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On The Role of Energy Intensity in Global Decarbonization: How Fast Can We Cut Energy Use?

Excellent analysis, Jesse. But I was a bit surprised that (unless I missed something) you did not mention the implications of rebound effects, which you have addressed elsewhere: "So let’s be clear: rebound effects are not a problem for energy efficiency. But failing to take rebound seriously would be a huge problem for climate mitigation."

Your analysis here shows that increasing energy intensity has only limited prospects for aiding decarbonization. Adding rebound effects to the mix would seem to amplify that conclusion.

March 19, 2015    View Comment    

On The Divestment Distraction and a Positive Vision of Sustainability

Steve, the essential point of your argument here is correct. More productive investment is needed in research and innovation to develop clean energy options that are cheaper than coal. See my book, Energy Innovation, for a plan to do that.

You also are right that divestment makes little sense, potentially inflicting financial harm on those who divest while accomplishing nothing more than a feel-good gesture. Any impact on stock prices of divestment will be trivial compared to the effects of the kind of market forces that have lately made oil so cheap.

However, while it is better to "accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative," I think you may overstate the case for psychological tactics aimed at cultural transformation. In a world where population and demand for energy are  both growing, especially among developing nations, there is little reason to believe such ploys will make much difference. What will have a big impact, again, is the development of alternatives to fossil fuels that can provide reliable energy at a cost that is at least equally affordable.

 

March 19, 2015    View Comment    

On Can a Nationwide Conversation Ignite a New Era of Nuclear Energy Innovation?

Nothing wrong with conversation.

But I suspect that nuclear energy innovation will proceed more rapidly in other countries, particularly developing ones, where the LWR establishment is less entrenched and where more modern regulatory approaches can be adopted.

March 5, 2015    View Comment    

On Keystone XL Pipeline Veto: Right Decision at the Right Time

Obama's veto continues the pattern of deferring an actual decision for procedural reasons. 

The veto fell short of being overturned in the Senate by only 4 votes. If Obama ultimately acts to block completion of KXL, do not be surprised if legislation negating his action passes the Congress by veto-proof majorities.

March 5, 2015    View Comment    

On Missing from the State of the Union: A Carbon Price

The focus of the SOTU speech was on the middle class. Obama's main proposal was to increase taxes on the 1% to pay for tax cuts and other benefits for the middle class. 

A carbon tax would mainly burden the middle class, working class, and poor. It is, in short, regressive. Exactly opposite of Obama's policy. Hence, it was not mentioned and is not being advocated.

What about proposals for refunds or dividends? The large majority of the public has little trust in government. Hence the public does not trust the government to give back money it would take with a carbon tax. (Understandably so, given past experience.) In practice, a carbon tax would raise prices of all goods and services in addition to the direct cost of the fuel consumers purchase. Refund schemes do not seem to provide compensation for those higher costs. So, again, carbon taxes are regressive.

QED.

January 26, 2015    View Comment    

On A Bipartisan Group Of Senators Is Pushing For Distributed Wind: Here's Why It Matters

I'm not sure even that explains it, Bob. The article here argues for distributed wind power. My impression is that grid-connected wind farms are the main interest in Iowa:

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/120418124616-iowa-wind-farm-horizontal-large-gallery.jpg

However, it appears that the Distributed Wind Energy Association also counts "utility wind turbines installed in distributed applications":

http://www.eformativeoptions.com/wp-content/uploads/DW_US_map_2003_2012_animated.gif

So maybe Grassley figures this is a way for Iowa farmers to harvest some additional federal subsidies. But that still doesn't explain why he is the only GOP senator interested in signing on.

January 5, 2015    View Comment    

On A Bipartisan Group Of Senators Is Pushing For Distributed Wind: Here's Why It Matters

Bipartisan? Oh, please. The letter was signed by six Democrats and only one Republican, Iowa's Chuck Grassley. The latter's voting record is well to the left of most GOP senators.

In case anyone missed the news, the GOP will have the majority and control of the Senate starting January 6.

In sum, not only is the case for distributed wind weak as Wilson and others point out here, the letter is politically meaningless. No tangible effect should be expected.

January 4, 2015    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Good point, Nathan. 

This table indicates that nuclear power also has a notably lower carbon footprint (lifecycle) than photovoltaics: http://j.mp/1mLb68v

The Berkeley paper did not address the potential for Compact Fusion Reactors like those being developed by Lockheed Martin, U. of Washington, and others. It seems that those would require even less heavy structures than advanced fission reactors, since there is no melt-down issue and much less hazardous waste to manage.

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Bob, I agree that development and raising the standard of living are needed and desirable. Normally, as I said above, development would lead to a demographic transition to lower fertility. That hasn't happened in some countries though, as The Economist and others have observed. There may be multiple reasons but a notable one is the status of women -- which hinges on, among other things, access to birth control, education, and economic opportunity. Some (appropriately, I would say) view those as ethical or fairness issues to be considered too.

When you evoke notions like "we constructed our empire.," I part ways. I don't know who you think "we" is but it doesn't include me and many/most people in the US and other developed countries don't think it includes them. That leads to "reparations" thinking which politically is a dead end.

Development and raising the standard of living are no less desirable in Europe or Japan or N. America than anywhere else in the world. Making "climate protection" into a zero-sum game, which requires making some people poorer so others can get richer is un-sellable policy. 

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Bob, you may disagree with that view. But the fact is that it holds considerable sway.

Examples:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/dec/03/carbon-offset-projects-climate-change

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-climate-change-solution-no-one-will-talk-about/382197/

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/opinion/kristof-the-birth-control-solution.html?_r=0

http://dailycaller.com/2012/03/03/activists-birth-control-can-fight-global-warming/

Meanwhile, the fertility issue is far more about Africa than about India. And that is where fertility rates in a number of countries are also about 7:

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21598646-hopes-africas-dramatic-population-bulge-may-create-prosperity-seem-have

In any case, politics is driven by how people actually think and behave, not by how they should.

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Schalk, here is what the source you point to says about that:

Biocapacity varies each year with ecosystem management, agricultural practices (such as fertilizer use and irrigation), ecosystem degradation, and weather, and population size. Footprint varies with consumption and production efficiency. 

That implies a lot of variability from year to year: kind of a squishy metric.

Looking at other countries rated on that site, D.R. Congo, Brazil, and Russia have much greater biocapacity than their supposed "ecological footprint." The Netherlands, Israel, and Singapore are quite the reverse. Hardly surprising: Big, sprawling, poor countries don't exceed their indigenous carrying capacity, while small, compact, prosperous ones do.

A simple, and quixotic solution then to that standard of inequity would be for the big, poor countries to annex the small prosperous ones -- or vice versa. That is not going to happen. But in fact, trade accomplishes the same result: carrying capacity gets shared.

But that is sort of beside the point. Appeals to equity are not going to lead to political resolution, because different countries, cultures, people, etc. have differing notions of what is equitable. And there usually is a bias that their own sense of equity, aligned with their self-interest, is right while others are wrong. Arguing about equity is more of a symptom of gridlock than a solution.

An encouraging aspect of the description of biocapacity above is that it implies much opportunity for innovation. And innovation, again, rather than political negotiation is how effective solutions are are most likely to be created.

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On Valuing Solar Energy: Two Models to Use

Advocates of renewable energy often invoke "internalizing externalities" to justify high costs and the unreliable nature of intermittent sources. This report demonstrates what I have often pointed out: Internalizing externalities is a subjective exercise that is easier in theory than it is in practice.

What is notable about both methods for valuing solar described here is that neither is provably correct. Rather they reflect independent, idiosyncratic value judgments. In that sense, they are arbitrary, as are any methods that attempt to incorporate values external to the market.

December 22, 2014    View Comment