Tag Archives: Climate Change

Christmas Eve

Tonight, I was with family. Before gifts were opened, my daughter was playing. And I had this interesting exchange with my mother and my brother’s wife. They were talking about how the normal heating system in a house can leave one part of the house hot and another cold.

My mother mentioned that, if they build a house, they want to convection-heat the floors.

My sister-in-law pointed out how her parents were cooling their home with a geothermal system: the house was kept cool by the constant temperature of the earth. It costs them very little to cool their house.

We went on to jump from that to the lack of consistent tax policy (to encourage innovation and customer demand); how Holland, and now China, had big companies to supply that demand (because of policy); how in Europe, a lot of people had installed solar panels (because of their tax policy and the fact that they could sell the electricity back to the Utility company).

Strangely enough, this was a discussion about Energy Policy that bridged the traditional split between left and right. One of the three people in the discussion is a traditional Republican who is at best “not convinced” about climate change.

She does realize that clean energy is doable. And she also put together that innovation is the key: with the right policies (for investors to place long-term bets), people will start coming up with solutions to the technical problems. That changes the dynamic for clean energy completely.

Once, there were portable phones. The first I saw filled half a briefcase. Then there were mobile phones. And those became cell phone. And now, there are devices small enough to easily loose that do far more than handle calls and cost almost nothing.

If the problems with clean energy are technical, development will follow the same curve and we will eventually arrive at a situation where clean energy is cheaper than traditional energy sources.

The benefits of clean energy (both in being ultimately cheaper and in being something in which American companies can win) were clear enough that it didn’t matter that we didn’t even agree on whether climate change was an issue.

Earlier in the evening we had talked about the car company Tesla. Tesla is a California-based company that manufacturers electric cars. Their first car, the Tesla Roadster is (while outrageously expensive) also able to accelerate faster than almost every car on the road. Their second car (a 2011 model) will be a sedan that while still expensive is priced more like a BMW than a Lamborghini. Their next car is rumored to be a family sedan and priced for the mass market.

Besides producing electric cars that people want to buy, Tesla in unique in another way. Tesla Motors is the first new American car company (as opposed to a new Brand) since Delorean in the eighties. They are succeeding because the regulatory market for cars is stable, they’ve created a product that customers want and they have strong funding.

The fact that an electric car company is innovating so fast is incredible. The fact that the cars are cheaper to operate and create engineering and manufacturing jobs in the United States is something that most people get. Even if they don’t believe in global warming.


Yet Another Tax Hike

A hypothetical campaign exchange:

“There goes my liberal opponent again—demanding yet another tax. He’s never seen a tax he didn’t like. Now he wants to raise your gasoline taxes… The American people have been taxed quite enough, thank you!”

“The American people certainly have been taxed quite enough. I totally agree. Right now they are being taxed by Saudi Arabia, taxed by Venezuela, taxed by Russia, taxed by Iran, and, if we stay on this track, they’ll soon be taxed by Mother Nature… So let’s get one thing straight: My opponent and I are both for a tax. I just have this quaint, old-fashioned view that my taxes should go to the U.S. Treasury, not the Saudi Treasury, not the Iranian Treasury and not the Russian Treasury. It’s just a little tic I have. I like my tax dollars to go to build my own country.”

That hypothetical campaign exchange comes (via some modifications of my own) from Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded. It’s an exchange that does a nice job of summarizing some basics.

There are a laundry list of examples that demonstrate that climate change is very real. The opening of the Northwest passage for the first time in recorded history is one such indicator. The extraordinary efforts the Chinese went through to have clear (if not clean) air for the Beijing Olypics is another indicator. Al Gore’s movie and (until the economic meltdown) the nightly news were filled with more. As California Governor Schwarzenegger (you have to love being able to quote the Terminator in a policy article) put it to Friedman “If ninety-eight doctors say my son is ill and needs medication and two say ‘No, he doesn’t, he is fine,’ I will go the nighty-eight. It’s common sense—the same with global warming. We go with the majority, the large majority.

And, of course, there are people who still disagree with that position. But, many of those people understand the other explicit argument in the exchange above. We’re in a situation where the oil we purchase from abroad is, to a significant degree, funding agendas most people don’t want to fund; for instance, the Iranian nuclear program and Russia’s recent invasion of a southern neighbor. Go ahead and think of more while I wait. Good. Go ahead, think of a few more. Want more? Google and your local bookstore can provide all the fodder you need. We are paying to prop up what George W. Bush in his dudding way would call Bad Guys. And we are paying them to be major threats to our national security.

The impatient are already sending me emails. “Gas prices have gone back down and the Bad Guys have gotten quieter.” Very true. When we cut the bottom out from under gas prices, Putin and company have to cut their budgets some where. But, we are in the middle of the worst economic crisis since (depending on how you count) either the ’70s or the Great Depression. Chinese factories are literally closing (liquidation is a growth industry in China at the moment). The U.S. economy shrank at an annual rate of over 6% in the 4th Quarter of 2008. Other economies have shrunk much faster. And gas prices are still high by historical standards. How long will a barrel of oil stay cheap once the world economy starts to grow again?

Next… a short history of energy revolutions.