Thursday, September 30, 2010

Friedmann on Tea Kettle Movement

NYT columnist Thomas Friedman has a worth-your-time column today:
The Tea Party that has gotten all the attention, the amorphous, self-generated protest against the growth in government and the deficit, is what I’d actually call the “Tea Kettle movement” — because all it’s doing is letting off steam.

That is not to say that the energy behind it is not authentic (it clearly is) or that it won’t be electorally impactful (it clearly might be). But affecting elections and affecting America’s future are two different things. Based on all I’ve heard from this movement, it feels to me like it’s all steam and no engine. It has no plan to restore America to greatness.

The Tea Kettle movement can’t have a positive impact on the country because it has both misdiagnosed America’s main problem and hasn’t even offered a credible solution for the problem it has identified. How can you take a movement seriously that says it wants to cut government spending by billions of dollars but won’t identify the specific defense programs, Social Security, Medicare or other services it’s ready to cut — let alone explain how this will make us more competitive and grow the economy?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bio-geoengineering - Musings on a Satellite Photograph

Extremely Useful Renewables/Efficiency Resource

Probably I am badly behind the curve here, but I just discovered the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, which has a nice map and a list of all the incentive programs for building efficiency, renewable installation, etc, by state.  It's incredibly handy if you are trying to do something about your personal climate impact (in the U.S., that is).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Long Term US Budget Scenarios


Zero Energy Homes in NYT

On the front page of the website, no less:
WHEN Barbara Landau, an environmental and land-use lawyer in suburban Boston, was shopping for insurance on the energy-efficient home she and her husband were building in the woods just outside of town here, she was routinely asked what sort of furnace the home would have.

“None,” she replied.

Several insurers declined coverage.

“They just didn’t understand what we were trying to do,” Mrs. Landau recalls. “They said the pipes would freeze.”

They won’t. A so-called passive home like the one the Landaus are now building is so purposefully designed and built — from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken air envelope — that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England. Contrary to some naysayers’ concerns, the Landaus’ timber-frame home will be neither stuffy nor, at 2,000 square feet, oppressively small.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Generation X will Not Have Much of a Retirement

I just wanted to point out a corollary to yesterday's post: most of my generation in the US may be forced into some combination of
  • retiring late
  • working till they drop
  • retiring in poor circumstances 
Generation X is those of us born between 1965 and 1980 (roughly - different commentators define it slightly differently), so entering the workforce between the mid 1980s and the early 2000s.  We are now ages 30-44 (ie entering or in our prime earning years).

The issue is that most of us have only known defined contribution pension plans (eg 401(k) plans).  Depending on individual level of prudence, you might have been contributing something like 5%-15% of earnings to such plans.  Let's say 10% for a round number.  With, most likely, limited stock market appreciation to look forward to, you can multiply that 10% by 40 years of working, and come out with four years of average earnings at the end of it.  

The details vary depending on where you are in the cohort, how prudent you were in your youth, etc, so how much you gained from the 1980s-1990s bull market, how much your earnings have grown over time, etc. But still, life expectancy at 65 is currently about 17 years for men, and almost 20 years for women, and I think it's rather uncertain that most of my generation is going to be able to cover that long at any reasonable fraction of their final earnings.

The one caveat would be if we manage to get another boom going based on some new technological development (comparable in significance to the personal computer/Internet boom of 1983-2000).  It's not clear to me what the basis for that would be - but then such things never are clear in advance, so I certainly can't rule it out.

Absent that, I suggest being nice to your kids: you're going to need them.  And if you think the electorate is pissed off now, just wait.  

I am of the opinion that a lot of us need to be making fairly radical changes in our lives - in particular, to create a seriously large gap between income and expenditure - think tens of percent, not single percentage points.

NYT: China Cuts Off Rare Earth Shipments to Japan

This is one way to put resource issues on the front page:
HONG KONG — Sharply raising the stakes in a dispute over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain, the Chinese government has blocked exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles.

Chinese customs officials are halting shipments to Japan of so-called rare earth elements, preventing them from being loading aboard ships at Chinese ports, industry officials said on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao personally called for Japan’s release of the captain, who was detained after his vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels about 40 minutes apart as he tried to fish in waters controlled by Japan but long claimed by China. Mr. Wen threatened unspecified further actions if Japan did not comply.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lame Excuses Department

The President refusing to put solar panels on the White House (or at best, procrastinating about it):
Bill McKibben, an environmental campaigner from Vermont with a flair for showmanship, was rebuffed Friday morning in his effort to get the White House to reinstall one of the solar panels that President Jimmy Carter had placed on the White House roof.

The environmental activist Bill McKibben and others signed a solar panel on Tuesday in Unity, Me., before heading to Washington to offer it to the White House.
They were removed by the Reagan administration, and some have been stored for years at environmentally active Unity College in Maine. Mr. McKibben and a group of students drove one of the panels down the East Coast in the hope of getting the Obama White House to accept it and return it to the roof to heat water for presidential showers and dishwashing.

Mr. McKibben met with three mid-level White House officials Friday morning who told him, politely, no dice.

They explained that there were a variety of reasons that the White House roof is not available for a gesture with very little energy-saving potential and that the Obama administration was doing more to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any previous government. The word “stunt” may have come up.
While I acknowledge the administration has done more than previous administrations in a while, I still think this is a very poor show. This kind of symbolism matters. If the White House can find time to redecorate the Oval Office, it ought to be able to find time to conduct an energy audit of the building, and take some highly visible steps to make the building more carbon efficient. If the President did so, it would inspire more ordinary people to do the same.

I understand that it's not within his power to make the Senate pass decent climate legislation, but he can certainly fix the White House.

Trend Break in Oil Supply

Wednesday, September 8, 2010