Obstinate and Pliable

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Archive for March, 2008

Not By Energy Efficiency Alone

Posted by John on March 19, 2008

I found this story from the Energy Tribune by author Robert Bryce via the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog.  Bryce uses a book review as a platform to expound upon Jevon’s Paradox, or the observation made by William Stanley Jevons, that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase, rather than decrease.  Bryce illustrates the concept thusly:

For years, promoters like Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute have been claiming that efficiency will lower carbon dioxide emissions, save money, save energy, and provide all comers, according to Lovins, with a “lunch you get paid to eat.” But few of the faithful have acquainted themselves with William Stanley Jevons. In 1865, the British economist published a book called The Coal Question, which contains what is now known as the Jevons Paradox: “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuels is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

Those two sentences contain what may be the most important yet least understood concept in the energy business: energy efficiency increases energy consumption. It’s counterintuitive, and precious few energy analysts have bothered to investigate it. That’s why a new book, The Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements, by John M. Polimeni, Kozo Mayumi, Mario Giampetro, and Blake Alcott, deserves wide attention. The authors waste little time in explaining their goal. On page 3 they state, “We aim to show that increased energy efficiency leads to increased demand and consumption of energy.”

I hope to post more in this space regarding Jevon’s Paradox and I’m also eager to check out Bryce’s book, “Gusher of Lies” as well as Polimeni, et al’s book “Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements.”

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Dan Yergin has the chance to go all Julian Simon

Posted by John on March 19, 2008

I was excited to see this story in the WSJ’s “Environmental Capital” blog.  It’s a great mechanism for both the bullish oil supply types at CERA as well as the peak oilers at ASPO to register the intensity of their convictions in the form of a wager.  From the WSJ report:

If CERA proves correct in its prediction that global oil production will rise by 20 million barrels per day by 2017, then the challengers, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, will hand CERA a check for $100,000 nine years hence. If oil production falls short of CERA’s projection, as the group known as ASPO projects, ASPO will get the bragging rights and the check – and donate the money to charity.

My biased expectations is that the results of this bet will ultimately resemble what you can find in Julian Simon’s wikipedia entry under the heading “Paul R. Ehrlich – 1st wager.”

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A mash note to Houston

Posted by John on March 18, 2008

Via Tory Gattis’s Houston Strategies blog, I found this article by Joel Kotkin making the case that Houston might be the best placed municipality to “emerge on the world stage” as the next great global city.  As a resident of the Greater Houston MSA, your correspondent is always interested to see some national-type, intranetz hype on H-town, particularly the kind of hype that reinforces my own opinions and biases.  Here’s one of the stronger excerpts:

The Next Great World City?

Given these trends, it seems likely that the next great American city will emerge from the ranks of the opportunity cities. The ultimate winner will come from those that keep up with the infrastructure needed to accommodate their growth. They also will have to deal with issues of education, crime, and creating a skilled workforce— issues that are important anywhere, of course, but can be particularly challenging in a rapidly growing metropolis. 

Perhaps the key factor that will influence the rise of the next great American city is the ability to fit into the global economy. An opportunity city with only modest links overseas can certainly grow rapidly, but only an urban center with powerful ties to global commerce is likely to achieve greatness. 

This may be where the case for Houston’s emergence is strongest. From its inception, Houston has been oriented to markets outside the country, first through its exports of timber and cotton and later as a major oil port. Trade and the global connections of the energy industry have also paced the development of internationally minded banks, business-service firms, hotels, and specialized shopping areas. An indicator of Houston’s international reach: it now ranks third among U.S. cities, behind Los Angeles and New York, in the number of consulates located there. 

I also enjoyed this quote about H-Town weather:

And in those days, long before air conditioning, there was the Houston weather, which often combined scalding temperatures with soupy humidity. “Heat is so severe during the middle of the day that most of us lie in the shade and pant,” wrote a doctor, Ashbel Smith, in 1838. Yet the Allen brothers had not really chosen so badly.

Kotkin also included a nifty graphic showing net domestic migration and job growth for various metro areas.  The huge job growth numbers in Houston and DC weren’t surprising, but I didn’t expect to see that much growth in Miami.  I’m curious what the Miami population growth would look like if they included domestic migration plus immigration.

Opportunity Cities

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Comics are for kids

Posted by John on March 13, 2008


 A few weeks back Reihan Salam wrote a review of Y: The Last Man at Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic.com blog, in which he included a wonderful description of the attraction of comic books and how they can be particularly alluring for the kind of introverted adolescents that he and I once were.  Reihan writes:

Unlike my older and smarter sisters, I wasn’t much of a reader as a small kid. But then, in a stroke of genius, my eldest sister gave me a bunch of comic books and a They Might Be Giants CD for my tenth or eleventh birthday. And so I was doomed to be an incorrigible nerd for the rest of my life. The comic books (an Uncanny X-Men from the dense and confusing time the team was laying low in Australia while battling Reavers, and a few other Marvel titles) blew my mind. I soon became an obsessive collector, aided and abetted by my father. …I shudder to think about how much money I badgered and pestered him to spend, but I also know that comic books filled me with curiosity about the wider world.

This was in the days before Wikipedia, when learning the minutiae of the Marvel Universe, and the DC Universe and Nexus and Magnus, Robot Fighterand all the rest, was a serious undertaking. Definitely not for dabblers. Pretty soon I knew virtually everything there was to know. I even badgered my father into taking me to a comic book convention at the old Hotel Pennsylvania, where I blew my “savings” on an old-ish Uncanny X-Men from a patent lawyer who was probably younger than I am now. 

 I identify with Reihan’s story a great deal, and not just because he name checks They Might Be Giants.  I personally had a different “gateway” into comics fandom than he did, but afterwards I traversed a story arc very much like his.  I even had a similar experience of plunking down way too much of my parents’ money for a John Byrne autographed issue of Uncanny X-Men at a “flea market” type comic book sale.

While I had enjoyed individual comic stories even when I was a pre-literate youngster, my enthusiasm didn’t really bloom until I became aware that each of these stories had their place in a wider universe of comic book mythos, and that mythos accumulated over time while retaining (sometimes) an internally consistent continuity.  When that clicked the obsession that Reihan describes kicked in.   As they say, read the whole thing.  Or if you prefer, ATSRTWT.

As evocative as Reihan’s piece is, the best crystallization of the excitement that motivated former fanboys like can be found the passage below from C.S. Lewis.

The third glimpse [of Joy] came through poetry…. I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa and read, ‘I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful Is dead, is dead.’ …I knew nothing about Balder, but instantly I was uplifted…. I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described…. The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else…. I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic… in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.

It’s a great encapsulation of what got me so excited by comics and the “joy” that obsessive fans find in comics, Tolkien, etc. that stuck with me ever since I first read it during college.

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Madison Square Garden = What?

Posted by John on March 6, 2008

Brett: What is your favorite city to play in on the road?
Shane_Battier: New York City. Nothing is like the Garden. Smells like Frank Sinatra and Elephant poop. It’s awesome.
–Shane Courtney Battier, Duke University, AB Religious Studies, 2001


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