Wednesday, May 16, 2007

George Will's Environmental "Fuzzy Math" is Missing the Point

In the interest of fairness, I am listing a link to a recent column in the Washington Post by columnist George Will. I respect Will's commentary while, often times disagreeing with his conclusions

In this case he makes the point that in the rush to find answers to everything that is presently wrong with the direction we are taking environmentally, we often times over react by implementing ideas that on the surface seem to address the problems, but upon further inspection may actually be detrimental to our designated purpose. In one very clever example he likens the usable life and its environmental impact of a Prius hybrid to the usable life and impact of a Hummer and calculates by some very convenient "fuzzy math" of his own that the Hummer is actually less damaging over its lifespan than the Prius. This is done by taking into account the full environmental impact of some key elements of each vehicle from their extraction from the ground to their processing into parts, to their shipment to various portals for assembly. Every step of the way there are environmental consequences to these processes and often times they merely transfer deleterious environmental impacts from one area an another. Or so the theory goes.

For this approach to be conclusive it requires a diligent documentation of each step of each process for each vehicle, from the raw material stages to the actual finished product stage. The exercise of using one key element like the zinc in the battery portion of the Prius's hybrid engine, and following its pollution laden processing from mines in Canada through processing in Wales to its eventual installation into a finished product in Japan, as a indictment against the use of hybrid technology over conventional internal combustion technology is patently unfair and blatantly misses the point. It is not apparent that in his argument the same rigor was used to identify all the various components of the Hummer's creation to make a fair and unbiased comparison, but let us for a moment assume this to be the case.

We are all well aware of the environmental impact that a gas guzzling 10 mile per gallon vehicle does to the quality of our air and the subsequent costs to our health care system. We are all well aware of the dear price we pay and continue to pay for our unflappable dependence on foreign oil. The costs in lives and resources of at least two wars can be safely ledgered on this side of the argument. And so are we not better off making attempts to minimize the use of hydrocarbons even if our initial attempts may be awkward or have some unintended side effects. We can't allow ourselves to become immobilized by fears that we will make some mistakes! As with any technology the initial steps are often crude and even at times counterproductive, but nonetheless necessary steps in the development of new technologies that ultimately take us in the direction we all want need to move. In this case away from hydrocarbon emissions.

This is also no less true of the assertion that the Kyoto protocol is a misguided attempt by some "Chicken Little's" to force the nations of the world to actually implement some costly changes that will in balance amount to very little. Again,the point is to start this type of dialogue and not be quagmired by the immediate efficacy of the results. The fact that so many countries, with so many disparate needs, can agree on anything provides a promising platform that can be used to establish better controls and future gains that may not be immediately apparent. To arrogantly withhold support for this ground breaking global agreement on the argument that the money needed to implement these reforms can be better spent elsewhere is to create a diversion from the problem at hand and still not address those other pressing needs. Let us not be fooled by the man behind the curtain as he feverishly manipulates our priorities and directions, like the Wizard of Oz, leaving us doubting our direction by presenting us with a virtual high hurdle field of reasons why we shouldn't proceed on our quest to a better environment, no matter how bumbling the journey. It can't be better to simply sit back and serve more of the same.

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