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Environment

In defense of the EPA’s independence  

In a recent op-ed for The Hill, (now) independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. laid out the case for his candidacy. Among his grievances, he lists the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the victims of corporate capture by business interests.  

As a tort lawyer and environmental activist, Kennedy has long considered the EPA as a thorn in his side. This is because the agency has approved many of the pesticides that RFK Jr. opposes in his advocacy, one of which is the herbicide glyphosate. It’s one of the most commonly used crop protection chemicals in American agriculture, essential for farmers to protect their crops from weeds. The glyphosate compound, which can be found in a variety of products, does this by blocking an enzyme that is required for plant growth.  

In a world without herbicides, farmers would need to increase tillage, which disrupts the soil and releases more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere — something that, say, an environmentalist might normally care about. 

RFK has been on the warpath against glyphosate for a long time, motivated by his erroneous belief that the compound is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a lawyer, he has been able to extract millions from agro-chemical giant Monsanto through a lawsuit. However, convincing a jury is a different game than convincing a scientific body such as the EPA, which upholds that “there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label” and that “glyphosate is unlikely to be a human carcinogen.” 

Kennedy’s suggestion that the EPA is beholden to the industry merely because it approves a chemical he’s skeptical of is an unfair and misleading characterization. Regulatory bodies base their approval decisions on their own risk assessments, as well as those of independent researchers. 

EPA administrators are appointed by the president, which is arguably the only element of bias that politics introduces into the agency. (RFK himself had once been considered to run the EPA by President Obama, but his view that climate change skeptics should be considered “traitors” ultimately made him too controversial of a pick.) 

Perversely, this is the element Kennedy wants to use to appoint “activists,” as he writes in his op-ed. The people he would appoint as president would no doubt be activists from within the anti-pesticide movement. The agency would become even more politicized and biased, not serving the interests of the American people or scientific processes.  

Contrary to popular belief, the fact that regulatory agencies are in contact with chemical manufacturers is not suspicious behavior. Rather, it is essential for the approval process, not dissimilar from the way that the Food and Drug Administration communicates with pharmaceutical companies to share data and information about a new drug.  

Reading on a blog that Bill Gates is trying to make the frogs gay doesn’t make for a good action item for an EPA meeting, contrary to what RFK might believe. Innovating products for the sake of growers and consumers, that is where manufacturers and regulators come in and play a vital role.

The way regulatory agencies operate is predicated not on the idea that politicians set the ground rules for approval, but that the agencies make determinations on safety independent of legislatures. Europe is currently experiencing the downside of a system that seeks final approval from elected officials. Glyphosate is up for reapproval in the European Union, and has already been green-lit by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Still, the heads of government in the European Council, roughly the equivalent of the United States Senate, are still pondering whether they will continue to allow glyphosate to be used on European soil.  

Once agencies have spent months or years analyzing scientific literature and research to determine whether a crop protection chemical is safe, should it really be up to elected officials whether the product ought to be approved or not?  

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., unlike the scientists at the EPA he so regularly attacks, has no scientific authority. His tort actions for the benefit of his clients aside, his wild conspiracy theories about everything from vaccines, which he suggested could be linked to the Spanish Flu epidemic, to Wi-Fi, which he thinks can cause cancer and “leaky brain,” make him unfit to make unbiased decisions on complicated scientific topics such as agricultural policy.  

As president, he would make appointee choices that would undermine the efficacy and independence of these agencies and make them mere extended arms of the White House. 

Guaranteeing the independence of agencies such as the EPA is key. That does not mean that agencies cannot get it wrong — they can and they do. But throwing these bodies under the bus of an imaginary grand big business conspiracy does the conversation a disservice. 

Originally published here

US Green Activism, Bad Journalism Jeopardize Canada’s Forests

Canada is a world leader in sustainable forest management. The deforestation rate hovers near zero, wildfires have been in decline for decades (despite the recent tragedies) and the billions of trees dotting our landscape suck large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These are all points of celebration, but that’s lost on many who claim to champion environmental views.

Barry Saxifrage, visual carbon columnist for Canada’s National Observer’s (CNO), has a much starker view: “Our forests have reached a tipping point,” he declared on August 21. Beaming with colorful charts and scientific jargon, his article alleges that because of “decades of surging” logging emissions, “Canada’s managed forest is a gigantic carbon bomb.”

This is a stunning visual that calls us to action, but it’s just not true.

Those claims were recirculated for an American audience by New York Timescontributor David Wallace-Wells with the drastic headline, “Forests Are No Longer Our Climate Friends.”

The issue with both articles, apart from their climate doomerism, is that they’re largely based on questionable research published last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—a US activist group that has routinely criticized Canadian forestry for years.

We thoroughly debunked that report in the Hamilton Spectator in response, but the mainstream has decided the claims fit the bill enough to stick.

Saxifrage and Wallace-Wells express valid concerns about climate change and wildfires, which I believe we all share. But their specific claims contradict a broad scientific consensus and leave readers with the false impression that our managed forests have set us on a course to climate armageddon. 

Both articles are shot through with analytical errors, key factual omissions and other distortions that are plainly intended to drive an agenda focused more on politics than climate solutions.

(Mis)counting carbon emissions

To give a quick breakdown, Canada’s managed forests “both remove carbon from the atmosphere as they grow … and emit it when they die and decay or burn,” explains Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

A variety of human and natural activities affect this balance. Logging emits CO2; replanting trees removes it from the atmosphere. Natural disturbances—forest fires, for instance—emit carbon dioxide, while natural tree regeneration removes carbon. Human activity in managed forests, like slash burning, fire suppression and insect control, also affects the forests’ ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is very well studied by a broad spectrum of academics.

Read the full text here

Environmentalist conceit on basic forest management will bring more devastation

When we see the thousands of people impacted by flames that have engulfed forests and homes in Hawaii, or across the vast wilderness of western Canada and California, it is easy to be both shocked and angry.

Pristine forests, homes, and entire villages no longer exist as they once did. In Lahaina, the area most impacted by wildfires on Maui, at least 115 lives were lost and over $6 billion worth of property was destroyed.

While the underlying causes for this devastation continue to be examined — whether it was electrical utility negligence, water politics, or climate change — the fact remains that proven fire prevention methods haven’t been enough. Or, perhaps, in pursuit of more lofty goals, we’ve been hoodwinked by misguided activist groups to cast time tested knowledge aside.

One such example, prescribed burns, is considered the most effective method of fire prevention for both forests and vegetation. In an effort to cut down on dry vegetation and timber, fire is purposefully set to forests and farmlands in a controlled manner that is both monitored and regulated.

This practice is carried out by sugarcane producers in Florida, timber companies up and down the West Coast, and forest officials across the country. These controlled burns are uncontroversial in forest management and most of agriculture, and are a necessary part of the cycle of managing forests and land that would otherwise be susceptible to fires.

But to many environmental groups and some state and federal regulators, controlled fires by both industry and public agencies pose significant risks to both climate ambitions and broader environmental concerns that should trump their use.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recent update to the Clean Air Act, for instance, imposes health-based air quality rules that effectively restrict prescribed burns in local communities, a point that several California members of Congress have urged the agency to reconsider.

Throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Forest Service halted prescribed burns across Oregon, Washington, and California, concerned the smoke would exacerbate the effects of the respiratory virus.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newson’s administration has set a goal of burning up to 400,000 acres per year in “beneficial fires,” burdensome regulations and permitting delays have hampered efforts by both private companies and local officials to use burns.

Green groups across the continent have also lent their efforts to stopping prescribed burns both in forestry and agriculture, using lawsuits and constitutional provisions to argue for environmental standards to restrict its use.

For the last decade in Florida, the Sierra Club and other groups have launched several health-related lawsuits against sugar growers, hoping to halt pre-harvest burning in sugarcane fields that are used to separate the valuable sugarcane crop from the flammable grasses that surround it. A highly publicized class-action lawsuit was first dismissed by the judge for lack of evidence and then later voluntarily dropped, much to the chagrin of activists.

Similar efforts did, however, prove successful in Hawaii, where a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a “clean and healthful environment” was recently interpreted by the State Supreme Court to uphold the permit denial of a biomass plant that planned to use controlled burns.

However, forest ecologists have been clear that more prescribed burns would have prevented much of the fire devastation in Hawaii. According to the Washington Post, the exodus of sugarcane and pineapple producers over the decades left thousands of acres of highly flammable grasslands on Maui unmanaged, providing the necessary fuel for the fire likely sparked by a downed electrical line.

For a state concerned with responsible environmental stewardship, but now ravaged by the recent wildfires, efforts at halting responsible forest and land management leave us with more questions than answers.

Will public officials and private industry still be allowed and encouraged to use prescribed fires and to avoid these types of catastrophes? Or will environmentalist activist fears of future climate crises limit their use?

The priority for all of us must be evidence-based, ecologically sustainable strategies that can help balance all of these concerns. For now, that means forest and land management must remain a solution.

Originally published here

Time to Clip Wings of Climate Protesters

For months on end, environmentalist protesters have glued themselves to roads, bridgestunnelspaintings in museumsoil tankers, and now even airports.

Their argument is that for a long time, they have called and petitioned for governments to take even more drastic action to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, increasing energy prices continuously in times when they are already at record highs. “Just to Oil” protesters aren’t happy that the democratic process hasn’t fully favored their cause and thus turn to violent means to get time on the airwaves of the national conversation.

In Germany, where the protesters have been particularly vicious, the statistics do not include the number of ambulances that arrived late at a hospital due to roadblocks, and the impact this had on patients’ health. In six of the eight cases reported, the figures show a late arrival, and in two cases — because the vehicles were stuck in a traffic jam — other ambulances had to be alerted.

Despite the fact that a female cyclist arrived late at a hospital due to environmentalists gluing themselves to a road, German prosecutors have chosen not to bring activists to justice.

Just last week, activists in Germany delayed dozens of flights after gluing themselves to the runway of Hamburg and Munich Airport. The same group had already disrupted flights at Munich and Berlin airports in December last year.

The activists elevate their cause above the lives of everyone around them and endanger the safety of everyone around them. They show utter disregard for people around them; they waste precious police time and resources at costs that they will not have to carry.

What it tells us about their thinking is that they do not believe that innovation will address the environmental challenges of the future. New aircraft today use a fraction of the kerosene they did in the last century. Automobiles use less petrol, agriculture needs less resource input, and the levels of pollution per capita keep decreasing gradually.

But no, what these activists want is degrowth: a rapid deterioration of living standards, which would hit everyone, yet disproportionately those on lower incomes. The frenzy of the apocalyptic vision these protesters have bought into will only make them gear up for even more drastic measures. This is particularly true as the stunts will have to become more extreme in order to gather attention in the ongoing news cycle.

If we imagine what would happen if environmentalists start to disrupt flights mid-air, forcing emergency landings, creating high-level security threats and the psychological burdens that come with them for all passengers, we cannot idly stand by.

For the safety of all consumers, and incidentally those protesters as well, all of those who have previously participated in the disruption of road or air traffic, or those who sprayed paint on office buildings, should be put on the No-Fly List.

Luckily for us, those environmentalists would hardly be able to criticize such a move. After all, they wanted to stop flying anyway.

Wish granted.

Originally published here

EU Commissions’ proposed ban on coffee capsules is bad for consumers and the environment 

When deciding on the environmental impact of a product we should look at more than just the immediate waste it produces. Products have a life cycle that includes a wide range of aspects spanning over, among others, cultivation and raw materials, energy consumption intensity, transportation, and recycling possibilities. Any approach focusing on one aspect and ignoring others would be burdened with staggering flaws as it would lead to information shortages and consequently to biased views and wrong conclusions.

Case in point is the packaging regulation drafted by the EU Commission for coffee capsules (commonly referred to as coffee pods). Under the amended Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, plastic and aluminum coffee pods are set to be banned. The proposed regulation concentrates on the consequences of throwing away capsules as the prime justification for removing them from the market. In doing so, however, it neglects all other aspects related to the environment. It thus fails to realize that the alternatives to pods are far worse. 

To understand why, think about the concrete steps involved in making coffee. As every connoisseur knows, selecting the quantity and quality of coffee can be a tricky process. In economic terms, manual preparation involves subjective estimations of the amount of dry coffee needed for one cup. These judgments are often erroneous, meaning people use a larger amount than is actually needed, thus resulting in the overconsumption of raw materials. Preparing to brew can be costly too, since overheating water also consumes a large amount of energy. Each such misstep is like a leak in the value chain causing some material that could have otherwise been used elsewhere to be wasted. These errors are amplified as reliance on the human factor in coffee preparation increases: being a barista (especially your own barista) is an approximate art rather than an exact science.

Real evidence confirms the insights of economic theory. A 2017 paper examined various types of coffee preparation methods and concluded that the common belief around coffee capsules being major pollutants is a major misconception. On the contrary, the pods turned out to be the most environmentally friendly option compared to alternatives like the conventional drip filter. Another study conducted in Switzerland by Quantis (a leading consulting firm specialized in sustainability) and commissioned by Nespresso found that coffee capsules’ impact on the environment (measured by CO2 footprint in multiple stages) is less than that of other coffee preparation methods inspected in the study such as drip filter, the moka (Italian) coffee maker, and fully automated options.

It’s obvious to see how coffee capsules are better than their counterparts. Because they come in strict sizes, they optimize the amounts of dry ingredients and energy consumption used and minimize the leakages triggered by mistakes and overheating. 

If the EU Commission truly cares about consumer well-being and pollution, it should therefore drop the proposed regulations on coffee pods and respect people’s various preferences in coffee. Consumer choice is, as always, the best course of action.

This blog post was written by the CCC intern Amjad Aun.

QUAND LES ÉCOLOS BLOQUENT LES ROUTES EUROPÉENNES

L’écologisme moderne n’est pas pro-humain, il est anti-impact. Sauf pour le coût des politiques qui s’en inspirent…

La tendance des écologistes à bloquer les routes européennes pour plaider en faveur d’une isolation financée par le gouvernement, de l’interdiction des voitures ou de l’interdiction des jets privés – selon ce qui les intéresse ce jour-là – a commencé l’année dernière et n’a pas encore pris fin.

Dans l’UE, l’Allemagne, l’Autriche et la France sont les pays les plus touchés par ces écologistes qui pensent que leurs priorités politiques l’emportent sur les trajets domicile-travail, les trajets domicile-école ou même les trajets des véhicules d’urgence. En Allemagne, un certain nombre d’ambulances ont été bloquées dans les embouteillages lorsque des militants se sont collés sur les autoroutes.

Les statistiques ne font pas état du nombre d’ambulances arrivées en retard à l’hôpital en raison de blocages, et de l’impact que cela a eu sur la santé des patients. Dans six des huit cas signalés, le bilan fait état d’une arrivée tardive, dans deux cas – parce que les véhicules étaient bloqués dans un embouteillage – d’autres ambulances ont dû être alertées. Dans tous les cas, la police allemande examine l’opportunité d’ouvrir une enquête.

« On n’a plus d’autre choix que d’embêter les gens », expliquent des activistes français, même s’ils risquent deux ans d’emprisonnement (qu’ils ne vont probablement pas recevoir).

Les conséquences de l’activisme

Qu’il s’agisse de se coller à une route ou de jeter de la peinture sur un tableau célèbre, l’écologisme n’est plus ce qu’il était. On pourrait dire que les écologistes de la fin du XXe siècle avaient une vision plus large. Oui, ils s’opposaient au nucléaire autant que leurs successeurs le font aujourd’hui, mais ils s’opposaient également aux guerres étrangères, à la corruption et aux intrusions dans nos libertés civiles.

Aujourd’hui, les écologistes portent toujours les mêmes vêtements, mais la différence essentielle est qu’une grande partie des militants écologistes sont de classe supérieure, et que leurs points de vue sont en train de devenir des politiques courantes au sein de l’Union européenne. Il fut un temps où ils étaient considérés comme des hippies, des représentants d’une certaine contre-culture opposés aux autorités. Aujourd’hui, ils se soucient très peu des libertés civiles, et leurs efforts pour interdire toute tentative d’instaurer une société moderne qui recherche l’abondance sont soutenus par les gouvernements européens.

L’état d’esprit d’un enfant de la classe supérieure qui se colle à une route, pour défendre l’idée qu’il faut augmenter le prix de l’essence, est tellement déconnecté de la réalité que même les auteurs de satires les plus drôles n’auraient pas pu l’inventer.

Tout cela se produit à un moment où les effets de l’écologisme sont clairement visibles. La tentative de transition énergétique de l’Allemagne a été un désastre : avec les prix de l’électricité les plus élevés de toute l’Europe, la puissance industrielle qu’est l’Allemagne s’est remise à brûler du charbon.

Il s’avère que l’énergie éolienne et l’énergie solaire ne garantissent en rien la sécurité énergétique de la construction automobile ou de la production de puces, mais permettent au contraire à l’Allemagne de rester dépendante du gaz naturel. L’énergie nucléaire a été complètement abandonnée par le gouvernement allemand, au détriment de sa stabilité économique.

Où en est la surpopulation ?

L’ironie de la chose, c’est que bon nombre des innovations technologiques contre lesquelles les écologistes s’insurgent sont en fait le moyen de vaincre et d’augmenter les émissions au fil du temps. L’énergie nucléaire n’émet pratiquement pas de CO2 et les technologies agricoles modernes, grâce au génie génétique, réduisent les besoins en eau, en pesticides ou en engrais.

Tout cela montre bien que pour les écologistes, il ne s’agit pas d’environnement, mais d’une soif primitive de contrôle et d’une possession idéologique. L’idéologie qui anime les écologistes n’est pas « comment faire pour que les 10 milliards de futurs habitants de cette planète vivent mieux ? », mais plutôt « comment oser avoir un impact sur le rocher flottant qu’est cette planète et sur son écosystème ? ».

L’écologisme moderne n’est pas pro-humain, il est anti-impact. Son approche de la nature glorifie les arbres et autres plantes comme des divinités de leur propre volonté, qui ne peuvent être blessées pour le bien de l’humanité. À l’instar de certains écologistes qui affirmaient lors de Covid-19 que « nous sommes le virus », l’humanité est considérée comme un fléau pour la planète, qui ferait mieux de disparaître.

C’est exactement la raison pour laquelle l’auteur Paul R. Ehrlich est encore populaire dans les milieux écologistes. Dès la fin des années 1960, Ehrlich affirmait que la population humaine était trop nombreuse et que, si l’ampleur des catastrophes pouvait être atténuée, l’humanité ne pouvait pas empêcher les famines graves, la propagation des maladies, les troubles sociaux et les autres conséquences négatives de la surpopulation. Ses théories sur la surpopulation ont été démenties depuis des décennies, mais depuis quand cela a-t-il arrêté un mouvement qui réclame davantage de contrôle de la part du gouvernement ?

Un prix inconnu

Le Green Deal européen est emblématique de ce phénomène politique : les politiciens qui le soutiennent tentent de faire croire que ces plans, qui réduisent notre bien-être, sont en fait nécessaires.

Ce Green Deal est ambitieux. Il vise à atteindre zéro émission nette d’ici 2050, avec une « croissance économique découplée de l’utilisation des ressources ». Pour ce faire, il prévoit des réformes structurelles dans le domaine de l’agriculture, la décarbonation du secteur de l’énergie et la mise en place de nouveaux régimes fiscaux afin d’éviter les importations non durables en Europe. Toutefois, la question qui se pose est la suivante : à quel prix ? Les dépenses supplémentaires annuelles pour l’Union européenne (entre 2020 et 2030) s’élèveront à 260 Mds$. Mais ce n’est pas tout.

Fin septembre 2021, la Commission européenne a publié une étude d’impact qui répond à cette question. Ce document n’a fait l’objet d’aucun commentaire de la part des fonctionnaires de la Commission ou des médias en général, ce qui est surprenant car il contient des données cruciales.

Dans la plupart des modèles présentés dans l’évaluation, on s’attend à ce que le Green Deal entraîne une contraction de l’économie. Ce phénomène est étroitement lié à la baisse de l’emploi, de la consommation et des exportations. Cette dernière sera particulièrement dévastatrice pour les pays qui dépendent fortement des industries d’exportation, lesquelles emploient des personnes dont les possibilités de réemploi sont limitées. Comme les industries de services – telles que le secteur financier – seront moins touchées, le fossé des opportunités sur le marché du travail s’élargira.

Les personnes collées à nos routes n’ont pas réfléchi à leurs politiques. Mais ce qui est encore plus effrayant, c’est que les personnes qui tentent de les mettre en œuvre ne l’ont pas fait non plus.

Originally published here

Dutch Farmers’ Party Election Win Foreshadows Europe’s Environmental Battles

The Farmer-Citizen Movement, or BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), won big in the recent Dutch provincial elections, raking up a whopping 15 of the 75 seats in the Senate. This makes it the strongest party in the Netherlands’ upper chamber, with the ability to undermine the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The BBB was created in 2019, but it gathered popular support after the government decided to cut nitrogen emissions by closing down about a third of Dutch farms.

Last summer, Dutch farmers protested the government’s planned policy by blocking roads and airports, and throwing manure on government officials. The government in The Hague attempts to follow EU guidelines by slashing nitrogen emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Nitrous oxide and methane emissions are byproducts of livestock, for instance, when manure deposes. 

The Netherlands — along with Denmark, Ireland and the Flanders region of Belgium — had exemptions on EU manure caps because of their small land areas, but that exemption is set to end for Dutch farmers. Rutte’s government aims to reduce emissions by buying out livestock farmers — even though they have expressed little interest in gift cards.

BBB has faced criticism for its anti-immigration views and hostility toward EU enlargement, but its success in the polls has little to do with a right-wing shift in the Netherlands. In fact, not only did the recent election attract voters who used the provincial election as a poll on the government, but it also was a significant blow to far-right parties who lost big — most severely the Forum for Democracy party.

This leaves the Dutch government with one of two options. Pretend it’s a phase, exploit the fact that this new party will inevitably make errors in communication, and carry on — or change policy. The latter might become inevitable, not merely because the government needs Senate approval for these reduction targets. While Rutte’s coalition can find the votes on the far left, this strategy would come with its own downsides. Green and far-left senators are likely to support the targets but demand even more ambitious goals going forward, which would only aggravate the political climate. Rutte, known as “Teflon Mark” (for his ability to weather multiple political crises), is also confronted with the possibility of members of his own four-party coalition getting cold feet in the process.

The political happenings in the Netherlands are a symptom of what is likely to happen around Europe. Agriculture, a field usually reserved for wonky policy debates and hourlong yawn-inducing committee meetings, is becoming center-stage in Europe’s green ambitions. The farm sector is undeniably responsible for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions, but it has unjustly ended up on the chopping block of simplistic rulemaking. 

The Dutch policy of phasing out one-third of farms came from the fact that the only realistic way of cutting emissions reliably would be to severely downsize the aviation and construction sector, neither of which the Netherlands can realistically afford given its economic activity. The decision to target farmers as a last resort is emblematic of the European approach that will create a lot of hostility: It is the perfect story for creating populist movements.

For the past decade, Europe has made far-reaching promises on emissions targets. But now that the EU and its member states face the reality of how those will be achieved, it will likely get ugly. 

The “Farm to Fork” strategy of the European Union is experiencing the same fate: the European Commission’s agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, has said he believes that F2F unfairly puts Eastern European member states at a disadvantage even though he is the person supposed to defend the policies of reducing pesticide, fertilizer and farmland use.

 According to an impact assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the strategy would lead to a decline in agricultural production between 7 percent and 12 percent. Meanwhile, the EU’s decline in GDP would represent 76 percent of the decline in the worldwide GDP. This would hit low-income households, which are already suffering from inflation.

The last few years saw the marches of young climate activists who issued ambitious policy wish lists. In the next few years, it will be the marches of those who must pay for them.

Originally published here

QUAND LES VICTIMES DES LOIS ANTI-CARBONE PRENNENT LE POUVOIR

La victoire électorale du parti des agriculteurs néerlandais préfigure les prochaines batailles environnementales en Europe.

Le Mouvement des agriculteurs citoyens néerlandais (BBB) a remporté une grande victoire lors des élections provinciales du pays, le 15 mars dernier. Avec 19,36% des voix et 139 des 572 sièges en jeu, il est devenu, 4 ans après sa création, le plus puissant parti du pays au niveau local.

Le 30 mai prochain, lors des élections sénatoriales, il devrait obtenir environ 15 des 75 sièges de la Première Chambre (équivalente à notre Sénat), gagnant ainsi une place majeure dans l’échiquier politique national. Il pourra ainsi saper les efforts du gouvernement du Premier ministre Mark Rutte, dont la coalition reste majoritaire dans la Seconde Chambre (équivalente à notre Assemblée nationale).

A l’origine d’une protestation

Le BBB n’a été créé qu’en 2019, mais il a bénéficié d’un soutien populaire à la suite de la décision du gouvernement de réduire considérablement les émissions d’azote en fermant environ un tiers des exploitations agricoles néerlandaises. Et sa victoire dans les urnes n’est probablement qu’un début.

Au cours de l’été dernier, les agriculteurs néerlandais ont protesté contre la politique prévue par le gouvernement en bloquant des routes et des aéroports, et en jetant du fumier sur les fonctionnaires. Le gouvernement de La Haye tente de suivre les directives de l’UE en réduisant les émissions d’azote de 50 % d’ici à 2030. Les émissions d’oxyde nitreux et de méthane sont des sous-produits de l’élevage, par exemple lorsque le fumier est déposé.

Les Pays-Bas, ainsi que le Danemark, l’Irlande et la région flamande de la Belgique, bénéficiaient d’exemptions concernant les plafonds fixés par l’UE pour le fumier en raison de leur faible superficie, mais cette exemption est sur le point de prendre fin pour les agriculteurs néerlandais.

Le gouvernement de Mark Rutte entend réduire les émissions en rachetant les éleveurs, même si ces derniers n’ont guère manifesté d’intérêt pour les cartes-cadeaux.

Le BBB a été critiqué pour ses positions anti-immigration et son hostilité à l’élargissement de l’UE, mais son succès dans les sondages n’a pas grand-chose à voir avec un glissement à droite aux Pays-Bas. En fait, ce scrutin a non seulement attiré de nouveaux électeurs qui ont utilisé les élections provinciales comme un sondage sur le gouvernement, mais il a également porté un coup important aux partis d’extrême droite qui ont subi de lourdes pertes, notamment le « Foorum vor Democratie » (15 sièges, contre 86 en 2019).

Symptôme européen

Le gouvernement néerlandais n’a donc que deux options. Prétendre qu’il s’agit d’une phase politique temporaire, exploiter le fait que ce nouveau parti fera inévitablement des erreurs de communication, et continuer sur la même voie… ou en changer. Il semble que cette dernière option devienne inévitable, et pas seulement parce que le gouvernement a besoin de l’approbation de la Première Chambre pour ses objectifs de réduction d’émissions d’azote.

S’il est possible que la coalition de M. Rutte trouve des voix à l’extrême-gauche, cette stratégie ne serait pas sans inconvénients. Les sénateurs verts et d’extrême gauche sont susceptibles de soutenir les objectifs de la réduction des émissions d’azote, mais aussi de demander des objectifs encore plus ambitieux pour l’avenir, ce qui ne ferait qu’aggraver le climat politique.

Le Premier ministre Mark Rutte, surnommé « Teflon Mark » (pour sa capacité à surmonter de multiples crises politiques au cours de ses 13 années de mandat), est également confronté à la possibilité que les membres de sa propre coalition quadripartite se dégonflent au cours du processus.

Les événements politiques qui se déroulent aux Pays-Bas sont un symptôme de ce qui risque de se produire dans toute l’Europe. L’agriculture, un domaine habituellement réservé aux débats politiques obscurs et aux réunions de commissions qui durent des heures et font bailler, est en train de devenir un élément central des ambitions vertes de l’Europe. Le secteur agricole est indéniablement responsable d’une grande partie des émissions de gaz à effet de serre, mais il s’est retrouvé injustement ciblé par des règles simplistes.

Des promesses intenables

La politique néerlandaise d’élimination progressive d’un tiers des exploitations agricoles est née du constat que le seul moyen réaliste de réduire les émissions de manière fiable serait de réduire considérablement les secteurs de l’aviation et de la construction, deux secteurs que les Pays-Bas ne peuvent pas se permettre de manière réaliste compte tenu de leur activité économique.

La décision de cibler les agriculteurs en dernier recours est emblématique de l’approche européenne qui suscitera beaucoup d’hostilité : c’est l’histoire parfaite pour créer des mouvements populistes.

Au cours de la dernière décennie, l’Europe a fait des promesses ambitieuses en matière d’objectifs d’émissions, mais maintenant que l’UE et ses États membres sont confrontés à la réalité de la manière dont ces objectifs seront atteints, il est probable que les choses se gâtent.

La stratégie « Farm to Fork » de l’Union européenne connaît le même sort : le commissaire à l’Agriculture de la Commission européenne, Janusz Wojciechowski, a déclaré qu’il pensait que cette stratégie désavantage injustement les Etats membres d’Europe de l’Est. Ce même commissaire est pourtant censé défendre les politiques de réduction des pesticides, des engrais et de l’utilisation des terres agricoles.

Selon une étude d’impact réalisée par l’USDA, cette stratégie entraînerait une baisse de la production agricole comprise entre 7 et 12%. Dans le même temps, la baisse du PIB de l’UE représenterait 76% de la baisse du PIB mondial. Les ménages à faibles revenus, qui souffrent déjà de l’inflation, subiraient une pression encore plus forte et seraient très probablement politisés.

Ces dernières années ont vu défiler de jeunes activistes climatiques qui ont dressé des listes de demandes politiques ambitieuses. Dans les années à venir, ce seront les manifestations de ceux qui devront les financer.

Originally published here

To support Oklahoma businesses, Gov. Stitt must match his words with action

In his State of the State speech last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt praised the diversified economy of Oklahoma as an achievement and a goal for his administration. And while the governor strives to make Oklahoma the “most business-friendly state,” it’s not difficult to see how that reputation has wavered.

Oklahoma is ranked 42nd in Forbes’ recent list of best states to start a business and 25th in the State Business Tax Index by the Tax Foundation. But there is hope.

Several bills passed last year led to the influx of Bitcoin companies, such as the data mining firm Northern Data’s new headquarters in Pryor, demonstrating the potential for technology firms eager to find better business climates. 

If Oklahoma provided steady and consumer-friendly rules for the expansion of Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and decentralized finance — whether that is mining, commerce or easing of money transmitter laws — this would represent an entirely new dimension of economic diversity.

Added to that, the Mercatus Center recently ranked Oklahoma as the No. 1 state for drone commerce, thanks to a regulatory environment shaped by the state’s openness to aerospace and defense industries which employ over 120,000 Oklahomans.  

While the oil and gas sector still represents nearly 27% of the state’s GDP and employs just under 10% of Oklahoma’s workforce, the global energy crisis and harsher rules from the Biden administration have made it more difficult for the state’s independent energy sector to strive.

Companies like John Zink Hamworthy and Koch Fertilizer have invested hundreds of millions into nitrogen production, carbon capture and hydrogen refueling in the state, demonstrating a shifting landscape for energy players beyond drilling and refining and more into future climate solutions.

Ensuring Oklahoma’s thousands of energy producers can continue innovating to power our homes, farms and businesses should be a key priority of Gov. Stitt’s administration, all the while avoiding the costly regulations and higher taxes that other states have proposed.

Beyond energy production, there are several additional areas where Gov. Stitt could provide leadership and direction to provide more value for taxpayers, consumers and entrepreneurs.

As I wrote last year, that would include allowing more competition and innovation in the health care and dental space, giving patients the opportunity to contract directly with their providers at much cheaper rates. 

It also would mean requiring dental insurers to spend most of what they collect in premiums on patients and customers rather than administration, known as a medical loss ratio. The Affordable Care Act requires general health insurers to spend at least 85% of premiums on care, while that threshold doesn’t exist for dental insurers. Unlocking more funds for dental patients would help save families thousands of dollars a year and grant them more consumer and patient choice.

Considering Oklahoma’s top employers are retailers and commerce companies like Walmart, Amazon and Hobby Lobby, and the end of the pandemic means big box stores and shipping retailers are undergoing a revival, it also would be opportune to work with county and local governments to provide more zoning flexibility. 

This would expand these facilities closer to urban centers where most people live and provide yet more value and choice for consumers who shop there.

If Gov. Stitt wants to modernize Oklahoma’s economy, he must recognize that innovative solutions need rules and institutions that grant them flexibility and opportunity. It means giving consumers additional choice and entrepreneurs the room they need to succeed. 

With a consumer and taxpayer agenda, Oklahoma could soar to new heights and finally be a crown jewel of the south-central United States.

Originally published here

Climate-change lawsuits discourage those seeking solutions

When Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced lawsuits against fossil fuel companies in 2020, the moment was ripe. Reports on elevated greenhouse-gas emissions were stark, demonstrating both a warming planet and causal evidence that fossil fuels were a lead culprit.

The lawsuit led by Ellison’s office aims to hold accountable “companies responsible for harms associated with climate change,” as his office stated. It accused firms such as ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, and Koch Industries of “consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, misrepresentation, (and a) failure to warn.” The main premise of the suit seems to be that, by producing oil products and not being more forthcoming on climate impact, or downplaying them, these firms greatly misled consumers.

There is no question that fossil fuels contribute to climate change, and the firms that both produce and distribute those fuels have some culpability.

But considering the global energy crisis that has led to international battles on oil supplies and increased energy costs, are lawsuits the right course of action? Are we, as consumers of these products and also citizens of this planet, victims? If we are victims, then we also happen to be the ones perpetuating harm.

To whom does ExxonMobil or any other oil company sell its products? It’s us, consumers and entrepreneurs. We fill up our cars, SUVs, tractors, and lawnmowers with gasoline. We power our industries, heat our homes, and use fossil-fuel energy in the course of our everyday lives to improve our standard of living. This is especially true in a harsh-winter state like Minnesota.

There are questions about shifting the sources of that energy and how we can move to cleaner and renewable processes and outputs, whether that be nuclear energy or solar and wind.

At least one Minnesota start-up is harnessing geothermal energy to both heat and cool homes — but has been stalled by an unclear regulatory environment. In that case, shouldn’t the focus of regulators and public officials be on addressing the “how” of an energy transition rather than solely addressing the “who” of the energy status quo?

Using civil courts and lawsuits to address that energy question is a targeted approach with an intended outcome that has little to do with energy innovation. Rather, these lawsuits seek financial settlements from oil and gas companies. Every climate-change lawsuit filed by Minnesota’s attorney general, or dozens of other state attorneys general, has a goal of extracting money from energy firms.

This will have no bearing on future investments in energy production, renewable or not, and could logically lead to higher energy costs for consumers if firms are required to settle or pay large sums to both lawyers and states that pursue them.

Climate action via courts is not novel. There are entire university law departments predicated on the idea of suing, pursuing, or otherwise holding energy companies liable for some aspects of climate change. There are grants available from organizations such as the Collective Action Fund for Accountability to public officials with attorney privileges who commit to such lawsuits.

Tort law firms such as Arnold and Porter have staked their reputation on lawsuits against energy providers, creating a mounting war chest that will likely leave oil and gas producers with higher attorney fees than investments in renewables or alternative sources of energy. Not to mention higher costs passed on to consumers.

Whatever one’s view on how best to adapt or overcome climate change, the practice of litigating the science in a court of law is a poor strategy. This will not empower nor inspire the next generation of energy entrepreneurs to provide better solutions. There will be more rich lawyers, more clogged courtrooms, and fewer resources available to energy firms that do seek to pivot to better alternatives.

If consumers want an alternative-energy future, shouldn’t we dedicate resources and create the environment for that innovation to occur? Or should we forever cast its fate into the hands of lawyers and judges and those cashing the checks? I would rather choose innovation and creativity over this litigious status quo.

Originally published here

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