Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Who is the greenest veep?

August 22, 2008

Or “Greep” if you will.

Via Gristmill, Greenpeace provides an environmental scorecard for a bunch of Obama’s potential running mates.

Of the four they profile, it seems like Tim Kaine is the least green veep (legreep? Ok, now I’m just getting punchy.)

The other 3 – Biden, Sebelius and Bayh – all seem to pass the green litmus test.

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If it were made in the future, the movie just would have been called “Trains and Automobiles”

August 18, 2008

Since, as Matt Y. points out, the future for air travel is at best, uncertain:

It’s occurred to me now and again that pretty much every real or hypothetical technological development you hear about that could make things radically more fuel efficient relates to cars. But high oil prices would also imperil the viability of airplanes. And while it’s pretty clear in the case of automobiles that if 10-15 years from now oil is incredibly expensive we’ll be able to shift to plug-in vehicles of some kind nobody seems to think you can build an electric plane.

In my own attempts to figure out a life that’s less dependent on fossil fuels – fewer miles in cars, a growing affinity for trains – I still get stumped when I try to figure out how, for example, I would take that trip to San Diego in November.  The amount of power that it takes to spin a turbine or propeller fast enough to lift a jumbo jet into the air and then keep it up there must be enormous.  Since I’m not an aerospace engineer, I’ll just estimate it at “gobs and gobs.”  Doesn’t seem like any fossil-fuel free option short of a small nuclear reactor could generate that kind of power.

So… no.  It’s unlikely that wind and solar will every be able to propel our planes like, through the medium of the high capacity battery, the plug-in interface and improved electricity transmission, they will be able to do to our cars and trains.  It’s unlikely that extension cord technology will get to the point where our planes can fly while plugged into power on the ground.

I guess this leaves us with science fiction as your only hope.  Anyone have any dilithium on hand?

Democrats having hard time convincing voters to look past Election Day

August 14, 2008

At least on the issue of energy…

According to a Grist summary of a Rasmussen poll:

New polling from Rasmussen confirms current D.C. scuttlebutt: Republicans are winning on energy.

The reason can be boiled down to this: Voters overwhelmingly want prices brought down, they’re convinced that increasing supply is the way to do that, and Republicans are the ones most vocally calling for increased supply.

There’s lots in recent survey results to mull over, but the most important is this, the central truth of energy politics in the U.S.:

By substantial margins, voters believe that the Republican candidate’s top priority is finding new sources of energy while his Democratic opponent is more focused on reducing the amount of energy we consume. Yet a separate survey found that for nearly two-thirds (65%), finding new sources of energy is more important that reducing the amount of energy Americans now use.

This goes beyond my rant about low-information voters.  As a nation and as consumers of media, we need to start demanding that candidates, and the press who cover elections, begin covering these events with an eye towards educating and informing, not just entertaining.

I haven’t seen the television coverage of this poll, if there has even been any, but I suspect that most of the nets have been using “Democratic strategists” and “Republican strategists” to break it down, instead of the climate scientists, geologists and economists who should be explaining why finding new sources of fossil fuels will not bring the price of gas down substantially now or in the future.

Unfortunately, the way the game is played now, the only thing Barack Obama can do now is run away from this issue.  The only thing John McCain should do now is keep driving home the Drill Here, Drill Now message.  The rest of us… just hold on to your seats and pray.

Low information voters wrecking the environment, apparently

August 11, 2008

From Grist, more tinder, as if it were needed, to add to the ball of flame that is my anger with the willfully ignorant (aka low information) voter:

Supporting drilling is a way of reaching out to low-information voters. But low-information voters don’t make up their minds based on policy details; they make up their minds based on symbolism and perception of candidate gestalt. For Obama to say “Drilling does not do any good in the long run or the short run, but I’ll support it as part of a political deal” does not convey good symbolism or make him “feel” like a good candidate. It looks weak; it looks like pandering. It’s not going to impress drilling supporters any more than drilling opponents.

So while most of the fault would seem to lie with Obama for “pandering,” if more folks would take the time to get even an elemetary grasp on the issues, those vying for office wouldn’t have to resort to this.

And if I had a billion dollars…

Quote of the Day

August 6, 2008

Hooked you with that blog post title but before I get to it, I want to pose a question.

Who would you rather believe when it comes to evaluating energy policies for the respective candidates?  The talking heads on cable news and the equivocating suits they bring on to condense the policies to one or two of the more “controversial” points?  Or, the experts who have been writing, thinking and crusading on these issues for years?

If you answered yes to the second choice, here’s Joseph Romm’s evaluation of Obama’s plan, at the top of a very long post breaking down the plan:

This is easily the best energy plan ever put forward by a nominee of either party

And that’s not even the quote of the day.  Nope.  That honor goes to Elizabeth Kolbert who wrote a piece for the New Yorker (remember them, the ones with the cover that threw the media for a tizzy for like a week) in which she take McCain to task for his fealty to the oil companies:

If the hard truth is that the federal government can’t do much to lower gas prices, the really hard truth is that it shouldn’t try to.

To borrow a construction from a certain insurance company’s ubiquitous ads:

You know that place where gas is so expensive that I’m glad I moved into a city, use public transportation, walk, bike and look to the time when I can buy a plug-in, emissions-free vehicle?  I’m there – and I can’t wait for everyone else to get close to there too.

Elmer Fudding their way to the presidency

August 6, 2008

Time’s Swampland blog has an insightful post about what they refer to as “The Hook and Bullet Crowd,” a reference, apparently self-created, to the millions of avid hunters and fisher…uh…people in this country.

No mention of this group of voters would be complete without referring to the numerous occasions when Democratic candidates donned their orange vests and Timberlands and trudged into the woods with rifle or shotgun in hand for their photo ops.  These moves are often criticized and seen as hollow by the media and, in turn, by the opposition. In the attempt to get a good photo op and try to say with one picture what thousands of words about how Democratic positions on the environment benefit hunters and anglers, they often end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Of course, when Republicans go out in the woods to “hunt” (if shooting caged birds can be called that), they prefer to shoot old guys in the face.  Yet incidents like this and their record on the environment do little to tarnish their bona fides with the hunting community.  Go figure.

If McCain or Obama want to get the support of this crowd, both would be advised to leave the vests at home, put down the shotguns, and figure out how to fund the preservation of our nation’s open spaces and hunting grounds.  As Time reports, Chris Wood of the non-partisan conversation group Trout Unlimited said:

“Right now the forest service, half of its budget is spent fighting fire. The bureau of Land Management budget was cut in half the last four years and they have nowhere near the ability to handle the kind of development we’re already seeing. With these agencies budgets the way they are, fish and wildlife would clearly be sacrificed.”

While millions of Americans drive to work and depend on their cars, there is a multi-billion dollar hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing industry that depends on pristine lands and waters — areas that have suffered under Bush. And they vote, too.

And please, please, please, Barack Obama.  If you pick up a rifle for some lame photo op.  Please shoot me with it so I don’t have to watch this ridiculous spectacle play out again.

McCain’s visit brings out hecklers and supporters

August 5, 2008

When John McCain visited a Lafayette Hill factory yesterday, his campaign sought to keep the event as a lowkey meeting with a prominent donor and a chance to talk to reporters.  Outside, the lure of the television cameras brought out the neighbors.  A couple of whom talked to WHYY’s Susan Phillips.  Susan talked to a war protester who wanted to send McCain a message that not everyone he would meet that day would be a supporter of the war.

Susan also talked to a registered Democrat who expressed her support for McCain saying that he “was right on the surge” and that “Obama wasn’t.”

“We would be losing in Iraq if we listened to Obama,” said Andrea Feldheim.

It helps if you listen to the story to get her tone and her full soundbite.

Feldheim doesn’t qualify as one of the low-information voters whom I railed against last week.  She has at least taken the time to consider an issue – Iraq – when making up her mind rather than depending, as far as I can tell from her five-second soundbite, on email forwards and spam blog comments.

Do I agree with her reasoning or her position on the war?  No.  But that’s not the issue.  Neither is the fact that she says she’s a registered Democrat.  We all know that there’s a ton of folks in that “swing vote” category for whom party identification is not an indicator of voting preference.

At this point it’s up to the candidates and the media to educate voters like Feldheim who are paying attention and who have decided to make a particular issue into their decision maker.

Susan also did a piece about McCain’s claim that “Obama continues to oppose offshore drilling and continues to oppose the use of nuclear power.”  Unfortunately for McCain, he was about a day late on half of that line of attack.  Obama, as I wrote about yesterday, has come around on offshore drilling but only as a compromise so that the Republicans in the Senate will agree to extend tax credits for renewable energy.

It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will level the “flip flopper” attacks on Obama since doing that would only reinforce the fact that Obama has agreed to look into offshore drilling – something that McCain and the GOP have been pushing for months now.  The far left is already a little miffed at Obama for changing his position on this but most are willing to look the other way given that the rest of his energy plan falls in line with a lot of the progressive policy prescriptions.

Obama and McCain, once more, with ENERGY

August 4, 2008

I’m running a little short on time this afternoon so I wanted to share all of what I think is the relevant coverage of “Energy Week” starring Barack Obama with special appearances by John McCain.

Let’s start with the special appearance.

In the suburbs of Philadelphia today, John McCain took some time out of his Britney and Paris bashing, set down his tire pressure gauge, and took on Barack Obama’s new energy plan.  WHYY’s Susan Phillips was there and filed this report (.mp3).

At the risk of burying the lede, however, whatever is this Obama energy plan to which McCain refers.  Let us count the ways, or blog posts:

Joseph Romm especially loves the part about plug-in hybrids.  I’ve said for a while now that my next car absolutely will be a plug-in hybrid.  It appears that if we follow Obama’s plan, that may be a little easier for me to do.

While Romm is able to set aside Obama’s little… uh… compromise on offshore drilling, others – especially the commenters on this summary post by Grist – aren’t so quick to let him off the hook.  David Roberts at Grist contends that Obama should just wait out the Republican opposition to renewable energy credits, not cave in on the drilling issue and paint the Republicans as obstructionist.  Beside, by next year it seems like Democrats will have like a 107 seat majority in the Senate anyway so why compromise now?

Still others, like HuffPo’s Raymond Learsy suggest that we can allow the offshore drilling but only if the lionshare of the revenue get plowed back into the government.  Heck Norway’s doing it.  Why shouldn’t we?  I’m all for it as long as we follow the Norwegian model of oil revenue sharing and not, say, the Saudi Arabian model.  That oil will run out in a few years anyway.  We may as well use the money to invest in the kinds of infrastructure which will make oil unnecessary anyway.

So there you have it.  Drill because of the compromise.  Don’t compromise and don’t drill.  Drill but keep the money.

Obama has laid out a comprehensive, point-by-point strategy over energy that even seemed to get some positive reviews on the cable networks – at least from what I was watching.  Will McCain’s and the Republicans’ response continue to be this “tire”d, old, “retread” of the air pressure gauge gambit?  Atrios hopes so.  Nothing like reminding the gear heads and NASCAR dads that Obama know how to use one of those things.

1% chance of catastrophe

July 29, 2008

My 6 semesters of undergraduate economics over 10 years ago is often not enough to allow me to keep up with many of Paul Krugman’s more esoteric blog posts but when the phrase “a 1% chance that catastrophic climate change will reduce world GDP by 90%” gets used, even I can understand.

Continuing today’s theme of “news and issues that are going relatively unreported,” I bring you Krugman’s post about the Economics of Catastrophe.  The catastrophe to which he refers is the potential damage to the earth caused by global climate change.

How many times have you seen a disaster movie and wondered what all of the death and destruction would mean on your ability to go to the supermarket and pick up your week’s groceries?  My mind occassionally strays to the scenario in which climate change raises sea levels, intensifies storms, destroys infrastructure and housing, and generally just wreaks havoc on my comfortable, predictable existence.

What would I do if such a thing were to happen?  The 90% drop in world GDP represented above is a way of saying that our collective standard of living would be returned to something approximating the early 1800s without roads, bridges and canals.  Or, better yet, my big city, American life would become more like East Africa.  No more clean water from a tap in my house.  No more heat and air conditioning.  No more ice.

I’ve gotten to like things like, oh, insulation, clothes dryers, ceiling fans and sidewalks.  With a 90% drop in GDP, I could probably kiss all of that good bye.

Now, will it be as bad as all that?  Not likely.  In fact, Krugman says that statistically, the 90% drop is a bit of stretch:

And here’s the thing: on any sort of expected-welfare calculation, the small probability of catastrophe dominates the expected loss. Suppose that there’s a 99% chance that Lomborg is right, but a 1% chance that catastrophic climate change will reduce world GDP by 90%. You might be tempted to disregard that small chance — but if you’re even moderately risk averse (say, relative risk aversion of 2 — econowonks know what I mean), you quickly find that the expected loss of welfare isn’t 0.5% of GDP, it’s 10% or more of GDP.

So the question remains: how can economic policies and business decisions be made in a system that has traditionally depended on a baseline of certainty.  The free market assumes at the very least that there won’t be any natural disasters and that if there are, they will be quick, localized and able to be fixed (hence, insurance).  Without that certainty, it all goes out of whack.

Economics, the dismal science indeed.

Environmental disaster won’t be saved by “the center”

July 17, 2008

So says David Roberts at the GristMill:

And there you have it, the essence of wisdom in the D.C. establishment. The one thing everyone in it can agree on: That everyone should agree. That both parties are half-wrong and half-right, and that if they’d quit clinging irrationally to their beliefs and meet in the center, everything would be hunky dory. Oh, and they — the establishment — get to define where the center is, if that’s OK with you.

He’s absolutely correct.  The public finally starting to come around en masse and put all of the pieces together on their own – reliance on fossil fuels + policies that discourage conservation + lack of funding for infrastructure and research = environmental disaster + economic instability + national “in”security.

This is not the time to entertain any of the failed policies of the right.  This is not the time for “compromise.”  This is the time to keep pressing and educating and working until opposition to progressive policies on the energy and environment are the only acceptable option.

When you win the Stanley Cup, you don’t let the other team have a few skates around the arena with it.