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Several years ago I gave a number of energy economics lectures which included an insistence that the Kyoto conference on the environment was badly flawed. My reasoning turned on the neglect of nuclear energy, as well as the decision taken at that meeting to promote cap-and-trade (or emissions trading) as the main device for offsetting a too rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the upper (or perhaps lower) atmosphere. I am glad to report that at least one improvement has occured, because with or without highly publicized conferences, it is absolutely certain that a nuclear revival has started.
Moreover, even if cap-and-trade craziness plays a big role in the Copenhagen meeting that started on December 7, 2009 (which was the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour), it no longer has a bright future. The most accredited scientific proponent of the war against anthropogenic (or man-made) global warming, James Hansen, now recognizes that emissions trading is a mistake, and also wants Copenhagen to fail. Someone else against cap and trade is the former CEO of British Petroleum, Lord Browne of Madingly, who at one time regarded its acceptance as a key ingredient in his firm's green image. As icing on the cake, the Wall Street Journal (Aug. 13, 2009) reported that the 'inventor' of this nutty concept is now against it. The word "scam" was frequently used in their summary.
A number of economics misunderstandings associated with conclaves of the Kyoto and Copenhagen variety need to be examined in detail, but unfortunately I can only consider a few in this brief contribution. I can mention though that in recent years I have taken part in an intensive and protracted exchange of ideas on environmental topics in the forum EnergyPulse (www.energypulse.net), which specializes in matters related to the supply of and demand for electric power. Where energy topics are concerned, EnergyPulse and '321 Energy' are the most important of all the internet sites, and on the average provide insights superior to those obtained in most university classrooms.
Although not easily explainable, a surprisingly large number of students and teachers of energy and environmental economics are at a loss when confronted with real-world enterprises and markets, and a similar though less sophisticated deficiency characterizes the expensive confusion in non-academic milieus and publications?
A partial explanation of this unfortunate state of affairs is that many articulate and/or influential consumers and producers believe that they have a rich choice of technological and economic means for optimizing their satisfaction in energy and environmental matters. In reality though, if cost is brought into the picture in a meaningful way, they have little or no choice. This is a message that even many members of the economic research community does not understand, because at several recent conferences I felt compelled to point out that despite the attempt by Swedish politicians and busybodies to convince bystanders that this country is a role model for unconventional energy investments, percentage-wise Sweden has made only slightly more progress than those Third World countries whose endeavors are just beginning.
1. Again the Bad News
As noted in O'Sullivan and Sheffrin (2003), a large enterprise in the United States -- Arizona Public Service (APS) -- elected to fulfil the environmental responsibilities introduced by the Climate Control Accord (of 1994) by paying for pollution abatement projects in China, India and other countries where abatement costs are lower than in its home state (Arizona). APS also financed a reforestation project in Mexico, which ostensibly will help to suppress global warming because forests (and large bodies of water) absorb some of the CO2 that is judged responsible for undesired climate change.
These abatement schemes are to some extent perfectly logical if we have a continuous global environment. Assuming this to be the case, then reducing pollution in e.g. China or Mexico would unambiguously benefit the good citizens of Arizona (and elsewhere). But regrettably, some of us recall that a possible outcome in an advanced 'prisoners dilemma game' is one in which restraint by one player could lead to excesses by others. Not "could" but probably does, because no matter what you have heard about the progress made in reducing undesirable emissions, the global output of CO2 into the atmosphere increased by at least two percent during 2008 (and almost 30 percent between 2000 and 2008).
According to Susanna Baltscheffsky (2009), a principal cause of this situation is economic growth in China and India, which is a secret that no longer has a great deal of value, because it has been completely absorbed by all except the most drowsy members of the TV audiences. What has not been absorbed is that regardless of what happens in Arizona or similar locales, the above two developing countries are under no obligation to entirely or even partially reciprocate the good intentions of distant polluters by lowering (or at least not raising) their own output of deleterious emissions. It is also a reason why the cap-and-trade approach to emissions suppression that is reportedly favoured by the new U.S. government is unlikely to succeed: it cannot be enforced globally. Of course, both the Chinese and Indian governments have indicated that they will take steps to conform to the environmental stipulations negotiated in Copenhagen, and I see no reason to believe that they are not serious, however serious or not this is unlikely to happen: the trade-off is lower economic growth!
Details of this nature are much less important for me than the often promoted assumption that if -- IF - the good citizens of Arizona pay higher prices for electricity -- which they would almost certainly have to do regardless of how or where APS abates a given amount of pollution -- a (ceteris paribus) reduction in pollution in some exotic neighbourhood on the other side of the world would subsequently alleviate pollution in the U.S. by an amount close to that which would take place if APS's pollution reduction expenditures had been made in or near Arizona.
Moreover, if this were not so, and investments on their part did not provide palpable local benefits, it would be very difficult for the citizens of e.g. Arizona to maintain their enthusiasm for international pollution control. In addition, if those expenditures were made in or near Arizona, they would provide additional benefits to Americans in the form of wages, salaries, and possibly training.
Sweden is a good illustration here, though in a perverse sort of way. Most of the electricity in this country is generated with nuclear energy and hydro, but even so, many Swedish politicians and environmentalists seem favourably disposed to the direct or indirect heavy taxation of a domestic output of emissions that happens to be one of the least intrusive in the industrial world. This official preference deserves special attention, because if the entire electricity generating world imitated Swedish environmental practices, meetings of the Kyoto and Copenhagen variety could be cancelled or reduced to insipid talk-shops where delegates attend amateurish lectures, and busy themselves with obtaining invitations to the next climate warming 'happening'.
In a brilliant article, Lester Lave (1965) discussed how in repeated games -- though under laboratory conditions -- cooperation might come about if some players make a point of setting a good example. I certainly favour good examples on the environmental scene and elsewhere, because I can remember when Sweden was a shining example of a highly efficient 'mixed' economy. I also recall efforts to explain to myself and colleagues the virtue of setting good examples during long vacations with the U.S. Army in Japan and Germany. However things are changing. Now, in the land of the Midnight Sun, politicians and civil servants are less concerned with examples than becoming associated with silly international proceedings, in order to be rewarded with a dab of recognition when they slouch through the corridors of the European Union's headquarters in Brussels. If this means that Swedish taxpayers must bleed, then their discomfort is one of the penalties for choosing to reside in Scandinavia instead of Pago-Pago or on the rim of the Kalihari.
2. Back to the Desired Future
As I just found out, there is little or nothing that I can or want to say about global/climate warming that I did not say in my book The Political Economy of Coal, written in Melbourne (Australia) about twenty six years ago (1985). Hardly anything has changed in the environmental drama that I believed was unfolding at that time, and some of the actors are still on stage. I will say however, that I felt and expressed more admiration for U.S. Congressman Waxman in that book than I did in some recent presentations at a workshop in Italy, where I described the climate initiative of that gentleman and his colleague Congressman Markey irrational and possibly destructive.
Although I am no longer au courant on most climate matters, I claimed in my coal book that bad signs were appearing in the form of a trend change in the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Among the items I mentioned were that with the temperature in the Northern Hemisphere at about the same average level as today, a fall in the average temperature of about one degree (centigrade) in 1300 was enough to make ice skating on the Thames possible during a few weeks of the winter. Similarly, a one-degree average rise in the temperature might cause an ugly increase in the bacteria in our surroundings. Readers interested in this approach should examine two short articles by Barbier and Festrates in the French 'weekly' Lexpress (2009).
Anecdotes like the above have little or no scientific value, but the point is to suggest that for a civilization that is as fine-tuned to the present climate as ours may turn out to be, an average temperature change of only a few degrees, maintained over a long period, could have serious consequences. Baroness Thatcher, the former conservative prime minister of the UK, has commented on this predicament, saying that with or without our approval or knowledge, a dangerous experiment with the global environment is underway, due to the apparently unstoppable build-up in atmospheric CO2.
Although I do not hesitate to declare myself completely unqualified to e.g. contribute to the discussions of the present topic that often -- but not always -- take place in publications like Scientific American, I am sufficiently qualified to dismiss the loony-tune contributions made by persons like the journalist Paul Johnson, the gadfly Bjorn Lomborg, and various English sceptics with half-baked scientific backgrounds who have burdened us with crank comments on climate matters over the last decade. In this last category I include an English know-nothing who claims that consensus views play little or no decisive role in science, although clearly this is not true in the academic world over the long run except on rare occasions, and here I include the kind of store-front university where I received some of my undergraduate training.
Economics students who ask me for advice are immediately told to study game theory, but not to pay more than minimal attention to game theory books that specialize in mathematical overkill. As I stated above, what we might be dealing with here is something like a prisoner's dilemma game, which if developed properly might be capable of providing a systematic approach to the actions a country could and should take if strategic decisions are required in its dealings with other countries. This is much more complicated than the pseudo-scientific antics indulged in by Russell Crowe in the Hollywood travesty 'A Beautiful Mind', because most real life dilemmas cannot be modelled at the Rand Corporation or on the sound stage at MGM. Instead rational and irrational individuals and institutions participate in adversarial encounters in order to 'score' prizes like money and prestige.
3. Final Comments
In case any questions come up about the above topics, or for that matter similar topics not taken up in this short paper, the absolutely and totally correct answer should begin as follows: A NEW ENERGY ECONOMY MUST EVENTUALLY BE PUT INTO PLACE BY COUNTRIES LIKE, FOR EXAMPLE, SWEDEN AND THE UNITED STATES, AND SO IT MAKES LITTLE OR NO DIFFERENCE IF AGW (ANTHOPOGENIC (I.E. MANMADE) GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL OR AN ELABORATE FICTION. Personally, I have never at any time felt an urge to get to the bottom of this issue, however the present climate debates and the direction in which they have taken are a good thing, because they will contribute to an earlier realization of the indispensible new energy economy.
With a little luck, those efforts might reveal that while attempting to solve energy and environmental problems with things like 'clean' coal and natural gas might be useful in some circumstances, for the most part they will be counter-productive if those efforts are carried to extremes. At the same time let me say that if I am present in a conference, or a seminar, or a McDonald's when announcements are made that undesirable emissions should be combated with nuclear, I immediately tune out, because at the present time the optimal approach is often -- though not always -- 'additional' nuclear, and a very large increment of renewables and/or non-conventional devices, liquids, approaches and thinking. Put another way, the emphasis should be on diversity.
When the topic is the presence or absence of AGW, we have a situation where politics and psychology play a key role, which means that we cannot always call on altruism or 'models' or statistics or differential equations to launch us on the road to optimal conduct. Yes, increasing numbers of people are prepared to sacrifice a modest amount of money and/or comfort in order to help keep the environment in a seemly condition for the human family and its descendents; but when the bad news might materialize dozens or hundreds of years in the future, of unknown extent, involving societies whose compositions are unknown, then taxpayers and their political masters can be expected to find it difficult to be enthusiastic about even relatively small expenditures. As Professor John Kay once pointed out, "the burden of caring for all humanity, present and future, is greater than even the best-intentioned of us can bear."
It has certainly become greater than I can bear or contemplate. For this reason I would be more than happy if the complicated task of devising tactics and strategy for the battle against global-warming was never thrust into my caring hands, and instead turned over to high ranking politicians and technicians and civil servants -- hopefully bypassing mastodon and sterile meetings of the Kyoto-Copenhagen variety, where the majority of participants are completely and totally without a relevant technical or scientific background, lack a minimal training in energy economics, and in many cases are uninterested in climate warming except as a means to further careers and expand bank accounts.
As a result, when sitting in the quiet of my lonely room, my thinking on this topic usually turns to some conclusions I reached when presenting a short course on environmental economics at the Australian School of the Environment (Brisbane, Australia); the basic issue is rationality! It has to do with whether voters and serious politicians -- or for that matter non-voters and political hacks -- are really and truly willing to adopt or accept or tolerate political and economic programs that are consistent with their ambitions in life, love, and the pursuit of money or power. It should be accepted that this is asking those ladies and gentlemen for a great deal.
Some time ago I was informed that even the very conservative 'think tank', the Cato Institute, has come to the conclusion that nuclear is a lost cause, citing all sorts of subsidies that it requires to make it work. The same sort of ignorant contention has been advanced by the highest energy bureaucrat in Sweden, Professor Thomas Kåberger of the Swedish Energy Authority (Energimyndigheten). Frankly, I would be very surprised if this were true for the United States, however I want to make it clear that it is blatant nonsense and without the slightest empirical foundation where Sweden is concerned. As a group, Swedish taxpayers have not paid a penny to subsidize nuclear energy.
However it is clear to me why the Cato researchers would provide the faithful with this screwy message: the knowledge of energy economics possessed by many energy researchers, their employers and almost all of their readers is not even as great as my knowledge of mathematics and physics was when the Dean of Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago) called me to his office, and before expelling me for poor scholarship, informed me that in those two subjects I was completely and totally hopeless. He of course was somewhat mistaken, because although my memory of that splendid occasion may not be as accurate as I would like, I failed more than those two items during my first two semesters at his establishment, and in addition failed them twice.
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Could it be that you weren't impressed by the good intentions of Exelon's John Rowe, Entergy's Brent Dorsey and FPL's Lewis Hay? Or, for that matter, the good offices and high potentials of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley? But then again, as they used to say back in the Sucker State, " Fifteen bucks a ton may be too wet to plow."
Len Gould 1.1.10
Excellent review, Fred. You're excellent expression of your conclusions on these issues fits my view perfectly. It is demonstratably true that IF we wanted we could have a very comfortable and affordable energy supply for everyone in the world with little to no damage to the environment or future generation's wellbeing, by combining advanced actinide-burning thorium-molten-salt fission reactors with central solar-thermal and distributed solar PV. Too bad so many oxen would get gored by such, from coal mining lobbies to anti-nuclear anti-knowledge activists.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.1.10
What I forgot to mention in this paper is that about 20 executives in the US Energy Department should be canned, and a number of people contributing to this forum installed in their place. I think though that Dr Chu should be allowed to stay...at least for the time being.
When I read through this article, I recognize things that I wrote or lectured on years ago, and probably a number of times. What I can't understand though is why it's so difficult to make students and colleagues understand certain basic energy truths. For instance, nuclear is comparatively cheap, and under ideal conditions cheap right now; and oil is scarce - and scarce right now - regardless of what has recently been found somewhere in the oceans. But let me say that given the amount of dishonesty one encounters these days, everywhere, it might be best if we don't go off on a reactor-contructing binge in the too near future.
I think that I can sum up my feelings by saying that I don't want to see a reactor on every street corner, but enough of them to allow me to spend a few days in Paris every year, because the increase in the price of electricity in this country (Sweden) might have cost me those days in the coming year. For that I can thank the crooks at the Nordic Electricity Exchange (NORDPOOL) who, according to a clipping about a foot from this keyboard, are going to be scrutinized due to the price of electricity increasing by several hundred percent recently.
Anumakonda Jagadeesh 1.4.10
India expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recent climate change summit in Copenhagen.
"We were able to make only limited progress at Copenhagen summit and no one was fully satisfied with the outcome. Yet there is no escaping the truth that the nations of the world have to move to a low greenhouse gas submissions and energy efficient development path," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in the southern Indian state of Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram.
India and developing countries wanted developed nations like the United States to make commitments on the Kyoto Protocol but that failed to materialize at Copenhagen.
The prime minister said that global warming has been posing fresh challenges to India.
"Climate change is a problem that is challenging the knowledge and wisdom of humankind. India now faces new challenges of climate change and the management of our scarce water resources," he said.
"As far as energy is concerned, renewable and clean energy supplies will need to play a much bigger role that what they do currently. Nuclear and solar energy supplies will need to increase considerably," Singh said.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.4.10
There seems to be an increasing number of persons who believe that climate/global warming is nonsense. I don't have anything to do with that claim, although I can hardly avoid seeing it.
But at a conference I attended recently, everyone expressed the belief that Copenhagen was a waste of time. When I first heard of the Copenhagen meeting, I was informed that 10,000 delegates from 192 countries would attend, together with 5000 journalists. How could any intelligent person think that anything productive could emerge from this sort of 'farce'. Yes farce, and now another one has been scheduled for Mexico next year.
Bob Amorosi 1.4.10
I must agree with Professor Banks that Copenhagen was a sort of farce in that the chances of getting consensus among everyone attending was next to zero. It's scary when one realizes that many of the delegates attending are in positions to decide the world's future, particularly in energy use, and hence the future of energy economics.
Whether or not we get the energy economy we deserve as a result of these meetings, the results of these meetings should provide lots of food for more (energy) economics study down the road, and of course more to publish books on and more to comment on in forums like this one.
If one thing is clear about these meetings, there is a certain amount of selling to do if you expect to get your position listened to. The 5000 journalists that attended Copenhagen should be a lesson to all of us - the TV audience is listening big-time all around the world to these meetings, and will have a lot of influence over their politicians and delegates.
If an attendee is clever and wants to forward their position on future energy policies in these meetings, they had better learn to explain complex technical and economic matters in simple terms, and learn to sell them effectively to the TV audiences. That in my view is what makes a good teacher too. (Did I infer that professors are supposed to be teachers too?)
Keep up the great writing and comments here everyone, and Happy New Year too!
Jim Beyer 1.5.10
I think in many ways Copenhagen shows there is a lack of acceptance of reality by all parties.
The right (conservatives) are not accepting of AGW. The left does not acknowledge the enormity of the task of limiting carbon emissions. Neither side will acknowledge the main bugaboo: population.
India and China both think they should be immune from emission obligations due to the fact that the West emitted the majority of GHGs up to the present. Fine. But in that case, they should also surrender the benefits they enjoy from these emissions including modern medicine, internal combustion engines, nuclear, solar, and wind power, planes, trains, and automobiles, computers, dynamite, and the Haber-Bosch process (fertilizer). China can keep gunpowder and India can keep all the wonderful equations derived by Ramanujan.
This is really a growing pain to develop a world society. Something we are woefully unprepared for and which few of us even want. And even if AGW and population pressures can be erroneously ignored, peak oil cannot.
In retrospect, it's apparent that things went awry when nations determined that trade was an acceptable way of obtaining their energy stocks. It's not. Not in the long run.
The rise of Islamic extremism can be directly linked to Middle-East countries being greatly enriched regardless of the consequences of their cultural choices. Basically, they lived in a bubble independent of the rigors of natural selection. (Contrast this with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire which resulted in the more pragmatic and secular Turkey.)
In a similar vein, allowing a non-democratic country (China) to hold one's debt will prove to have been a poor decision. (Probably the worst decision that Clinton made.)
There's not a whole bunch of ways that this will end well, but many ways that it could end very badly. I see a growing rift between corporate interests wanting to maintain "business as usual" and environmentalists increasingly seeing "business as usual" as a global death sentence (and acting accordingly). Nevermind that the compromise solution is more nuclear power (which is more expensive than the corporations would like and less clean than the environmentalist would like) would be a viable way of cutting this Gordian knot.
Any national leader is faced with the no-win proposition of either contributing to the tragedy of the commons (our atmosphere) or imposing economic hardship on their own people even though much of the world continues to imploy cheaper (and dirtier) strategies. It's Gresham's Law applied to energy sources: the dirty (cheaper) ones drive out the clean ones. What is a nation to do? Some ideas:
1. Get one's $%#%@ finances in order. (Should do this anyway.) 2. Get one's population in order. Depending on who you are, this could include curtailing population growth and/or securing one's borders. 3. Move toward sustainable energy use. Timeframe is secondary. 4. Trade sanctions for those that flaunt GHG emission concerns. (Vaguely phrased intentionally).
These lots of new business to be had as oil moves on its way to becoming horrifically expensive. NG will follow suit.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.5.10
Jim, I think that you know as well as I do that countries are NOT going to get their populations in order. They have ridiculed Malthus for so long that you cant even tell a graduate level seminar that Mr Malthus and his theories deserve a modicum of respect. What about securing borders, as you suggest? But then, who is going to do the work that you do not want to do, and don't want your chilcren to do. One thing I learned when I was stationed in Germany, but which is overlooked by historians, is that Hitler made it clear that if he had his way, the average German would work less. To show that he meant it, hundreds of thousands of foreigners were brought into his country.
Basically I am an optimist, but not if voters insist on reelecting people like George W., or the ignoramuses who give the orders in Sweden. That is where the problem is - in the dreams/fantasies of the voters. Why would Swedes send billions of dollars to Brussels, instead of to the hospitals in Sweden. What kind of thrill do ordinary people get from making sacrifices in order that political hacks can draw tax-free salaries down in Belgium. And what is so precious about democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan that Americans debate the so-called expense of nuclear facilities, while they throw away tens of billions in useless wars.
Moreove, In an article that I always cite in my work, the author 'indicates' that although global warming may be sloughed off by a large fraction of the TV audience, it is taken quite seriously by e.g. the Pentagon. Oddly enough, those gentlemen seem to know the score.
Len Gould 1.5.10
Agreed all above. Would add that the pentagon also knows about peak oil / fossil energy.
Bob, the problem with the 5,000 journalists at Copenhagen was that they were only interested in (what is presently "referred to" as) news, or more accurately ratings. In those conditions, they're only interested in immediate crisis, not educating their audience.
Good prescriptions Jim, but it looks like switching to nuclear as a bridge to renewables will require conversion of at least a majority of the environmentalist movement, who could then use their "communications" skills to move the voters.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.6.10
I think that we need to leave Copenhagen well behind us. It was a meeting that should never have taken place, and the same can be said for one scheduled for Mexico. The less said about these talkathons the better.
Instead the contributors to this forum should try to educate - or help to educate - the know-nothings in the various energy bureaucracies, as well as the politicians who employ them. We can also tighten up our own logic. For instance, I don't like this idea of nuclear as a "bridge" to renewables. As somebody who contributes to this forum pointed out - and I wish that they would identify themselves - nuclear is essential for supplying "extra" energy. The example I use is the small Swedish city Växjö, which apparently has a very successful renewables program. Without the (never mentioned) nuclear backup however, I wonder just how successful it would be.
Please note in this paper the claim that Swedish taxpayers - AS A GROUP - have not paid a penny in subsidies. I know that some modest souls are itching to ask me how I reached that goofy conclusion, but it is simple: how would productivity and income in this country have developed if those 12 reactors had not been constructed? I remember one of my brilliant students answering that in an informal conversation after one of my lectures. His claim was that Swedish industry could have been restructured. Instead of automobiles, electronics and aircraft, the concentration could have been on non energy-intensive activities. Had I chosen to answer him I would have suggested tourism, home brew, houses of protitution, handicrafts and pop singers. Instead that gentleman was ignored by me for the rest of the term.
Hiro Chandwani 1.6.10
There is no point in commenting on who is right or, who is wrong about the Copenhagen summit. It is not important what the politicians from different countries have said or what they expect other countries to do about the problem of global warming. No one has any suggestion which is just and will be accepted by all the countries. It is certain and, everyone agrees, that the problem does exist which needs to resolved. Instead of giving your opinion what others should do about the problem, individual countries should chart out the schedule of program to be implemented by them in their own countries voluntorily, irrespective of what others are going to do. In this matter, I feel, the initiative should be taken by the developed countries by not only their own program to reduce the emissions but, by offering help to underdeveloped countries to achieve their targets in whatever small way. It should be absolutely voluntory and noe should suggest to others what should be done. Because, the moment you ask anybody to do something the way you expect them to do, he / she is going to resist it. This is basic human nature. I feel the moment industrialized countries start taking initiative and chart out there programs and offer help to other deserving countries, no other country would like to lag behind. After all, the initiatives to be taken are going to do good to population throughout the world.
Agreed journalists tend to feed on "crisis" news, although some news media columnists do attempt to educate the public. Sadly the latter articles don't get many high ratings and never make headlines.
It's therefore up to the politicians and meeting attendees to educate the public, for which they have a poor record of doing. The best educators that get their messages through journalists effectively are the ones that simplify complex issues for the public, and then spell out in laymen’s terms the looming crisis if their positions are ignored. And that my friend means, when it comes to energy issues, is telling the public in detail how their coveted way of life or how their pocketbooks would be adversely affected.
I would also add that if developed countries were to implement voluntary programs effectively, they could / should force other countries to participate also by threatening trade penalties for failing to do so. These penalties are very persuasive towards countries that engage in war or other crimes unacceptable to the UN, so why not use them for promoting these programs as well. Otherwise the argument the US and Canada use is that implementing their own domestic programs are totally unfair and useless without global participation.
Bob Amorosi 1.6.10
I would also agree with professor Banks that this forum SHOULD be used to educate our politicians and energy bureaucracies. So far I have yet to see it happen much, probably because many of them don't typically look to this forum for ideas. Even if some do read anything we write here, they are likely not going to comment on or debate anything in a public forum - it seems to be taboo for them. Perhaps it is fear of commenting on things they have little knowledge about that could make them look incompetent. I suspect most look to hired policy advisers rather than us writing here.
I suppose we should keep on trying nevertheless. One thing I have tried in past is to copy posts written here and email them directly to politicians offices hoping to put them in their faces. I have had some success, but most of the time there has been nothing in reply, not even a comment or a thank you, probably in part because they get swamped with untold numbers of crackpots and lobbyists sending them letters.
Peter Boisen 1.6.10
Many sensible thoughts both in the article and the comments provided. To expect any really sensible solutions to be generated at mastodont meetings like Copenhagen or Mexico City is clearly not realistic. In the discussion I, however, lack the word 'sustainability'.
We have a fast growing population where each individual would like to enjoy a standard of living on par with what is already achieved in the most wealthy nations. There are a long range of issues (food, energy, clean water, air quality, climate control, transportation infrastructure, housing etc) which all need sustainable solutions. Sustainable energy supply is probably not at all the biggest challenge, but we must, obviously, reduce the reliance on non renewable resources, and continue to expand investments in renewable energy.
Population control is a much greater challenge and we have seen two solutions - Chinese government regulations on family size, and a voluntary choice made by the population in many countries with a high standard of living. On the other hand we have many poor nations with very limited efforts to control population growth, and with minimal support from religious leaders. Part of the answer to the challenges is clearly improved education, and a new focus on a sustainable approach to all aspects of life.
Concerning the climate issue the largest threats seem to be flooding of lowlands (ocean shore population centres) and drastic changes of fresh water supply. Although nobody has an absolutely clear crystal ball it would seem wise to listen to the warnings from a large number of scientists and play it safe. This means efforts to limit grenhouse gas emissions, but also a conservative approach in city planning, and efforts to safeguard fresh water resources.
Edward Reid, Jr. 1.7.10
There is, or at least could be, a tremendous difference between "play it safe" and "stuff a rag in every exhaust pipe". There is, or at least could be, a tremendous difference between "stuff a rag in every exhaust pipe" and "you stuff rags in your exhaust pipes while we build new exhaust pipes".
The primary issue regarding Anthropogenic Global Climate Change (AGCC), in my opinion, is the absence of a unique, clearly articulated statement of the percentage reduction in global annual emissions required to stabilize atmospheric carbon concentrations and the time frame within which the reduction must be achieved to avert the alleged, impending climatic catastrophe. The absence of such a statement suggests either that: the science is hardly as "settled" as some would have us believe; or, that the reductions required are so Draconian that we cannot be made aware of them until we have already stepped onto the "slippery slope".
As a result of the Copenhagen conference, the “three-legged stool” of AGCC is now on display for all to see. Leg 1) Zero future CO2 emissions (Gavin Schmidt & “350?) Leg 2) Zero future GHG emissions from animal husbandry (Ban Ki Moon & UN FAO) Leg 3) Population control (John Holdren & Cass Sunstein) Seat) Global Governance (Copenhagen first draft & EU President)
Regrettably, the global media (with limited exceptions) has failed to "connect the dots" for their audiences. I view this as an act of commission, rather than as an act of omission. The unwillingness of the same media to report the climate science cesspool known as "Climategate" is another indication of media complicity.
The defining characteristic of a "solution" to a problem is that it actually "solve" the problem. I would argue that none of the "solutions" currently under public discussion regarding AGCC satisfy that defining characteristic. The fact that there are multiple "solutions" requiring different levels of emissions reductions over different time periods and that there are multiple atmospheric concentration levels which "must be achieved" or "must not be exceeded" supports this argument.
None of the above argues against voluntary energy conservation, economically justified energy efficiency measures, economic investments in low/no carbon emissions energy technologies, etc. It does, however, argue against forcing utilities, which are obligated to dispatch energy on demand, to adopt technologies which are not dispatchable and then expecting them to deal with the consequences.
Don't begin vast programs with half-vast ideas.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.7.10
Ed Reid, I don't want the dots connected. Talking about connecting dots could eventually lead to a huge dot-connecting conference. I want the whole thing handled at the highest political level, with high level politicians getting advice from really and truly and genuinely competent advisors, a few of whom really and truly and geninely know something about the economics side of this business. For example, know that the people who came up with the idea of cap-and-trade have now said that THEY DO NOT BELIEVE IN IT.
Edward Reid, Jr. 1.7.10
I will presume that, by requiring that advisors be both "competent" and " know something about the economics side of this business", that you are excluding the "team" (Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, Michael Mann, Tom Wigley, Jim Hansen, Gavin Schmidt, etc.)
I will also presume that you would exclude Bjorn Lomborg and the brilliant lights who wanted to close Swedish nuclear power stations.
D. Rice Lummis, Jr. 1.7.10
Professor Banks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. "The Political Economy of Coal" is officially at the top of my reading list as of this morning. I've also found the comments on this forum to be incredibly insightful. I agree with Professor Banks in that we should all rush into the post-Copenhagen world relieved that our respective projects have not been flipped on their heads under a new economic order.
From where I sit in Texas, the focus remains on a continued build-out of baseline capacity throughout the ERCOT grid. A new coal plant came on line earlier this week outside of Houston. Fossil fuel power development continues unabated even as the share of wind power continues to increase as a percentage of total power generation. Two new nuclear plants are in development and under construction on the Texas Gulf Coast. With a growing population and a growing economy (an anomaly, it seems, in this country), it is believed that the grid is now capable of meeting the energy needs of the state through 2014 with comfortable reserve margins. So now we fill in the gaps...
What the European countries (such as Sweden) appreciate that the United States as a national energy economy does not is the importance of a smart, efficient, modern grid. As individual states rush headlong into the implementation of Renewable Portfolio Standards without making the proper underlying structural investments (in the establishment of functioning markets as well as in dilapidated infrastructure), European countries (Scandinavia in particular, with a vast network of HVDC transmission lines) are positioned to utilize new technologies and alternative power supplies in ways that American states can only dream of.
As Professor Banks posits, a long-term revival in nuclear power is underway in this country. I believe the focus will be on smaller generating units whose deployment will be less centralized than in the past, for ease of licensing if nothing else. But in the meantime, at least in Texas, the transition to natural gas as generic feedstock is well underway. It is the medium-term solution to most energy-related issues facing our nation at the present. The supply is plentiful and local (note Exxon/XTO and Total/Chesapeake transactions) and the post-combustion environmental benefits are numerous. In most parts of the USA, (and in Europe, for that matter) natural gas infrastructure is well-established and scalable. While it is a stop-gap, fossil-fueled solution to our modern energy needs, by fueling the electricity generation fleet and the transportation fleet with natural gas will quickly reduce pollution (or "emissions"), which is the ultimate priority because humanity depends on nature for its sustenance and livelihood.
As many authors on this forum have noted, the challenge is (and always has been) to enlighten our lawmakers as to the most effective transition to a new energy economy. Honestly, I'm disheartened to read that politicians in Sweden are no better than the ones we have here, as I'd grown to believe that American bureaucrats are among the least capable in the developed world. What is clear to me is that energy professionals must unite and form a common voice with which to approach our leaders. At the end of the day, while "energy" (defined as broadly as possible) is a global economic matter, as a commodity it is consumed locally. Therefore, local solutions to local issues seem to make the most sense to me. What works in Copenhagen will not suffice in Mexico City, despite everything the global economic order would have you believe.
Keep up the good work!
Don Hirschberg 1.7.10
I was glad to see Jim Beyer bring up population, basically THE problem.
At Kyoto we were told we were at the CO2 tipping point. That maybe it was already too late but immediate CO2 reduction was required to even have a chance to save the world. Fact: from 1990 (Kyoto base year) to 2008 coal usage went up 68%. Fact: in 2009 coal production was still going up – it has to go up because there are far more coal-burning power plants than even last year.
In 1990 there were about 5.3 billion people. Today we are about 6.9 billion, and more people are destitute: lacking safe drinking water, and any electrical service whatsoever. Our “good works” is to extend the lives of those with AIDS and reduce the death rate from malaria – which will give a great boost to many already desperate populations. Some 15,000 children needlessly die EACH DAY from diarrhea from bad water.
With the notable exception of China, religions and our traditions still make even the mention of population reduction taboo. (The Chinese did bring up population reduction at Copenhagen but the US media it seems was too scared to give it a mention.)
Here in the US we are 40 years past our Peak Oil, already have two generations past “Peak Education” and are rapidly approaching “Peak Water.” The EIA report of December 22 projects no decrease in our natural gas, coal and petroleum use through 2035 with energy from fossil fuels to remain at 78% of the total of about 110 Therms.
By some strange process quite beyond my understanding some otherwise sane people above express optimism.
Jack Ellis 1.7.10
"For instance, nuclear is comparatively cheap, and under ideal conditions cheap right now; and oil is scarce - and scarce right now - regardless of what has recently been found somewhere in the oceans."
Fred, help me out a little here. By my rough calculations, a power plant that costs $1000/kW and operates at a 90% capacity factor has to receive about 1.8 cents per kWh to recover its capital-related costs under typical utility ratemaking in the US. So either you (and others) think nuclear plants can be built for less than around $4,000 per kWh or my math is wrong (could be since I derived by numbers using an ancient calculating device called a slide rule).
I agree that nuclear power needs to be part of a diversified mix of energy resources. I think nuclear plants can be operated as safely as coal- or gas-fired plants. Waste disposal and/or reprocessing, especially in the US, seems to be a political problem rather than an engineering problem. But, in democracies elected officials can't simply dismiss the concerns of their constituents, and one can't simply dismiss the arguments of an organization like the Union of Concerned Scientists (assuming it is a union of scientists rather than a cover for anti-nuclear activists).
I'd also point out that if we're going to build capital-intensive plants that have to operate flat out in order to be cost-effective, then we need to focus some attention on the problem of dumb pricing. The demand for generating capacity that's driven by electric heat and air conditioning means the US currently operates its fleet of coal, gas and nuclear generation at an average capacity factor of less than 50%. Expensive assets sit idle half the time. Customers might be better served with electricity pricing that encourages them to decrease on-peak use of electricity and increase off-peak usage by, for example, installing residential-scale thermal storage or more aggressively cooling (and heating) their dwellings and office buildings at night.
Len Gould 1.7.10
It seems that means to encourage customers to flatten the load curve, as Jack correctly points out is a prime requirement for future evviciency, will need to be quitre a bit more aggressive than simple dumb TOU marketing. Toronto city core has nearly completed implementing TOU metering on all its customers (90% at now). Results so far are very dismal, essentially very little behavior changing and a fair amount of whining, with a three-rate system ($0.092 on peak, $0.080 mid-peak, $0.400 off-peak and weekends). Perhaps it will incent more significant behaviour changes long-term, but the prospects look dim. It's a dumb market system still stuck in the big-utility mindframe, needs someone like the Google team (but who really know the industry and energy) to take it on.
Len Gould 1.7.10
It's actually very comparable to the mainframe-vs-PC debates which went on in big business in the 1980's. We all know where that one ended up, and communications were the key factor there also. The existence of a free and open, un-regulated market was the controlling difference.
Jeff Presley 1.7.10
When Shakespeare said, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", little could he know he was presaging an event from our own time. But just like the Hamlet play, the fish is rotting from the head down. It is no wonder that 5000 media splurging on an international vacation to Denmark (free prostitutes included!) would be reluctant to tip the applecart and fess up that it is much ado about nothing. After all, where will their next excursion go, to Scranton? Same for the 14,000 "delegates" likewise hobnobbing (and perhaps other nobbing in the legal brothels?) can't really go back to their constituents and say the boondoggle junket was a farce can they? Too bad it was record cold at the time, but as Goebbels said, and said often, a lie repeated enough becomes the truth, so with a compliant (and bought-off) media NOT reporting on the facts, even during record cold, they can claim with a straight face that we're burning up the planet.
EVERY single claim I made against the global warming alarmists and scientists has been proven, the Climategate emails and data are still being parsed, even Len might be intelligent enough to read the source code that "fudges" the numbers to "help" the data skew in the direction intended. Furthermore since the collusion includes Hansen at NASA and the other climate labs, the so-called "fact" that their data align is likewise meaningless since they were PURPOSELY supporting each other's findings, as the emails have also proven.
Politicians want cap and trade because it is the best of all worlds for them. They get to receive massive bribes from entrenched industries fighting for survival who will pay any cost to receive high initial caps, plus the added bonus of lifetime graft as they milk the massive hidden tax scheme for all it is worth, and all the future bribe opportunities from entities wanting to tap into that revenue stream. If they get booted out of office, so what, they'll just come back as "lobbyists" making even more, and legally to boot. Perhaps this is why so many US politicians are "retiring" right now, better to save themselves the embarrassment of getting unceremoniously voted out of office.
So Fred, you want those SAME politicians to be at the controls right now to "fix" this? They already are and the FIX is In! You'd be wiser to place large bets on the outcome of professional wrestling. :)
Jim Beyer 1.8.10
Kind of interesting that nuclear power and AGW both suffer from the same problem that scientists/technical people seek to advance a position that a non-technical populace seem hesitant to accept.
How can one accept/believe the safety of nuclear power (because of what the "experts" say) and at the same time reject the "experts" that insist AGW is real? Or the converse?
It occurs to me that this really doesn't matter. All these concerns about the economic cost of limiting CO2 emissions, or the increased emissions due to a large economy burning that much more coal are based on the notion that "business as usual" is even possible. It's not: PEAK OIL.
It seems more than just a coincidence that the world economic meltdown occurred just about when world oil production peaked in the Summer of 2008. The economic doldrums since then have shielded us from this reality, but when and if the world economy recovers, we will simply run into that wall again.
To paraphrase Fred, there are smarter people than me that would understand for sure if this is true, and are planning accordingly. Was Buffett's railroad and Plug-in hybrid (BYD) investments a peak oil play? Probably. Is he right? I dunno.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.8.10
Jack Ellis, in a world that I have often disparaged - the world of neo-classical economics - nuclear is far and away the most economical choice. The reactors for instance would be constructed in factories, and NOT the way they are constructing that item in Finland. This is the way that Sweden got 12 reactors in 13 years. Of course, the Finns are smarter than many of us, because although their new (Gen 3) plant is too expensive, they know - KNOW - that it in the long run it makes economic sense. (They also knew that they could stand up to the Russian army, and when the time came to take on the Germans.=
Amortization periods for nuclear facilities will also be about 70 years. After 40 or fifty years natural gas will be scarce, and then we can discuss whether it was wise to construct those plants. But listen, I am not pleading for a reactor on every corner.
The more I hear about the subject of my paper the more I am convinced that I should have left that topic alone. The problem you see is that I agree with Jeff (although I don't know where he got that idea of "free prostitutes"), unless his Copenagen is Copenhagen Arkansas.. We just arn't getting anywhere with this issue, and if we are I'm not interested any longer.
Edward Reid, Jr. 1.8.10
Source for "free prostitutes" at "Gropenhagen" Conference.
Maybe it should have been called COP ( Feel 15).
I have not seen any statistics on utilization of the free services. :-)
Edward Reid, Jr. 1.8.10
Should have been: COP (a Feel) 15.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.8.10
D. Rice, with the tax rate what it is in Sweden, politicians want jobs in other countries. Brussels is a wonderful alternative, if you can do what is necessary to get fixed up down there. And that alternative comes first - this country comes further down the list. The two Swedish auto manufacturers don't know if they will be around in a month or two, but the Swedish prime minister is in Brussels or somewhere talking about carbon emissions.
What happened to patriotism? Why is that a dirty word? I remember suggesting that school children in the US - not stockbrokers or pensioners - should sing the national anthem every morning, and although I wasn't vilified, which I could accept, I was treated like a fool. When I taught in Singapore, there was a school across the street from my apartment. Every morning they sang the Singaporean national anthem - in Malaysian. Maybe that's why the streets of Singapore are unhealthily safe at all hours of the day and night.
Don Hirschberg 1.8.10
“What happened to patriotism? Why is that a dirty word?” asks Ptof Banks.
A little history: In 1st and second grades we recited the Pledge to the Flag to start the day, sang America the Beautiful or America. At that time the Star Spangled Banner had not yet become the National Anthem. (People didn’t want America as our anthem because the tune was the same as God Save the King. Opponents said The Star Spangled Banner because it was too hard to sing, it is, and after all its tune was from an old drinking song.)
I am old, while technically a WWII vet, I am a Korean War combat vet.
During the RED SCARE during the Eisenhower administration a religious movement took advantage of the situation and managed to preempt patriotism and equate it with religious faith. Anti-communists were automatically godly people, i.e. Christians and Jews, “not like them Commie atheists.” Senator Joe McCarthy had a large Catholic following including the Kennedys and some Bishops.
Congress passed the laws that replaced the motto of the US, e pluribus Unum, with IN GOD WE TRUST, all paper money ordered to carry the new motto, and the Pledge to the Flag lost its meaning by being converted into a prayer by the insertion of the words UNDER GOD. And the president signed. What a bunch of pandering wimps. So all those victories won by the founding fathers to keep god out of the Constitution, out of our government were wiped away. 1956 I think.
Even in WWII there was incipient coupling patriotism with God that was a turnoff to many – yet they dare not say so. “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” “There are no atheists in foxholes.” What a nasty deliberate insult, and we still hear it. As a patriot who is an atheist I am not welcome among the religious patriots nor among the bleeding heart liberal pacifist closet atheists. One more thing: I have been denied membership in the American Legion and VFW because after filling out all the forms and ceremony I see under the signature line, a kind of declaration of belief in God, etc, my patriotism is officially denied.
Len Gould 1.8.10
Kudos Don for your stance against religion getting mixed up with politics. I hold exactly the same position here in Canada, but here its no hardship at all.
Don Hirschberg 1.8.10
Thank you Len. If I had it to do over again I would have perjured myself and signed those damned applications and enjoyed the comradeship over many decades with so many who obviously did the same thing.
I know a great deal. I have done a great deal. Yet I cannot comprehend such as this: Congress, composed of 532 people all of whom have at least better than average intelligence (432 in the house and 100 in the Senate) not one member who will admit to atheism – or even using a denatured term such as “free thinker“or agnostic. Not one. We have had presidents who were atheists, Lincoln and Grant for sure – and few if any of the founding fathers would be considered believers by today’s standards. We were the first country founded as secular, how marvelous but popularly denied by so many today.
Surely at least 50 to 100 members of congress are atheists, and likely many more. Quite obviously they are sure they could not be elected if they were truthful. The National Academy of Science, supposedly the crème de le crème of scientists has almost no believers among the “hard” sciences. 95% in a blind poll said they did not have a personal god. Was this widely published? More disgraceful how many scientists and engineers have said they were atheists? They believe grants do not go to atheists. And it is true because they believe it is true. What a bunch of venal wimps.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.9.10
Ed Reid, Jeff, have you ever heard the expression 'coals to Newcastle'. If so, apply it to what you call Gropenhagen.
And Don, one of the Nobel laureates in physics thought a questioner crazy when he suggested that science was more important than religion. Maybe he was a member of that 5% of outsiders, but basically I feel the same way. There is simply too much wisdom in the great religions for me to walk away from or ignore them, and as far as I am concerned religion has more to do with culture than those other... things. Also, for some strange reason, I have a feeling that walking away from religion means walking toward the kind of pornography and vulgarity that you and I did not even experience in those gorgeous barracks.
Don Hirschberg 1.9.10
Professor Banks, those strawmen you knocked down were your creations, not mine.
Len Gould 1.9.10
Interesting that in most other developed countries I can think of, the religion (or not) or the President or PM etc. is of no concern whatever to anyone, unless it appears too strong. eg. I have no idea what if any religion Canada's PM Steven Harper might subscribe to, and like most Canadians would consider it very bad form for anyone to ask. We do worry that he allies himself with the "rural fundamentalist christain" movwement, but all agree that its strictly a political vote-getting move and has no discernable effect on his decision making.
Don Hirschberg 1.9.10
“Interesting that in most other developed countries I can think of, the religion (or not) or the President or PM etc. is of no concern whatever to anyone…”
Nonsense Len. “Most other developed countries” are homogeneous by race, language and culture, and history. Nearly all Caucation Frenchmen are officially Roman Catholic – even though many are in fact atheists. Marvelous that this doesn’t seem to bother them. The only other significant group is Islamic. Would it be of “no concern” to Frenchmen if they got an Islamic leader - in a country that outlaws Islamic dress? Would it be of “no concern whatever” to an Irishman if a Protestant became their leader? In Denmark 95% are nominally Evangelical Lutheran, would it be of no concern to have a Roman Catholic leader. I don’t know what the situation is in Germany today but the last I knew the situation all German citizens were listed as either Lutheran or Roman Catholic and taxed as such to support their own church schools. To opt out meant officially appealing to the government to be declared neither RC nor Lutheran. Then your taxes were divided. Has German leader ever opted out or run as a Scientologist? Haven’t they recently made Scientology an Illegal organization?
These countries and many more don’t make a fuss over leader’s religion because the issue doesn’t present itself. They don’t need to have a policy on unicorns either.
Ramanathan Menon 1.10.10
It is timely that the Government of India is proceeding with its eight national missions as a voluntary initiative based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”, and if implemented properly, will pave the way for an environmentally sustainable development in the India. The first three missions already begun are (a) solar (b) climate change and (c) energy efficiency.
Despite two years of advance work, the Copenhagen meeting could not convert a rare gathering of world leaders into an ambitious, legally binding action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Accord contains no reference to a legally binding agreement, as some developing countries and climate activists wanted, instead produced a softer interim accord that, at least in principle, would curb greenhouses gases, provide ways to verify countries’ emissions, save rain forests, shield vulnerable nations from the impacts of climate change, and to share the costs.
On the positive side, the Copenhagen summit, for the first time, unites the U.S., China and other major developing countries in an effort to curb global greenhouse gas emissions, which the Kyoto Protocol could not achieve. The dramatic offer of $100 billion in aid from the developed countries to poorer countries to help them move to less-polluting sources of energy and to deal with adaptation came as a silver lining from the summit. But the offer is not adequate to address the scale of the problem, and the rich nations should pay a fairly larger price which could go as investment for the developing and poor nations to adapt to a changing climate and to work on sustainable development plans or to pay for low-carbon energy technologies.
So all the hope to save the planet is not lost and the hard work has only begun, in Copenhagen. The achievement however is not trivial, given the complexity of the issue and the differences among rich and poor countries. We must also respond more proactively to issues like population control, reproductive health, gender in-equality, illiteracy, sustainable consumption and to efforts to bring in more equality and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor nations to contribute to an environmentally sustainable world.
Hope that a proper deal can be struck at next year's climate talks in Mexico.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.10.10
Ramanathan Menon, I dont want a talkathon in Mexico next year, with thousands of freeloaders groping their cell phones and feeling important. Here I am thinking about the Swedish parasites who will be in attendence.
What I can accept is a meeting of heads of state and their advisers. I can provide a list of those heads of state that I would like to see excluded, but perhaps that can wait for a month or two.
Len Gould 1.10.10
Don: That sounds like experience from the 1950's, not present. Even Portugal, a bastion of Roman Catholicism, has now legalized gay marriage. I certainly don't recognize anything in your post applicable to Canada.
Don Hirschberg 1.11.10
Len, Of course It didn't refer to Canada. Your words were,"most other countries." I don't see how Portugal legalizing gay marriage can be an argument supporting the notion that the Portugese therefore do not care one whit about the religion of their leaders.
I thouught I made it clear that the question simply does not arise in a highly homogeneous population. History tells us that countries with non-homogeneous people are not likely to thrive or even to continue to exist. The US is the major exception - so far, The USSR hardly lasted a lifetime. How many of the countries created after WWI still exist? On the other extreme are the Japanese, highly homogeneous for a very long time. The few Japanese aborigines are still not assimilated and are generally considered undesirable and inferior.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.11.10
Interesting comment Don. I knew Russians in both Stockholm and Geneva, and every chance they got they bad-mouthed the non-Russian peoples in the USSR. "Uncivilized" was the usual description. I don't know exactly to whom they were referring, but I suspected that many of those who looked pure Russian were passed. It may not be relevant, but I want to go on record for saying that the present Russian government is probably the best thing that has happened to that country since Peter the Great.
As for the Japanese, when I was in that country as a soldier, anybody who was not pure Yamato is regarded as a barbarian. That included all Americans. But I was informally informed last year that things are better now. They are also better in Iceland, where 40 or 50 years ago descendents of the Germans who came to that island 500 years ago were sometimes referred to as The Germans.
Jim Beyer 1.11.10
You sound like an incredibly interesting person! I agree that atheists have been vilified in the U.S. It was a bright note (I thought) that Obama mentioned publicly that some people were atheists. First time I heard a president say that. My personal beliefs are a bit cloudy; but I should mention that I most religions have little or nothing to do with God, regardless of her existence/non-existence. (Even Richard Dawkins makes this mistake.) And you are right in that this country was founded by fucntional atheists, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Hamilton. None of them were religious and many of them were Free Masons, which was a largely anti-religious organization at that time.
I don't know why the U.S. has dealt with the non-homogeneity issue so well. Not really always the case. Take the Irish and later the blacks in Boston. I think having more areas for expansion (unlike Europe) helped. I think it was interesting how Obama's election came as such a shock to much of the world; much less so to Americans themselves. Back in the day (pre-GWB) Colin Powell was considered a viable candidate for President that could have headed either party and probably won. Oddly, Europe and in fact the rest of the world is more racist than the U.S.
You keep mentioning this stuff about porn. I remember I was in a drugstore in Denmark or The Netherlands or some other of those Northern European countries. I was trying to buy some toothpaste or whatever, and was surprised at the huge magazine rack of prurient material that assaulted my eyes. Apparently in Europe, very little is left to the imagination, even on the covers of such periodicals, and the stores make no effort to cover it up. Anyway, before my American eyes had time to comprehend this alternative sensibility, a small boy ran into the store, shouting something in his native tongue. He ran to the rack of porn, and I was momentarily disturbed by such a young soul being exposed to that stuff.
Not to worry. He dug through several layers of flesh-covered mags to get what he REALLY wanted. The Marvel Comic with the well-clothed surperhero on the cover. Happy with his discovery, he ran off to make his purchase.
That all gave me a little faith, if not in our world, then at least the youth within it.
With respect to "doing the work that you don't want to do", I don't think that rings very true at this time to a Michigan resident like myself. I've noticed people are not too picky about what to do anymore!! In the larger sense, it represents a problem not solved by immigrant labor. Instead it creates a secondary class of indigenous residents within a country. Over the long term, that just causes problems, like the Turks in Germany and the North Africans in France. A country brings in these people who have no viable assimilation path. I'm sorry, but that's wrong-minded. Basically, importing labor (including de-facto importing using factories in China) is a labor-oriented Ponzi scheme that does not end well.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.11.10
Jim, in a rational world the war on terror would be a war on porn.
Personally I don't care what people read or watch or drink or inject and so on, but I see that stuff as a danger to me and everybody else in this forum, unless of course they occupy one of those 5 million dollar studios in Dubai. The dumbing down that we see in males in the universities is mostly due to porn, although there are some other items. Take Sweden as an example. Girls now achieve more academically than men - they always have, but the gap is widening. Interest in porn explains the difference. But most interesting is the achievement of immigrant women, they might be passing Swedish men, and if they haven't they will.
It's called 'external diseconomies'.
Jim Beyer 1.11.10
I guess that means we need to pump up the romance novel industry then!!! :)
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.11.10
It is probably a mistake to get started on topics like religion and porn, because looking at the population figures offered by Don H., porn and lousy TV shows are going to be more important than ever around mid century. In fact they are increasingly important now. My wife thought that I was crazy when I told her that the Schwartzenegger film 'Running Man' was something special. but something like that is the way things are going to be. Moreover, as smart as the people in this forum are - and on the average they are smarter than any academics I have associated with or brushed up against - I haven't heard anything from any of them about how to live in a world with a population of 9-10 billion, and shortages of.....you name it.
On the other hand, as economists always say, I dont see any reason why Canada and Australia can't make it, assuming that they build walls around those places about a hundred feet high.
Don Hirschberg 1.11.10
Jim, I agree that many sophisticates do not associate a belief in God with religion - even in the west. This purposeful nonsense is very bad for atheists. One example: If we look up France in an almanac or atlas we learn that except for Muslims, everyone else is counted as Roman Catholic. It seems being Catholic in France means that when your mother dies you pay for a funeral mass at the place that offers that service. The RC church stays healthy and atheists keep quiet. Yet atheists remain the only people it is quite acceptable to malign and this is particularly true in the US. At the time I started writing letters to the editor I had never seen the word atheist used except as a pejorative as in the expression “atheistic communism” In Franco Spain, I found communist and atheist to be synonyms. And nobody risked being so identified. Christian churches find this a very useful practice to encourage. Atheists are disarmed. How many “advanced” European nations still have blasphemy laws? If someone claims to be Christian then he should have no reservations taking the Apostles Creed or equivalent. Twelve things I believe: (How many people can get by the first two? 1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: 2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Professor, I enjoyed the story of The Germans in Iceland. Ha, ha, but golly, you know, that really was, you know soooo 16th century.
Asha Bhandari 1.12.10
Copenhagen is a history. We were living with Kyoto until 2009 and I am wondering how long would it be that we will live with Copenhagen and continue playing the climate change game.
In the words of Einsten, 'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."
Today we are in chaos of climate change. We do have intelligent predictions, proposals and reports about what might happen in coming years. Are we sure? There is so much around us in all the media form about climate change, its effects, politics revolving around it and not the least emerging business opportunities. But I am wondering does this make me believe that climate change is real and do i feel responsible for it. Our civilised politicians are playing their routine game of blaming each other on international platforms (the only difference is that they are not playing with their own collegues in their home country)and we are enjoying the game. Do you really think that we can have consensus in any of this international meetings, specially on such a moral issue of climate change/ distabilization? A low carbon energy/ economy solution is a sustainable way forward to inherit this planet to our children. But it is not going to happen so easily. Today's world is all about money and money and more money. We will have to pay good price before this dark cloud of climate change would disappear and our planet would be re-balanced. Humanity has evolved in thousands of years and nature has played a vital role. I believe, this time again nature will take care and all would be fine.
Jim Beyer 1.12.10
I agree we shouldn't be discussing porn! If this makes you feel any better, the author Elizabeth Gilbert ("Eat, Pray, Love", "Committed") makes the comment that this is the first time in the history of humanity that women have had control over their reproductive freedom. So there's bound to be some strange cultural shifts and temporary imbalances. It sounds like the male youth in Sweden are less motivated than the females; too many video games and MTV perhaps. Oh well, I suppose it will work itself out. Brave new world.
Edward Reid, Jr. 1.12.10
Ah, that Einstein fellow. His name just keeps popping up.
I suspect Fred would agree that future "climate change group gropes", such as the planned COP16 in Mexico City, would fit Einstein"s definition of insanity: "...continuing to do the same things and expecting different results".
It would seem that there are three groups of nations participating in these conferences: the developed nations, who's populations are reasonably satisfied with life as they know it and are strangely unmotivated to don sack cloth and ashes and do penance for their perceived sins; the developing nations, who's populations are becoming increasingly aware of conditions in the developed nations and are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with life as they know it; and, the nations whose relatively poor and uneducated masses are largely clueless, but whose governments would love to "shakedown" the developed countries.
These groups appear to lack any obvious commonality of purpose. The one common focus is technology: the developed countries invested in it, invented it and have it; the developing countries are adopting it and would like it for free; and, the third world wants the profits from it.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.12.10
Jim, I don't believe for a minute that the male youth in Sweden consume more porn than those in the US. Moreove, porn has probably existed since the Stone Age, and will continue to be available until.... The problem is the quantity, and the inability of those of us who are uninterested to avoid it.
As for COP 16, insanity doesn't begin to describe that meeting. One thing though makes sense. Copenhagen in December is too cold for anything except hot air in the conference halls. Mexico City has more to offer.