I don’t sleep in. If I wake up between 5:30 and 6 Monday through Friday, that’s when I wake up on Saturday and Sunday. It has nothing to do with will power, or even free will. I just do.
Saturday and Sunday, around 5:30 to 6 or so, is about the only time I listen to NPR. There’s no good incendiary right-wing political commentary on at that hour, sports radio is talking about NASCAR or college football (both of which would put me back to sleep); I have to listen to something while I make the Bloodthirsty Puppy’s breakfast and my coffee (in that order).
And that’s why (and only that) I sometimes listen to a program called “Living on Earth”. LoE is an environmental radio program from a leftist point of view, if you’ll excuse the tautology. Manmade global warming is real, and the world faces imminent collapse. The polar bears are dying and the ice caps are melting. You wonder how such people get up in the morning (and make it so daunting for the rest of us).
Then I wasn’t surprised this past weekend to hear this exchange between the host, Bruce Gellerman, and his guest, Bob Fri, a social scientist, who thinks we need to program people to be hysterical about the environment, since reason and experience aren’t getting the job done.
GELLERMAN: So, we’re talking about social science – we’re talking about anthropology, sociology…
FRI: Behavioral economics, psychology – the whole lot. The whole range of them, yeah.
GELLERMAN: How do we apply what they do to what we need in terms of getting people to use alternative energy resources?
FRI: Just to give you an example: one of the big problems is what’s called the ‘energy efficiency paradox.’ There are all these studies that show that any sensible, rational person would go out and buy all kinds of energy efficiency devices because they would save you money, yet it doesn’t happen. And the reason that it doesn’t happen is that there are other values at play and other reasons for individual and household behavior. It’s just too much trouble to build in a new heating and air conditioning system in your house even though the economics look great.
GELLERMAN: You know, it’s interesting you say this because I was just researching getting solar photovoltaics put on the roof of my house. So I had a couple of analyses done and it makes incredible economic sense for me to do it. Over 20 years I can save 25, maybe $27,000 dollars. Understanding the analysis and the process is really hard, and I know this stuff.
This isn’t even the exchange that I mean, but let’s give it a second. What’s difficult about that analysis? Nothing. The trouble is, it’s not very impressive either. A thousand a year is okay (probably significantly less in today’s dollars), but it doesn’t make me do a jig. But yeah, if I had such a roof, I might do it. Why not? I do have such a roof, as a matter of fact, and could just pack it with solar panels. But when I asked someone about it, he told me that if any panel is in shadow, they all shut down. And as I have a massive ancient oak tree next to the house, it casts a shadow for more than half a day. (A natural air-conditioner in the summer, when you think about it.) So, I could get all greeny and install my solar panels, but a tree would have to die, and my house would be hotter.
But here we go:
GELLERMAN: You know, in terms of bridging the gap, sometimes you build it and then they do come. I’m thinking of ‘Cash for Clunkers.’ Tremendous program – I mean, people couldn’t trade in their old cars fast enough. An, then you have some technologies like geothermal and wind power as highly controversial, and people are fighting tooth and nail against it.
FRI: That’s right – and for it. And in the case of ‘Cash for Clunkers’ – that one was pretty easy to understand. And I suspect the auto dealers who were administering that program, early on, figured out that they had to make it easy for the customer
In what alternate reality was Cash for Clunkers a “tremendous program”? It was a lemon, and you don’t have to take my word for it:
[F]rom the beginning, critics were already pointing out that cash for clunkers might not work as planned. For one thing, the fuel-economy requirements were fairly lax: A person could, in theory, trade in a Hummer that got 14 mpg and get a $3,500 voucher for a new 18-mpg SUV. What’s more, that slight gain in efficiency would be partially offset by the energy costs involved in manufacturing the new car. And on the economic front, critics argued, the program might just move up purchases that would’ve happened anyway — thereby providing little actual stimulus.
So were the naysayers right? It seems so.
Car sales plummeted after the program, leaving sales mostly flat over the entire period. People bought the roomy SUVs they wanted, not the tin cans the government would have preferred. (Klein points out that average fuel economy improved by a meager 0.65 miles per gallon.) And it took perfectly decent cars off the road, leaving people on a budget with no access to affordable used cars. I can’t be the only one who’s heard the plaintive cries of used car dealers begging for product.
Other than that, it was aces.
I’ll concede one point, if you concede the obvious rebuttal:
What’s more, as the RFF paper found, the program reduced overall U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions by between 9 million and 28.4 million tons. But even so, that implies that it cost between $91 and $288 per ton to get those reductions — a pretty lousy bargain as far as carbon policy goes.
But utterly typical for a government program. And that goes for government radio programs, too.
PS: I realize social scientists have to eat too, but how [bleeping] dare you try to brainwash us into accepting what we do not want? And why don’t you start with the Kennedy compound, and leave the rest of us alone?