Media Notes: The Economist Gets It Right This Week

The Economist is a schizophrenic magazine, but that’s one reason to read it.  It is so obviously superior to Time and Newsweek in its erudition and depth, which is all the more impressive as most of its stories are written anonymously, a welcome contrast to the stuffed-up ego bylines of the American journalists who parade themselves on TV and the high paid lecture circuit.

One glaring flaw is that The Economist does seem at times to have had an extra helping of the Klimate Khange Kool-Aid.   I was told once by one of their Washington correspondents that this stemmed from an edict from the owners and senior editors in charge back in London.  (And their U.S. coverage sometimes partakes of an “oh those silly colonials” tone.  We’ll save that for another time.)  Much of the time, however, The Economist undermines environmental orthodoxy.

There are two good examples this week.  This first is the “leader” on solar power:

The rush to subsidise solar power over the past decade has been massively wasteful and squalidly political . . .  Solar boosters will argue that all this money has nevertheless brought down the price of solar power. It is undeniable that massively subsidised demand has been largely responsible for recent sharp drops in the price of panels. But to see that as a justification is to ignore the vast, albeit to some degree unknowable, opportunity costs of programmes so expensive.

Query: When was the last time you saw a discussion of opportunity costs in Time or Newsweek?  I doubt most of their preening pundits even know what the concept means.

One more cut:

Defenders of solar subsidies point out that, unlike those on biofuels, they do not actually take food from the plates of the hungry. That is true; but it is a pretty low bar. Fixating on solar power, which is still a more expensive way to generate electricity than most, has delivered little by way of emissions reductions for the subsidy buck, and left governments paying through the nose for whatever the industry can ship, rather than encouraging true innovation.

The United States section this week offers an article on the controversy over whether the ivory-billed woodpecker still exists.  Long thought extinct, some reported sightings a few years back have been all the rage in the ornithology community.  In reporting the story, The Economist notes an important fact that is wholly lost on environmentalists and U.S. news media alike:

The rush to protect a possibly non-existent bird’s habitat may seem odd: but, if discovered, the creature would be protected by the Endangered Species Act. One perverse consequence of this act, well documented in the case of the red-cockaded woodpecker, is that landowners rush to destroy suitable habitat before their land gets hit with a protection order. News last month that the government is planning to review the status of hundreds of possibly-endangered species has left conservationists worried. Some fear the new protections might push species such as the Texas kangaroo rat or the golden-winged warbler down the same road to extinction as the ivory-billed woodpecker.

But just propose amending the Endangered Species Act to reduce the perverse incentives to “shoot, shovel, and shut up,” and watch the reactionary environmental establishment erupt with fury.

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