“President Obama will meet with actor Leonardo DiCaprio at an upcoming White House-sponsored arts festival to discuss the dangers posed by climate change,” the Washington Examiner reports. They will be joined by climate scientist Dr. Kathryn Hayhoe to examine “the importance of protecting the one planet we’ve got for future generations,” according to the White House website. Following the conversation, attendees will watch the U.S. premiere of DiCaprio’s climate change documentary film Before the Flood.
Mr. DiCaprio is one of my favorite actors, and I do not question his passion to protect humanity and nature. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. There are risks not only of climate change but also of climate change policy. However, the Titanic star will never learn that from President Obama or Dr. Hayhoe.
In his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Mr. DiCaprio said:
And lastly, I just want to say this: Making The Revenant was about man's relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much.I encourage Mr. DiCaprio and others who share his convictions to open their hearts and minds to competing concerns and ideas. Climate change is not the most urgent threat facing humanity. Globally, poverty always has been and remains by far the number one cause of preventable illness and premature death.
The billions of underprivileged people who are the most vulnerable to climate change are also the most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of nature and climate generally. Why? In large part because they lack access to commercial energy. An estimated 1.3 billion people have no electricity, another 2.3 billion have too little electricity to support development, and many of those same people cannot afford automobiles and may never experience the personal mobility we take for granted.
By the same token, automobiles and other largely fossil-fueled technologies have dramatically reduced humanity’s vulnerability to climate-related risks. As energy scholar Alex Epstein puts it, human beings using fossil fuels did not take a safe climate and make it dangerous, they took a dangerous climate and made it much safer.
For example, historically drought has been the most lethal form of extreme weather, because it threatens the availability of food and water. In the 1920s an estimated 472,000 people worldwide died from drought. Since then roughly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution entered the atmosphere, CO2 concentrations increased from about 303 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm, and the planet warmed by about 0.8°C. If fossil-fueled development were “unsustainable,” the death toll from drought should be even larger today. Instead, total deaths and death rates related to drought declined by a spectacular 99.8 percent and 99.9 percent, respectively.
Drought is far less dangerous today thanks largely to fossil fuel-supported technologies (mechanized agriculture, synthetic fertilizers, refrigeration, plastic packaging) and capabilities (motorized transport, modern communications, emergency relief programs). Deaths and death rates related to other forms of extreme weather have also declined substantially since the good old days of ~300 ppm CO2. In short, the climate has become more livable.
In the process, by making agriculture fantastically more productive, fossil fuels also rescued nature from humanity. Cato Institute scholar Indur Goklany estimates that to maintain the current level of global food production without fossil fuels, “at least another 2.3 billion hectares of habitat would have to be converted to cropland”—an area equivalent to the territories of the United States, Canada, and India combined. Thus, he observes:
Not only have these fossil fuel-dependent technologies ensured that humanity’s progress and well-being are no longer hostage to nature’s whims, but they saved nature herself from being devastated by the demands of a rapidly expanding and increasingly voracious human population.The politics of greed knows no boundaries of party or ideology. Indeed, politics everywhere from time immemorial is chiefly the organized pursuit of plunder. Greed is no stranger to global warming advocacy, which seeks to redistribute trillions of dollars in wealth from fossil-energy interests to alternative-energy interests via carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, renewable energy quota, and other interventions designed to pick energy market winners and losers. Moreover, a major objective of the Paris Agreement is “mobilizing climate finance,” more commonly known as foreign aid, i.e. taxing poor people in rich countries for the benefit of rich people in poor countries.
A key point for Mr. DiCaprio to ponder is this. The actual climate influenced by fossil fuel emissions is already on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s 2°C climate “stabilization” target. But if we assume the validity of the modeled climate based on “consensus” science, the 2°C limit on global warming cannot be achieved without imposing painful sacrifices on developing countries.
Stephen Eule of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy has done the math. If industrial countries like the U.S. magically reduce their emissions to zero by 2050, the 2°C target is still unattainable unless developing countries cut their current CO2 emissions by 35 percent. If, less unrealistically, industrial countries reduce their emissions by 80 percent, developing countries would have to cut their current CO2 emissions almost in half—by 48 percent.
Nobody knows how developing countries can simultaneously eradicate energy poverty over the next few decades and reduce their consumption of the world’s most abundant, affordable, and reliable energy sources by 35 percent or more. Putting an energy-starved world on an energy diet obviously has the potential to be a cure worse than the alleged disease. Those who care about the world’s underprivileged people, as I believe Mr. DiCaprio sincerely does, should carefully consider the risks of climate policy as well as those of climate change."
"A new Housing Policy Toolkit from the White House admits that “local barriers to housing development have intensified,” which “has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand.” The toolkit, however, advocates tearing down only some of the barriers, and not necessarily the ones that will work to make housing more affordable.
“Sunbelt cities with more permeable boundaries have enjoyed outsized growth by allowing sprawl to meet their need for adequate housing supply,” says the toolkit. “Space constrained cities can achieve similar gains, however, by building up with infill.” Yet this ignores the fact that there are no cities in America that are “space constrained” except as a result of government constraints. Even cities in Hawaii and tiny Rhode Island have plenty of space around them–except that government planners and regulators won’t let that space be developed.
Instead of relaxing artificial constraints on horizontal development, the toolkit advocates imposing even tighter constraints on existing development in order to force denser housing. The tools the paper supports include taxing vacant land at high rates in order to force development; “enacting high-density and multifamily zoning,” meaning minimum density zoning; using density bonuses; and allowing accessory dwelling units. All of these things serve to increase the density of existing neighborhoods, which increases congestion and–if new infrastructure must be built to serve the increased density–urban-service costs.
Urban areas with regional growth constraints suffered a housing bubble in the mid-2000s and are seeing housing prices rise again, making housing unaffordable. Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency home price index, all transactions.
Developers learned more than a century ago that people will pay a premium to know that the neighborhood they live in will not get denser. Even before zoning, developers used restrictive covenants to limit density because they knew people would pay higher prices for lots with such covenants. When zoning was introduced to do the same thing, many neighborhoods were built without such covenants, but that doesn’t mean the people in those neighborhoods will be happy to see four- and five-story buildings pop up among their single-family homes.
Urban areas with few regional growth constraints see only moderate changes in housing prices over time and still have plenty of affordable housing.
Planners argue the market has changed and more people want denser development. This is belied by the toolkit, which also supports the use of property tax abatements and value capture incentives (i.e., tax-increment financing) to promote higher densities. If there really were a market for higher densities, such subsidies would not be necessary.
If there really is a market for higher densities, then developers should be allowed to build such densities in areas that are not already established low-density neighborhoods. But developers should also be allowed to build low-density neighborhoods at the urban fringe to meet the demand for that kind of development. Instead, state and local planning rules in California, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and most New England states have essentially made such low-density developments illegal.
Moreover, there is little reason to believe that “building up with infill” will make cities more affordable. Artificial constraints on urban growth make land many times more expensive than in unconstrained areas. Mid-rise and high-rise housing costs more to build per square foot than low-rise housing.
Increasing density generally correlates with decreasing housing affordability. Source: 2010 census.
No matter how often urban planners chant, “grow up, not out,” the fact is that no urban area in the nation has ever made housing more affordable by increasing its density. In fact, as the chart above shows, there is a clear correlation between density and housing unaffordability.
The urban areas that have been increasing their densities through artificial growth constraints are precisely the ones that are having affordability problems. For example, from 1970 to 2010 the density of the San Francisco-Oakland urban area grew by 43 percent while its median home value-to-median family income ratio (a standard measure of housing affordability) grew from 2.2 to 7.1. Portland’s density grew by 14 percent and its value-to-income ratio grew from 1.6 to 3.9. Honolulu’s density grew by 23 percent and its value-to-income ratio grew from 3.2 to 6.6. Growing up has made these regions less affordable, not more.
Ultimately, what is wrong with the White House toolkit is that it is focused on local zoning which it should be focused on regional growth management. If there are no regional growth constraints, local zoning won’t make housing more expensive because developers can always build in unrestricted areas. Dallas has zoning; Houston doesn’t, yet in 2014 both had value-to-income ratios of 2.4. Only regional growth constraints make housing expensive. Every major city in America except Houston has local zoning, yet only those cities that have growth constraints have become unaffordable.
The real danger is that the White House’s policies will be imposed, via the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on areas that have few regional growth constraints today. The increased regulation advocated by the White House will make those areas less affordable, not more, while it won’t do anything at all for areas that already have lots of growth constraints.
The White House toolkit calls its proposals “smart housing regulation.” Truly smart regulation would rely on policies that work, not policies that only work in the fantasies of urban planners. The policies that do work would better be described as “smart land-use deregulation,” as they involve dramatically reducing constraints in unincorporated areas. Until that happens, housing will continue to become less affordable in constrained areas."