Sunday, June 30, 2013

Worthwhile IEA initiative

Just read their first paragraph, it's actually kind of cheering:
The role of renewable sources in the global power mix continues to increase. On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source. As global renewable electricity generation expands in absolute terms, it is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016, becoming the second most important global electricity source, after coal. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018, up from 20% in 2011 and 19% in 2006. Driven by fast-growing generation from wind and solar photovoltaics (PV), the share of non-hydro renewable power is seen doubling, to 8% of gross generation in 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and 2% in 2006. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), non-hydro renewable power rises to 11% of OECD gross generation in 2018, up from 7% in 2012 and 3% in 2006.

Rest of the International Energy Agency summary is here. Non-hydro renewables used to be such a tiny component of energy that they could be ignored in the big picture, but not anymore. One trick that opponents will use to demean them is to rely on old data. Stuff from four years ago might not sound too old, but it is when you're talking about the status of the industry.

Guess I'll add one more tidbit:
Renewable electricity broadly on track in clean energy scenarios

As a portfolio of renewable technologies continues to become more competitive, renewable power is on track to meet global climate change objectives, i.e. the interim 2020 targets in the IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 (ETP 2012) 2 °C Scenario (2DS), in absolute generation and investmentlevels. That scenario assumes over 7 400 TWh of renewable generation in 2020, versus total generation of 27 165 TWh. Biofuels for transport face a more challenging path. Production must more than double from current levels to meet the 2DS target of 240 million litres per year in 2020. Advanced biofuels production, in particular, needs to accelerate to meet 2DS objectives.
I didn't even know about this 2012 document, might be worth checking out.

Thanks, Ginsburg, and now please retire. Also, Anthony Kennedy's mixed legacy.

Glad that we got some good court rulings out today on gay rights. Definitely good in a policy sense; I haven't made a deep dive to decide if I completely agree on the law. So thanks to Ginsburg for all her good votes, and as I said after the election, now is the time for the 80-year old, two-time cancer survivor to step aside because it's the best chance in at least 4 years to get a decent nominee through the Senate.

End of Court term is a traditional time to announce resignation. If she waits until next year, it'll be campaign season with even fewer Republican senators willing to vote rationally. In Fall 2014, some 21 Democrats will be up for re-election as opposed to 14 Republicans in an off-year election that usually disfavors the president's party, so the Senate make-up is very likely to get worse. Hopefully the make-up will improve after November 2016 when the ratio for that election is reversed, but whether it will meet or beat what we've got today is unclear (not to mention we don't know who'll be President).

Regardless of whether even a healthy 80-year old has good odds of being to work another 4 years, I can guarantee that a 50-something replacement has better odds, as well as lasting through the contingency of four or more years of a Republican presidency. She should quit.

Hopefully I'll soon look like an idiot for my next statement:  she won't do it. Judges have truly impressive sense of their own importance, and I doubt the Supreme Court reduces that sense.

In my "also" about Kennedy, I think the last two days' ruling against voter rights and for gay rights are a decent example of the mixed legacy I've seen since 2005. While he's responsible for many awful decisions, he also supported human rights on some occasions that came at a personal cost during the Bush administration, losing the chance to be Chief Justice.

Still, if you assume he's acting with a legacy motivation (possibly a motivation for Obama on climate too), then I think he personally comes out better this way. He'll be remembered for making the right decision on social values at a minor personal cost, as opposed to being the Chief Justice who made terrible decisions. Think about that, John Roberts.

UPDATE:  yep, Ginsburg refuses to retire. More proof that the Supreme Court and possibly the appellate courts need term limits.

Weapons that don't work for long would be worth a lot

Put this in the category of blogging about a subject I don't know much about, but one of the worries about arming Syrian rebels is that the weapons will eventually fall into the wrong hands. My naive solution is to increase the odds that the donated weapons aren't durable enough to last much beyond the Syrian conflict or any other conflict when we're supporting one side.

For heavy weapons, having propellant and explosives that degrade fairly quickly over time doesn't sound all that difficult. For both heavy weapons and small arms, use metal parts that rust easily instead of being rust-proof, or maybe pre-stress and weaken components so that they fail after some amount of repeated use. I suppose this creates the risk that a machine gun might fail after two months of use instead of the intended year or so, but I bet they'd still be accepted by Syrian rebels.

Not a perfect solution, and the risk of blowback is still there, but it might help out in the right parts of the world without creating permanent additions to the global weapon supply. Especially given the weapons shipments are happening anyway.

On a related note, I think ammunition control may have better prospects of actually reducing violence in the US than gun control, and limiting the viability of ammunition could also help.

UPDATE:  I like the suggestions in the comments to work degradation into the software for advanced weaponry, although I think it's one more way to cause degradation and not the sole solution.

We'll be waiting for you on Tuesday

Obama will lay out his climate initiative Tuesday afternoon at my Hoya alma mater (the secret passage rumors there are true, btw, I found one myself in the main auditorium that he might use). Lots of speculation on what will be in it. You've got mine from February and May:  no shutdown of Keystone, but something else substantial, with fingers crossed it's the NRDC proposal to regulate existing coal power plants. The speculation suggests a bunch of other climate-related actions will also get thrown in, both on adaptation (which makes sense practically and politically) and carbon sequestration (which makes sense politically, I'm less sure practically except that it needs to be fully researched).

It would be interesting if the numbercrunchers with the chops to do it, go and figure out which is better for the climate - shut down Keystone, or do everything else he'll propose instead. Yes, better still would be doing both, but I'd like to know if the enviro emphasis on Keystone over coal-plant regulation is right. I'm sure it all depends on how generously one's assumptions favor the result one wants to reach (e.g., do you assume current tar sands production shuts down instantly, or that it continues in some form).

In other news, the new senator from Hawaii has adopted the Eli Rabett approach on climate communication with deniers, ridiculing the know-nothings. Will be interesting to see if he does it prominently.

How's this deal: everyone, including other fossil fuel interests, gangs up against coal

(Ahem.) Wereallyneedacarbontaxorcapandtradebutintheabsenceofsufficientpoliticalwillweshouldturntootherpollitically-viablealternativesfortheshortandmediumterm.

Okay, with that out of the way, here's the basic idea for the US:  natural gas eats coal's lunch but renewable power gets a guaranteed and growing share of the power market. More specifically, natural gas interests support a national Renewable Portfolio Standard guaranteeing an increasing market share to renewables, with some state-level flexibility to make it meaningful and feasible in most states. In return, enviros let better-regulated fracking expand. The deal might need two add-ons:  gas interests support legislation limiting coal exports, and in return, more areas get opened, carefully, to fracking (looking at you, California).

I'm not certain we need a deal on coal exports - enviros can try their luck fighting coal export terminals and rail lines on their own without the help of national legislation. Coal exports to Europe would also fall under Europe's cap, so I could see it being Europe's problem to decide how they'll meet their cap. I also think it's usually better to determine that emissions are caused by the country that emits them, not by countries upstream or downstream in the production chain. On the other hand, this deal is less useful if the coal still gets burnt but in another country. If enviros demand assistance in limiting coal exports though, then they have to offer something in return.

This would be a temporary alliance between natural gas and renewables. After a decade or so of growing renewables and decreasing coal, natural gas would have to start phasing in carbon sequestration and would likely have to be phased out itself. That's a fight in the future, though.

Enviros could turn down this deal, but I'm not sure the present status is better, with fracking sucking up the large scale funding that might otherwise be available for renewables.

I hope this won't be a useful information resource for very long

Via Wonkbook, a World Bank description of all the carbon pricing schemes in place or that have passed some level of approval at national or subnational levels. More than you'd think, and somewhat cheering when you remember that pricing is only one part of efforts to restrict emissions for many of the listed programs.

I need to really sit down with the part on the regional-level projects in China, but the first thing I wanted to check was Mexico. I had been excited to see a climate change law passed in the country, but according World Bank, not much has happened yet on the national level for a pricing scheme (see page 74). Other things are happening at regional levels in cooperation with California's program.

Hopefully the World Bank's descriptions will become incomplete soon.

Thought of the day: cage match between fluoride opponents and climate deniers

Rules are the fluoride opponents have to start out convinced that the climate deniers are wrong, and vice versa. I'd like to listen to their arguments on why the other group is wrong (not very interested in their arguments as to why their own group is right). So what happens in the end? Anyone gets convinced?

I'm being slightly unfair here to the fluoride people. Even though I've voted consistently at the Water District to fluoridate and might take some heat in my district for doing so, I think the consensus on water fluoridation being safe isn't at the same level of strength as that of the climate consensus. To clarify, the consensus that fluoridating water is better than not as a general matter for the public health seems pretty strong, but it gets more iffy on the issue of potential side effects.

Guess I'll repeat the obvious - this national security panopticon thing is a problem

Even though I trust Obama far more than Bush, I don't trust him or the hundreds of other people with access to total information about everything (slight exaggeration) to use it sparingly and only for good. And while I don't like to assume facts for which we have no evidence, the recent disclosures of government spying seem unlikely to be the only spying that's done on the general public. No abuses of the information have been disclosed, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened, and given enough time and enough people with access to the information, we can assume it will happen at some point.

What exactly to do about it seems far less clear to me. And as much as we environmentalists wished that the public knew more and cared more about our issues, we do a lot better than the civil liberties people do with the public.

One aspect of this issue is that the private corporate panopticon isn't much better than the government one. I've made a distinction in the past between the "reasonable" libertarianism that I sometimes identify with versus "simplistic" libertarianism that sees liberty in black and white terms. This is another case where simplistic libertarians, who see no threat from corporate information-gathering while acknowledging threats from government, just don't make sense. That corporate information is too ripe a target for government not to try to get.

We need some European-style privacy laws.

Motivated reasoning can be re-motivated

After previously snarking at Dan Kahan's snarking, I thought I'd poke around his website's blog a bit more to see what I can learn. Still thinking about it, but there are some useful points.

One that he makes in about every third blog post is that a person's benefit in sticking with the beliefs of one's tribe on communal issues like climate change often exceed the costs to that person of that person being wrong. It's a collective action problem where an individual pointing out that one's tribe is making a huge mistake just causes friction. The individual has a disincentive from even seriously considering whether her tribe is wrong.

The ironic part about this is that I think it makes sense on an intuitive level, but I don't recall Kahan citing evidence that proves it to be true (you can speculate that it explains studies of motivated reasoning, but that doesn't prove the theory). His emphasis on the science of science communication doesn't always follow in practice.

Wonkbook reports a related take on motivated reasoning, which found that partisans severely reduced their motivated reasoning when given a personal incentive to do so. Wonkbook refers to this proving that partisans are just "liars" but I think the psychology might be a little more subtle than that. Kahan's take might be that the cost analysis of thinking for one's self v. believing what the tribe believes is adjusted in the experiment.

Anyway, makes sense to me. I think it might also feed into my pet theory that climate adaptation might be the road to acceptance for climate science, because it's more directly about self-interest.

A (very) hypothetical conservative party not biased in favor of the rich over everyone else

I've wondered how the Republican Party or conservative parties elsewhere could avoid being the party that favors the rich over everyone else, especially the poor. As long as we have progressive taxation, or even a flat income tax that is not a poll tax, then the whole "smaller government versus larger government" dimension biases the conservative party towards the rich, whose economic interest at a simplistic level favors smaller government. So the libertarian angle that's being pushed now isn't one that's going to change the class favoritism.

Fighting and slowing social transformation, the other side of conservatism, doesn't map immediately to class issues. You might even expect the radically-increasing economic inequality today compared to past generations to disturb some social conservatives. I think the rare and usually-unsuccessful efforts by some conservatives to alter anti-tax positions at state levels might stem in part from social conservative viewpoints. On the other hand, social transformation has generally involved acceptance of outsider groups that experience economic discrimination among other harms, so fighting attempts to fix this often aligns with being biased in favor of the rich over others.

A dimension that doesn't divide parties right now in the US is opportunity versus compassion. One party could favor spending government money, whatever the total amount may be, on funding sufficient equality of opportunity for the vast majority of citizens to achieve what they want with their lives. The other party could favor spending government money, whatever the total amount may be, on compassionate assistance to people regardless of whether they share some of the responsibility for their problems. The first party seems to me to be logically right of center, and the second to be left of center. The Opportunity Party would also tend to be the party of the young and the Compassion Party that of the older demographics. This is the opposite of the actual situation in the US where younger people are more Democratic-leaning relative to older people.

So that's the first and biggest problem - Republicans aren't very willing or able to switch generational sides in a conflict over resources. The other issue is that Republicans aren't really competing for either the Opportunity or Compassion label. Instead they hug tightly to the Small Government label, leaving both of the other two to the Democrats. The recent noise from the right about achieving equality of opportunity through the destruction of the liberal welfare state is just that - noise. If they start putting more resources behind achieving equality of opportunity than Democrats are willing to do, only then will things start getting interesting. Unlikely.