"Cash for clunkers", President Obama's 2009 Car Allowance Rebates System (CARS), was hailed as a huge success by the administration and environmentalists - but it was really just another government boondoggle. Not as expensive as $72 billion wasted in pet energy projects but still a high-profile case of an administration engaged in the Scientization of Politics - prettying up a world view by pretending it is reality-based.
In Science Left Behind, the actual reality of the program is dismantled (pp.34-35). It was really just another government subsidy for automakers, though the claim was that it would eliminate a whole bunch of cars getting 16 MPG from the roads and replace them with cars getting 25 MPG and so be better for the environment and the economy.
All well and good then, I suppose, because in 2009 money was a magical thing and you simply printed more of it, but it didn't boost fuel efficiency much at all and most of the cars getting the $4,500 rebate were purchases that were going to be made anyway, the timeframe was just accelerated a few months to get taxpayer money. The economic cost ended up being $24,000 per car traded in and the increase in actual fuel efficiency turned out to be negligible.
That's bad. But it is even worse. We noted in the book that many of the engines were destroyed, rather than recycled, meaning no benefit to Gaia, but it turns out to be even worse than we feared, from an environmental perspective.
Since the numbers were unclear when I wrote the book, I used the term 'many'. It turns out none of the engines for the 690,000 vehicles traded in were sent to recycling facilities - they were all instead destroyed. This was a federal mandate of the same administration saying they were doing these trade-ins for the environment. Their claim for why they engaged in such an environmentally disastrous policy is they needed to prevent dealers from illegally reselling the vehicles.
It's not easy to illegally resell a vehicle, of course, but it certainly typifies the 'business is unethical and needs to be micromanaged' mentality of the government today. They couldn't just enforce current laws, they had to make sure the engines were destroyed so the corrupt people who pay all those taxes running legitimate businesses don't suddenly turn into criminals. Money does that to people, you know.
And if any other part was not sold off after 180 days? Shredded too, rather than being sold in a junkyard like a sane economic policy would have allowed.
Jennifer Santisi at E: The Environmental Magazine has the takedown in The Cash for Clunkers Conundrum.
With more details reaffirming how Cash for Clunkers was yet another feel-good fallacy, 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for science honesty. "Science Left Behind" was reviled by the kinds of crackpot pseudoscience journalists I ridiculed in the "Death of Science Journalism" chapter, but scientists and the public embraced it, and the actual facts throughout the book have allowed the state of science to be shown in a new light. The anti-GMO civil war against science tried their Gettysburg with Prop. 37 in California and lost and the Obama administration stopped making excuses to not approve the Aquadvantage salmon - after they were busted for suppressing science, the exact same thing the Bush administration did to much science media lamentation. Nature even published an editorial worrying that science academia was skewed too far to the left.
Science may be back on the path to being a neutral endeavor for the public good. It can never be non-partisan, when 50% of its funding is from the government, but it can at least be bipartisan once again.
The path to that requires a lot more people in science academia and journalism holding a Democratic administration accountable the same way they hold Republicans. As climate scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. notes in his discussion of the Nature paper (more on that tomorrow) ..."scientific integrity -- which were so important to scientists and science connoisseurs during the Bush Administration -- largely disappeared in social media science policy discussions, and only occasionally appeared in the conventional media."
Even though the exact same scientific integrity assaults have been happening for the last four years. In October, I appeared on a Chicago NPR radio program with Dr. Francesca Grifo, Director of Scientific Integrity for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and I noted that the UCS hadn't found a single issue in the Obama administration to complain about. Where were the 4,000 signatures about rewriting reports after the BP oil spill and his anti-vaccine agenda regarding flu vaccinations and spying on scientists and blocking genetically modified food approvals? She had no answer, she knows I am on the side of science and seemed genuinely surprised anyone on Team Science was going to ask why UCS stopped being on that team when a Democrat got elected.
Instead, the same NGOs who supposedly love science were suddenly unwilling to stand up for it. In the case of GMOs, 50 scientists did it on their own and asked the Obama administration why science was being held hostage.
But Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project talked to Grifo more recently and she told him, “Despite what the President might have said about scientific integrity, we’ve seen White House interference on what should be science regulatory decisions. They have a legal responsibility to follow their own guidelines.”
UCS is obsessed with creating new laws and policies and that kind of social authoritarian approach is not needed, but she is at least finally concerned that someone on the left does the exact same thing everyone in advocacy groups complained about when it was done by people on the right.
An environmental magazine and the Union of Concerned Scientists criticizing the Obama administration? Whew, it's no longer 2009 in lots of ways.
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