Recently in Energy Category

I dislike people misappropriating concepts as much as the next pedant, but I have to say, I think this time the logical connection I want want to make is valid. Take this article from Seed, ostensibly about clear-headed science reporting:

The United States, the only industrialized country with strong population growth, now has 300 million people whose lifestyle makes a disproportionately huge mark on the global environment, experts say.

The world's third most populous country behind China and India, the United States has five percent of the world's population.

But it consumes—alone—more than a quarter of the world's natural resources, more than any other country, according to the National Report on Population and Environment, put out by the U.S.-based Center for Environment and Population.

I know it's not quite the same, but could I really be blamed for suggesting that the law of conservation of mass and energy might provide some necessary perspective?

The US economy is also among the world's most productive nations. Meaning that the resources consumed get turned into something, be it plastic goods, financial services, taxi cab rides, software, movies, and so on. Certainly there is a massive efficiency question to address, but the overarching point of the article -- as evidenced by the headline -- is to suggest that the consumption of those resources by the US is an unalloyed negative for the world. This simply ignores the connection between resource use and economic output. All else equal, if you reduce resource use, you'll reduce output. And while some people may be fine with that, who exactly draws up the list of resources to reduce, and thus gets the pleasure of picking which industry will be turning people out of their jobs?

More on the economics of standby

Here's a quick article on the savings to be had from lower-power standby for electronic devices.

For Windows commputer users: when (if) Vista ever hits the streets, it's going to have a more robust power-saving "sleep" feature that will still allow IT managers to install updates late at night when people aren't around.

What I wonder, however, is if this idle power usage in computers (which could be larger than when the computer is actually running) is better put to other uses. Personally, I've loaded the United Devices agent from on my PCs. After about 15 minutes of inactivity, the grid program kicks on and it starts donating cycles to things like the Human Proteome Folding Project. The direct contribution of effort is more appealing to me than trying to ramp down energy use in tiny bits over every machine (which makes me wonder whether people will just find other, more power-intensive activities to get up to, eroding the "benefit" of scaling back standby power use).

Britain's wholesale price of natural gas dipped into the negative.

Well, so much for assuming prices are positive in my optimization problems.

Stupid reality.

Kevin Drum takes a shining to all the possible wonders that the new California anti-global warming bill will bestow upon the Sunshine state. Indeed, he's so certain, he's willing to place a bet on it (one that another blogger is willing to take up).

Still, this is a good first move, and I'll bet all comers that not only does it not have a negative impact on California's economy, it will have a noticeably positive impact. It will spur R&D in new technologies, it will motivate businesses to become more efficient, and it will make California a better place to live. And as for businesses moving out, I'll bet against that too. Moving heavy industrial plants to new states is a lot less appealing than it sounds, and if it does start to happen I'll bet other states will follow California's lead. After all, what state wants to be the dumping ground for all the poor corporate citizens who are moving out of California because they want to relocate somewhere that doesn't mind them belching tons of pollutants into the air?

Here's my question: what about all of the diverted activity from companies that choose, on the margin, to avoid Cali to begin with. Stores not opened, factories not built, workforces and facilities not expanded...and so on. And, if California experiences growth, what would be the counterfactual? Would there have been more or less growth absent the new bill?

The bet seems rigged to me, focusing only on the most expensive form of altered company behavior, ignoring that this is not the only impact a change in the cost to do business will have on a state's economy. Best of luck to Jane if the bet goes forward. Me, I'd put the money into buying technology to make sure my house uses less power when I'm not home.

For disclosure, I consider myself something of a fence-sitter on global warming. Yup, it's absolutely there. Yup, it's definitely a problem. Nope, no one has a non-slip grip on how big a change and what percentage of the change is due to what factor. (Confidence intervals that include both "no change" and "Hades on a bad day hot" don't make me, well, confident.) And nope, strapping businesses down and squeezing them until they bleed money is not the best way to reduce the problem (unless you happen to like the level of development in the world RIGHT NOW so much that you don't think it should change, and, perhaps, might do with some backsliding).


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