Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Are CBS, ABC and NBC Dishonest?

Can the major networks be trusted to report news honestly? Last week all three of them reported on a global warming study by a 12-member committee of the National Academy of Sciences. The issue here is not global warming (we'll deal with that another time) but whether the networks accurately reported the content of the study. Did they instead slant their reports with a false picture of the study in order to reflect their own beliefs in global warming, evidenced many times in previous newscasts and special programs on the subject?

New anchors at CBS, ABC and NBC emphatically proclaimed that the new study definitively settled the issue, that there was no longer any basis for skepticism about global warming, and that human activities were largely responsible. Absolutely no doubt about it, said the networks' news. But the Wall Street Journal reported on the same study—under a headline titled: “Panel Study Fails to Settle Debate on Past Climates.” It noted that the study was “far from resolving the debate” and that “skeptics of global warming embraced the panel's findings.” And even the liberal Washington Post reported that the study “provides ammunition” to both sides of the argument, to those who say industrial activity is causing global warming “as well as those who see it as confirmation that significant uncertainty still exists in climate change science.”

When it comes to the truth, you can't trust CBS, ABC or NBC.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Overkill: Regulating Lawn Mower Emissions

EPA expects to require catalytic converters for lawn mowers next year. Once again EPA will be forcing people to get less for their money than they would otherwise get; it will be forcing them to purchase a truly trivial environmental/”health” benefit instead of things on which they would prefer to spend their money if they were free to do so. And it will be diverting human energy, technology and manufacturing capabilities from enterprises that would be more useful to society.

It is a fairytale that the air was pristine before human intervention. The idea—which seems to be the basis of EPA policy—that we should constantly enact more and more restrictive regulations to try to “restore” the air to a fairytale purity, which never existed, is nonsense. There were times in the geologic past when vast dust storms created pollution forty times greater than anything human beings have ever done, and the human race survived. And, as I have pointed out in my book MAKERS AND TAKERS, the blue haze found over the Great Smoky mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains and many other mountains is caused by hydrocarbons (terpenes) emitted by pine trees. And oak trees emit isoprene, another hydrocarbon that has been found to produce smog over oak forests. If these natural emissions occurred over cites, they would look the same as smog from automobile exhausts. And if you have an average-sized suburban lawn, your lawn emits more hydrocarbons every year than your automobile. Or your lawn mower. So the idea that a machine to mow your lawn needs federal regulation to control emissions is absurd.

The idea that any amount of “pollution” is somehow a health hazard is more nonsense. Every chemical has a threshold below which is is not dangerous. And Mother Nature has long been subjecting the human race to far greater amounts of hazardous substances than anyone will ever get from a lawn mower. Likewise, the environment has survived far greater natural emissions of hydrocarbons and other alleged pollutants than lawn mowers produce. The contribution of lawn mowers is truly trivial. The average homeowner uses his lawn mower 14 hours per year. His mower burns four gallons of gas per year. But leave it to EPA to try to create a crisis and talk this up as a serious problem that requires government regulation.

Making the air too clean can even be detrimental to health. There can be no question that the quality of air in the U.S. has improved greatly over the last 25 years, but asthma rates have doubled. How can this be explained? EPA—with blind adherence to its cleaner-makes-everything-better-doctrine blames asthma on air pollution and claims that without even more stringent regulations to reduce air pollution, asthma rates will increase even more in the future. But if one looks at the record of recent decades, one would have to conclude the exact opposite, namely, that additional, more stringent regulations will only increase asthma rates further. And that is exactly what asthma and allergy experts have concluded. This was the prevailing view of a major conference of such experts in March 2002 in New York.

NBC News, covering the conference, reported: “Most people assume asthma results from air pollution or other dirt in the environment. But it may be caused by just the opposite. The latest research shows the cleaner the environment, the more cases of asthma. It has to do with our immune systems. New studies show if children escape multiple infections as infants, their immune systems then overreact to dust or other things that cause allergies....Children in poor countries are often sick, but they seldom get asthma. In communist East Germany, asthma rates were low, but since the wall came down and the country has gotten cleaner and healthier, asthma rates have shot up....Another study shows kids with dogs in the house get less asthma; and other research shows kids who grow up on farms are less prone to the condition.”

Smoking is undoubtedly dangerous. But despite the claims about secondhand tobacco smoke also being dangerous, there is abundant evidence that it has a beneficial (protective) effect, particularly for children. A World Health Organization study, for example, found that when both parents smoked, their children were 22 percent less likely to get cancer than when neither parent smoked. And a large study in Sweden found that children of parents who smoked 15 or more cigarettes per day had sharply lower odds of rhino-conjuctivitis, asthma, and even food allergies.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Save Gas by Avoiding Hybrids?

Hybrids have become trendy because their two power sources—a gasoline engine and an electric motor—are touted as reducing carbon dioxide emissions and dependence on foreign oil. But do they? It depends a lot on your driving. If your driving is mostly around town, where the electric motor is most efficient and does most of the work, the Toyota Prius, which started the hybrid craze, really does get 40 or more miles per gallon. But Automobile Magazine found that Prius mileage “plummeted” on the Interstate, where it ran mostly on gasoline. If your driving is mostly on highways, you might save gas—as well as several thousand dollars—by buying a conventionally powered auto. According to Jamie Lincoln Kitman, a professional car tester, some hybrids, such as the Lexus 400H, do not even get mileage as good as conventional SUVs, and perform even poorer compared to regular passenger cars.

At highway speeds, hybrids are programmed to run mostly on their gasoline engines. They cannot be programmed otherwise because higher speeds quickly deplete the batteries. The two energy sources add extra weight, which not only diminishes the mileage obtained but also diminishes space for passengers and cargo.

Mr. Kitman concludes: “Pro-hybrid laws and incentives sound nice, but they might just end up subsidizing companies that have failed to develop truly fuel-efficient vehicles at the expense of those that have had the foresight to design their cars right in the first place.”