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Posts from — January 2009

Grist Wants CAP-and-trade, Not a "Poison Pill" Carbon Tax

A contributor to Grist, which advertises itself as “a blogful of leafy green goodness,”  is saying NO to a carbon tax and YES to a take-no-prisoners cap-and-trade program.  A comment on the post succintly lays out the blueprint of a stringent cap-and-trade program: [Read more →]

January 31, 2009   8 Comments

W. S. Jevons (1865) on Coal (Memo to Obama, Part III)

Each renewable energy, Jevons explained, was either too scarce or too unreliable for the new industrial era. The energy savior was coal, a concentrated, plentiful, storable, and transportable source of energy that was England’s bounty for the world.

There was no going back to renewables. Coal–and that included oil and gas manufactured from coal–was the new master of the master resource of energy in the 18th and 19th centuries. As Jevons stated in the introduction (p. viii) of The Coal Question (1865): [Read more →]

January 31, 2009   4 Comments

W. S. Jevons (1865) on Waterpower, Biomass, and Geothermal (Memo to Obama, Part II)

W. S. Jevons in his early day recognized a central problem of windpower for powering machinery–intermittency. The wind does not always blow, and it cannot be known when this will occur, making an even flow of power (as from conventional sources) impossible short of cost-prohibitive battery backup.

What about the other renewables of the day: water power, biomass, and geothermal? [Read more →]

January 30, 2009   3 Comments

The Buzz about Antarctica

The blogosphere has been much abuzz about the implications of the finding reported last week in Nature magazine that Antarctica, on average, has warmed over the past 50 years.

An author of the report explained to the Associated Press that their findings were especially significant because “contrarians” had latched onto the idea that Antarctica has been cooling, and thus “bucking the trend [of global warming].” The “contrarians” meanwhile, caught somewhat off-guard, mounted a seemingly confused defense focused on attacking the methodology employed to reach such a conclusion rather than the actual contention itself.
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January 29, 2009   4 Comments

W. S. Jevons (1865) on Windpower (Memo to Obama, Part I)

The most important book ever written on energy economics was published in 1865 by William Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan and Company). This classic is out of print but available in its entirety on the Internet. It is well worth reading. The book marks the birth of an entire discipline, and Jevons’s remarkably sophisticated treatment of energy sustainability remains pertinent today. In a real sense, the Obama approach to energy was refuted by the insight of W. S. Jevons almost 150 years ago.

Jevons makes four points regarding windpower. [

January 28, 2009   14 Comments

Obama's "Bold" Action on Climate Change

I was invited to comment yesterday over at The New York Times on President Obama’s memorandum to the EPA to reconsider its earlier denial of a waiver requested by the state of California—a waiver that would allow that state to impose its own fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles and light trucks.  The simple point I wanted to make at the Times is that allowing this waiver to go through would largely allow that state to dictate fuel efficiency standards for the nation as a whole.  I argued that this is probably a bad thing. State action that imposes significant policy changes on the nation as a whole ought to be enjoined and those decisions ought to be left to Congress.

For those of you interested—and who have a strong stomach— read the comments on the board that follows.  You might think that there is nothing particularly radical or even ideological in the argument I made.  Apparently, you would be wrong.

This morning, I had a chance to reprise that discussion as a guest on the Diane Rehm show. [Read more →]

January 27, 2009   3 Comments

"Houston Chronicle" Editorial: A Global-Warming Scare Story

Wow. Could the Houston Chronicle have fit more distortions about climate change into a 420-word editorial than it managed to do in its January 25th piece, “The heat is on: New data debunk claims that global warming is hype”? It’s hard to figure out how.

The Houston Chronicle article proclaims that “two studies unveiled in the past week provide powerful refutations” to claims that “climate change is either exaggerated or non-existent.”

First off, I can think of basically no one who thinks climate change is non-existent—there is ample evidence that climate at local, regional, and global scales is has been changing and will change into the future—in part from human activities. On the other hand, I’ll gladly list myself among those who think that the impacts of coming climate change are largely being exaggerated.

The Houston Chronicle and the two articles it makes reference to, do little to change my mind—not should they change anyone else’s. [Read more →]

January 27, 2009   7 Comments

Doesn't Anybody Read History? (False alarms recycled from the 1970s)

As a political economist of a certain age, I naturally had a certain amount of Marxist writing inflicted on me, and found one particular thought of great insight. In “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” Marx commented that Hegel noted that history repeats itself, but neglected to mention that the first time was tragedy, and the second time farce. A decade ago, I published “The Farce this Time” about fears of peak oil, but since then, we have experienced another energy ‘crisis’ which has remarkably resembled a commodity price cycle but which, many pundits observe, is ‘different’ this time. [Read more →]

January 26, 2009   12 Comments

At World Economic Forum: "New Model" Sought

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the world’s elite, gathering in Davos this week, are amazed at how little they know about the economy. There is even talk about how capitalism itself is a failing business model. One participant, who is giving a business leadership seminar there, is quoted as saying:

The capitalist myth is lovely and youthful. It kicked off the industrial revolution, but maybe we need a new one.

Instead of looking for new government quick-fixes, business and government leaders need to discover (I wish I could say, rediscover) what is real capitalism–free-market capitalism–in theory and practice.

Today’s problems can be traced to the government side of the mixed economy, as well as a perverted capitalist ethic in the boardroom. [Read more →]

January 26, 2009   4 Comments

Why Do the Alarmists Feel Bad About Debates–and Debating?

Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute recently posted on the spat between environmental purist Joe Romm of Climate Progress and the environmental groups NRDC, EDF, and WRI in regard to a brokered cap-and-trade proposal with certain firms within the energy industry.

Taylor was actually nice to Mr. Romm, an intellectual foe who, after their online debate, said in a blog post at Grist that the Cato Institute was intellectually bankrupt. Stated Romm in his post "Greedwashing":

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January 25, 2009   2 Comments