Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Links

  • Paul Krugman has been getting much more interesting lately looking at the economic signature of the rise of smart machines.  My take from a couple of years back is in the back half of this essay. At the time I wrote that, I felt like I was the only person with my views (possibly wrongly, but that's what it felt like), but lately Kevin Drum and Paul Krugman have both started to espouse somewhat similar positions. 
  • The anatomy of US partisanship.  My understanding of the political science literature on this is that it's more due to people self-selecting to live in ideologically compatible places than it is due to gerrymandering (though there's an assist from gerrymandering).
  • US civil rights continue to suck.
  • Outsourcing is hurting Japanese cities and workers too.
  • This NYT article is sort of interesting and sort of infuriating.  It concerns how utilities in the northeastern US are thinking maybe they should spend a lot more to harden the electrical grid in light of the storms of the last two years.  It's clear the entire issue is driven by climate change, but the article manages to avoid ever mentioning that, instead trading in vague circumlocutions like "Utilities and policy makers can see that ocean surge poses a previously unexpected threat to the power grid." and "forecasters say that so-called 100-year storms are likely to occur more frequently".  Gutless weasel words: the article should make clear that we may have to spend a lot more to make the electric grid robust and this is a cost of human-caused climate change.
  • And here is the EIA talking about possible exploitation of polar oil and gas resources again without any mention of why this is now perhaps becoming feasible. 
  • Interesting survey post on the impacts of oil prices on the economy.  
  • On a side note, that last link is a bit daring right now, since author Michael Levi is at the Council on Foreign Relations and their website just had a major compromise by foreign intelligence   resulting in multiple compromises of US companies (what we in the security industry are calling a waterholing attack).  I'm aware of this because software I wrote for my day job detected the compromise :-)  Anyway, their website is now cleaned up (and will hopefully stay that way), but if I had inadvertently linked you there last week, you might have gotten infected.  I'm aware of at least six distinct waterholing compromises of US think tank websites in the last three months.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Carbon Neutral Household Operations in 2012

In my personal quest for my family to be carbon neutral, 2012 was a significant step forward.  In 2011, we reached the point where our house itself did not require any fossil fuels to operate (by using wood heat and commercial renewable power).  In 2012, we undertook an energy audit and resulting house efficiency work to make a major reduction in the amount of electricity we use (thanks to Snug Planet). I'll quantify this when the heating season is over but we are now pretty much using no electricity for heat, relying entirely on wood for that.  Electricity usage for appliances and hot water should also have been reduced substantially.

Also, having found a carbon offset provider I like (Finger Lakes Climate Fund), I was able to offset all our personal air travel, car usage, and landscaping machinery fuel usage, resulting in overall carbon-neutral household operations in 2012 - for the first time ever.

Does this mean we are environmental saints with nothing left to do?  Absolutely not, nothing could be further from the truth.  My major goal in 2013 is to get a solar installation, which should mean we will generate most or all of our electricity on site.  Beyond that, I'd like to move to electric and/or plugin-hybrid cars to reduce our reliance on offsets.  The house could be made far more efficient still if we did a deep-energy retrofit when we replace the siding, and if we replaced the windows with more efficient (eg non-Victorian) ones.  All these are steps we can take entirely on our own in the next few years.

Looking to less easy fixes over the longer term: we buy many goods and services from suppliers who are not themselves carbon-neutral.  As carbon neutral alternatives become available, I would very much like to select those where practical.  Also, I work for a mainstream company who presently have no concern for their carbon footprint (eg, they won't reimburse carbon offsets for my work-related travel - I asked).  That too is something I'd like to improve on in the long term.

Still, it feels good to have gotten as far as we have.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Xmas Links

Merry Xmas everyone!  Or other seasonal festival of your choice.  Blogging will probably be very light this week.  In the meantime here's a few links:
  • Ugo Bardi has come around to my point of view that, while peak oil is a real problem, climate change is ultimately a more serious one.
  • Looking for winter weirdness due to the warming Arctic - Russia and the UK seem to be getting the prize so far this winter.
  • New York Times reviews the year's developments in electric cars and plugin-hybrids.  Obviously, not all these attempts will work out, but still it's encouraging to see so many green shoots.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Links

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Extra

So I'm trying to game out this fiscal cliff thing now that it seems to be becoming a matter of urgent practical importance:
  • It seems likely at this point that there will be no agreement before Jan 1st given that Speaker Boehner cannot deliver his caucus (about 90% certain of this).
  • I assume that Obama will not be so weak as to immediately capitulate to the right wing of the house Republicans (about 90% certain of this too).   
  • So then we go over the "cliff", payroll taxes and income taxes rise, defense spending falls, etc
  • Public blames Republicans, but hard-core right-wing Republicans don't care what the public (aka "liberal media" and "biassed pollsters") think.
  • The federal deficit falls, but not to zero, so, very shortly, we hit the federal debt ceiling again.
  • Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless all their demands are met.
  • Obama gets to choose between the various constitution-stretching options to ignore the debt-ceiling, or capitulating to whatever the conservative wing of the Republicans will vote for (and never being able to look his progressive friends in the eye again).
  • In the meantime, the economy goes in the tank due to the combination of the reduced spending power of the taxpayers and government contractors, and uncertainty over whether the federal government will honor its debt or not.
  • Public is furious, but none of the players face reelection for two years, so no change in positions in the short term.
Does anyone know exactly when we hit the debt ceiling again assuming that we do in fact go over the cliff?  I haven't quickly been able to determine this but I seem to remember reading that it's Jan/Feb.

If this really is a game of chicken, who swerves first?  It seems like whoever wins this gets to basically dictate most of what happens for the next two years.

In the meantime, seems like we individually would want to sell speculative assets, avoid risky ventures and career moves, reduce spending and generally hunker down until the dust settles.

Dissents or insights welcome in comments.

Update: Wonkblog says that the latest we hit the debt ceiling is February (we actually hit it this week but the Treasury can use the by-now-familiar extraordinary measures to hold it off a few more weeks).

Finger Lakes Climate Fund

Like many people with concerns about climate change, I am in the process of making changes in my own life to reduce my carbon emissions.  But, also like many such people, I am trying to do so while not creating chaos for my family, and limited both by how far along in the process I've gotten, as well as the available technical options.

Two big areas where I can't immediately eliminate emissions are car travel (where we will likely go electric in the next couple of years, but aren't there yet) and air travel (which won't be feasible to eliminate so quickly).  We'll keep working on these items, but in the meantime it's attractive to look at offsetting the emissions rather than doing nothing about them.

I should stress that I don't think there's much virtue in taking no action at all to reduce one's own emissions and then offsetting everything.  But I do think offsets potentially have value as part of an overall sincere strategy to reduce emissions.  However, a central worry is the quality of the offsets: there are lots of horror stories of tree plantations that cause environmental damage, or forests that are planted and then allowed to die, or factories being built in China to produce greenhouse gases just so they could destroy the resulting product and then claim the offset.  Developing countries in general tend to be corrupt and disorganized and it seems likely that offset schemes based there will run into all manner of problems.  So the whole offset area has gotten something of a bad name.

For that reason, when I heard about the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, which promises to offset emissions with local projects in my own region I was very attracted to the idea.  Because the projects are local, and I understand my area, I felt it was likely that I'd be able to assess the quality of the offsets.  The main concern is what is called additionality: are the projects things that genuinely wouldn't have happened if you hadn't ponied up your cash?

In addition, since the fund is run by a small local non-profit, I thought it was likely that I'd be able to get reasonable quality information about how everything is run, and satisfy myself that it was legitimate.  That proved to be correct: the Executive Director, Gay Nicholson, sat down with me for an hour this week and walked me through their process.  This is what I learned.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Homeless college graduates in the US.
  • Limitations on US tight oil production (David Hughes via Jim Hamilton).  I'm not persuaded that rapid well decline curves can tell us how much oil will ultimately be produced.  Instead, they tell us that it will take many rigs to produce the oil and that we'll have to constantly keep drilling.  But as long as the overall ROI of the process is sufficiently high, we may be willing and able to build unprecedentedly large numbers of rigs.  So the real question is how much recoverable resource is actually there.
  • John Michael Greer argues that Occupy Wall St failed because it - like many leftist movements in recent decades - tried to use consensus-based organization methods.  I'm inclined to a similar view.  I had extensive experience with consensus in cohousing communities in my twenties and early thirties and my conclusion is that it's a decent decision-making method for small voluntary groups with clear shared values, but it doesn't scale well at all.  As the group gets larger, it has a tendency to become decision-making by whoever has the worst personality disorders (and therefore has the most willingness to make a stink in meetings).  The larger the group, the more such people there will be and they all have the power to block consensus.  It's also incredibly time-inefficient at scale.  These kinds of problems have been around almost from the beginning - the Tyranny of Structurelessness from the early seventies women's movement is still an interesting read on related subjects.  Functional movements need to set up some way of electing leaders and use competence and commitment to the movement as the major criteria for selection.  
  • There's a global strategic maple syrup reserve!  Who knew?  
  • Good thing we have it given that the apocalypse will be tomorrow.  Hope your preparations are in order.  Personally, I plan to greet it with a nice glass of red wine by the fireside and I have already procured the wine and the glass.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • Greek exit now being seen as much less likely.
  • In Spain, though, people are often not being paid.  The level of hardship described there is extraordinary.
  • Sasol planning a GTL plant in Louisiana to turn abundant US shale gas into liquid fuel.  (Sasol is the South African company that makes liquid fuel from coal in that country).
  • Walmart Mexico was corrupt to the core, says the NYT.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday Links

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • The above shows estimated surface mass balance for Greenland in recent years compared to historical norms.  Clearly 2012, with astoundingly rapid sea ice loss, wasn't very good for the Greenland ice sheet either (from Arctic Sea Ice blog).
  • US National Intelligence Council report on global trends to 2030 - haven't had a chance to digest this yet.
  • Professor Krugman with nice graphs on labor share of output and the college premium.
  • This last figure comes via a post at Dosbat and compares one scenario for anthropogenic global warming to the Paleo-Eocene Thermal Maximum (one of the most pronounced natural episodes of global warming which was possibly caused by magma intrusions into coalbeds):

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weekend Links

  • The EIA projections of future US carbon emissions keep getting lower (graph above).
  • Bedpans and canasta in our future?  I worry about exactly this too.
  • Italy's prime minister Monti to resign.
  • Interesting paper on past ice sheet retreat (h/t Chris Reynolds). However, the money quote remains: "The rate of radiative forcing also needs to be considered with these palaeo ice-sheet analogues. The increase in boreal summer insolation and rise of 90–100 ppm in atmospheric CO2 during terminations occurred over ~11,000 years. In contrast, human carbon emissions have increased atmospheric CO2 by over 100 ppm in less than 200 years, with even greater increases predicted to occur in the coming century. Given this more rapid rise in greenhouse gas radiative forcing, Earth’s remaining ice sheets could respond in a manner not previously observed in the late Quaternary."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thursday Links

  • EIA's new projections for US oil production above.  I haven't really taken any strong position on how big the tight oil is going to get, since I don't understand how to assess it accurately; it's tough because it involves multiplying a pretty large number (the oil in place) by a rather small number (the recovery rate) and the result is necessarily quite uncertain.  The EIA's guess above looks as good as any. 
  • Students demanding universities divest in fossil fuel companies.  Harvard tells them where to stuff it: "We always appreciate hearing from students about their viewpoints, but Harvard is not considering divesting from companies related to fossil fuels." This sounds like a winnable battle: I don't see how any university can consistently defend Harvard's position over a long period of time.  The science is irrefutable, and unlike right-wing politicians, no university can ignore science.  Thus they are left saying "we know fossil fuels are terrible for the planet but we propose to continue investing in them because we are making so much money".  It's a morally weak position and every university administrator is going to feel that in their bones (in a way that a for-profit institution wouldn't).  It may take five years, but if the students keep up the pressure, they will win.
  • Driverless tractors coming along well.  Apparently the beta customer is a 1.5 million(!) acre farm in Brazil.  Supposedly, the problem this is solving is that there are no skilled employees available to drive tractors in rural areas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • US oil production (above) is still increasing in September, according to the EIA.  The major contributions are coming from the Eagle Ford shale and the Permian Basin in Texas, and the Bakken formation in North Dakota.
  • October PMI indicates expansion in Chinese manufacturing for the first time in 2012.
  • Outlook for offshore wind: dark and stormy.
  • US house prices up over 6% in October compared to last year.
  • Arms race between the US and China in drones?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend Links

  • Sober Look makes a really important point about Greece here that I hadn't realized: although Greece's debt is really high and will be for a long time, that is really not their problem in the short to medium term as the agencies holding the debt have reduced the terms to the point that Greece's interest payments as a fraction of GDP are very modest and bearable.
  • The bullish case on Tesla Motors.
  • Where ARPA-E is spending our tax dollars on energy research.
  • Homebuilders are starting to produce multigenerational housing.
  • I've not always been a big fan of Dianne Feinstein but I like her amendment making it clear that the government may not detain citizens and permanent residents without charge or trial.  Apparently the Obama administration would prefer to have police state powers, which is appalling.
  • Solar panels being sold like Tupperware?  Hey, whatever works.  This was particularly amusing:
I’ve had at least 10 people say, ‘I have the biggest solar system in the community,’ ” he said. “They don’t say, ‘I have the lowest electric bill.
That's human nature for you*, and we have to get it working for the climate, instead of against it.

*At least as expressed in civilizations.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Links

  • The above graphic of recent former Soviet Union oil production comes from an excellent post at TOD by Rembrandt Koppelaar.
  • Another triumph for the Onion (and I claim this is on-topic for the blog as Kim Jong-Un is at least a minor threat to civilization - that's my story and I'm sticking to it).
  • Flood insurance premium increases will make it harder to live near the coast following Hurricane Sandy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • Trends in western wildfires: they've gotten much worse and will get worse yet.  The above is Fig. 11 from the report.  Anticipation of the long-term unpleasantness of this trend was a secondary factor in my decision to move east a couple of years back (the primary one being house prices). Of course nowhere will be immune from climate change - here in the east we are going to have to deal with more and worse storms, at an absolute minimum.
  • Greece: another kludge has been found in time.
  • Will Japan inflate away their debt?  Tim Duy thinks so.
  • New net-zero homes needn't cost more than a lot of conventional construction.
  • Some interesting speculations about why civilization didn't start earlier.  I find this a fascinating question that doesn't seem satisfactorily answered.  In particular, what were the key genetic differences that prevented Neanderthals evolving to civilized status during the Eemian? And why couldn't Homo Sapiens civilizations develop in tropical regions during the last ice age?  (Given that civilizations have tended to sprout like weeds all over the planet during the Holocene).
  • This is off-topic but I'm fascinated by the whole HP-Autonomy scandal.  HP's story hasn't made any sense to me from the start - they paid $10b for this thing but couldn't do enough due diligence to detect $5-$6b worth of accounting problems?  Doesn't that make them colossal screw-ups even in their own telling of the story?  Some shareholders apparently think so.
  • Heat-pump clothes-dryers on the way in the US?
  • New Cambridge University center on civilizational risk.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Weekend Links

  • 16% of the US soybean crop is going for biodiesel.
  • AI continues to make discomforting progress.  I am somewhat reassured by the fact that Siri on my iPhone continues to suck.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Links

  • The above shows the history of wind tax credits in the US.  The current credit is due to expire at the end of this year, which will eviscerate wind power deployment again.  This is a crazy way to nurture an industry that is strategically important but needs some subsidy to compete against fossil fuel power that doesn't have to pay for its externality of destroying the holocene climate.
  • Is the US using malware to spy on the French?
  • I don't know if the ceasefire will hold, but this collaboration between Egypt and the US to mediate as the seconds in the duel between Israel and Hamas seems quite promising.
  • Construction in Europe sags further.
Blogging will probably be light for the next few days...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Links

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Links

  • The above shows the relative trends in the different parts of the US by climate zone - amount of winter heating required.  As you might expect, the US population has been gradually shifting to the sunbelt over the second half of the twentieth century.  My guess is that climate change will gradually reverse this trend over the twenty-first century - events like the drought last year in Texas will affect the south and west more and more and the longer-settled colder parts of the country will start to look better by comparison (not to suggest that they won't be affected too).
  • Climate change: drought is a greater threat than storms.  I'm in agreement.
  • Should we retreat from the beach?
  • High IPO valuations appear to be driven by institutional demand.  This makes sense to me - when yields on almost everything are tiny, the valuation of new companies with growth prospects should rise so that their yields are less out of line with other assets.
  • Percentage of mortgages delinquent by state over time.  This data is quite illuminating and caused a significant update in my views of where the residual housing pain is concentrated.
  • The current European recession is now officially recognized.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Links

  • The above shows US coal exports by type, destination, and port.  Surprisingly little coal leaves via the west coast.
  • Southern Europe in co-ordinated industrial action.  It seems likely to me that this prolonged period of austerity and depression in these countries will have radicalizing effects that will last decades.
  • Israel bombing Gaza and causing an uptick in oil prices.  The tail risk of generalized chaos in the Middle East seems to have ticked up too.
  • Hmmm.  I just noticed that US initial unemployment claims seem to have stopped making progress in recent months, and at levels considerably above a normal recovery.  That's not such great news.
  • October was a lousy month for European industrial production:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • The IEA is expecting substantial production increases in Iraq (and here, I agree, at least in outline terms).
  • Are China's loans getting too dodgy?
  • Making it on the fringes in Spain.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Links

  • 90% of the hurricane Sandy power outages have now been fixed, but the last 10% are likely to be stubborn.  The tick up on 11/8 in the graph above will be due to winter storm Athena.  Bad news when the winter storms start beating you up before you've finished fixing the outages from the last of the summer storms.
  • The disaster preparedness economy.
  • Kevin Kelly asks how many people can a rogue genius kill?  Has the number increased over time?   His answers are "a few hundred" and "no".  What fun!  (Yes, I'm a ghoulish security guy, so I think this kind of thing is interesting to think about).  My instincts have been that it is getting easier for a single individual to make a bigger impact, but I have to confess that I can't think of a clear demonstration of the possibility being real yet.  Certainly if we think in terms of monetary costs instead of deaths - single author computer worms have been estimated to do damage in the billions or even tens of billions (12).  Most of those were amateurish - if someone really good ever goes rogue, it could be a lot worse.  This compares, for example, with Timothy McVeigh's old school fertilizer bomb, an attack that could have been perfectly well carried out in 1925, and which caused something shy of $1b.  I should think in terms of deaths, the real possibilities are going to be down to what a lone bioterrorist could do, which I'm not well informed about.
  • Bonus question: is there any conceivable scenario in which a lone rogue genius could single-handedly trigger a civilizational collapse?
  • Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday Links

  • The above is from a Merrill Lynch survey of global fund managers as to which tail risks worry them most.
  • Automation is the reason why the last few US recoveries have been jobless.
  • UK slowing down on offshore wind power.
  • Some suggestions on household resilience to simultaneous gasoline and power outages.  I've been doing a lot of thinking on related lines following hurricane Sandy, as well as a scary brush with Irene and Lee last year, and in expectation of more frequent extreme weather events in future.  I was already planning to buy a diesel tractor next spring to help manage my family's rural property with the view to running it on waste oil biodiesel during the growing season and regular diesel out of season (when biodiesel gels).  You can buy generators that run off a tractor PTO and I'm thinking that's the way to go.  Diesel stores much better than gasoline, and that way I don't have to buy an extra diesel engine (which will be expensive and inevitably be indifferently maintained during long periods of disuse).
  • Nate Silver's data-centric election analysis triumphs.
  • I very often disagree with the Archdruid since he frequently gets quantitative issues wrong and doesn't seem to revise his views much based on incoming data.  Nonetheless, I'm still reading him seven years after I first came across his writings, because he's an unusual and creative thinker  who makes intellectually stimulating forays into history that I don't know about.  In particular, his last six posts are a fictional account of one possible way the US global empire-lite might end in the 2030s, and a discussion of the historical analogies he used in constructing the scenario.  It's worth a read if you have the time.
  • Level of unplanned outages amongst non-OPEC oil producers: 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • Above is the latest data on gasoline availability in the NYC metro area.
  • Merkel says Eurozone crisis will last at least another five years.  Incroyable.
  • Every time there's a massive disaster it always seems to be that there was a group of scientists and engineers who for years had been trying to get people to pay attention to the probability of that very thing.  But people only actually pay attention to them after the disaster has finally occurred.
  • EIA data on total US grid-connected solar.  Currently they estimate 3.5 GW of capacity.  This is split roughly three ways between utility, commercially sited (on office buildings etc), and residential.  Commercial is a little ahead of the other categories.
  • Krugman on FEMA under Democratic vs Republican administrations.  I do agree that there's an empirical regularity here, and it's plausible that it might be explained by Republicans not being motivated to make the federal government appear competent.
  • Mostly, though, I'm with Tom Friedman.
  • Good post on effects of biofuels on food prices.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oil Prices

Gasoline availability in Hurricane Areas

The EIA has stood up a daily emergency survey of gas stations in the storm-hit areas:
Based on today's emergency survey of gasoline availability, EIA estimates that 27% of gas stations in the New York metropolitan area do not have gasoline available for sale. This is a decrease from 38% yesterday. This number includes stations that reported no gasoline available and those we could not reach after numerous attempts, and consequently assume that the station was closed. Of the stations sampled, about 73% (up from 62% yesterday) had gasoline available for sale, none reported they were not selling gasoline because they had no power (compared to 3% yesterday), 10% had power but no gasoline supplies, and 17% (down from 24% yesterday) did not respond to attempts to contact them.
This issue of gas shortages first really came to light on Thursday, and by Saturday the EIA had this survey going and was collecting tremendously useful data.  Impressive.  The federal government, normally extremely slow and bureaucratic, can move with incredible speed and agility when there's a major natural disaster a week before national elections.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend Links

  • Excellent Lane Kenworthy post summarizing the causes of unequal opportunity in the US.
  • Some university campuses are moving to ground source heat pumps.  Here in Ithaca, Cornell has been using heat pumps to air condition buildings since 2000 with Cayuga Lake as the heat sink.
  • Aggressive federal response to the fuel shortages in New York and New Jersey.  Hard not to be impressed.  In general, the contrast to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina couldn't be greater.
  • In light of climate change, should the Jersey shore be rebuilt?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Hits Just-In-Time Economy

I've been wondering for a long time whether the just-in-time nature of modern economies created large-scale rapid failure modes in which a shock that pushed the system sufficiently far out of its envelope of resilience would trigger a catastrophic breakdown.  I've called this kind of thing a "death-star vulnerability" in which if something hit civilization in just the right way in the most vulnerable place, the whole thing might blow.  I first became interested in this in the context of cyber-attacks,  but I've never seen any way to get any kind of intellectually defensible handle on the problem of understanding the existence, nature, and tractability of that kind of vulnerability.

At any rate, and at some risk of sounding ghoulishly detached, Hurricane Sandy is creating a pretty interesting natural experiment that is illuminating some of the issues.  The hurricane hit land on Monday evening, and by Thursday the entire region is close to out of gas:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Can Hurricane Sandy's unusual track be blamed on lost Arctic sea ice?  Maybe - too soon to be sure.
  • Economic effects of hurricane Sandy.
  • Michael Levi: Can we do anything about climate change in the near term?
  • Hybrids and electric vehicles do well in reliability survey.
  • Physicists are a bunch of whiny pessimists about the so-bright-we-need-shades future of technology. #wheresmyjetpack.
  • Cyber-attack on Saudi Aramco may not have been Iranians after all.
  • Vacuum-insulated panels have five times the R-value per inch of conventional insulation, but are currently too expensive and hard-to-apply to see widespread use.  Inventors and entrepreneurs needed over there please!
  • A nuclear equipment vendor is threatening suit to stifle discussion of cyber-vulnerability information about its equipment.  Always a classy move.
  • DSIRE: Database of state-by-state incentives for renewables and energy efficiency measures  Check your state today.
  • European unemployment misery continues:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Avoiding Defeatism on Climate Change

Kevin Drum sounds a little bit down in the mouth:
If you were teaching a graduate seminar in public policy and challenged your students to come up with the most difficult possible problem to solve, they'd come up with something very much like climate change. It's slow-acting. It's essentially invisible. It's expensive to address. It has a huge number of very rich special interests arrayed against doing anything about it. It requires international action that pits rich countries against poor ones. And it has a lot of momentum: you have to take action now, before its effects are serious, because today's greenhouse gases will cause climate change tomorrow no matter what we do in thirty years.

I have to confess that I find myself feeling the same way Andy does more and more often these days. It's really hard to envision any way that we're going to seriously cut back on greenhouse gas emissions until the effects of climate change become obvious, and by then it will be too late. I recognize how defeatist this is, and perhaps the proliferation of extreme weather events like Sandy will help turn the tide. But it hasn't so far, and given the unlikelihood of large-scale global action on climate change, adaptation seems more appealing all the time. For the same reason, so does continued research into geoengineering as a last-resort backup plan.
I don't think this is really quite the right way of thinking about the problem with it's all-or-nothing, either-or quality.  I'd like to suggest some other ways of framing the issue that are helpful to me in staying motivated to take action.  As a starting point, let's look at a few emissions scenarios and temperature projections:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weekend Links

  • Chinese leader's family now worth billions.  Amazing investigative piece by NYT - wonder how this news will go down in China?
  • Iran has installed the last of the centrifuges at Fordow.
  • O/T (or maybe not): Food Reward Fridays.
  • Latest on self-driving cars. 'Driving cars, he added, “is the most important thing that computers are going to do in the next 10 years.”'  Note the absence of any comment from anyone skeptical of the benefits technology or of any groups who will lose their jobs to this technology.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Automation and globalization central to US middle class decline.  These issues have been much discussed on this blog; good to see them becoming more accepted in mainstream publications like the NYT.
  • UK economy post great recession is underperforming historical expectation, while US is outperforming (slightly).
  • The US infrastructure for managing drone kill lists.  (FWIW, I think this program is unjust and immoral and sets a terrible example to the rest of the world.   I think upending eight hundred years of Anglo-American legal tradition is a terrible idea - back in the 1200s King John was obligated to agree to the Magna Carta which included this text: "No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land." The 14th amendment of the US constitution encodes very similar ideas.  I don't believe Presidents Bush, Obama, et al, should be held to a lesser standard).
  • Greek universal healthcare has been reversed due to the crisis.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • Is the eastern US cooling in winter due to global warming?
  • Tar sands extraction not so pretty.
  • British supermarkets starting to sell "ugly" blemished fruits and vegetables in response to climate-related harvest difficulties and high prices.
  • Spanish economy still contracting.
  • Farmland prices still rising.  I don't know if this has reached the bubbly phase yet, but it seems likely that it will at some point.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekend Links

  • China trying to fix US election as well as currency?
  • Winners and losers in the US natural gas boom. "Although the bankers made a lot of money from the deal making and a handful of energy companies made fortunes by exiting at the market’s peak, most of the industry has been bloodied — forced to sell assets, take huge write-offs and shift as many drill rigs as possible from gas exploration to oil, whose price has held up much better".
  • Greece: More austerity, more recession, more extremism.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Are we losing interest in the Eurozone crisis?
  • Visualizing the US drought from satellite gravity measurements.
  • How and why some folks are opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • A123 Systems battery maker for the Chevy Volt Fisker Karma has filed for bankruptcy.  The assets and operations will be acquired by Johnson Controls.
  • I thought this article about life in Damascus was very interesting (if sad).  This is what it's like to live through a social breakdown.
  • Extraordinary: "And the findings were sobering: Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes."
  • Jim Hamilton does the energy fact check on the presidential debate.  Personally, I found it dispiriting that energy issues could take such a high profile while being discussed in a way that almost completely ignored the real factors in the situation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • The above map shows the fraction of new houses that are Energy Star rated according to the EIA.  Overall, 26% of new construction is energy-star rated.  A summary of the current requirements is here.  It's amazing to me that we in the US still haven't done basic things towards dealing with climate change like mandating that all new construction meets strict energy-efficiency requirements.
  • The future of farming according to John Deere.
  • The recovery in the US heavy truck market.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekend Links

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Human impact of the US drought (recent map above).
  • Currency plunge in Iran - capital flight - riots in the streets - trade with Iran grinding to a halt.  If the west does actually manage to break the will of the Iranian regime with economic sanctions alone, it will be a first.  In my view it would be a very positive thing for the international community to have a way to bring misbehaving countries into line without resorting to blowing things up.  Not a done deal yet, however.
  • Netanyahu has apparently decided that Israel can't bomb Iran by itself, realized that it's hopeless to get the US to engage in an attack before the election, and is now campaigning for more sanctions.  The basis of the Israeli calculation that they can't act alone is unclear to me.  Maybe they have been surprised by how effective the sanctions seem to be.
  • Weighing what sea-level rise will cost Miami.  This is consistent with my general take on sea-level rise for at least the next few decades - it's going to be expensive, but the developed world is just going to pony up the cost to put in the levees and seawalls and maintain business-as-usual (at least in the cities).  It may be another story in rural areas and poor countries.
  • Tesla Model S review in the NYT.  I want one.
  • PIOMAS September Arctic sea ice volume.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday Links

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weekend Links

  • PV systems have achieved grid parity already.
  • The Chinese are much wealthier but reportedly less happy than they were before reforms.
  • Air leakage resistance of different types of insulation.
  • Sharon Astyk on the 4% increase in farm count (I largely agree with her take in this piece.  Our earlier debate can be found in my 2008 piece The Fallacy of Reversability and her response Is Relocalization Doomed?  My views on the impact of peak oil on agriculture haven't really changed since then, but I've become more concerned about the implications of climate change, specifically drought, for agriculture, than I used to be). 

Friday, September 28, 2012