There is a good story by Salman Rushdie on Sloth in a recent edition of Granta magazine (Thanks, whoever sends that).

A recent report from researchers at Georgia Tech and Duke turns its attention to gluttony, particularly the energy gluttons also known as the Southern United States. Evidently, no other region uses more and tries less to save energy and stave off the need to build more power plants. For example take Arkansas (no Please… ):

With a population of about 2.8 million people,2 Arkansas represents about 0.9% of U.S. population, 0.7% of the nation’s GDP, and 1.1 % of U.S. energy consumption (Figure 1). Thus, compared to the rest of the nation, Arkansas has a higher-than-average level of energy intensity (i.e., it consumes more energy per dollar of economic activity).

Arkansas’ industrial energy consumption as a percentage of its overall energy consumption exceeds that of the nation and the rest of the South (Figure 2). This is one reason that Arkansas ranks 15th nationally in per capita energy consumption, well above the national average.

But not to pick on them – the story is the same all over the former former confederacy.

Relative to the rest of the country, the South consumes a particularly large share of industrial energy, accounting for 51% of the nation?s total industrial energy use. In addition, the region has a higher-than-average per capita energy consumption for each of the end-use sectors covered in viii

this report: the South consumes 43% of the nation?s electric power, 40% of the energy consumed in residences, and 38% of the energy used in commercial buildings. This energy-intensive lifestyle may be influenced by a range of factors including:

  • the South’s historically low electricity rates
  • the significant heating and cooling loads that characterize many southern states,
  • its relatively weak energy conservation ethic (based on public opinion polls),
  • its low market penetration of energy-efficient products (based on purchase behavior) and
  • its lower than average expenditures on energy-efficiency programs.
So excuse the pun but, by what lights do we ignore the growing pile of evidence that this wasteful nature is more expensive and more unpleasant than it clearly needs to be? Heritage? As the report reports, southern states are ignoring measures that have proven effective in other regions and other countries, basically in favor of nothing at all. And while there’s a certain heedless beauty about having your head in the sand, it’s not something you can put on a license plate or in a mason jar. So what good is it?

Good Faith Arguments

The idea that there are principled stands being taken on various sides of issues, and therefore legitimate points of view worth highlighting, and perhaps defending or bringing into high contrast with opposition, is seeming more and more quaint.

Environmentalist groups and celebrities are celebrating “Earth Hour” tonight. They ask that you turn your lights out for an hour, to call attention to global warming.  Folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute suggest that “this sends the wrong message — to plunge us all into darkness as a rejection of technology and human achievement.” In fact, they point out that it’s Earth Hour every night in North Korea, where people lack basic freedoms, as well as affordable, reliable access to many human achievements, such as electricity. Check out this famous photo of environmentally conscious North Koreans observing Earth Hour all night, every night.

CEI rejects the rejection of technology.

Via. So while it may seem more interesting to set up the complex moral conundra surrounding an issue as a way of laying bare the essence of a particular debate, noting does it quite like realizing that some, many, in denial of ______ (because, really, the issue often doesn’t even matter) only want to piss off hippies.

When I see you, I See Red

Sticking with the X theme, and why not. Today’s Pigment of the Day: Madder lake.

So… positive words from Big Oil and their patsies political allies on the heels of efforts by Sens. Kerry, Graham and Lieberman to put together legislation capping global warming pollution. I guess ‘positive’ isn’t quite the right word – it’s kinda like the line in Raising Arizona:

Evelle: [about the balloons he just bought] These blow up into funny shapes and all?
Grocer: Well no… unless round is funny.

Ha. Ha.

Industry officials said they too welcome the discussions of a carbon fee as part of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman effort.

“Clearly it softens the reaction and increases the likelihood that a number of people who’ve been forced to push back will be much more cooperative in the dialogue,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.

Gerard said that the carbon fee approach would yield net environmental benefits, while giving consumers the most transparent signal they can get about what the costs are from the program. Unlike the House bill’s cap-and-trade system, oil companies would pass through the costs with signs at the gas pump letting people know they’re paying more because of U.S. efforts to deal with climate change.

As Grist reports, the energy companies like the fee because they’ll be able to complain about it as a tax ‘Americans cannot afford’. Actually, re-setting a highly mobile bar, they will be decrying the removal of $80 billion in loopholes and oil company subsidies as an “unprecedentled tax.” Dig it.

I mean, drill… or whatever. The oil companies see the handwriting on the wall. We can’t change underwear without taking off our pants – and they know what a zipper sounds like, as much as they will spend spin like crazy to try and tell you it’s bubbling brook.

Money Can Buy

Fairness and justice can inform politics, invigorate its supporters and infiltrate the ranks of decision-makers to influence the use of government and guide the course international cooperation.

So can business.

And now the Gates Foundation has finally named a new director of agricultural development—a position left vacant since April, when Rajiv Shah left to take a post at USDA. (Shah is now director of USAID within the State Department—the top development position in the U.S. government). The foundation named long-time biotech exec and investor Sam Dryden to the post.

In doing so, the foundation could hardly have sent a stronger signal: In its vision, at least, Africa’s future as a prosperous continent hinges on the benevolence of patent-wielding Western biotech behemoths like Monsanto and its very few peers in the GMO-seed space. Here is how The Seattle Times describesDryden’s background:

At Wolfensohn and Company, which was founded by former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Dryden focused on investments in alternative energies. He formerly headed Emergent Genetics, which develops and markets seeds. Emergent Genetics, the third largest cotton seed company in the U.S., was acquired by Monsanto in 2005 in a $300 million deal. [Emphasis added.]

The tools are malleable, not permanently bent. The reasons for optimism are also the reasons to be skeptical. On neither count  should we underestimate the power of vital green interests.

The N-D Conundrum

What turns GREED to GREEN? What turns GREEN to GREED? We all assume a symbiotic relationship – it’s what this whole semantic notion is about. The hope for a magic, transcendental spell check that does the trick for us, changes one to the other (for a fee, of course) might be a nice idea for a conceptual art installation – The Syntax of the Hyper Real or some such – but little else.

In terms of planetary peril, it appears to be a irreconcilable symbol inversion in the alphabet. The Gaia Theory would appear to be promising, except for its implication for ‘we the people’. But we even have to accept this, if we’re willing to be so heedless about using the atmosphere as a free dumping ground. This interview with its originator is compelling in a gallows sort of way. He hates carbon trading and says its a scam, but is there another way to get the D to go N without taxing ourselves, without charging for the free dumping ground? While many understand the reasons why it will be better to transition away from this economic model and move radically toward renewable energy, the fossil fuel endgame remains viable because it is… cheaper. This is a compelling moral argument, though not one we should make or defend intentionally.

It’s unpleasant to think that we will be wont to change our behavior until we are compelled to do so, that we are in some sense the rich who won’t say they hate the poor but are nonetheless able to simply turn their backs on the suffering the poor endure. After all, for people whose primary motivation is green greed grrr, what makes us do anything?

Going Away

Not me, this time – malheureusement. But oil refineries. They’re going away. They’re not leaving today. But they’re going away. The article makes for an almost wistful, Christmas Eve nostalgia for how, pretty soon, we’re not going to have them to kick around any more. And boy will we regret that. Except we won’t.

Gasoline demand, which many analysts had long expected to keep rising for decades, is down sharply in the recession. And refiners are increasingly convinced that even after the economy recovers, demand will not grow much in coming years because of the rise of alternative fuel supplies and the advent of tougher efficiency standards for automobiles.

Plagued by boom-and-bust cycles of rapid expansion followed by sharp belt-tightening, refining companies have often struggled to operate at a profit. That is a contrast to the production side of the oil business, long a road to riches.

“Oil production creates wealth, but oil refining has often destroyed it,” said Costanza Jacazio, an analyst at Barclays Capital in New York.

Even so, these are unusually harsh times for oil refiners. The recent drop in gasoline demand could result in more refineries being closed in the coming year.

Talk about shock and… aw. But this has very little to do with eco-anything, really. It’s just an economic situation, itself in transition, and away from where the fossil fuel industry thought they would ever go or be, which is not far from here – or actually about 2007. This is itself a problem with the imagination of your average B-school go-getter, seeing just far enough to be able to carve out their own little piece of the bottom line as it exists as the status quo. Then having the proclivity to channel all remaining energy into protecting that little slice of heaven. Instead of being able to recognize the shortcomings even of a system beneficial to them and foresee workable, if not equitable, adjustments to that system. Imagination fail, like a tractor beam. Like a circle, baby.

And this is transferrable to many issues and realms, including the political and HCR. If you doubt that, check out another op piece today, and witness the depravity that was Phil Gramm circa 1993. Hunted with dogs, indeed.

Indian Initiative

I got the paper paper on Friday, for the first time in a long time. Are we going to explain to our grandkids someday how we used to peruse the newspaper for stories we weren’t even looking for? Anyway, so disposed, I came across this article on how India plans to limit its carbon emissions.

The Indian initiative, presented in Parliament by the country’s top environmental official, means that India has now joined the United States, China, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa in making a domestic emissions pledge before the Copenhagen talks. Like China, its approach is focused on improving energy efficiency rather than accepting mandatory limits on emissions.

India is a critical player in the climate change talks, if one in a complicated position. With 1.2 billion people, it is the world’s second most populous country, having both high rates of poverty and high rates of economic growth. Its population means it has a much lower per-capita emissions rate than that of the industrialized world, yet it has high levels of total emissions. It ranks fifth globally in overall emissions and is projected to rank higher as its economy grows.

Emphasis mine. So what does this mean? Per capita, Indians emit much less CO2 than Americans, though India has higher emissions than America. Who should come into compliance with common standards? We want to limit their countrywide emissions – does that mean they should want to limit our individual emissions? Which are more difficult? How do you establish equitable standards where they won’t have to have higher emissions just to get to our [ostensibly] lowered levels?

Or do we just keep what have and they lower theirs further? Are our emissions more important that theirs? Don’t answer that.

Paving Our Fate

Or cementing, if you like. An American Business Community that was way late on the short-sighted-ness of sprawl, commercial real estate and exotic financial instruments (but big on INNOVATION!) is now working to defeat healthcare reform legislation because it will… slow down the climate change legislation juggernaut. Synergy!

Corporate front groups and large business trade associations are funneling their resources into defeating health reform. Even though health reform will lower costs for small businesses and boost worker productivity economy-wide, it appears that corporate entities influenced by major polluters are hoping that the defeat of health care legislation will slow President Obama’s agenda and derail their true enemy: clean energy reform.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which is largely backed by the coal industry, candidly revealed this strategy in a letter released today to Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Robert Byrd (D-WV). The Chamber of Commerce demanded that the senators use “their clout and seniority” to obstruct the health reform debate until cap and trade legislation is taken off the table and the EPA is barred from regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. As Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette noted, Rockefeller has already rejected a similar proposal of blocking health reform unless the EPA stops reviewing mountaintop removal permits. The coal lobby has also pressured West Virginia state legislators to pass resolutions opposing clean energy reform.

I’m kind of even bored with my own impulses toward snark on this, and maybe that’s a good sign. It’s simply not amusing, the way in which major financial interests in this country align their loyalties with short term infringements on their power instead of taking a longer view toward sustainable, if lower, profitability. That is the trade-off they choose to see. But it’s not a trade. It’s a fail. They appear wiling to sacrifice both for neither, as though activating some kind of compass in their Solomonic wisdom survival pack. But you have to wonder, the survival of exactly what?

Plus, in what kind of country is the true enemy clean energy reform? Explain your answer.


I’m all ready to put up something for your friday reading enjoyment, but (accidentally) listening to NPR this morning for a little too long had me pulling an Inspector Dreyfuss, and not in a good way.

Mara Liasson, you know you know me, national political correspondent or whatever, talking about the post-election shake-out, practically encapsulates the conventional wisdom flowing from every quarter that also just happens to be a ridiculous way of thinking about politics. It’s pulling for atrophy, as one friend is want to say. I’m not linking to it, but it goes something like this:

The final score of Tuesday’s election gives Republican’s evidence of a resurgence.

People want divided government, so it can do nothing.

So they vote for Republicans, even though they don’t like them (~20% consistently self-identify as republicans).

Republican can win, if they obscure their stances on social issues.

NY-23 was an example of Republicans dividing their support, and so handing a victory to the Democrat.

CA-10… oh, Mara didn’t mention CA-10.

Moderate democrats better hedge their bets on supporting the Obama agenda… or else voters will punish them for looking like they support something and running afoul of the way national political correspondents (aka The Village) and others have grown accustomed to thinking about what the legislative branch should [not] be doing.

So, NPR donors listeners good liberals… Is this the way the news about this or any election should be delivered?

Who We Are

This is one of those times when I’m hating on the we/they continuum. Ugh. While some Republican leaders sorta-kinda hedge on all the socialist-Hitlerite-Stalinist rhetoric of incoherence, it’s important to remember actually who these people and what their beliefs are.

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly highlighted this gem from Joe Barton (R-Texas) last week.

“Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.”

When do you begin to question whether some actually believes what they say they do? As Benen pointed out, this guy has senatorial ambitions. Does he ever. This ‘thinking’ ties all the healthcare scaremongering to global warming denial with silly string. But when you try to gnaw into the string, to perhaps free its captives, the string tastes like… burning.