Archive | March, 2013

Life After Oil and Gas – NYTimes.com

24 Mar

As renewable energy gets cheaper and machines and buildings become more energy efficient, a number of countries that two decades ago ran on a fuel mix much like America’s are successfully dialing down their fossil fuel habits. Thirteen countries got more than 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy in 2011, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, and many are aiming still higher.

Could we? Should we?

A National Research Council report released last week concluded that the United States could halve by 2030 the oil used in cars and trucks compared with 2005 levels by improving the efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles and by relying more on cars that use alternative power sources, like electric batteries and biofuels.

via Life After Oil and Gas – NYTimes.com.

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New seasons with new names – Roger Ebert’s Journal

20 Mar

Reget Ebert has seen lots of documentaries about global warming, and he’s scared.

Sally Potter’s new film centers on two teenage British girls (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert ) who get involved in the Ban the Bomb movement at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. I remember that time. On a weekday afternoon, Soviet warships bearing missiles were approaching a line drawn in the sea by President Kennedy. If they crossed it, JFK had vowed retaliation. Would our missiles take flight? Would the Soviet bloc Would there be war? We felt so powerless. Craning my neck to see over the heads of the crowd, I was jammed into the front lounge of the University YMCA. At a time like that you do not–you cannot–want to be alone.

This time the line has not been drawn on a map. This time the enemy, if we can use the word in this context, is an American lobbyist group. They seem focused on maximizing profits and shareholder benefits, at the cost of any environmental conscience. It seems possible that their policies will lead to a different kind of seasonal calendar. Instead of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, this new generation will know Blizzard, Flood, Heat and Fire. Month follows month as the seasons tear themselves apart.

via New seasons with new names – Roger Ebert’s Journal.

Happy International Happiness Day – NYTimes.com

20 Mar

The United Nations has declared March 20 the first International Day of Happiness to underline the commitment of its 193 member states to “better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”… The initiative for Happiness Day came from the Kingdom of Bhutan, the small landlocked Himalayan state, which adopted a Gross National Happiness Index as a better measure of its people’s prosperity than its income.

via Happy International Happiness Day – NYTimes.com.

The Real Spending Problem – NYTimes.com

19 Mar

Tax breaks favor the rich, and are functionally the equivalent of spending.

Each year, the government doles out tax breaks worth $1.1 trillion. That is more than the cost of Medicare and Medicaid combined. It is more than Social Security. It tops the defense budget, and it tops the budget for nondefense discretionary programs, which include most everything else.Tax breaks work like spending. Giving a deduction for certain activities, like homeownership or retirement savings, is the same as writing a government check to subsidize those activities. Functionally, they mimic entitlements. Like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, they are available, year in and year out, in full, to all who qualify. Yet in budget talks, Republicans ignore tax entitlements, which flow mostly to high-income taxpayers, while pushing to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

via The Real Spending Problem – NYTimes.com.

Right to a Lawyer Often Eludes the Poor – NYTimes.com

16 Mar

According to the World Justice Project, a nonprofit group promoting the rule of law that got its start through the American Bar Association, the United States ranks 66th out of 98 countries in access to and affordability of civil legal services.

“In most countries, equality before the law means equality between those of high and low income,” remarked Earl Johnson Jr., a retired justice of the California Court of Appeal. “In this country for some reason we are concerned more with individuals versus government.”

via Right to a Lawyer Often Eludes the Poor – NYTimes.com.

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com

14 Mar

The number of monarch butterflies that completed an annual migration to their winter home in a Mexican forest sank this year to its lowest level in at least two decades, due mostly to extreme weather and changed farming practices in North America, the Mexican government and a conservation alliance reported on Wednesday.

via Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com.

Simon Johnson: Big Banks Have a Big Problem – NYTimes.com

14 Mar

Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony to Congress last week also confirmed the latter point: some banks are so big that the Department of Justice is afraid to bring legal charges against them, for fear of how that would affect the economy. Senator Warren of Massachusetts continues to press this issue relentlessly and very effectively.

via Simon Johnson: Big Banks Have a Big Problem – NYTimes.com.

Can Wind, Water and Sunlight Power New York by 2050? – NYTimes.com

13 Mar

A group of scientists and energy analysts has laid out a path under which New York State could, in theory, eliminate its use of fossil fuels and nuclear power — including for transportation — by 2050. The graph above charts the contributions played by improved efficiency and adoption of renewable electricity sources as well as hydrogen fuel cells (with the hydrogen generated with renewable energy).

In particular, note this:

Rapid expansion of micro WWS [wind, water, sunlight] generation and associated decentralized infrastructure: rooftop solar, micro-wind, V2G, smart grids. These are mainly upgrades and additions to infrastructure, rather than replacement. And again, the correct evaluation basis is full social cost-benefit analysis over the entire physical lifetime, at near-zero discount rate.

via Can Wind, Water and Sunlight Power New York by 2050? – NYTimes.com.

The Pope and the Dalai Lama

13 Mar

Have they ever met, the Pope and the Dalai Lama?

I’m sure that many individual Roman Catholics and many individual Tibetan Buddhists have met. Perhaps some are neighbors and tend flower gardens side-by-side. Perhaps some’ve discussed their religious beliefs in a panel discussion at some august university. And perhaps some have just met in passing at a bus stop. But met they have in the course of their lives.

The Pope and the Dalai Lama are different. They are the heads of their religious groups. They have responsibilities and symbolic significance. They represent Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism to the outside world and, of course, to their followers as well. The Pope and the Dalai Lama are not merely individuals, but they, if you will, are offices too. Offices that individuals occupy, for a time. But the office itself persists.

The Papacy is unoccupied as I write this. There is no Pope, only a conclave of cardinals seeking to elevate one of their number to that office. It is otherwise with the Dalai Lama. That office has an incumbent.

I suppose that the Pope is more visible in the world than the Dalai Lama and considerably more powerful too. Yet I also suppose that while all those cardinals are aware of the Dalai Lama, he isn’t necessarily aware of any of them beyond a few particularly prominent ones. There is a difference between the head and the rest, a dramatic difference. Continue reading

Preventing an Arctic Cold War – NYTimes.com

13 Mar

Several countries, along with corporations like ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, are preparing to exploit the [Arctic] region’s enormous oil and natural gas reserves. New shipping routes will compete with the Panama and Suez Canals. Vast fisheries are being opened to commercial harvesting, without regulation. Coastal areas that are home to indigenous communities are eroding into the sea. China and the European Union are among non-Arctic governments rushing to assert their interests in the region. Some states have increased military personnel and equipment there.

The most fundamental challenge for the Arctic states is to promote cooperation and prevent conflict. Both are essential, but a forum for achieving those goals does not yet exist.

In 1996, eight countries — the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark (which manages the foreign affairs and defense of Greenland) — and groups representing indigenous peoples established the Arctic Council to chart the region’s future. So far, this high-level forum has identified sustainable development and environmental protection as “common Arctic issues.” But another crucial concern — maintaining the peace — was shelved in the talks that led to the council’s creation. The fear then, as now, was that peace implied demilitarization. It doesn’t.

What’s wrong with demilitarization? I think it’s a great idea. We need more of it.

via Preventing an Arctic Cold War – NYTimes.com.