Ongoing Investigation

So, it’s funny how this oil derrick just looks like an I-beam with a few other chunks of steel welded to it, connected by a hinge to a sort of gallows. If you spend any time at all examining the picture for its constituent parts, it almost begins to break itself down. What other kinds of things might be made with these materials?

Many more pictures here of what happens to a place when a boom goes bust, especially one based on oil production. The sociological connection to everything required for extraction is not far removed from this idea; but neither is the way we shield ourselves and our tender sensibilities from the extraction costs when they include exploding bodies and flag-draped coffins. It’s scandalous how we permitted the government to ban photographs of soldiers returning home in cargo planes. That’s the extent of our honor right there. Look away, indeed. These are the costs of our dependence strategies, the further externalities, if you will, and if we can’t handle them then we should perhaps think twice about tying our liberty and freedom to gassing up.

These are among the cautionary guidelines we should consult in our decision-making. Without them, we’re just walking in front of cartoon scenery. You can’t section off moral hazard as though it’s a completely separate consideration. Unless you’re able to do that. Then, you’re all set!

I hope they’re making this up. According to wikipedia, the derrick device was named for its resemblance to a hangman’s gallows; the derrick-type gallows was itself named for an Elizabethan Era executioner.

Home Grown Power

Somewhat counter-intuitive take on the new electrical grid that’s been bandied about as an infrastructure project within the stimulus bill(s) set to appear at State House near you.

But there are better — and cheaper — ways to get more clean power flowing to the big cities. Renewable energy resources are found all across the country; they don’t need to be harnessed from just one place. In the Northwest, the largest amount of green power comes from hydroelectricity. In the Northeast, the best source may be the wind over the ocean, because it blows harder and more consistently there than on land. Offshore wind farms have been proposed for Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In the Southwest, solar energy can be tapped on a large scale. And in the Southeast, biomass from forests may one day be a major source of sustainable power. In each area, developing these power sources would be cheaper than piping in clean energy from thousands of miles away.

As his omniscient narrator, I’ll say this is predicated on using far less power to make any of these suggested power solutions work, as we should begin to stipulate about every single thing. The writer draws a distinction between a smart grid and high-capacity transmission lines, the former distinguishing itself as a locally-deployed system within a multi-dimensional strategy against waste and inefficiency. Which is the only way to really address waste or efficiency. Once we get into what some of these concepts – a smart grid, for instance – mean, they begin to define long-term solutions in the only way in which they can be defined as viable – on a local scale. Ideas can come from anywhere, but they have to make sense there, first. Then a next-step Mandlebrot set in reverse motion can begin – leading the way toward more grander-scale solutions as we pan out. Or, luck be your lady tonight, altering their urgency into something more manageable.

Of course, changing how we think about a big new electrical grid for the country opens up more space to think about trains, SUPER and otherwise. Which is as it should be.

The coming war of words (hopefully just that) over who is being green and who isn’t

China hits back at US criticism on human rights after the US needles China with human rights criticism, China responds with Human Rights Record of United States in 2008. From its preface: “As in previous years, the [United States’] reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but mention nothing of the widespread human rights abuses on its own territory.”

From Metafilter.

Ongoing and, as much as it has reached a few crisis flash points in the past, we’re largely aware of it and how to use it to our advantage, as are our 700 million Chinese brothers. But how long before these kinds of international conflicts extend to greenhouse gas emissions? Shouldn’t we lay in some provisions, keep some powder dry, as the sayings go? What would any of that mean?

One reason the Kyoto Protocol was rejected by the US government after being widely ratified worldwide was that it would have forced on us measures to curtail emissions whereas other countries would be able to continue developing/polluting for a while, putting the US at a competitive disadvantage, yada yada. But… what if we began preparing for these days as if they might well come, when we have open conflict with China about carbon emissions?

A further, really nasty question while I’m at it – what will be the Tiananmen Square  of the battle to wrest control of out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions? And to which nation/system will it seed political advantage? Note: (this does not automatically assume that said political advantage from 1989 democracy demonstrations in Beijing accrued in the direction of anyone other than CNN).

You’d be right to ask what we/they might do to lay a few cobblestones on the high road? Mandate and subsidize solar roofing materials for all? Incentivise train taking? Look for ways to flatten out and reduce overall demand for power and energy? Pan really way out and see this not as a conflcit but an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration? Whoa… eyes… blurry.

Inquiring minds should want to know.

The coming war of words (hopefully just that) over who is being green and who isn’t

China hits back at US criticism on human rights after the US needles China with human rights criticism, China responds with Human Rights Record of United States in 2008. From its preface: “As in previous years, the [United States’] reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but mention nothing of the widespread human rights abuses on its own territory.”

From Metafilter.

Ongoing and, as much as it has reached a few crisis flash points in the past, we’re largely aware of it and how to use it to our advantage, as are our 700 million Chinese brothers. But how long before these kinds of international conflicts extend to greenhouse gas emissions? Shouldn’t we lay in some provisions, keep some powder dry, as the sayings go? What would any of that mean?

One reason the Kyoto Protocol was rejected by the US government after being widely ratified worldwide was that it would have forced on us measures to curtail emissions whereas other countries would be able to continue developing/polluting for a while, putting the US at a competitive disadvantage, yada yada. But… what if we began preparing for these days as if they might well come, when we have open conflict with China about carbon emissions?

A further, really nasty question while I’m at it – what will be the Tiananmen Square  of the battle to wrest control of out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions? And to which nation/system will it seed political advantage? Note: (this does not automatically assume that said political advantage from 1989 democracy demonstrations in Beijing accrued in the direction of anyone other than CNN).

You’d be right to ask what we/they might do to lay a few cobblestones on the high road? Mandate and subsidize solar roofing materials for all? Incentivise train taking? Look for ways to flatten out and reduce overall demand for power and energy? Pan really way out and see this not as a conflcit but an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration? Whoa… eyes… blurry.

Inquiring minds should want to know.

Sunday odds and ends

So, I notice that the print version of my current Flagpole column that’s been out for a few days has not been made available online; maybe they’ve got some kind of blockage in their intertubes. Can’t say for sure. Look for further erratic behavior on this front. Newspapers are in trouble if you haven’t heard.

So is the South, with regard to new targets for renewable energy, apparently. Why the congressman won’t include the rest of the statement, that the South doesn’t have enough renewable energy sources if demand continues to spiral upward and onward is anybody’s guess. Thanks Ben, for the heads up.

There’s more on this and other issues on Georgia Public Broadcasting this afternoon. I tend to have a way of saying things people don’t like, so I’m sure there will be a little something for everybody.

Update. The internets are nothing if not self-correcting – and at lightning speed. New Flagpole column is here.

Sunday odds and ends

So, I notice that the print version of my current Flagpole column that’s been out for a few days has not been made available online; maybe they’ve got some kind of blockage in their intertubes. Can’t say for sure. Look for further erratic behavior on this front. Newspapers are in trouble if you haven’t heard.

So is the South, with regard to new targets for renewable energy, apparently. Why the congressman won’t include the rest of the statement, that the South doesn’t have enough renewable energy sources if demand continues to spiral upward and onward is anybody’s guess. Thanks Ben, for the heads up.

There’s more on this and other issues on Georgia Public Broadcasting this afternoon. I tend to have a way of saying things people don’t like, so I’m sure there will be a little something for everybody.

Update. The internets are nothing if not self-correcting – and at lightning speed. New Flagpole column is here.

Living in the City

Ah… the immortal words of Lee Ving, via a lot of good research presented in this article by Ed Glaeser.

The five metropolitan areas with the lowest levels of carbon emissions are all in California: San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. These areas have remarkably low levels of both home heating and electricity use. There are cold places, like Rochester, that don’t air-condition much and thus use comparably little electricity. There are warm places, like Houston, that don’t heat much and thus have comparably low heating emissions. But coastal California has little of both sorts of emissions, because of its extremely temperate climate and because California’s environmentalists have battled for rules that require energy-efficient appliances, like air conditioners and water heaters, and for green sources of electricity, such as natural gas and hydropower. (Some analysts argue that this greenness is partly illusory—see “California’s Potemkin Environmentalism,” Spring 2008—but certainly, by our measures, California homes use less energy.) Also, despite the stereotypes about California highways and urban sprawl, some of these five cities, like San Francisco, have only moderate levels of transportation emissions, since their residents actually live at relatively high densities, which cuts down on driving.

In one of the charts, they measured overall carbon emissions for cities, then differentiated emissions of central city residences from the suburbs. Surprises abound.

Boston and Philadelphia are the third and fifth cities on the list. Though hotter summers and more coal make Philadelphia browner than Boston, the city-suburb differences in both areas reflect the high density and abundant public transportation in their central cities. Nashville and Atlanta, on the other hand, rank second and fourth not because their central cities are particularly green but because extensive driving makes their far-flung suburbs particularly brown.

However, even these are not without their caveats, exceptions and reasons why. So you should read the whole thing. Land use patterns and incentives that shift us toward high energy-use locales instead of green ones – those are the issues.

Plus, it beats getting fat and dying your hair.

The joneses, keeping up with

This is exactly what I was talking about in this week’s column. Admittedly it does involve foreign concepts like nonprofit utility boards and conscientious people, but this

The utility thinks behavior modification could be as effective in promoting conservation as trying to get customers to install new appliances is, Mr. Starnes said, and maybe more so.

is universal. Set aside ethical sympathies about the environment. Shame people into keeping up with their neighbors and they’ll take care of the imaginative/innovative part; you just put the comparative graphs on their bill. Okay, and the frowny faces, too.

In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.

“It is fundamental and primitive,” said Dr. Cialdini, who owns a stake in Positive Energy. “The mere perception of the normal behavior of those around us is very powerful.”

New Hustle

New Flagpole column is up, which focuses on our status quo energy use and the element of efficiency that is largely missing. A lot of this deserves greater unpacking than can occur in one 850-word column, so I’ll probably revisit. For instance, efficiency itself. The term is a technical one used to signify a ratio of input divided by output, which means we might lower the inputs but keep output the same when, really, we need to find ways – today, right now – to function and thrive with lower outputs. This gets lost in efficiency discussions, mine included. But you gotta start somewhere.

Shovel-ready

NYT reports that Obama is paving the way for a major change for vehicle emissions.

President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.

Mr. Obama’s presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agency’s regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.

Anyone can correct me on this but, I’ve been in the market for a new car, trying to make the right decision based on a few variables discussed here at length. The trail is leading us to a very short list of extremely expensive vehicles, especially as I’m trying to buy a diesel for a family of four + dog. My understanding of the paucity of available models is that these particular kinds of cars must be 50-state compliant in a couple of environmental categories, to which most car makers simply say, “no thanks.”

This sort of opt-out posture had the effect of making California standards the de facto standards anyway, though it allowed car makers not to bother with any adjustment to their SOP. Again, the article

But the centerpiece of Monday’s anticipated announcement is Mr. Obama’s directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work immediately on granting California a waiver, under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state, a longtime leader in air quality matters, to set standards for automobile emissions stricter than the national rules.

The Bush administration denied the waiver in late 2007, saying that recently enacted federal mileage rules made the action unnecessary and that allowing California and the 13 other states the right to set their own pollution rules would result in an unenforceable patchwork of environmental law.

The auto companies had advocated a denial, saying a waiver would require them to produce two sets of vehicles, one to meet the strict California standard and another that could be sold in the remaining states.

Those last eight words are/were what the car makers (such as they still exist) were aiming for; producing that other set of cars is their last ditch effort to play hard ball with the environment (!), I’m sure. The tactic, as in trying to isolate California and its inordinately stringent regulations, is typical yet nonsensical when you think about anything being at stake other than profits and business-as-usual, though one would think that what this strategy has done to both would cause the car makers (such as they still exist) to reconsider their position.

Anyway, serious news that the new administration should and will trumpet.