Unintended Consequences of Environmentalist Regulation

22 06 2009

A ton of HFC23 used in refrigeration has the same global warming potential as 14,800 tons of CO2. A ton of HFC-134a, widely used in vehicle air-conditioning units, is equivalent to 1,430 tons of CO2.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6544745.ece

Hydrofluoro carbons are what we replaced chlorofluoro carbons with (by law) as refrigeration gases. 

This probably would have happened despite regulation or the banning of CFCs, because people probably would not have wanted ozone to break down.  CFCs are quite stable and have the potential to reach ozone rich heights in the stratosphere.  Due to thermodynamic considerations, ozone break down is most likely to occur at the poles.  NB/ Last report I heard the ozone layer at the Sth Pole had regenerated. 

This latest development is similar to the acid rain problems of the 90s in Europe.  Sulphur waste levels were reduced and that reduced acid rain.  However the various acidic sulphur oxides have a cooling effect by increasing solar reflection as opposed to CO2 which absorbs infrared and therefore is alleged to warm the planet (although I need to look into this more because I believe this allegation may disregard the 2nd law of thermodynamics). 

I should make it clear that I think both CFCs and acid rain causing waste would easily be dealt with in a capitalist society without collectivist industry regulation being necessary.  Of course destructive pollution could be dealt with under existing legal avenues and property rights. 

Anyway what I think this article demonstrates is two main points:
1) That environmental political decisions are made on obviously incomplete scientific evaluation.  
2) The process whereby the regulatory snow ball turns into an avalanche.  Regulation and control begets regulation and control. 

I think it’s a pretty sure bet that certain HFCs will be banned soon. 

Unintended consequences are a symptom of a pragmatic approach to politics that rejects the “extreme” principles of capitalism.  You can’t predict the exact details, but you know the unintended consequences will occur. 

I’m surprised this article didn’t get more media attention considering the popularity of “green” issues.  
But perhaps people don’t like someone pointing out how their “green” efforts are futile.  
This is what happened to me when I tried to explain to my work colleagues that the plastic bag portion of land fill poses no threat to the environment whatsoever, anywhere in the world.  (South Australia where I live has banned plastic bags)
I found that people did not want to understand the reality.  

In the plastic bag case as with other environmentalist scares such as the spotted owl, there was no problem to begin with.  I would argue the same is true for CO2 emissions.  And even if there is a problem, obviously capitalism is the best way to solve it by allowing/encouraging creativity and production of alternatives more than any other political system. 
However assuming that CO2 levels are actually a real problem, we can also identify a more universal fault of economic regulation.  The fact that the alleged problem is virtually never fixed by the regulation (and if it is, then the costs, both seen and unseen will outweigh the benefits).  
The emissions trading scheme (ETS) soon to be implemented in Australia is a great example.  It won’t lower world wide emissions of CO2 at all.  That’s right there will be 0 reduction in CO2 worldwide when our mines move offshore and considering India and China will up their emissions. 
The only effect is that Australian people will suffer ie: They will die slightly younger, poorer, unhappier, etc.  That’s the net result. 

Environmentalism kills people – How many people in our society are prepared to face up to this reality?

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