Friday, September 30, 2016

Clean energy is getting cheaper!

I feel a little bad for posting a summary of a summary... but not that bad! Very cool chart on the falling costs of various types of clean energy at

Monday, September 26, 2016

Industrial Agriculture- good for the environment?

An agricultural economist from Oklahoma State has written an article in the NY Times about the environmental benefits of industrial agriculture. While he uses a few cheap tricks to hide some ugly pieces of information (such as counting farms by owner rather than by acreage) it also makes some good points, including:

1) Modern technology does a much better job of conserving the soil and limiting fertilizer use. Instead of plowing up the soil, which releases carbon into the air as well as facilitating erosion, modern methods involve killing weeds with chemicals and then injecting the seeds into the ground. Yes, herbicides are bad for the environment, but so is the 6-7000 square mile dead zone created every year by fertilizer flowing down the Mississippi River.

2) They also use water much more efficiently. For generations, water was treated as limitless: after all, in a dry year, farmers could just dig a well and pump out groundwater for the cost of running a pump. Now that well is nearing depletion, causing a host of difficulties. Here's a 14 minute video produced by USA Today.

3) Most importantly, big farms mean doing more with less. According to the article, they are twice as productive as they were in 1970, meaning that they produce food using less land, less energy, smaller amounts of chemicals, and fewer workers.

More with less is a good thing. I think that's this author's bottom line- and it's hard to argue with that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Water infrastructure

This year the DC metro is paying the price for years of neglect: service is cancelled frequently throughout the system as they try to catch up to a huge backlog of unfinished repair work. The same thing is happening all over the country with respect to our water infrastructure: years of failing to adequately budget for system maintenance have led to today's system, which loses about a trillion gallons of water a year. The price of cleanup is going to be huge, but we'd better pay... and then, hopefully, start facing up to the real costs of keeping a system functional!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Climate change graphic

A bit of fun (with an edge) from xkcd via vox....


Water in Pittsburgh is suffering from incompetent supervision, and what's coming out of people's taps is pretty gross, according to the Guardian. In particular, one cancer-causing chemical is showing up where fracking's wastewater encounters the chemicals used to treat the water in preparation for distribution to the public.

This reminds me of another recent article on the value of good governance when it comes to water, a cool historical example of water systems improving when made public. It also reminds me of Argentina, where the private sector successfully stepped in when the public sector wasn't cutting it.

There so often are no simple answers!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Tonight was a rerun (based on Oklahoma setting a record) but this past May had a 60 minutes piece on the link between fracking and earthquakes. The connection is pretty clear!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

$5 Trillion

That's the annual loss to the global economy associated with air pollution, according to this article. Also, one in ten deaths worldwide is attributable to air pollution, according to the World Bank. 4 times as many people die from air pollution as die from HIV/ AIDS: that's six times as many as die from malaria.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Road Safety

Cars take up a week or two of my Resource Econ course, and though this isn't about fuel consumption I thought it was pretty neat. Sweden is saving lives by engineering its roads better: using speed bumps to slow down traffic near pedestrian crossings, adding more passing lanes so people aren't forced into traffic going the other way, etc. Very cool!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Changes in the Oceans

The oceans are so vast and deep that it's no wonder that we have a lot to learn about them, and it's no surprise to hear that climate change may be affecting them more intensely than previously known. "The warming is having its greatest impact upon the building blocks of life in the seas, such as phytoplankton, zooplankton and krill. Changes in abundance and reproduction are, in turn, feeding their way up the food chain, with some fish pushed out of their preferred range and others diminished by invasive arrivals....Humans are also set to suffer from the spread of disease as the ocean continues to heat up." Scary stuff!