Tom Friedman Gets It This Time

I don’t know about Tom Friedman’s enthusiasm for globalization. I think recent events in Haiti for instance point to the problems there. And as for his foreign policy, well, I try not to stray that way on this blog, but you might guess I have some, ahem, issues with his approach.

But he sure nails it this time about the gas tax holiday.

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

and also:

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.

When a serious columnist adopts Dave Barry’s tag line about making things up, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Skepticism regarding "thermodynamics"

It’s time the conspiracy of engineers promoting their “thermodynamics” stopped getting a free ride.

It happens I believe in Phlogiston Theory. But so did all the Nobel winners, not just in physics and chemistry but also economics and peace. Without exception. Also Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi not to mention Babe Ruth and Bobby Orr and Joe Namath…

I understand that the contrary “thermodynamic” theory is motivated by economic self-interest on the part of engineers who want to keep getting money for designing their so-called combustion chambers and engines and such, but their pretense that the science is settled is very far from true. Look. Nobel winners. And hockey players.

They agree with me because I say so. Who are they to argue?


No Food Shortage

There is a food pricing crisis, but that isn’t the same as a shortage. I elaborate on Grist.

In short, I conclude that the wider the separation of rich and poor, the less effective market mechanisms are in providing useful incentives and the more necessary complex regulatory systems become.

The market libertarians want it both ways: minimal regulation and no worry about wealth stratification, but recent events in the global food market indicate that you can’t have both and a viable planet too.

Comments disallowed here so I don’t have to track two threads. Do comment on the Grist site, please and thanks.

Agreeing with WSJ Op-Ed

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an opinion column entitled “The Real Cost of Tackling Climate Change” from Steven Hayward of the (often egregious) American Enterprise Institute, which I find myself surprised to be mostly in agreement with. He argues:

  • Greenhouse gas targets will be very difficult to meet
  • Renewables will probably not help as much as we’d like
  • Very large scale efforts and projects will be needed
and, especially
  • “Someone should put this question to the candidates. And not let them slide past it with glittering generalities.”


Another Oil Shock?

Not looking too pretty over in the UK according to the Oil Drum, even before the failure of a complex and tightly coupled system to deliver oil:

Failure by BP to recognise the dependency of the Forties Pipeline upon vital services provided by Grangemouth, and to provide contingency back up for their loss, is the principal cause for over 40% of UK North Sea oil and gas production now being shutdown.

Update 4/30: The pipeline has restarted.

Two Alternative Stupidities

“High gas prices might be uncomfortable while we search for viable long-term solutions, but they’re more comfortable than the alternative: no gas and no solutions.” says a delightfully sarcastic article on the Environmental Economics site.

I can’t resist brazenly copying whole swaths of this.

Eighty-two Democrats and 3 Republicans in the House have proposed the Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act (H.R. 1252) otherwise known as the FPGPA, pronounced STUPID. So let’s take a look at the STUPID price gouging bill…

The STUPID price gouging bill will make it a federal crime to:

…sell crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, or petroleum distillates at a price that is unconscionably excessive or indicates the seller is taking unfair advantage [of] unusual market conditions (whether real or perceived) or the circumstances of an emergency to increase prices unreasonably.

Unconscionable excessive? Unfair advantage? Increase prices unreasonably? Yikes.

Allow me to interpret. The STUPID bill makes it a federal crime to:

…sell crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, or petroleum distillates at a price that makes my constituents complain because they are too lazy to drive less at higher gas prices.

In looking into the STUPID price gouging bill, I came across the Republican Study Committees reports on the STUPID price gouging bill. In it, they list a set of alternative proposals for lowering gas prices. They are:

  • Streamline the environmental hurdles to building new oil refineries.
  • Make it easier for small refineries to increase capacity.
  • Allow more offshore (e.g. Outer Continental Shelf) and inland (e.g. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) oil drilling.

In other words…screw the environment and roll back new source review.

  • Temporarily suspend the gas tax.

…because driving more is always a good short-term solution.

  • Temporarily suspend the gas tax and temporarily suspend spending on all transportation earmarks in the most recent surface transportation reauthorization bill.

…because driving more on crappy roads is an even better short term solution.

  • Permanently reduce the gas tax.

…because driving more on crappy roads is an even better LONG term solution.

Is this funny?

This wandered into my email. I sure hope it’s supposed to be a joke. I think it is (Tripp’s Institute?) But to quote the feminists and the light bulb joke, “I don’t think there’s anything funny about that.”

This is sad and interesting not because it is serious, but because the nature of the joke shows how we are being misperceived. It’s the “in it for the gold” accusation all over. “Global warming?” I responded. “No, that’s finished. You can only play that violin for so long. This last winter took care of that money maker with the extreme cold and heavy ice and snow in mid-America.”

Hmm. Well, stay tuned, I guess. I wonder when this noise actually goes away. In the 1990s I predicted it would go away about now, when the changes started to become casually obvious. I was too optimistic. I wonder how long people will keep blaming cosmic rays or 1500 year cycles or leprechauns, anything but their own foolishness…

I was in San Diego several weeks ago and drove over to Ocean Beach to dip my footsies into the Pacific. I was surprised to witness one of the lowest tides I’d ever seen. The water was out past the end of the pier that extends from the end of Newport Avenue. I’d never seen that before. Later that day, I was having lunch with an old high school friend who happens to be a scientist at The Tripp’s Institute of Oceanography, in La Jolla.

I mentioned the low tide to him and he suddenly got a serious look on his face. “You’ve seen first hand the next natural disaster that’s gripping the world,” he said. “Global warming?” I responded. “No, that’s finished. You can only play that violin for so long. This last winter took care of that money maker with the extreme cold and heavy ice and snow in mid-America. However, there’s a new crises looming that’s real and could very well mark the end of life, as we know it. It’s been labeled, The Noah Affect. It involves the seeming disappearance of water from the earth.”

“Why the Noah Affect?” I queried. “That was a deluge that blanketed the earth with water.”

“Well, yes, but after the flood there can a period of water being quickly dried up. In that case it was accomplished by high winds, hot, dry days and a return of extreme cold to the polar ice caps. But now we’re seeing the departure of water for no apparent reason at all… except possibly one.”

“What is that one,” I asked.

“Containers,” he replied. “You see, us scientists had found a convenient way of making a few bucks by selling people on the idea that their drinking water wasn’t worth drinking. At the same time we were investing in bottled water companies and as it turned out, seeing great returns on our investments. But what happened next really surprised us. Soon, nearly every man, woman and child in the civilized world was drinking only bottled water.”

“So how does that affect the water supply? Doesn’t it still end up in the same places once it is consumed?”

“Well, yes… and no. The problem is that there is an ever growing abundance of water in plastic bottles sitting on store shelves and in warehouses. Plus, something we hadn’t counted on was the way people dispose of their nearly empty water bottles. Let me ask you this; the last time you drank a bottle of water; when you threw away the bottle, was it dry inside and did you replace the cap?”

I thought for a moment. I immediately saw where this was going. “The last time I drank a bottle of water, when I threw the bottle away, it was recapped and there was about two ounces of water still remaining in the bottle.”

“There in lies the problem. That’s what most people do and the bottle ends up in a landfill where it will take about a hundred years to deteriorate to the point where that water again enters the water life cycle. Now, if you multiply that by five billion people a day throwing a cup or more of water in the trash, you’ve got about twenty billion ounces of water tied up for a hundred years… each day. In a month you have six-hundred billion ounces and on and on. Well, you can quickly see what’s happening. It’s been estimated that in ten years, the world’s oceans will be about twenty-five percent smaller and with the depth of the seas decreasing, the polar ice caps will extend further south, gobbling up more useable water. That, in turn, will affect the climate and we’ll see global cooling taking place. In fact, we may have already seen the early effects of it this past winter. It will change the whole eco system in ways we’ve never experienced before and available water for crops will virtually disappear.”

I left San Diego that day with a giant lump in my stomach, resolved to make sure I never capped a plastic bottle again. It’s scary to think about, but I’m convinced my scientist friend is right. I’ve been to the beach and seen it for myself.

Doesn’t the carbon “end up in the same places”? Well, probably, but not before causing us a lot of trouble for a few intervening centuries… Sorry I’m having trouble seeing this joke as funny…

Update: How about this similar joke? It is sort of funny. I think it wasn’t intended as humor though.