Monday, December 14, 2009

Denmark leads the way?

Environmental lawyer Philip Warburg writes a column in today's Boston Globe praising Denmark's energy policies:
New homes in Denmark today are twice as energy-efficient as their pre-embargo counterparts. Waste heat from local power plants is used to heat Denmark’s houses and offices, boosting the energy efficiency of those plants from 40 to 90 percent. And with taxes on new cars and motor fuel among the highest in Europe, alternatives to automobile travel have flourished. In Copenhagen, a third of commuters travel by bike, their trips made safe and convenient by an extensive network of well-marked bike lanes.
This is an example of really bad policy being dressed up as virtue. The third sentence in the paragraph could easily be rewritten as "because of obscene taxes on cars to the tune of 200 percent, Danes have been forced to seek methods of transportation which would otherwise be less preferred." Further, at least Danes have the advantage of being located in a flat country where temperature variations are relatively small, making bicycles a more realistic alternative. Biking in the U.S., where freezing winters and blazing summers are the norm, terrain can vary and the average commute is 16 miles is not very feasibly for most people.

And convenient? Tell me about how convenient it is biking to work in the rain, stopping to pick up a load of groceries on the way home, pick your kid up from soccer practice, etc.

Warburg continues:
All this energy-saving doesn’t seem to interfere with Danish productivity. To the contrary: Danes use less than half as much energy per capita as the average American, yet their gross national income per capita surpasses our own by a resounding 24 percent.
Oh really?

It's also instructive that Warburg relies upon gross national income as a measure of economic welfare instead of other more common statistics such as GDP per capita. GNI takes into account Danish income produced overseas, such as profits from Danish companies which operate in the U.S. (where energy policies are different). But once you look at the GDP stats, you understand his cherry-picking:

According to either source the U.S. is about $10,000 per capita richer than Denmark. It's also worth noting that Denmark is less wealthy than their Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic cousins. Spin all you like, at the end of the day government-subsidized alternative energy just doesn't make sense.

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