Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Market Decides

Back in April, the NAS published a paper on world copper availability, which estimated that "26 percent of extractable copper in the Earth's crust is already landfilled or otherwise lost in non-recycled wastes."

Treehugger reported on these findings at the time, and ended with this observation:

Of course we will have plenty of copper for centuries to come, assuming that developing nations like China and India don't follow the western pattern.
Oddly enough, it now transpires that thieves are cannibalizing the wind-power turbines at California's Altamont Pass, in order to get at their valuable copper cables. Here's the punchline:
According to Sheriff"s Detective James Messina, copper is one of the hottest metals in the scrap business right now. Copper prices skyrocketed this summer, thanks mainly to construction booms in China and India.
I don't think I need to belabor the ironies here. Instead, I'll move on to Samuel Richardson's claim that the United States simply doesn't have the technological ingenuity to address climate change:
With today's technologies, we don't know how to cut greenhouse gases in politically and economically acceptable ways.
Keeping Richardson's interesting qualification in mind, let's have a look at a "politically and economically acceptable" approach to energy independence:
Companies hoping to tap an estimated 100-year supply of shale oil locked in rock formations under Colorado, Utah, and southwest Wyoming have won federal approval for experimental extraction projects....

Still unresolved, however, are concerns voiced by some state and federal agencies and environmentalists that the Bureau of Land Management understated or failed to adequately analyze threats to air and water....The wildlife division and the U.S. Geological Survey also said information was inadequate on the kinds of substances that will be released by the extraction process.
All of this is simply a preamble for Richardson's essential point:
Absent some crisis, politicians usually won't impose -- and the public won't accept -- burdens without corresponding benefits.
There you have it. We can't do anything about climate change until it becomes a crisis. But the burdensome externalities of shale-oil extraction are acceptable so long one keeps the exciting possibility of success firmly in mind.

Now that that's settled, let's get back to solving real problems...like the West's declining birthrate, the plight of snowflake babies, and the ACLU's War on Christmas.

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