Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New blog on the Environmental Ethics list

© 2009 Joshua Stark

The circles that the internet spins can really be fascinating, but I'm sure they relate to the little, nerdy worlds we build for ourselves. At the very least, it provides us nerds the ability to find each other, though we live thousands of miles away, or move parallel to each other in the same communities.

While at Environmental Economics, I found them linking to a gentleman at Davis (now at Berkeley), one David Zetland. His blog, Aguanomics, is a great blog on economics and water issues, and he also seems to have a great experiment going with his students (?), letting them blog economics issues. The students' works offer great real-world economics perspectives on various human enterprises - my current favorite, of course, is the entry on hunting.

Another bonus the students' writings provide for non-economics types are examples of the style of analysis economics brings to various issues. I've been trying to organize, in my head, a way to defend economics as an analysis such that folks reading economics analyses can understand the conclusions without automatically shutting down or yelling at the paper. It's hard to do, but these students are doing it.

Take that hunting blurb. The author, Ms. Riggs, does not take a side about the ethics of hunting. She explains the sides in the context of the usefulness (joy, food, etc.) of hunting to the individual, and then uses that explanation to draw some economic conclusions. However, I believe that people who both love and hate hunting will read through it, and argue with Ms. Riggs at times, because she either doesn't completely get the argument, or she missed something, etc. But, that isn't the point of this analysis. Although the ethics of the concept are important (and a major reason why economics shouldn't be the only way to look at issues), she focuses on the utility, or usefulness, of the activity to the individual.

So, if you get a chance, read the various economic analyses from the students, and comment on them. Hopefully, these real-world examples will help illuminate some basic concepts of economics.

As for Mr. Zetland's work, I think it's great. His perspectives on water are sorely needed in California's State Capitol as well as in D.C. Read his stuff, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009


© 2009 Joshua Stark

My brain often looks for connections. The training for my first major vocation, as a high school teacher, required that I try to make as many connections between the students and the subjects as I possibly could fabricate. I'm being a tad silly, but it was true, and a large part of my work involved honestly looking at my kids' lives and their futures, and finding that information which most moved them to learn more.
This has stayed with me through my other professions, and now, looking at environmental and conservation issues, I often find myself taking the perspective of all sides, and then looking for connections. In this, I come across some interesting facts pertaining to connectedness. To whit:

The Endangered Species Act and our military.

Did you know that the peregrine falcon has provided a wealth of technological advancements to our fighter and reconnaissance aircraft? From air intake cones to variable-wing technologies, engineers have studied and applied many aspects of the fastest animal on Earth.

Now, what would have happened if it had gone extinct?

Now, what will we learn tomorrow from another example in nature, to help improve our lives? Lately, the ESA has taken some hits on both sides, because it focuses on individual species. But, maybe Aldo Leopold was right, and the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the pieces.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anticipating shifting energy patterns

© 2009 Joshua Stark

Dr. Kahn at UCLA has a quick post up about plug-in Prius hybrids coming in 2012. Of course, GM says its Volt will arrive late next year (call me a doubting Thomas, that thing has been just about to come out for four years now), and Nissan and possibly Ford have electric vehicles coming out next year or 2011. Tesla Motors has ripped them all up, as they've had an all-electric roadster (0-60 in 3.9 seconds) out for two years now, and offer a sedan next year that I would love to get for my next birthday.
This is all good news, but Dr. Kahn's question was one of capacity in the state. Can California provide enough power through our grid in such a way as to make this transition possible?

In my humble opinion, yes. There are two major transformations that can (and probably will) quickly take place to help this transition:

1) Water conservation! About one-fifth of California's energy consumption goes to water transport and purification in the state. Currently, there is a strong movement to get a 20% reduction in residential water use by 2020, and this will translate into energy savings. If the State were to grow a spine and include agriculture, we could experience dramatic energy savings;

2) Distributed generation! That's the fancy term for you producing electricity, either by wind or, more often, solar power. Barring any unforseen bad events, within three years I predict changes that will make it much more cost-effective (and even lucrative) for folks to install solar panels and windmills at home. If you could sell excess energy back into the grid for fair market value, while at the same time utilities are required to procure larger percentages of their electricity from renewable resources, I'd be willing to bet that break-even points for solar panels would drop from the current 8 years or so to 4 or 5 years, especially if tax rebates continue. At the same time, individuals would be insulating themselves from higher electricity rates by producing their own.

Of course, obstacles exist, the primary one being the centralized ability of big utilities (and ag.) to lobby hard to get what they want. One prime example is an attempt by PG & E to require 2/3rd's voter approval if a community tries to create its own, public utility. At the state level, this usually means that companies go along with 'green' ideas so long as they maintain their current, government supported lock on production/distribution. In this light, expect big pushes for those huge solar developments in the Southern California wilderness. My own two cents is to compromise, and let them develop huge solar projects in the Central Valley at the same time you require them to pay fair market value for electricity from individuals. If it is true that only about four or five percent of homes are cost-effective for good solar generation, then why are the utilities reticent to push for as much of it as we can make?

We all know that the transition will have costs and consequences. Every change does. However, like Professor Kahn, I believe our electricity generation can and will make a fairly smooth transition to providing more energy for transportation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

For my blogger friends out there making money

Or at least, showing ads. on their blogs:

Please note that the FTC now has regulations on advertising that includes blogging, especially where the blogger is posting reviews from merchandise given by the manufacturer:

I just thought you might want to know.