Utah Spends $250K Replacing Lawnmowers to Fight Climate Change

P. Gardner Goldsmith | May 2, 2016
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Utah: home of the Empire State Building, Disney World, Fenway Park, and the Great Wall. It’s the place Tolkien visited when creating his fantasy world of Middle Earth, and—

Okay, totally wrong, and about as tied to reality as Major Tom to Ground Control by the end of Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.

But perhaps that’s the way it should be, considering the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) just spent a quarter-million in taxpayer cash to buy back old lawnmowers and hand out new, electric ones from Lowes.

According to Josh Daniels, writing for the Libertas Institute, the DEQ’s “Clean Air Retrofit and Off-road Technology” program (“CARROT”, isn’t that quaint?) heavily subsidized the take-back of old-model lawnmowers and the handout of 944 new, electric ones in order to -- yeah, you got it -- save the planet.

Take a big breath, ‘cause the idea goes something like this:

Since members of organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN), The College of East Anglia (UK), the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and people like Al Gore have done tireless work fudging data and manipulating graphs to promote the unfounded idea that mankind is irrevocably causing the climate to warm, or cool, or, well, let’s just say “change,” and since carbon freed by man is seen as the culprit, the government of Utah has taken the bold step of shelling out taxpayers’ money to cut down the number of gas-powered lawnmowers, thus eliminating a certain amount of carbon from entering the atmosphere each year.

Makes total sense in fantasyland.

But in addition to the high level of skepticism one should direct at the so-called “climate data” from the IPCC, NOAA, etc., Mr. Daniels makes an excellent point. Even if one accepts the erroneous arguments, shoddy data-sets, and unfounded theories of the climate fear-mongers, the move by Utah’s DEQ will only reduce Utah carbon emissions by the equivalent of 5.5 minutes worth of fossil fuel use a year.

And that isn’t the end of the story. One of the facts about Utah energy that the Utah DEQ conveniently omits in its promotion of CARROT is that these electric mowers are, essentially, coal-powered machines.

Indeed, Utah is heavily, HEAVILY dependent on coal-provided electricity, as 82% of the electric power in the state comes from coal-fired plants.

Which emit carbon.

Daniels’ calculations regarding the 5.5 minutes worth of carbon savings appear to be sound, but he might be overestimating even that, since the replacement for the gas mowers is a technology that relies on carbon-producing coal plants for power.

These facts, though myopically ignored by the politicians and bureaucrats, are excellent examples of the importance of allowing individuals to decide their own priorities. Central planning, be it by the Japanese in the late 1980s or by commissars the Soviet Union for eighty years, warps supply and demand curves, shifting resources to areas where the people who actually earned the money might not have preferred. This kind of utopian thinking replaces individual priorities with political ones, which, by definition, harms living standards. We cannot tell if people are concerned about carbon emissions unless each decides for himself to spend money on technology related to “fixing” the so-called problems. 

Now, thanks to the removal of a thousand lawnmowers from the used market, people looking for cheap used mowers will have fewer options, and will likely pay more, just as used car buyers had fewer options after the Obama administration’s  “Cash for Clunkers” program ended.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) requested $500,000 for another year of the lawnmower buyback program in his FY2017 budget, but the legislature didn’t appropriate it. Perhaps they thought they had done enough to save the planet and make Utah a gleaming example of environmental salvation. Now, the citizens of Utah can consider a new name for the state, thanks to the pie-in-the-sky schemes already implemented.

Contenders could include “Utahpiah”, “Lowesopolis”, or some other fantastic title that tells the world the Utah government is very grounded in environmental and economic reality.

Who knows, perhaps Disney might want to relocate to the new fantasyland.

And perhaps the politicians would make taxpayers subsidize it, to save the world.