Productive Environmentalism

The DTH reports that there is a new way to get around chapel hill.

A new Chapel Hill business, called Greenway Pedicabs just started operations three weeks ago. These cabs are bicycles with rickshaw in tow. The service runs on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., and is available for reservation during the day. The business is going to donate a percentage of their profits to Students United for a Responsible Global Environment. The owners got the idea for the business because they wanted to cut down on emissions.

I doubt this business is going to cut down on emissions. I also doubt that Students United for a Responsible Global Environment does much good. But when it comes to preserving the environment, neither of those things matters. The world population is growing and conservation is not going to significantly reduce emissions. Similarly, slogans and catchy media events put on by environmental groups aren’t going to help the environment. The only thing that will help the environment are market solutions.

You want America to reduce it’s dependence on oil, find something as powerful and as cheap as oil and start building the infrastructure for distribution. Invent it and people will buy it.

These guys want to cut down on emissions at UNC. Stop chanting about it and start a business. If there is a demand for pedicab rides, then they will be making a difference. If there isn’t a demand for it, then this business won’t be around for long. That’s the way it works. So, while I don’t know how viable this transportation alternative will be, I commend these guys for doing something productive, instead of the usual environmentalist behavior of lobbying for regulation and other anti-economic-progress measures.

9 comments

  1. Thanks for the slight encouragement on the pedicabs, Brian. But also – I encourage you not to get too dogmatic on the perfection of current markets. SURGE tries to do a lot of good and feel free to look at our website or give us a call at http://www.surgenetwork.org or 960-6886 if you’d like to chat about it. The market is one way of effecting change, but so is the policy realm and governmental actions. People’s demand for something like a pedicab could not be more subjective than you seem to think it is normative (that’s why people must endure ads constantly to convince them to want things they don’t necessarily need). We hope that pedicabs will take off and help reduce emissions – but also that it will help SURGE continue good educational and active works to inform the public and elected leaders on ways that we can all be beneficial to the environment and the people around them. Markets are powerful and important forces, but so are great institutions like our fair University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the first public state university in our United States (another public entity). Give us a call if you’d like a pedicab ride 951-8158 and we’ll hopefully serve the community well. Here’s to effective engagement of both markets and democratic public entities to achieve environmental sustainability and social justice. -Dennis Markatos-Soriano (SURGE & Greenway Pedicab co-founder, Master’s candidate for Public Affairs 2008 at Princeton & 01 Tarheel in Economics & International Studies)

  2. I encourage you not to get too dogmatic on the perfection of current markets.Amen.I like what you’re trying to do, Dennis, but like Brian, I think the impact is going to be so, so, so small that it’s really hard not to laugh at the lofty goal of cutting down emissions.I mean, I would ride a pedicab not out of a need to get somewhere, but because of the enjoyment it would provide. Your service creates something to go do, not a replacement for something I already do.

  3. My point was not that the market is perfect (although it is much better at organizing the economy than the government ever will be). My point was that, in this age of environmentalism, we need to keep our heads and not choose bad inefficient technology over efficient technology because it will make us feel better about ourselves. For example, wind power and solar power are grossly inefficient. The move among many state governments to require the use of these technologies is ridiculous. It would take 13,000 acres of wind turbines to produce the same power as one coal power plant. If we require a certain percentage of our energy use to come from such a source, we interfere with market forces and disrupt growth: the very thing that will fix this problem, the very thing that lifts people out of poverty. The countries that followed the Kyoto protocol are now buying and selling emissions dollars. They are buying air. Although it is extremely ridiculous, people want the US to take part. Instead of selling invisible carbon credits, instead of restricting and trying to hold back our economy, we should innovate. In the major cities at the turn of the century, there was a problem with too much horse manure. They didn’t know what to do with it all. Well, penalizing people for riding their horse didn’t solve the problem. The car and the trolley did. Forcing people to conserve energy will not solve our problems. The economy needs energy to grow and the need for energy will continue to grow no matter what you do to stop it. Furthermore, forcing people to use inefficient forms of energy will not solve the problem. It will simply make the state of things worse. Let me offer an example of how regulation for one purpose may obstruct an equally important cause:Ethanol can be made from many things. In the US it is mostly made from corn. Well, sugar cane and sugar beet offer a better carbohydrate source than corn, when you consider how much less energy is required to do the conversion. However, to protect farmers in the US from competition we have had high tarriffs on sugar cane from Latin America for years. So, ethanol could be cheaper and investors might be interested in building the infrastructure to make more ethanol, but right now it is not cost effective b/c of “noble” intentions of government intervention.Finally, let me point out, that if you truly want alternative sources of energy to be developed, pray for the price of gasoline to go over $5. The high gasoline costs is what has caused the recent increase in ethanol use. The higher the price gets, the more incentive there is to create new energies. The power of price (supply/demand) is much more productive than government regulation. If the government decides to put a cap on the price of gasoline, as some have lobbied for, then all that will happen is that gas stations will run out of gas, causing major setbacks to economic productivity and growth.

  4. Despite outrageous prices, people will continue to pay for gas until:1. Ethanol makes your car go faster than gas.2. Ethanol is the only remaining form of fuel left in the world.3. The oil supplies in the Middle East and Alaska explode from the earth outward.4. Ethanol can be made from the rotting corpses of illegal immigrants (a potentially abundant commodity).Failing these conditions, the price of gas will not push anyone towards weaker fuels. Supply and demand alone are not going to woo consumers towards cars run on the nectar of sugar beets — unless such fluids can push 500 horsepower.

  5. And on what basis are you making the assertion above? In econ 10, if I remember correctly, the demand curve was always inversely proportinal with the price of a particular widget, and vice versa with the supply curve. Now granted, economics like everything else in the world is not an exact science, but it seems to me that Brian’s assertion that with an increase in gas prices an accompanying decrease in demand will result if there is a comparable alternative fuel source like ethanol seems to be far more based in reality than your baseless assertion that no amount of price increase could ever ween people off gas without overt government pressure.I for one know that without a doubt if I could cut my fuel costs by half or more by switching to ethanol, I most certainly would.

  6. Hey Matt, Long time, no talk. Thanks for dropping in. But I am going to have to disagree with you. There has been an increase in ethanol use in the last year or two (a small increase granted). And I think that increase has to do with the price of gasoline going up. Furthermore, some people that have converted their cars to run on ethanol-based fuel are getting 40 miles to a gallon in an SUV. That’s pretty powerful.

  7. …with an increase in gas prices an accompanying decrease in demand will result if there is a comparable alternative fuel source like ethanol…My argument (as “baseless” as it may seem) is that ethanol is NOT comparable. For the United states to run on ethanol, all of the nation’s croplands would have to yied ethanol-making harvests, completely compromising another valuable resource: FOOD. [Ref.] Such an approach would be a kick in the ovaries to our precious, fertile American soil.I am fairly keen on a green earth, as far as Conservatives go. How is it that none of you boys acknowledge the fact that producing ethanol from plants as a substitute for gas is a weak idea, since more energy is used to produce these fuels than is obtained through their combustion? [Ref.]Ethanol is hardly comparable. Then again, the Sopp brothers took more econ classes than I did, so they probably have one of those do-it-yourself home biodiesel kits in their basement, since the demand for gas has been brought so low by the price.

  8. Ha! I hear you, and I agree. I didn’t discern from your original post that you were making that argument. I don’t know very much about the issue at all; was just challenging what appeared to be faulty economic theory.

  9. “How is it that none of you boys acknowledge the fact that producing ethanol from plants as a substitute for gas is a weak idea.”I do acknowledge it. I wasn’t saying ethanol is the solution. I just think that high gas prices make people look at other options. It forces them to try what’s out there and invent what’s not there yet.In other words, allowing the market to work is more likely to ease our dependence on foreign oil, than government regulation.

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