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Entries Tagged as 'environment'

Remove Obama’s Nuclear Regulator

December 14th, 2011 at 12:16 am 23 Comments

One of the raps against President Obama is that he’s in over his head due, in part, to lack of executive management experience.

Here’s one thing Obama could do to shore up his management credentials: find a way to get rid of Greg Jaczko as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now would be a good time.

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Don’t Expect Results at a Climate Conference

December 9th, 2011 at 3:56 pm 9 Comments

Another biennial international climate negotiation jamboree wraps up today.

What does the world have to show for it? Durban shouldn’t turn out to be the belly flop that Copenhagen was in 2009. Other than that, not much. See you in two years and all that.

Even a few greens are wondering if trekking to these multi-national climate hoo-hahs is worth it. A Pace University blogger mused this week that one round-trip air ticket from the East Coast to Durban would result in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 8 tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent, he noted with apologies for the pointy jab at his colleagues who made the trip—to cruising about for a year at the helm of a very large SUV.

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So Crazy it Just Might Work

David Frum November 18th, 2011 at 8:39 am 6 Comments

The Ontario government’s competitiveness task force–chaired by the dean of the University of Toronto business school–has proposed lower tax rates for business investment, offset by a new carbon tax.

The Free Market Can’t Clean Up This Nuclear Mess

November 11th, 2011 at 2:23 pm 19 Comments

Eli Lehrer ably defends the Department of Energy, the flawed and unloved agency whose name fell away from Rick Perry’s lips when his neural network took an inopportune coffee break.

As Lehrer pointed out, about half of DOE’s budget is allotted for watchdogging our nuclear arsenal and cleaning up “legacy wastes” left behind by production of fissile materials and nuclear weapons. One of DOE’s cleanup projects is Hanford.

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Colony Shale, The First Solyndra

September 29th, 2011 at 2:56 pm 22 Comments

Solyndra is a lesson in how the substitution of wishful thinking for green eyeshades can stimulate the growth of costly energy carbuncles that emit malodorous political fumes.

Today it is Solyndra. Yesterday it was Colony Shale.

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Bachmann’s Empty EPA Trash-Talk

September 6th, 2011 at 7:00 am 18 Comments

On a recent campaign stop in Florida, order Michele Bachmann waded into a political swamp by saying that she would drill in the Everglades if that “is where the energy is.” While she gave a cursory nod to drilling responsibly, here it’s clear she had no clue about the environmental or political consequences of what she was proposing.

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Where is Huntsman’s Passion?

David Frum July 29th, 2011 at 8:45 am 23 Comments

It seemed a weirdly fitting protest.

A single truck pulled an electronic billboard around and around the block. The billboard denounced Republicans for Environmental Protection – and their guest speaker, Gov. Jon Huntsman – as a “RINO stampede.” The truck promoted a group called JunkScience.com, run by a curious character called Steven Milloy.

The billboard’s message did not pack much punch, but the deliberate waste of gasoline? Now, that was calculated to annoy.

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How Litter Disrupts Civil Society

June 10th, 2011 at 2:26 pm 6 Comments

It seems to really be a case of “Garbage In, recipe Garbage Out” when it comes to ethnic, healing racial and social stereotyping.

A recent Dutch study by Diederik A. Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg from the University of Tilburg and Groningen in the Netherlands has shown that cluttered environments can determine our views about the people who live or work in them.

In their study (“Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination”), Stapel and Lindenberg, in two field experiments, demonstrate that “disordered contexts”  — those marked by litter, broken-up sidewalks or even abandoned bicycles — can indeed promote stereotyping and discrimination.

A recent strike by cleaners of the Utrecht train station in the Netherlands provided a unique opportunity for the authors to test the impact of “considerable physical disorder” among rail passengers previously accustomed to more salubrious surroundings.

The study suggests that physical disorder is likely to increase the need for structure and stability, leading to the increased use of highly simplified categories and value judgments — namely, stereotypes. Seen in this light, stereotyping is a way to cope with chaos, a “mental cleaning device” as both authors say.

“When our surroundings are full of chaos — be it dirt or uncertainty — we react by seeking order, structure and predictability,” report Stapel and Lindenberg. “Stereotypes, for all their problems, satisfy that need.”

Now, overstuffed garbage cans in the Netherlands may not explain in its entirety the growing influence of a populist virtuoso Geert Wilders. But these findings underscore how small and relatively trivial changes in our environment can increase the propensity towards populism.

These findings can be viewed as both troubling and promising. If it only takes a few overflowing trashcans and rusty bicycles to stir up populist, fervor we face a volatile future. However, if “little” things — such as a functioning garbage disposal system — can help to ensure social cohesion, then it behooves rational minds to ensure our infrastructures are maintained as well as is practical.


Don’t Blame the Fed for Oil Price Spikes

June 8th, 2011 at 10:26 pm 24 Comments

Congressional Republicans are having difficulty keeping their stories straight when inventing politicized explanations for high oil prices.

When they are not complaining that insufficient domestic production is the cause of high prices, they’re busy blaming the Federal Reserve for pain at the pump.

Ben Bernanke is too free and easy with the money supply, they argue, driving down the value of the dollar and consequently putting upward pressure on the price of oil.

At a Tuesday speech to the International Monetary Conference in Atlanta, Bernanke – in his measured, academic, and carefully non-partisan way – essentially told congressional Republicans that their dollar-price hypothesis is little more than the product of vivid imaginations. As if he were back at Princeton instructing a group of Econ 101 neophytes, Bernanke delivered a lecture that was as subtle as fingernails on the chalkboard.

“Some have argued that accommodative U.S. monetary policy has driven down the foreign exchange value of the dollar, thereby boosting the dollar price of commodities. Indeed, since February 2009, the trade-weighted dollar has fallen by about 15 percent. However, since February 2009, oil prices have risen 160 percent and nonfuel commodity prices are up by about 80 percent, implying that the dollar’s decline can explain, at most, only a small part of the rise in oil and other commodity prices; indeed, commodity prices have risen dramatically when measured in terms of any of the world’s major currencies, not just the dollar. But even this calculation overstates the role of monetary policy, as many factors other than monetary policy affect the value of the dollar.”

Both Bernanke and the International Energy Agency have attributed the run-up in oil prices to market fundamentals – worldwide supply and demand. Bernanke further said that his critics have their cause-and-effect argument backwards.

“As the United States is a major oil importer, any geopolitical or other shock that increases the global price of oil will worsen our trade balance and economic outlook, which tends to depress the dollar. The direction of causality runs from commodity prices to the dollar rather than the other way around.”

Which underscores the fundamental problem – heavy dependence on a commodity traded in a global market that is significantly influenced by dodgy petro-regimes. Lawmakers should adopt an energy policy that begins lowering our addiction to the sauce, not waste time on distractions that won’t.

America’s Wild Spaces Get the Shaft

June 3rd, 2011 at 1:18 pm 8 Comments

The Obama administration has backed away from a policy to designate as “wild lands” federal acreage that merits consideration for permanent wilderness designation by Congress.

Pleased with this announcement were Western Republicans who have a bad habit of deferring to off-road vehicle groups who can’t bear the thought of recreating in silence and to commercial interests for whom commodities extracted and sold is the only way to measure the value of lands owned in common by all Americans.

The next step, which should have been taken years ago, is for Congress to settle the final status of wilderness-quality lands that have been in limbo for the better part of two decades.

First, it wouldn’t hurt for the Obama administration to change its maddeningly passive habits and exercise some leadership in this area.

In the meantime, the administration should return to the status quo that prevailed before 2003, when then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton reached an out-of-court settlement with the state of Utah and abandoned the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) authority to establish “wilderness study areas” – places that merit administrative protection until Congress decides their permanent status.

Under a 1976 federal law, the BLM must maintain an updated inventory of acreage under its jurisdiction, including “outdoor recreation and scenic values.” In practice, before 2003, the BLM had discretion to give administrative protection to wilderness-quality lands until Congress made up its mind.

Second, Republicans should get re-acquainted with the stewardship ethic of traditional conservatism. Wild places inspire self-reliance, personal responsibility, faith, and spiritual renewal in a world where those conservative values are constantly under assault.

Third, Republicans demanding that federal lands be managed for “multiple use” must recognize that wilderness is explicitly called out as consistent with the purposes of the Multiple Use, Sustained Yield Act of 1960, which sets broad policy for managing national forests.

Multiple use doesn’t mean that economic development of public lands trumps preservation everywhere. As the law states, multiple use requires balance, “not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output.”

Finally, the administration and Congress looking for an example to follow could do no better than Ronald Reagan – who signed dozens of wilderness bills that protected more than 10 million acres of public lands. The Reagan administration worked with congressional Democrats during the 1980s to settle wilderness disputes that had festered in national forests for years.

On the day he signed four such bills into law, Reagan declared:

What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live… And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.