Thursday, January 21, 2016

Energy: changes in the sun and oil markets

Last night the pundits I saw were declaiming about the role of dropping oil prices in the stock market decline. Matt Yglesias (on Twitter) says this "makes zero sense." I've been complaining about this awhile to colleagues and such, but the bottom line is that, apparently, more companies produce and sell oil than use oil as a big part of their production process. I like this little summary on Vox of why oil prices are where they are.

Another piece on Vox caught my eye partly since it starts off discussing my home state of Nevada. As you might guess, a state that's largely desert gets a lot of sun, and a lot of sun means a lot of opportunity for solar power. Recently, regulations have cut into the profitability of solar panels, and hence curtailed industry investment in the state. Yes, that's right: I'm complaining about regulations being too burdensome on business. Clearly I'm a right wing convert!

I hope that we all recognize the need to balance regulations with respect for the important role business plays in our economy- it's very easy for supporters of government action to overlook it!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Two things that surprised me: poop and phones

TIL, res-econ style....

Grand Junction, Colorado, is getting its power by processing waste, including food waste and manure as well as human waste. Wow! Apparently you just stir in some bacteria, catch the resulting methane, and burn it like the natural gas it is. There are a number of reasons this won't be feasible everywhere, with the chief one being that the fuel source is expensive to transport, but it's exciting to think about. If we can build more such plants near sewage treatment plants, maybe we can get more use from this already greenhouse-damaging emissions source.

Did you know that it's not a good idea to charge your phone in the car? If every car in the US was charging a single phone all the time, the emitted CO2 is equivalent to having over 185,000 extra cars on the road! Wow. Although the amount of energy used is relatively small, it cuts your miles per gallon by about 0.03. Apparently it's much more efficient to charge it at home.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


Long time, no write! Sorry about that: my research has really gone in another direction lately, so I'm spending less time on environmental issues other than climate. This one caught my eye, though: a friend shared this article about Monsanto going to court. Although some of the claims are overstated, they also make some good points. In particular, Monsanto defending their intellectual property to an extreme extent at the expense of small farmers is pretty egregious. Also, to the extent that Monsanto enables the current system of industrial agriculture, it contributes to climate change.

At the same time, it overlooks a lot of benefits that people have seen because of GMOs, such as cheaper food. Yes, cheaper food is bad for farmers, but it's good for consumers, and particularly the poor. This article is a pretty good response to the first one.

Have a great 2016!