Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

ET to the rescue

Posted by Danny Morris on May 14, 2009

Seriously people? We’ve been talking about energy and climate issues for years, and with all the brilliant people out there devising clever solutions, you’re telling me no one though of the most obvious solution? Of course I’m talking about stealing alien technology and using it for our benefit. Even though we’ve all dropped the ball, a lobbyist named Stephen Bassett is picking up the slack for us and Greenwire (sub req’d) reports on his crusade:

The government has in its possession “extraterrestrial vehicles,” lobbyist Stephen Bassett said. As in flying saucers.

Imagine the power source, he said, behind a 30-foot wide saucer that weighs the same as a tractor-trailer yet hurtles through galaxies at 20,000 miles per hour.

“What is the energy system operating that craft?” Bassett said. “They’re not burning kerosene.”

He added, “It eliminates oil. It eliminates coal. If it’s as good as we think it is, it transforms everything.”

No more ozone hole or melting polar ice caps, Bassett said. And the price of electricity would drop to almost nothing.

Bassett believes this. Fervently.

Well, I’m sold. It’s about damn time we stop importing energy from unstable parts of the world and starting utilizing energy we snake from much more stable civilizations in other solar systems. If Obama is truly the most popular leaderin the galaxy, then he should have no trouble negotiating with the Alpha Centarians for some friendly interstellar technology transfer. Bassett obviously agrees:

Those who believe the truth is out there have been waiting for someone like President Obama to come clean about the government hiding information on extraterrestrials, Bassett said. Obama would be “sensitive to the concerns of the military intelligence community,” Bassett said, plus he is popular worldwide, and he “has the intelligence to handle it.”

Bassett and fellow believers during the presidential campaign launched the “Million Fax on Washington” and have been sending Obama faxes and e-mails and leaving voice mail messages asking him to admit that E.T. is real. Documents should be released. There should be congressional hearings. And that spaceship technology should be made available to the public.

Next step: electric-dilithium crystal hybrids that go from 0 to 670,000,000 mph in 1.2 seconds and get XM radio.

Posted in Energy, Random, Space | 1 Comment »

I’m in good company!

Posted by Rich Sweeney on April 29, 2009

In another congratulatory post on recent John Bates Clark medal winner Emmanuel Saez, Brad DeLong writes, “But perhaps Emmanuel’s most impressive accomplishment is that he has been personally denounced on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.”

But has he been called a “schoolboy” by the Wall Street Journal? FTW. The AEA should should clearly prepare to put my name on the, er, trophy in 15 years (assuming I actually make it through my PhD program).

The editorial denouncing Saez can be found here.

Posted in Random | Leave a Comment »

Slate, you disappoint me

Posted by Danny Morris on April 23, 2009

Apparently, not everyone took my Earth Day advice. Dozens (ok, like 1 dozen) of intrepid conservative souls managed to find their way down to the EPA main offices here in DC to protest Earth Day. Good for them, sticking it to stupid Earth and everyone who likes it. To be fair, according to Slate, they are not hating on the Earth or its essentially worthless holiday. As for what they are hating on, judge for yourself:

What they oppose is Obama’s environmental tool kit. Instead of regulation-based solutions like cap-and-trade or government-subsidized wind farms or public conservation, they support “market-based environmentalism.”

Can you identify what is wrong with that statement? Are you kidding me? I can understand the protesters themselves not understanding how eye-gougingly stupid they sound, but what the EFF is the journalist doing? If you do bother to read the article, you’ll see that never once does it ever bother to point out the fact that cap-and-trade is a market-based environmental solution. I understand that a lot of people don’t understand exactly how cap-and-trade systems work, but let’s try to be a little informative. Please. That’s sort of the point of journalism, even light, fluffy, feature-style, internet-based journalism. For the love of God, try to be informative.

It’s not that hard to use the googles to figure out how cap-and-trade works. You’d think with the word ‘trade’ in the phrase might make someone think it could potentially involve some sort of economic mechanisms. Sigh.

Posted in Random | 3 Comments »

Most literal spam ever

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on March 16, 2009

We get a lot of blog spam, much of it asking for exposure for new “green” products or ridiculous press releases from various PR firms about how some executive rode a bike to work this one time.  We’ve even considered starting a blog spam of the week feature.  Today’s was too good to pass up:

Please be aware that the deadline to submit Proposal Briefs for, “Seeking Value Added Applications of Pork By-products” is Friday, March 20, 2009. Please let me know if you are interested in responding but cannot provide a proposal brief by this date. This reminder does not represent a complete description of the project.

I took a second to document the day and time (2:08pm EDT, March 16, 2009) on which I received a spam soliciting innovation in the actual spam-making arena.

Posted in Random | 3 Comments »

Quote of the day

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on February 26, 2009

I know it’s early still, but I don’t see this one being topped.  In reference to yet another article on the (ahem) tragic condition of the high-end dating scene under the current recession, Free Exchange notes:

The market for schadenfreude is about as countercyclical as it comes.

God bless the Germans for that word.

Posted in Random, Waste | Leave a Comment »

Cool bike technology of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 16, 2009

This is awesome:

From Good Blog. H/T to Scott.

Posted in Cycling, Random | 2 Comments »

Google does it again

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 14, 2009

This is not really related to energy or the environment, but I am a blogger and dammit I’m going to post cool stuff.  Last night my roommate tipped me off to the fact that Google has begun answering questions:


Then today, I google mapped my office building, and Gmaps gave me a big list of organizations that reside at this address:


Google will eventually own all of civilization.

Posted in Random, Useful resources | 1 Comment »

Is it too late to throw my hat into the ring for secretary of the interior?

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 17, 2008

After all, Interior is the funnest department in DC.

p.s. now y’all can say hi to me at Solly’s.

Posted in Humor, Random | 1 Comment »

Ken Salazar proves he has what it takes to run Interior

Posted by Daniel Hall on December 17, 2008

Chiefly, the wardrobe.

Posted in Humor, Random | Leave a Comment »

Dubai is an idiot

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 17, 2008

Versace, the renowned fashion house, is to create the world’s first refrigerated beach so that hotel guests can walk comfortably across the sand on scorching days.

The beach will be next to the the new Palazzo Versace hotel which is being built in Dubai where summer temperatures average 40C and can reach 50C.

From here. More here.

H/T soil the ham nicely

Posted in Idiots, Random | Leave a Comment »

Kyoshi Ito dies

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 24, 2008

The grandfather of options pricing theory and author of the best. lemma. ever. passed away in Kyoto last week at the age of 93.

Posted in Random | Leave a Comment »

Drunk fail

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 22, 2008

Well, we managed to pretty well screw up the unofficial AERE social at the SEA meetings.  Turns out the Big Hunt doesn’t open until 5 pm on Saturdays (despite what their website says).  I don’t know whether to be encouraged that I don’t actually know what time the bars open on Saturday afternoons, or be discouraged that Evan, Rich, and I are now likely banned from the SEA AERE for life.

And if anyone out there is still looking for us we are down the street at Lucky Bar.

Posted in Events, Random | Leave a Comment »

im in ur city, drinking ur b00z

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 20, 2008

The Environmental Economics guys are invading DC!  First, John is presenting over at the EPA today, and then Tim and John will be at the AERE sessions of the Southern Economic Association meetings that run from Friday to Sunday.

But all that pales in comparison to the main event:

Per previous arrangements, we’ll see everyone for the #2 ranked social event of the Southern Economic Association meetings (ranked right behind the UK cocktail party):

Where: The Big Hunt
When: Saturday, November 22
Time: +/- 4 pm (OSU vs UM runs to 3:30 or so) to +/- 6 pm (UK cocktail party begins at 6 pm)

Evan, Rich, and I will be at Big Hunt at 4 pm ready to get our drink on with the godfathers of environmental economics blogging.

And John should add one more event to his already-full Saturday social calendar: the These United States show at the Black Cat on Saturday night.  Based on his revealed and stated preferences I think he will really like these guys.  Right now they are the best thing in the DC local music scene.

Update: By the way, doesn’t look like the Big Hunt opens until 4 pm on Saturdays so you might want to make sure that you err on the + side of 4 pm.

Posted in Culture, Events, Random | 1 Comment »

Article title of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 19, 2008

View to a Krill: Secrets of Plankton Eyes.

H/T K.

Posted in Random | Leave a Comment »

Orszag to OMB?

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 18, 2008

Rumor has it that blogger (oh — and director of the CBO) Peter Orszag will eventually be named the director of the OMB in the upcoming Obama administration, a cabinet-level position.  Congratulations to Peter, who has written expertly on a wide range of topics, including the nuts and bolts of climate change policy (e.g., 1 2 ).

Posted in Climate Change, Random | Leave a Comment »

Some links

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 11, 2008

1. EPRI has announced two new projects to evaluate adding solar thermal energy to existing coal and natural gas plants. These hybrid plants could prove to be the cheapest way to get large scale solar energy on the grid. Not only do these solar installations take advantage of existing capital and transmission, but subsidizing their installation at dirty sites might reduce political opposition from incumbents.

2. I’ve written about the potential water resource constraints on the electricity industry before. Power plants, especially nuclear plants, use a lot of water, and drought or increased temperatures could pose a big problem for utilities in many parts of the country. This weekend Green Inc. had a post on the possibility of using treated wastewater in power generation. The piece cites C’s adviser, Dr. Michael Webber of UT Austin, who has a great article on the relationship between energy and water in Scientific American.

3. Over on the World Bank’s Doing Business Blog, Simeon Djankov links to a new paper which concludes that the adoption of potatoes in the Old World explains 17% of the post-1700 increase in population growth and 37% of the increase in urbanization growth.

4. Finally, GCC reports that coal is still the fastest growing fuel in the world. Great.

Posted in Electricity, Random, Water Resources | 1 Comment »

Ghostwritten op-eds and other things about which I know very little

Posted by Rich Sweeney on October 24, 2008

A few weeks ago I had a shocking revelation. I walked into a friend’s office at a fairly prestigious DC think tank, and she told me she’d finally finished writing the op-ed she’d been working on for the past few weeks. But when I looked at the draft open on her screen, her name was nowhere to be found, and three prominent Ivy League professors’ names were listed instead (Sorry this is so vague. Don’t want to get anyone in trouble). Now given that she’s only an RA, I can understand why her name wasn’t on it. But her boss has an Ivy League PhD himself, and as I mentioned, her think tank is pretty well known/ respected. She explained to me that this is common practice, and that in order to get an op-ed into a major newspaper, you need someone really famous to publish it for you.

Not sure about yall, but this completely blew me away. Sure I thought it was a little odd when some famous politician or academic would make a nuanced case for a very specific issue on the opinion page of the New York Times, but in my mind this just further confirmed their super-intellectual status. Of course now that I know this practice exists, I feel as though I can spot ghostwriting a mile away. Case in point is today’s health care / sabermetrics piece in the New York Times. Let’s just say that I highly doubt that John Kerry, Newt Gingrich and friggin Billy Beane got together and dreamed this up.

Actually I have two quick gripes with that piece. First, I’m sick of everyone talking about the fact that Tampa Bay has the second lowest payroll in baseball. Sure, their salary outlays for this season are only $44 million. But the opportunity cost fielding a team stacked literally top to bottom with top ten draft picks was a lot higher than that. It came at the expense of finishing at the bottom of the American League for the past decade, which meant a lot of foregone revenue. You couldn’t just go out there tomorrow and build the Rays for $44 million using Sabermetrics. (Can you tell I’m from Boston?)

As for the argument that health care providers need to better use statistics, I think the “authors” are confusing the effect with the cause. I’m no expert on health care, but if we observe that valuable information isn’t being used efficiently by market actors, it’s probably because they have no incentive to do so. HMOs are for-profit enterprises and I’m sure there’s boatloads of evidence based analysis going on there. They’re probably just maximizing something other than the expected well being of the patient.

Posted in Random | Leave a Comment »

Who would have thought the Minerals Management Service was this exciting?

Posted by Rich Sweeney on September 10, 2008

INTERIOR: Sex, drugs, booze and industry cash in MMS ethics scandal (09/10/2008)

Noelle Straub, E&ENews PM reporterInterior Department employees accepted gifts from oil and gas companies, participated in “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” and considered themselves exempt from federal ethics rules, new reports by the department’s inspector general say.

The reports — the result of three different investigations against more than a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually — found a “relatively small group of individuals” wholly lacking in government ethical standards and management that provided passive or purposeful ignorance, Inspector General Earl Devaney wrote in a memo to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

The investigation discovered that nearly a third of the entire staff of MMS’s royalty-in-kind (RIK) program socialized with and received a wide array of gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies with which the agency was conducting official business. The RIK program allows companies to pay royalties in the form of oil and gas rather than cash.

The dollar amount of the gifts was not enormous, but the gifts were accepted with “prodigious frequency.” Two RIK marketers received gifts and gratuities on at least 135 occasions from four major oil and gas companies with which they were doing business.

“When confronted by our investigators, none of the employees involved displayed remorse,” the memo says.

The investigation also found drug and sex abuse both inside the program and “in consort with industry.” One supervisor, Greg Smith, engaged in illegal drug use and had sexual relations with subordinates. Several staff members admitted to illegal drug use as well as illicit sexual encounters, and some had sexual relationships with industry contacts.

“Alcohol abuse appears to have been a problem when RIK staff socialized with industry,” it said.

One of the employees, Jimmy Mayberry, has already pleaded guilty to a criminal charge. The cases against two others, Greg Smith and Lucy Querques Dennett, were referred to the Justice Department’s public integrity section, but that office declined to prosecute them.

Three senior executives, Mayberry, Dennett and Milton Dial, were good friends who remained “calculatedly ignorant” of the rules governing post-employment restrictions, conflicts of interest and federal acquisition regulations, to ensure that two lucrative MMS contracts would be awarded to the company created by Mayberry and later joined by Dial.

Posted in Random | 5 Comments »

Self-interest, 1. Society, 0.

Posted by Danny Morris on August 25, 2008

Ahoy everyone,

As this is my first foray into the world of the mighty Common Tragedies blog, I hope not to disappoint. Slate had a pretty interesting article today about pay and performance. A team of economists teamed up with a strawberry farmer in Great Britain to investigate how to maximize productivity of migrant workers. The article explains the experimentation process very well, but essentially, the farmer thought he wasn’t getting as much as he could from his workers and wanted to see how difficult payment schemes could affect his employees’ productivity.

It turns out workers had an incentive to collaborate and work slowly, which would get them more money for doing less work. The economists came in and set up a payment system that took away the ability for workers to cooperate, and productivity increased. In the next experiment, the economists linked managers’ pay to the performance of their underlings, and productivity increased again because managers stopped giving their friends the easiest assignments. In the third experiment, the economists organized workers into teams. While the workers initially grouped with their friends, once the more productive groups were awarded bonuses and prizes, efficient laborers left their friends and joined the more productive teams and once more, productivity climbed. In every experiment, financial benefits beat out the social links that had previously formed in the larger group.

Now, this is only one experiment with a lot of unknowns on our end (i.e. how strong were the social links to begin with, how large were the financial gains, etc), but the findings raise some interesting questions for environmental economics. Mainly, do financial incentives always trump social networks? If so, how large (or small) do the incentives have to be for this to happen? I ask the above questions because they seem pertinent to addressing environmental issues within a social context, which is what many of us are trying to do. If self-benefit always triumphs over social connections, there may not be any value in making any kind of societal-based argument for preserving or restoring the natural environment.

For example, were I an idealistic, slightly naive environmental activist employed by an unnamed advocacy organization, I might try to convince a random passerby that he owes it to his friends and family to reduce his carbon footprint because he (presumably) really care about his friends and family. But, if reducing said passerby’s carbon footprint starts to cost him money, maybe he would not value his personal relationships as much. Maybe none of us would. If your personal emissions portfolio were inversely related to the number of social connections you could maintain (i.e. less emissions means more friends and vice versa)? Would we all be lonely SUV owners or gregarious pedestrians?

Just some (ahem) food for thought…

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Random | 2 Comments »

Video of the day and other random ish

Posted by Rich Sweeney on August 20, 2008

1. Via Andy Revkin, Dot.Earth has a great ten minute discussion on enhanced geothermal (EGS).

I’ve been a big fan of EGS for some time now and am continually frustrated by the lack of support and interest it gets. EGS can provide large amounts of baseload energy without creating much of an environmental impact or creating much surface level disturbance. Moreover, hot dry rock exists everywhere (albeit at varying depths). Despite these obvious benefits, to date EGS has gotten no love from the government, which prefers to piss our money away on aimless fuel cell reserach. The “technology” behind EGS is essentially ready to go. All we need is the government to invest in deployment R&D and co-sponsor a few large scale demonstration projects. The fantastic MIT EGS Report estimates that a modest investment of $300 million over the next 10 years could lead to EGS contributing 10% of baseload electricity by 2050. According to Romm we waste spend that amount on hydrogen fuel cell research every year.

2. Marylanders and other interested folk should also check out video of Governor Martin O’malley’s keynote address to the Maryland Association of Counties last week. The topic is “Securing Maryland’s Energy Future”.

3. I recently discovered GreentechMedia, which is a really great source of clean energy happenings. However, the site’s blog leaves a bit to be desired. The first post I clicked on was a long winded rant about RGGI design shortcomings which basically amounted to a complaint that the caps aren’t strict enough. My favorite part was where the author claims that the decision to denominate permits in short tons rather than metric tons was a “market design flaw”. As Evan put it, “This is especially a problem for traders that can’t multiply by 0.907”. Ha.

4. Finally, in political news, John McCain either doesn’t know what the word “invade” means or doesn’t know that we’re already living in the 21st century.

And scene.

Posted in Geothermal, Government Policy, Random | 1 Comment »