#93 Public Ownership & Scarcity Part II

The Christian Economist

#92 Public Ownership and Scarcity Part II

Humans are a part of God’s natural creation.  Christian economics care how global warming affects them. Does private or public ownership care for scarce resources more effectively?

Global Warming

Oh, I’ve tried to stay away from this topic, because it’s so hard to get reliable data.  I “Put my toe in the hot water,” in podcast #39 titled The Environment is a Gift from God.  Today, I’ll try to keep it brief and factual.  One of the park rangers stated, “Human behavior pumps up the global temperature.”  One data point should determine your view on global warming.  The assumption is that CO2 gets caught in the atmosphere and creates a greenhouse effect that causes global warming.  Some scientists don’t even agree with that assumption.  And, there’s the causal effect: I’ve been told that if you look closely at the data on Al Gore’s hockey stick of global warming, you will see that warmer temperatures precede CO2 increases.  So which way is the causality?  But those two arguments are not even my point today.  I’m going to assume that CO2 increases the greenhouse effect and causes global warming.  So I’ve given the environmentalists those two assumptions that some people don’t.  

So the single data point that determines your stance on global warming is this one: What percentage of CO2 is produced by human behavior?  I’ve looked it up three times, because this data is so hard to find.  Just about every website claims to be factual, but most of them are trying to push you one way or the other.  OK, are you ready for the numbers?  The three numbers I have found are 4%, 3.8% and 3.6%.  Ok, if that’s correct, that means that human behavior accounts for only 4% of global warming.  The other 96% is from other sources. 

Oh, another side-trip for just a minute.  Some people will call the 96% natural and the 4% human.  So humans are not natural?  If a cow passes gas, that’s natural, but if a member of the first-nation Tlingit Tribe in Alaska builds a wood fire to keep his family from freezing to death, that’s NOT natural?  Seems like you should check your definition of natural.  I would assume humans ARE natural, but that’s just me. 

Back to the 4% data.  Why did the Park Ranger, a member of the Federal Government Bureaucracy, not mention the 4% number?  Or ANY number for that matter?  I’m not even arguing that 4% is correct.  I’m only assuming there is SOME number.  This is where the Christian Worldview and Economics merge.  In the Christian Worldview we call it the fallen nature, and in Economics we call it self-interest.  Here’s how it works.  If the Park Ranger can convince you that human behavior is destroying the earth, you will support more control of human behavior by……guess who?  The Government that he works for!  I’m often asked why most college professors are liberal.  Because most of them work for the government in state supported schools and they want their power to increase.  Think about it.  I have taught at Dallas Baptist University for 28 years, and I want the place to expand.  Professors who work for State Governments want their influence to expand.  This is just too easy. 

But for some reason, my fellow cruise-ship passengers listen to a government bureaucrat with a wide-brimmed hat and a Ranger badge, and they put away their natural bias filter.  I don’t know why.  When they bought the cruise from Princess, didn’t they assume the Princess salesperson had a bias toward the brand she was selling?  Then why don’t they have the same bias against a Federally-employed Park Ranger?  Maybe it’s the hat. 

The other park ranger made this exact statement to the captive audience, “Man-made global warming.”  Holy cow!  Does she really not know that some portion of CO2 is from nature and some is from human activity?!  This is frightening.  She clearly made the statement that there in ONLY man-made global warming.  I’m tempted to verge into the “man vs woman” term usage here, but I’ll let it go because I’m running long. 

Investment

Whenever a government bureaucrat suggests we all make an “investment,” you should reach for your wallet and hold on tight.   What they mean is that the bureaucrat wants to invest YOUR money in HIS venture.  No kidding.  One of the park rangers told the captive audience over the public address system, “We made an investment in national parks 105 years ago.”  He’s assuming that fallen government bureaucrats have protected it better than private owners would.  There’s no evidence of that.  He’s assuming that the current situation is so sublime, because they government is so good.  That’s not a good economic assumption to make.  He was essentially saying, “Look at the great job we’ve done.”  Compared to what?  Economics is a social science, where we use comparisons.  What was the condition of the park land when it was taken off the private market?  Has it improved?  You can only answer that question with a comparative study that involves a control group.  There isn’t one, because the Federal Government has a monopoly on National Parks. 

As one of the park rangers claimed that the movement of glaciers in the park was, “The fastest movement in history,” I first wondered how old she was.  She seemed to be in her 20’s.  How many years has she been watching glacial movement?  They’ve been moving for thousands of years.  So I consulted the map she had distributed where it clearly shows that the glaciers receded significantly more from George Vancouver’s visit in 1750 until John Muir saw them in 1892, than they had since Muir was there and I saw them in 2021.   That’s 142 years between Vancouver and Muir, and 129 years from Muir to Arnott.  You have to wonder how much of the global warming was caused by burning fossil fuel from 1750 to 1892.  Not much, I wouldn’t think. 

Not Progressive

A Swedish economist named Bjorn Lomborg has written some good material on global warming.  He does not deny it, he simply tries to prepare people for it.  His claim is that rich countries can deal with the changes from global warming better than poor countries.  So his simple prescription is: Make poor countries rich!  Writing in the Wall Street Journal this month, he points out that global warming will claim about 120,000 lives per year, but it will save 300,000.  That’s because more people die from freezing than from heat.  But Lomborg makes the assumption that humans come first.  That’s a Biblical assumption that progressives do not agree with.  They worship the creation, instead of the Creator.  If you worshipped the Creator, you would care more about humans who we believe are made in God’s image.  The United Nations Millenium goal funds abortion to limit human effect on the planet.  That’s a clear worldview statement that the earth is more important than humans. 

Bjorn Lomborg is an example of good economic thinking.  One of the most common exercises I do in front of my class is to hold out one arm and state, “There’s never been a one-armed economist, because he always says, (now holding out the other hand) on the OTHER hand.”  When we hear the phrase “win-win,” our economic antenna start to quiver.  But deaths from global warming are all that you are told about.  Lomborg gives you “the other hand,” and tells you that almost three times as many lives will be saved by global warming.  Worth coming to class, isn’t it?

So progressives claim to want change in everything, except the environment.  They don’t want the temperature to go up, and they don’t want it to go down.  They want it to stay the same.  That’s the very opposite of the definition of “progressive” and it’s the perfect definition of conversative.  So environmentalists are conservatives, because they want to conserve the climate the way it is.  It makes you wonder if they pine for “the good old days,” when temperature was more constant.

Hypocrisy

One of the Park Rangers claimed that salmon changed streams because of human-caused global warming.  Hold it.  I found that only 4% of global warming is caused by humans.  Again, even if my number is wrong, conceptually I’m correct.  SOME percentage of CO2 is produced by human behavior and some percentage by natural causes.  Those are some pretty smart fish who can separate the 4% human-caused global warming from the 96% non-human-caused warming!  Hold it again.  Did she really say that on a diesel-burning cruise ship?  A cruise ship can burn up to 80,000 gallons a day, but let’s assume the ship is moving slow in Glacier Bay National Park, so maybe it’s burning only 50,000 gallons a day.  A 50,000 gallon tank is the size of a small house. 

Who Should Own the Land?

As I was listening to the Park Rangers brag about how the government had managed the land so effectively, I began to recall the recent 2030 and 2050 plans of the Democrat party.  They want to own 30% of US land by 2030 and 50% by 2050.  Why would they stop there?  If global warming is the existential threat they claim it is, why would you use only half-measures?  Aren’t 30% and 50% just made-up goals?  Do they have scientific evidence that owning 50% of US land will stop global warming?  If a little is good, isn’t a lot, better?  

I’ve been to China a couple times, and that last time I was there, I was told that the Communist Party owns the entire country.  It leases sections of land and buildings, but retains ownership.  Wouldn’t a sincere environmentalist want the government to own all the land in America?  Why would they stop at half-measures, like owning only 50%?

I grew up on some of the richest black soil in America, in Southeastern South Dakota.  The corn grows eight-feet-tall every summer and soybeans made 50 bushels an acre reliably every year.  Couldn’t the argument for protecting national park land be made for that land also?  Why would the government entrust that valuable land to private owners, who might use too much pesticide, too much fertilizer, and wear out the soil?  The answer from Part I of this podcast makes it clear: Private owners are incentivized to sustain the value of the asset.  But environmentalists trust only the government and they don’t trust private owners.  Think about it: The same argument the Alaska Park Rangers gave for government ownership of Glacier National Park can be made for the cornfields of Iowa and Wisconsin.  And why would they allow beef to be raised, when it’s particularly hard on the earth?  Already, a cabinet official has suggested “Meatless Monday,” to reduce the amount of meat consumed.   Ginger and I like that idea, because although Ginger has never had an economics class in her life, she’s a really good economist.  She knows that if the government can reduce the demand for beef, and the supply remains constant, ceteris paribus, there’s more meat for us meat-eaters at lower prices.  So she’s all for the Vegan movement…..for others, because it benefits her!  Now that’s self-interest at work. 

Even if you accept the greenhouse gas effect, some percentage of the cause is natural, which humans cannot effect, and some human part, which they can.  The old Serenity Prayer comes to mind, “May God grant you the courage to change what you can, the humility to accept what you cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

 

Read along with The Christian Economist:

WSJ Article: Climate Change Doesn’t Cause All Disasters