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Increased Efficiency - Caveat Emptor

Conventional wisdom holds that increasing home energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest and cleanest way to fight climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emssions. Moreover, it saves the homeowners money. A classic win-win.

Not so fast… My local newspaper reported on a recent University of Chicago study “which used data from a random sample of 30,000 low-income Michigan households that were eligible for an Energy Department home weatherization program.” The study “found that the projected energy savings were 2.5 times greater than actual savings. As a result energy bills didn’t decline nearly enough to eventually pay for the initial cost of the upgrades.” A second study of middle-class homes in Wisconsin produced a similar result.

But at least the homes used somewhat less energy, which is a good thing - right? However, the researchers concluded that this program cost $329 for each ton of carbon dioxide saved, while the government estimates the social cost of a ton of CO2 is only $38.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. Why should programs which purport to aid the environment by increasing efficiency be exempt from the advertising shinangins that pervade our economic system? In fact, regardless of whether these two studies can be replicated elsewhere, shouldn’t we expect exaggerated claims from promoters who will profit from their implementation?

In this instance, the government is using tax-payer money to pay contractors to put in new windows, furnaces, appliances, etc. at reduced cost to the homeowner, but at almost ten times the expense of the actual carbon cost savings to our society. I’m sure those selling and installing the products in question aren’t complaining.

Those of us who watch television see inflated claims for an wide variety of products in commercials every day. The United States Supreme Court ruled in the 19th century that such advertising wasn’t lying, but “mere puffery,” and it is settled law that there is nothing illegal about it.

This is the busniss plan of those touting the green capitalist solution to global warming produced climate change. They will attempt to sell schemes to stimulate economic activity that they say will be environmentally beneficial. I’m not saying there are no honest contractors or non-profit organizations that are doing their best to make a positive difference. But within the context of our system, whenever there is money to be made, any field will tend to be dominated by those businesses that most aggressively find ways to increase profits and advertizing to gain market share. Green capitalism still means profit first, green second.

The green-conscious amongst may let down our guard because we want these programs to work. But it is advisable to follow the latin catch-phrase, in this instance, as in all others.

Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.  Read More 
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Thank you Klaus Fuchs

Remember Klaus Fuchs? He was the German-born world-class atomic scientist, a member of the British contingent at Los Alamos, who transmitted the data necessary for the Soviet Union to build a copy of one of the bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan. He was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and served nine before returning to his native East Germany upon his release.

An article a friend sent me recently reminded me of him. The article,, published in August, was entitled, “Post WW2 World Order: US Planned to Wipe USSR Out by Massive Nuclear Strike.” Based on secret documents made public through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) releases, the article reports that the United States military developed schemes in the late 1940’s to destroy the Soviet Union with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. One of these, the 1949 Dropshot plan, “envisaged that the US would attack Soviet Russia and drop at least 300 nuclear bombs and 20,000 tons of conventional bombs on 200 targets in 100 urban areas, including Moscow and Leningrad.”

Apparently the Pentagon was not deterred by the prospect that such an attack would cause tens of millions of civilian casualties, but rather by its inability to rapidly manufacture enough atomic bombs. By 1948 the US only had 50 atomic bombs in its arsenal. And in late 1949, the Soviets’ successful test of their first atomic device put another monkey wrench in their plans.

My knowledge of my parents’ case provides insight into these events. In the 1970’s my brother and my legal actions forced the release of thousands of documents relating to the development of the USSR’s atomic bomb. We learned from these files that while any atomic information transmitted by David and Ruth Greenglass was of no value, the information Klaus Fuchs provided was.

Researchers ultimately determined that Russian scientists were following a slightly different course from their US conterparts. However, in order to fool and deter the United States, the Soviet team used Fuchs’ information to copy our bomb and test it quickly, even though it was the only one they had at the time. This deception worked, tricking the Pentagon into thinking the USSR had greater atomic capabilties than it actually had. The possibility of a Soviet atomic counter-strike gave the American militarists pause, although secret first strike plans existed into the 1960’s, and who knows what they are cooking up today.

It is hard to imagine what the world would be like if our government had dropped 300 atomic bombs on Russia. Certainly prevailing mid-latitude westerly winds would have carried massive amounts of fallout to Europe, the United States and Canada. The atmospheric debris might even have been thick enough to trigger a nuclear winter. It is far from certain how many of us could have lived through such a Pentagon produced hell on earth.

It makes me wonder if we have Klaus Fuchs to thank for our survival.  Read More 
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