Friday, January 16, 2009

Global Warming All Around, and I Can't Start a Fire

Well, it was negative 4 when I got up. We have the usual Internet blather from people who see cold weather as belying global warming. And I've reached the part of Friedman's book that is most important, where he talks about the Energy Internet and what it would take for us to get there. It's important reading, especially for anyone involved in local, state, or national government, because it seems quite clear to him (and I guess I agree) that none of it can happen without massive regulation and incentive programs. He talks very convincingly about how ridiculously patchwork our electric system is and how its old-fashioned forms of billing have, in part, led us to the mess we're in today--and how changing the way we pay for electricity will help to fix things. He has a wonderful, long passage that shows what that would look like--if all of us had "smart" appliances and vehicles, and no new buildings could be constructed unless they were net-zero energy use. Perhaps the most important point he makes is that our current analogy for energy policy to the Apollo program or Manhattan Project is fundamentally flawed. He quotes a physicist:
Those programs were to create unique noncommercial products for a specialized customer with an unlimited budget. Throwing money at the problem was an obvious approach. To save a livable climate we need to create mass-market commercial products for lots of different customers who have limited budgets.
The point is that to do the right thing vis-a-vis clean energy, the country must establish a correctly shaped market that makes that kind of energy worth purchasing. That's where government comes in. It's a smart and convincing argument.

Along the way, he has all kinds of fascinating stats:
We impose a 54-cent-per gallon tariff on sugarcane ethanol from Brazil, an ally, but a 1.25-cent-per-gallon tariff on crude oil from Saudi Arabia. Imported bottled water costs about $180/barrel, milk costs about $150/barrel--shouldn't oil cost more than either of these? Our world population is expected to grow by 1 billion in the next 12 years. If you gave each of those people one light bulb and allowed him or her to use it just 4 hours a day, we'd need about 20 new coal-burning power plants just to run those bulbs. Etc.


David Makar said...

The world is flat? or hot? which book?

KAZ said...

Hot, flat, & crowded. If you can't read all of it, at least read Part III: How We Move Forward.