Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Extraordinarily warm tempratures

This post is not very economic oriented except indirectly, but I felt a need to mark the extraordinary temperatures of high and some low 100 year records.  Lifted and edited for readability in blog format from an e-mail newsletter sent by reader rjs come examples and links for both record setting high temperatures and consecutive days of high temperatures this March.

I watched in March my daylilies at 6″ plus preceding peones, real azaleas flowering the same time as mongolian azaleas,  and trees flowering a month early simultaneous to blue squill.   rjs provides  links.  Dr. Masters website would not allow links to specific posts for me, so go to March archives for material.


…Meteorologist Dr Jeff Masters of the popular wunderblog, writing from Michigan, probably expressed it best; “this March started with 12 days of April weather, followed by 10 days of June and July weather, with 9 days of May weather predicted to round out the month”. 

  One example is Holland, Michigan was planning a tulip festival for May, but saw their blooms last week. Of course, it wasnt just Michigan as temperatures in the 80s were reached in every border state from North Dakota to Maine, as well as from Manitoba to Nova Scotia in Canada. 2023 record-breaking high temperatures were set in the US, while a low was breached only 58 times… 

there are a handful of links immediately below which will lead you to all the details, but the highlights include 4 locations (one ea in NH, MI & 2 in MN) where the overnight low in a location eclipsed the previous daytime record high (in locations with 100 years of records), and several locations where the previous record high temperature for the date was exceeded by more than 30°F.  Several locations in the US and Canada also experienced record high temperatures for April,  ten record high days in a row at International Falls, MN, the most consecutive records ever set anywhere, (and many cities where a new record was set 9 days in a row, including chicago, when observing 7 consecutive record temps at a location is a once in a meteorological blue moon experience… )

While most everyone experiencing this heat wave probably perferred it to the normal frigid and windy march in this part of the country, there are a few caveats; first, fruit crops are at least a month ahead of schedule over most of the area noted, and damaging frosts are still likely into May.   

Secondly, a lot of the western areas that would normally have a snow cover are already starting to dry out, raising the potential for drought during the planting season,   

Lastly, anecdotal reports from the region indicated that with the entire winter being mild, the ground did not freeze deeply, so the normal winter kill of damaging insects didnt occur; so we can expect a bad year for plant pests and ticks, & the mosquitoes are already flying…

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CGI, Day 4 – Clean Technology and Smart Energy: Deploying the Green Economy

Moderator is John Holdren, Science and Technology Advisor to President Barack Obama and Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Participants are:

Ms. Al Dossary is introduced as one of the few, if not the first, female business leader in Saudi Arabia. (See her comments later for a variant opinion,)

Mr. Holdren opens by speaking of the three levels of technology adoption:

  1. Barrier Busting: “overcoming obstacles to the use and diffusion of technologies” that are available today.
  2. Incentivizing: changing the economic or the regulatory landscape to make socially- and environmentally-attractive technologies more attractive.
  3. Inventing and Improving: R&D demonstration that makes technologies with improved characteristics and lower costs.

Mr. Hattem, whose duty is “to direct capital to people and places that are currently outside of the economic mainstream,” means that his attention focuses on rural areas, and works with a data focus to ensure that the returns are realized.

Ms. Al Dossary, an English Literature major who is very fond of Disneyland, found herself moving the business into new directions, concentrating on “the carousel of progress,” and noting that she has often failed but ends up ahead.

Mr. van Oostrom moved primarily into green building technologies after meeting with Al Gore. Discovered that there was abundant information about how to build green buildings, and moved to that space.  Decided to make buildings “for half the money, in half the time, and completely carbon-neutral” after finding abundant support for the transition within his firm—middle and upper managers enthusiastic about being at the forefront.

Mr. Hattem notes that the emphasis on building development has to be on energy efficiency. (He points out that NYC is relatively energy efficient even now)  Concentrated on the transition in lending and investment practices in NYC and applied the information gained there to developing structures and investments in green technology.  Seeing even residential buildings being developed with expectation of cutting energy demand by 30% or more through technology such as using solar panels to provide hot water.

Ms. Al Dossary emphasizes that it is necessary to link green technology with people’s interests, not the glories of the technology. We are presenting it as reducing electricity and water bills and providing a better environment for your kids. Competition abides: the more competition in the marketplace, in the presentation of the products, improves results.

Mr. Holdren notes that Ms. Mumpuni has been working from the ground up, and her effort has often been more successful than the governments that have been pushing from the top.  Ms. Mumpuni takes a “community-based approach”; what has worked have been to utilize the local resources—especially water—with local people developing and maintaining (and therefore having a sense of ownership of) the microhydro technology.  One of the things she noted is that the microhydro technology leverages the existing environment—maintaining the local forests instead of cutting them down enabled leveraging the existing terrain without having to engage in destruction, creative or not—and therefore makes adaptation easier.  She has been expanding and adopting this practice into the rest of the Asia-Pacific area and Africa.

Ms. Mumpuni re-emphasizes that development and dissemination of Green Technology must be done on a community basis.  This is, she says, essential to the small (ca. 1,000 household) villages that are attempting to move to greener technologies.  She is later asked what effect those community developments have on the larger utility companies in Indonesia.  She noted that the initial reactions—once the communities became prominent enough—was that the large companies had government support to force the communities to buy power they did not need.

However, as a woman, she was able to outwait the system.  Over the next four years, she got the government to start buying power from the communities, and the result over time was that the government and the utility companies (which no longer needed to maintain so many long, “technologically inappropriate” power delivery lines) realized that the “creative destruction” (not her phrase) could be good for everyone. (AB readers note especially: the restriction in this case was first supported by the so-called “private enterprise.”)

Mr. Holdren notes that in many cases the pitch for alternative energy is “you will have to pay more, but the externalities are worth it.”  Conrad van Oostrom notes that “the real economics” (Mr. Holdren’s phrase) works well for new buildings, where you can (for instance) “bring forward” the energy savings over the next ten years. (Businesses understand Present Value.) We are seeing that many new cities in China and India are being built using green technology.

The difficult part is retrofitting buildings, where there have to be multiple negotiations with existing tenants. Even there, though, it is much less difficult to do that when you can give them “a real guarantee” that their future energy costs will be reduced by 30-50%.

Mr. Holdren then asks Gary Hattem to provide a macroeconomic perspective on what retrofitting and green technology development is and will be doing for the job market.  Mr. Hattem notes that they are doing detailed studies of how the ARRA dollars generally and are working to align policies to workforce training for where the jobs actually will be.

Mr. Holdren asks Ms. Al Dossary if she, as “a business leader and a woman,” is an inspiration to other women in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Ms. Al Dossary notes that women in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East are “not really interested in [being on the] media that much. There are so many successful stories for women.…I’m just in front of the TV; that’s the difference.”

António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, asks about the “Small is beautiful, big is necessary” conceit, especially the last part. He notes that they had a very successful experience installing solar energy in a refugee camp, but did not see any expansion of solar into other areas; no one overcame the institutional and cultural issues.

Ms.Mumpuni notes that they need to create trust be able to address the needs of the community.  She always tells them in advance that there must be continual community participation, from the planning to the maintenance, or her organization cannot risk its reputation on working with them.  Effect is that the community has customization and ownership, which goes a long way to overcome those issues.

Remy Chevalier of the Environmental Library Fund asks about the lighting of green technology buildings. Mr. van Oostrom notes that, in Western Europe, the issues of heating and cooling have been solved entirely for purposes of a “green building.”  The issue is lighting.  There has been some progress from the use of smart glass technology.  One thing that has helped in their buildings is to automatically have the lights go off at 6:30pm in the commercial buildings, while allowing people to press a button to relight the area. (I’ve worked in buildings that were set up that way in the U.S. as well.)  This simple move cut electricity costs by about 20%.  Mr. Hattem notes in that context that 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity, and that solar has become “an access point” for both the technology and distribution.

Ms. Mumpuni is asked about costs.  She notes that production via microhydro costs depend on geographic situation: from about $800 per Kw installed to as $4,000 per Kw installed.  But again there have been breakthroughs that are reducing that cost steadily: now producing a “community hydro” that produces ca. 500 Watts –enough energy to power to run five (5) to ten (10) houses—for about $1,500.

Ms. Al Dossary—asked to discuss possible obstacles to expansion into the “new clean energy” in Saudi Arabia—notes that, “Nothing is everlasting, not even water” and urges people to investigate all types of alternative energies, even as the Saudis are.

An audience member asks about the best retrofit idea.  Mr. Hattem notes that the best innovation is not going to come from the technology, but from the users and the culture.  “Technology is there now.”  Mr. van Oostrom says that it is “all about business models” now; the technology is there and ready; have to convince current residents to do things.

Ms. Mumpuni notes that in the developing world, the people need the technology: lights for children to read, to be able to cook (see the Cookstoves Initiative announced on Day 2; for a dissenting view of that initiative—though not the idea that people need energy to cook—see this guest blog at Bill Easterly’s Aid Watchers).  In that context, people use energy as they need it, not because it is accidentally left on.

Mr. Holdren notes that about one-third of what we need to do in the next twenty years is such “low-hanging fruit” that we should be able to realize it.  Putting a full price on carbon emissions would reach the next third.  It is the final third—new innovations,

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It’s Not Just the Foreign Conservatives

Once of the things that was clear at CGI this week is that the power companies that have looked into alternative energy sources have quickly realised they are not only good publicity but profitable (i.e., lower cost when used to scale). Florida Power & Light (discussed here) expanded an already major commitment, mostly in FL and CA. Jim Rogers of Duke Energy—a man who, since at least 2001 at Cinergy, has been going around saying things like “I cause 1% of the carbon put into the atmosphere. What are we going to do about that?” (It’s much more since Duke Energy acquired Cinergy) and therefore is described in the business press as eco-friendly. (See here or here, for example.)&mash;was all over the place, announcing commitments and partnerships. And those are just the CEOs who were most visible at CGI this week, even ignoring the ExxonMobil people. (I looked for BP, but didn’t see anyone. Probably next year.)

It should come as little surprise that the energy and power companies want to do something about Anthropogenic Global Warming: they went through the spike in oil prices a couple of years ago as well, and saw the customer reaction. If there was any doubt that it’s not just a good idea but good business as well, $150/barrel and home heating oil spikes that flood the complaint lines and see the orders decline only solidified the idea. (Not to mention that they employ many of the people who will be leading the R&D of those alternative sources, from OTEC to solar to the newer, safer generation of nuclear plants.)

And now, we have utility companies making a sane decision: don’t work with people who actively work against you. As Buphonia notes, Pacific Gas & Electric and PNM Resources of New Mexico have both decided to pull out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.

PNM Resources:

“At PNM Resources, we see climate change as the most pressing environmental and economic issue of our time. Given that view, and a natural limit on both company time and resources, we have decided that we can be most productive by working with organizations that share our view on the need for thoughtful, reasonable climate change legislation and want to push that agenda forward in Congress.

As a result, we have decided to let our membership in the U.S. Chamber lapse when it expires at the end of this year.”

Somebody tell Joe Conanson. For an Aussie Conservative perspective, see here.

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CGI 2: Opening Ceremony / Initial Plenary Session (1 of 2)

This one’s going to be long because a lot of general themes get presented. Those looking for the shorter version may want to just go to the website and watch the videos.*

William Jefferson Clinton (WJC) introduces the proceedings by giving a background on the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). CGI began in 2005, and required each participant to make a specific, measurable commitment. (This statement is followed by shot of Jessica Alba and Cash Warren, possibly because they started dating that year, but probably just because the director liked the shot.) Almost all commitments that were made then were multi-year (generally 3- to 5-year commitments). Five years into the CGI, about one-fourth of the commitments made have been fully completed. The CGI has, for instance, given 48 million people better access to health care. (Isn’t that just about what National Health Insurance would do for the US alone? Still, it’s 48 million people who are often ignored.)

There have also been “unvaluable but invaluable” effort at reconciliations. (I checked this; “unvaluable” is indeed a word.) Unlike other conferences, attendees will receive only a gift bag—the gift to participants is “only a bag.”** Each attendee (not certain if this includes the press, but I assume not) has been allocated 200 “points” that can be used at the “Giving Back Center.” For instance, one can donate “a P&G water filtration system” for 10 points.

I should mention that the organizers and donors to the conference are the clearest indication of the payoff from WJC’s “third way” efforts: Tom Golisano, for instance, is cited as a founding and continuing sponsor. Other major sponsors and donors to the conference include P&G, ExxonMobil, and APCO Worldwide (who are providing Wi-Fi access). I half expected to see ADM listed. (Matt Damon’s appearance sponsored by?)

(That ExxonMobil is a major sponsor of a conference that is placing Climate Change front and center in its discussions [see below] is a sign of either encouragement or a coming paradigm shift. Perhaps both.

WJC noted that Participants not invited back unless they do something toward their commitment during the year. However, due to the Global Financial Crisis, several previously-made commitments have had to be extended. (Three-year goals have become five-year goals, fives have become seven. This mirrors the year in which I expect to be solvent again.)

And then WJC talks about what WJC is best at talking about: po9litics. He notes that there are two questions that are asked in any political discussion: 1) What are you going to do? 2) How much money are you going to spend on it? Politicians almost never discuss how to do it to maximize positive impact in other people’s life. And it is that discussion that the CGI is all about.

He proceeds then to introduce a pairing that was made possible by last year’s CGI: Gary White and Matt Damon of The statistics flow from his (WJC’s) tongue: one billion people lack water, and 2.5 billion lack sanitation facilities. He loves this, and it’s somewhat infectious. is an outgrowth, I gather, work that Gary White has been doing since 1990. Mr.White describes the economy before Watercredit was founded, where people paid 25% of their gross income for clean water, or had to borrow money from loan sharks at 125% interest rates to install toilets. By combining microfinance with technology transfer, water credit was able to ameliorate this situation in many areas—and its loans are repaid 97% of the time. I can think of several mortgage lenders who would like that repayment ratio.

Matt Damon then announced a new commitment for, in that they are extending their efforts into Haiti, where 51% of the rural population lacks clean drinking water and 29% of the urban population lacks proper sanitation facilities. They are able to do this in part due to a generous commitment from the Ex;it Foundation. Many organizations are getting some good, useful publicity here.

The next presenter is Linda Lockhart of Global Give Back Circle, whose group is devoted to Educational Progress in Kenya for girls. Again, the source for this group was through CGI Connect. (Ms. Lockhart claims to have been surprised when she entered the keywords for her group’s goal [education, women] and immediately received multiple responses from organizations. (We clearly do not travel in the same circles.) The group’s efforts were rewarded when they discovered one of the root causes of women dropping out: lack of shoes. Teaming up with, among others, Microsoft, they presented the feel-good moment of the Opening Ceremonies with three Kenyan girls speaking–often in unison, sometimes sotto voce—about the good that Global Giveback Circle did for them.

At this point, the Plenary Session begins. WJC introduces Muhtar Kent, President and CEO of Coke. Mr. Kent speaks how Equal allocation of resources in Sub-Saharan Africa would, in and of itself, increase production 10-20%. In the current situation, women’s mobility is severely more restricted than men’s, of course. Kent, too, seems amazed to have learned this.

Kent is followed by Michelle Bachelet, current President of Chile and also, the first female defense minister in Latin America. Being a female politician, she not only has noticed but also has a strong interest in “soft” issues.

Mike Duke, the current CEO of Wal-Mart (WMT), ran the International Division before ascending to the chairmanship. WJC notes that WMT now offers health insurance to its employees, as well as having made a major effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. (WJC stated, I believe, that WMT’s stock began rallying only when they announced their “global warming initiative.” I cannot find the evidence of this, though I didn’t do a thorough search.) Duke notes that a 5% reduction in their packaging alone was the equivalent of taking 210,000 diesel trucks off road. (And it saved them money. This theme will recur throughout from the CEOs.)

After this, WJC introduces Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, describing him as having spoken about climate change in “excruciating detail,” which may well be the first time someone has done that to WJC instead of the reverse. Rudd notes that Australia is the country that has been the hardest hit by Anthropogenic Global Warming, and is the leading proponent of the other first-day theme: the G-8 giving way to G-20.

The particpants’s discussion on a Rock Following.

*If they post them; let me know in comments if you can find the video on the site and I’ll add a direct link.

**Compare with most conferences, where you get a bag and almost enough “swag” to cover the retail cost of the membership (which, for attendees, was $1,000 minimum).

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Cap and Trade and Non-Tradeable Emissions

Tom Bozzo

thinks the path of Chinese energy and climate policies is interesting but the prospect of international trade creating a game of carbon whack-a-mole is not a great argument for the ex ante unworkability of a U.S. cap-and-trade program. Take a look at the sectoral distribution of U.S. emissions, via the EIA:

The industrial sector accounts to 27 percent of U.S. emissions, and the especially hard-to-offshore residential and transportation sectors generate 54 percent of U.S. energy-related CO2. It also just so happens that the residential and transportation sectors are ripe with low-hanging fruit for emissions reduction — i.e., reduction opportunities that can be carried out at essentially no cost (*) via reductions funded with energy savings. The emissions reductions from picking the low-hanging fruit in the U.S. economy may be offset in whole or in part by Chinese emissions, but that need not be futile in the sense that the U.S. domestic reductions would cause China or similarly situated countries to emit more given their development paths.

What’s especially interesting about China is that their current resistance to emissions reductions has to be viewed in light of the sustainability of their current emissions path. China has relatively large coal reserves but also very high production rates, so rapid in fact that today’s Chinese infant can look forward to depletion of their domestic coal resource before s/he hits middle age. This points to a direction for resolution of the current tension between belching-smokestack China, imposing external costs on Minnesota fisherpeople, and futuristic greener China. Perhaps they will delay the reckoning by endeavoring to make coal exporters fantastically rich (at least until climate reckoning day), but it looks like Stein’s Law will bind and I might even get lucky and see it happen.

(*) That in turn points to something (for later discussion) that’s wrong with this Tax Foundation article on the implicit tax burden of cap-and-trade, which in fairness I should note gets an impressionistic picture of the distributional consequences more-or-less right.

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Everything Old is New Again (Space Science Edition)

An article in Wired reminds us that space science can (and should) be relevant to terrestrial issues (*):

There is a new challenge, however, that could ensure NASA remains relevant over its next 50 years: global environmental change, primarily human-induced global warming.

Jonathan Trent of the NASA Ames Green Team, a research group trying to bring NASA’s expertise to bear on energy and environmental problems on Earth, put it poetically.

“We are the crew of a spaceship we don’t understand,” Ames [sic] said. “The radical technology we need is not just for us, but the life forms on Earth with us.”

This seemed oddly familiar. To the way-back machine NYT archives!

WHEN President Bush outlined his vision of America’s future in space last week, Mars and the Moon outshone another initiative that the President said was critical to the space program: a 25-year effort using a new network of satellites to understand how the Earth’s atmosphere, seas and living creatures function as a global system.

Yes, that’s President George H. W. Bush, and the story appeared on July 25, 1989. This was called “Mission to Planet Earth” at the time, though in the Clinton era it became the très-New Democrat “Earth Science Enterprise” and what did those diabolical Clintonistas do? Let’s jump ahead to 1998:

The craft’s surveillance target is not some distant world, but rather the home planet of those who built it. AM-1 is to be the flagship of a new generation of earth satellites called the Earth Observing System, or EOS, which in turn is the centerpiece of what until recently has been called Mission to Planet Earth: a 15-year effort to subject the interlinked workings of the atmosphere, oceans and land surfaces to detailed scrutiny from space.

It should be easy to guess at the gestational difficulties for the project:

As conceived at the start of the 1990’s, EOS was to consist of an elaborate array of six 15-ton satellites, each carrying 12 sensing instruments… to be launched over a 12-year period beginning in 1998. A complementary series of smaller satellites was to be sent into orbit starting somewhat earlier. The cost of the program, including operational expenses, was projected at $17 billion by 2000 and $30 billion by 2020.

But the project never found solid support. When Mr. Goldin became the NASA Administrator, he set out to make the space agency’s programs ”smaller, cheaper, faster, better,” and EOS was a prime target of his intended reforms…

[T]he program came under attack from Congressional Republicans who charged that its purpose was to push a global-warming agenda.

EOS survived that challenge, but was redesigned in accordance with Mr. Goldin’s philosophy.

Then comes the other George Bush:

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA’s earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

As a result, the panel said, the United States will not have the scientific information it needs in the years ahead to analyze severe storms and changes in Earth’s climate unless programs are restored and funding made available.

“NASA’s budget has taken a major hit at the same time that NOAA’s program has fallen off the rails,” said panel co-chairman Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire. “This combination is very, very disturbing, and it’s coming at the very time that we need the information most.”

After all, it isn’t as if the Bush Administration has ever sought to suppress politically inconvenient information.

(*) Not that there’s anything wrong with space science for its own sake.

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Climate control issues

Alternet, a leftist blog, carries this interview with Dr. Jansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA’s premiere climate research center. So might that make it slightly left of center?

DR. JAMES HANSEN: Well, my concern is general with both Republican and Democratic administrations. They both feel that they can control what scientists say to the public. So their offices of public affairs in the science agencies are headed, in general, by political appointees, and they review the press releases before they go out. So, it doesn’t really make sense in a democracy. The public should be honestly informed. And then, of course, the publications are allowed to make the decisions, and they don’t have to follow exactly what the science says. There are other considerations that they have. But they shouldn’t influence what is presented, the scientific evidence. And I object to that, regardless of which administration is in power.

I posit that the Bush administration has been much better at bending the bureacracy to its political needs because of breadth of coverage, and the instituting positions of political screening in every department, albeit in a variety of guises (I have written on this several times).

I for one will be closely watching to see if any of the apparautus is dismantled with a new president. I am not optimistic, and am sure it will not be thorough.

Update: ‘ former’ was deleted

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