Shared Links for Feb 11th – Feb 12th

I Was the Victim of a Series of Accidents

Kurt Klein “wonders how liberals rationalize a Secretary of the Treasury who cheated on his taxes ($34,000–oops! rounding error)”.  Well, here’s how I would do it.  Not that I’d necessarily want to be called a liberal:

Continue reading I Was the Victim of a Series of Accidents

Shared Links for Fri, Feb 6th, 2009 through Sat, Feb 7th, 2009

  • Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change – Guidelines from the Brookings Institute for the US and China to cooperatively address climate change and clean energy issues, without being combative. Executive summary sounds good, whole thing is 80 pages long. Given the positive economics for many energy efficiency measures, I thought there should have been a little more focus on the often erroneous assumption that addressing these issues has to be costly. (tagged: energy sustainability china policy climate efficiency brookings )
  • Amendment to Eliminate Bike Infrastructure in Stimulus – DeMint (R – SC) and Coburn (R – OK) are trying to kill all bike infrastructure investment in the stimulus package. Call them and your own senators and make sure it doesn't happen! (tagged: politics bicycle infrastructure policy transportation stimulus )
  • The Transparent Society – The essay that later became Brin's book of the same name, in which he argues that first, universal surveillance is coming, whether we like it or not, and second, that a world which is transparent – in which surveillance goes both (all) ways, is vastly preferable to one in which the illusion of privacy is maintained, and the powerful are the only ones with access to our information. (tagged: technology privacy transparency surveillance brin wired )
  • Make Love Not Porn – Hardcore (esp. internet) porn has unfortunately come (ha!) to substitute for sex-ed in our culture, so says Cindy Gallop. I think she has a point. And so she made this website, to try and point out the flawed generalizations that one might arrive at from being "educated" by online porn. I think it's worth noting also though, that the diversity of pornography on the web has steadily increased over time, and there's a lot of positive and realistic, and non-exploitive depiction of sex out there now, if you want to look for it. In particular Abby Winters, Beautiful Agony, and I Shot Myself come to mind. It's ironic (absurd?) that the site has an "18+ only" clickthrough on the front page. (tagged: porn sex love ted education )
  • Dept. of Energy to draft energy efficiency rules… 30 years late. – I can't believe I'd never heard of this. Apparently for the last 30 years, presidents have been refusing to direct the Dept. of Energy to draft enforceable energy efficiency regulations, despite being directed under law to do so by Congress. Finally in 2005, 14 states sued, and won, and Bush still failed to comply in a timely manner. How many other instances of the executive branch (both democrat and republican!) completely ignoring Congress on important issues are there? It's rare enough that Congress gets anything right – that the president should ignore them when they do is unconscionable! (tagged: politics policy energy nytimes green efficiency standards regulation )

Ideas for Change in America

Change.org is a kind of public idea tourament.  There are a bunch of different subsections: agricultural policy, government reform, energy, etc.  Readers vote and comment on the ideas, and the top few ideas in each category advance to the next round.  Larry Lessig has submitted Citizen Funding of Congressional Elections whereby only public money and small contributions can be applied toward election campaigns.

Not sure how well this kind of system can work.  Many of the highest rated ideas don’t sound very productive…

California Backstory Barcodes

California officials launch ‘Green Chemistry’ initiative – Los Angeles Times.

The idea is certainly good, but there’s a lot of bookkeeping that will need be done within the myriad supply chains that create the products, that isn’t getting done now.  Does California have enough clout to force it to be done?  Seems unlikely (even if we are the Nth largest economy on earth, where N is small).  Really we need to partner with the EU, and other like-minded bodies to come up with a single standard we can all adhere to.  This is the kind of thing the WTO should (for instance) be about.

PBS Tackles Global Warming: HEAT

I watched the PBS Frontline report Heat online.  It’s 2 hours long, and explores the magnitude and difficulty of scaling back global carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 (which is what the IPCC says is required).  To be a success in my mind, I think it had to do four things:

  1. Convey the colossal magnitude of the problem, essentially requiring a complete re-imagination of the engines literally driving the global economy: fossil fuels and ever expanding resource consumption, and cooperation between nations and corporations on a scale we’ve never seen.
  2. Describe the potential costs of inaction, including sea level rise, possibly rapid decreases in agricultural productivity in some areas, water shortages in the world’s most populous regions due to melting glaciers, and ultimately, the irreversibility of the changes, due to positive feedbacks.
  3. Explain how solving the problem is difficult, politically: due to effective lobbying from old and currently profitable industries, and the inability of tomorrow’s potentially profitable “green” industries to effectively lobby, because they don’t currently have either the billions in profits to “invest” in DC, or a large base of employees represented as constituents.  Economically: because there is no cost borne by GHG emitters, making the atmosphere a tragic economic commons.
  4. Provide at least an outline of what any potential solution will look like: It will have to be measured in terawatts, meaning the only two sources of power that are up to the task in the long run are solar and nuclear (with reprocessing and breeder reactors eventually).  It will also require a method of turning electricity into some transportable high energy density form, like liquid fuels, or much much better batteries.

Continue reading PBS Tackles Global Warming: HEAT

Georgia and Russia, sittin’ in a tree

Pravda has put out a helpful timeline of the current Georgia-Russia conflict

Maybe I have a one track mind but, I don’t think this kind of conflict often erupts for purely egotistic political reasons. There’s a lot of energy backstory that isn’t being told in that Russian chronicle, such as the sabotage by someone of natural gas and electricity supplies headed into Georgia from Russia (gee, I wonder who it could have been… in the depths of a Caucasian winter in January 2006), the subsequent commissioning of the South Caucasus gas pipeline in December 2006, and all of the wrangling that’s been going on over the trans-Caspian gas pipeline since the mid 90s (Russian and Iran don’t want it, everyone else does, because Russian and Iran have gas already, and everyone else gets their gas from them).

Perhaps the largest diplomatic stick Russia can wield today is its oil and gas reserves (assuming they don’t want to actually like, invade a NATO country, or shoot off some plutonium fireworks), and they are jealously guarding the ability to wield that stick. Georgia has successfully circumvented them with the pipeline from Baku to Turkey (and eventually on to Europe), and I think in part now, they’re paying the price, so that others in central Asia with gas they’d like to independently pipe out of the region, including, perhaps most importantly, Iran, think twice about setting up their own circumvention. For instance, Iran built a pipeline into Armenia. It was supposed to be extendable, eventually onward to Turkey and Europe. Before it was built, Gazprom bought a controlling interest in the pipeline company, and summarily reduced the diameter of the pipeline from 1.4m to 0.7m, making it unable to carry enough gas for extending it to Turkey and Europe to be worthwhile.

I think that the blurring, or erasure, of the lines separating nations and corporations is interesting, and at least somewhat unexplored.  (Maybe one major difference is that a nation-corp can more dependably rely on its nation’s armed forces to step in occasionally.  Though, historically, US companies have had a pretty good chance of getting help on demand, at least in Latin America).  We wouldn’t be surprised if Exxon did something like buy up a potential competitor, but when a nation does it, how do we react?  In oil and gas, all of the major players are nation-corps. I think this is actually one of many very good reasons for the industrialized world (that, by and large, has used up its oil and gas) to invest heavily in renewable alternatives to oil and gas. If we develop renewables for national security (and environmental) reasons, the costs may well be reduced enough that other economies can use them simply because they’re cheap, distributed (more difficult to sabotage than a pipeline or LNG terminal), and don’t require you to be on good terms with Russia, or Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela, or get permission from the IAEA to spin up your centrifuges.

Pipelines are beasts curiously subject to consensus, because they are so easy to destroy.  If anybody in the area doesn’t want one to function, it doesn’t.  So Russia may well be able to maintain its pre-eminent position as gas supplier to Europe for a long while to come, and keep the squeeze on in central asia indefinitely.  At least, until we stop relying on natural gas.  Or until someone in central asia really decides it doesn’t want Russia’s natural gas infrastructure to function.  Now wouldn’t that be fun for everyone!