill. The Canadians are angle-drilling three miles into ANWR from their side of the border while supporting keeping ANWR closed on our side. The Brits have been drilling in the North Sea in conditions not much less harsh than found off the North Slope of Alaska, and the oil deposits don't stop at the shoreline. It's only a matter of time before someone other than us sets up 50 miles off the Alaskan Coast and taps those reserves.

Finally, the photos in your latest blog, "Would You Sell Out America for 2 Cents?" are breath-taking, but the Brooks Range is 600 miles south of the North Slope and ANWR and are about as valid for comparison as using photos of downtown DC to illustrate problems in the Smokies.

Just my $0.02, and it's not for selling out America. ;-)


PBurns said...

Drilling for oil does not help the transition -- it enables the addiction. PRICE INCREASES help the transition. And the transition is occurring. People aren't dumping their trucks to buy hybrids because they discovered the Sierra Club. They are dumping their gas-guzzlers because they no longer make economic sense.

And price increases are almost ALWAYS what drive innovation and change. Price increases are what drove people away from whale oil to kerosene -- look up the competing prices of these resources in 1820, 1850, 1880, 1900. Ditto for the transition from ivory to plastic. As for wood, look at the furniture being made today -- there's not a solid stick of it in most of the furniture being made today; everything is a composite. And the thing that is driving the use of composite (glues up pieces and veneers) is the rising price of wood. Ditto for farmed fish. Fish farming requires a big capital investment, but the price of fish is now reaching (or exceeding) the price of beef, and so investments in aquaculture are being made because they make economic sense.

Welcome to environmental capitalism!!

As for the notion that we need time to transition, that's true up to a point, but the time we need is actually pretty damn short -- maybe three or fours years at the most, and it is certainly LESS time than is needed to drill for oil and bring any new oil field on line (at least 10 years).

Remember, we do not need to innovate to HALVE the amount of gasoline we are now consuming -- the technology to do that already exists on car lots within 30 miles of where you live right now. The cars we need are not "pie in the sky" cars -- they exist right now on Toyota and Honda sales lots and they are made in America. And they are selling lot hot cakes. And Ford and Chevrolet are noticing.

It's important to remember that we are not running out of oil tomorrow. Production may have peaked (there is some question here), but it is certainly not declining. And when it does decline, it will decline over time as rapidly rising gasoline prices slow consumption.

The bottom line is that rising prices slow consumption, drive innovation, and create markets for alternatives. And that is already happening IN LESS THAN FIVE MONTHS of high gas prices!!

Humvees are already dead due to rising gasoline prices. UPS is buying 400 small electric trucks to use while delivering small packages in California. Last month, the number of vehicle miles rolled in the U.S. declined for the first time in my lifetime.

When gasoline hit $4 a gallon a few weeks ago, the Ford Motor Company decided it was not going to rush out to make any more Ford 150 trucks. The new Ford 150 is now on hold -- maybe forever. When gasoline hits $5 a gallon, Ford will retool its truck line and replace all those gas guzzling 150s with Ford Rangers and/or Ford Ranger hybrids. When gasoline hits $8 a gallon (which is what it is in Europe right now) the nation will switch cars overnight, and the national fleet average will rise to well over 40 miles per gallon. Other things will change too. The speed limit will naturally fall to 55 or less. Folks will stop living on 5 acre "farmettes" 30 miles from where they work.

Rising gasoline prices will do all this. As it did for whale oil, and fish, and wood and ivory.

As for the Brooks Range, you might look at a map of the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. It encompasses part of the Brooks range -- Wikipedia has a map ( see and the mountains you see in the Wikipedia picture of ANWR are, in fact, part of the Brooks range. The picture of the escarpment is of Atigun Canyon on the west side of ANWR in the Brooks.

For the record, ANWR encompasses 19 million acres, and the coastal plain area of ANWR (Area 1002) encompasses only 1.5 million acres of the total. If you open up the coastal plain to drilling, of course, you open up the whole thing to drilling. This is the ancient Lesson of the Camel's Nose.