Sunday, March 20, 2011

Environmental Reality

U.S. environmentalists often point to Europe as an example we should follow when it comes to environmental policy. I have written several times about Europe's rapidly diminishing enthusiasm and support for alternative energy. Here is an article from Germany's Der Spiegel about the reality of things today:

Germany is among the world leaders when it comes to taking steps to save the environment. But many of the measures are not delivering the promised results. Biofuels have led to the clear-cutting of rainforests, plastics are being burned rather than recycled and new generation lightbulbs have led to a resurgence of mercury production...

...A single full tank of bio-ethanol uses up as much grain as an adult can eat in a whole year. In order to cover the German requirement for biofuel, an arable area of around one million hectares would be needed. That is four times the size of the south-western German state of Saarland, which would need to be fertilized, treated with pesticides and intensively farmed. Environmental groups say that across Europe, farming for biofuels would create up to 56 million tons of additional greenhouse gases -- an environmental crime they say must be stopped immediately.

Does German Garbage Really Get Recycled?

...Once the rubbish is collected, the sorting continues. Special machines with infrared sensors discern six different types of plastic. But then something strange happens -- more than half the yoghurt cups, plastic juice bottles and packaging foils are incinerated. That is quite legal. Under German law, only 36 percent of plastic rubbish has to be recycled.

Importing Plastic to Burn

The remainder can be sold for a profit, for example to plants that burn rubbish to produce heating or power. Such facilities are everywhere in Germany. Municipalities across the country built then in response to a ban on storing garbage in landfills. Indeed, now there are far too many of them in Germany -- and there is a shortage of burnable waste.

The result is that firms are buying up as much plastic waste -- which burns well due to the high quantity of oil in plastics -- as they can get their hands on. Indeed, some companies have even resorted to importing plastic waste to burn -- hardly a contribution to an environmental utopia.

Read the whole thing. These anti-marketplace schemes don't work well in Germany and they will not work well in the United States. The reason the plastics get burned is because the oil content is energy dense. The reason wind turbines don't work is because they are mechanically unreliable as is their "fuel," the wind.

I fully support better fuel efficiency and smart environmentalism. This isn't it.

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