The Carbon Bubble is Here

Its been clear for more than a decade that in order to stay below 2 degrees C, many assets on fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets must remain stranded, at huge costs to them and ultimately their shareholders–though they’ll reap those benefits too.


Now the UN Climate Chief agrees:

“If the 2C target is rigorously applied, then up to 80% of declared reserves owned by the world’s largest listed coal, oil and gas companies and their investors would be subject to impairment as these assets become stranded,” wrote the group in their report Unburnable Carbon.”

Obama, Oil, and Lip-Service to Democracy

I think that the United States should promote Democracy, and our “elected” leaders say they also value it.  Noe however that when it comes to actually paying respect to Democracies, its instructive to look at how Hugo Chavez and King Abdullah were greeted by the White House upon their deaths.

King Abdullah “had the courage of his convictions” while Hugo Chavez was mentioned only in so far as “the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principals and the rule of law”.  Its too bad that we don’t value those things when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

This is of course driven by power and oil.  Both are important oil producing countries, but one collaborates with the United States and the other does not.


Median Income now same as it was in 1979

There are many ways to slice and  dice the  numbers in the economy.  Here are two that I find troubling.

After adjusting for inflation, median earnings at the end of 2013 were equivalent to $334 in 1982 dollars, no higher than they were in 1999, and just slightly below the $335 that the median worker earned in the summer of 1979.

The median household income has increased slightly — 5% since 1979 — but only because more families are relying on Mom’s wages.

This is even worse than it sounds, because  there are far more women in the workforce now than there were 35 years ago.

What makes this statistic completely  shocking however, is that  productivity has doubled during  that time.  That means that none of the productivity  gains have gone to the median worker.

Properly Pricing the Cost of Carbon

There are many who think that putting a  price on carbon will solve the Earth’s Carbon Dioxide problem.  One  challenge is calculating what the “social cost of carbon dioxide is.  This  article suggests that the social cost is far  higher than the current market rate for  CO2 avoidance.  The current government calculation is that  the social cost is $37/ton, while the  article estimates that the social cost is $220/ton.

The central flaw in current pricing models, researchers say, is that the prediction mechanisms account only for the effects of environmental damages of economic output — not economic growth.

or 20 years now, the models have assumed that climate change can’t affect the basic growth rate of the economy,” Moore said. “But a number of new studies suggest this may not be true. If climate change affects not only a country’s economic output but also its growth, then that has a permanent effect that accumulates over time, leading to a much higher social cost of carbon.”

The study’s authors are quick to point out where their research is lacking. Their prediction models doesn’t account for the economic impact that climate change mitigation efforts might, and it’s not ideal for trying estimate when and how less developed countries — that may be more vulnerable to climate change — should employ mitigation strategies. Per usual, more research is needed to work out such details.

A carbon tax might not work for many reasons, but  its clearly  not  going to  work if  the cost we use is  far lower than  the social  cost.

Providing Free Contraception Reduces Teen Birth Rate

As part of ObamaCare, Colorado has been  giving free  contraception to low-income teens since 2009.  The result is  a drop of  35% in the teen birthrate, and an associated savings of more than $40 million  per year.

Of course, because some of this contraception is  handed out without parental approval, some are  concerned about  the abrogation of  parental rights.

Comparing US to Chinese Emissions Pledges

The climate pledges that the Chinese and US have agreed to are a “glass half full”.  Its an agreement, and some have applauded it as the Guardian’s “China makes larger pledges than US”.

However, this article makes a compelling argument with data that the agreement is not likely to mean much by itself.  The charts tell a story of dramatically higher Chinese emissions over the last ten years, and its hard to see how they reduce to the levels needed to stop us from a 2 degree rise.

From the Guardian last month:

Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were among the few who issued negative public statements about the climate agreement. McConnell in particular badly misunderstood the practical consequences of the Chinese and American carbon pledges, saying,

As I read the agreement it requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emissions regulations are creating havoc in my state and around the country,

Senator McConnell misunderstood the Chinese target of reaching peak carbon pollution levels by 2030 as a pledge to “do nothing.” In reality, China has been developing rapidly with hundreds of millions of citizens rising out of poverty, thus demanding more energy. Much of that demand has been met with new coal power plants; China has added one and a half times the entire US coal power plant fleet in just the past decade. As a result, Chinese carbon pollution has been rising fast.


“Racism without Racists”

Racism has moved from an  explicit racism, defined by laws and enforced by men in white robes, to one where people largely believe in laws that don’t discriminate, while  they themselves — subconsciously  discriminate in numerous subtle  ways.

This study shows  one  example of such unconscious  bias.

They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man.

When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people — black and white — incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

Even before it was announced that a grand jury had decided not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, leaders were calling once again for a “national conversation on race.”


Obama vs Republican Standards

I thought this quick analysis from Rachel Maddow on how to judge the Obama administration’s progress  is worth remembering:
  • The Romney Standard: Mitt Romney said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans elect him, he’d get the unemployment rate down to 6% by 2016. Obama won anyway and the unemployment rate dropped below 6% two years faster.
  • The Gingrich Standard: Newt Gingrich said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans re-elected the president, gas prices would reach $10 per gallon, while Gingrich would push gas down to $2.50 a gallon. As of this morning, the national average at the pump is a little under $2.38.
  •  The Pawlenty Standard: Tim Pawlenty said trillions of dollars in tax breaks would boost economic growth to 5% GDP. Obama actually raised taxes on the wealthy and GDP growth reached 5% anyway.
Romney’s prediction was as good as predicting the sun will come up in two years if he’s elected.
I don’t know anyone who predicted the gas price swing.
Pawlenty’s prediction was made possible by the first Obama administration.  Without the Bush/Obama Stimulus packages, we would be far behind now.

We live in an increasingly peaceful period in history

I thought this article on the state of the world was interesting and thought-provoking, though it didn’t discuss the issue of Climate Change and its future effects.

As troubling as the recent headlines have been, these lamentations need a second look. It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today than we were during the two world wars, or during other perils such as the periodic nuclear confrontations during the Cold War, the numerous conflicts in Africa and Asia that each claimed millions of lives, or the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq that threatened to choke the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and cripple the world’s economy.