Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Getting Green Wrong

So, let’s suppose that there is a blue wave, the Democratic Party sweeps the Presidency and the Senate, and the Democratic-controlled government legislates an end to fracking and fossil fuel subsidies. What happens? To begin with, coal mining stops almost completely. The price of natural gas perhaps quintuples, while US domestic petroleum stops being a marketable product. Ten million aggrieved suburban homeowners descend on Washington DC with trowels.
If we’re going to do this properly, we have to have subsidies to convert our heating systems away from fossil fuels.
But it doesn’t stop there. Natural gas is used for other things than heating. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is used as a maritime fuel, where it is preferable to the incredibly dirty marine diesel oil (MDO) that ships burn. (The whole merchant marine is a huge pollution problem, but that is for another post.) Ethane from “wet” natural gas is used as a plastics feedstock. Propane is used as a ground transportation fuel, and everything heavier goes into the various petroleum industries.
We need to plan for all this. We need to be thinking about it. Is there anyone planning?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Decarbonizing: Running the Numbers and Economic Modeling

(This is a reply to a Twitter question from a retired OECD energy policy expert on what numbers I would like to see run when thinking about decarbonization.)

When I wrote “if anyone has actually run the numbers, I haven't seen their work” I was thinking “built an economic model of the transformation required to move the world away from fossil fuels.” It seems to me direly important that we do so.
We’ve been talking about natural gas. We know that as various subsidies are removed the price of natural gas will rise. (By the way, the USA has a production subsidy, the depletion allowance.) Ideally, users of natural gas as fuel will, therefore, replace their systems with some combination of heat pumps and electric furnaces. Many furnace owners quite literally cannot afford to upgrade their systems. Others may be able to afford the change but will be adversely affected by it. All businesses in this area will be in competition with international businesses that have not converted their systems. So subsidies and, probably, tariffs will be needed for this change to be carried out in an equitable way.
Natural gas is also used for transportation, and natural gas liquids are used as a chemical feedstock for plastics manufacture. DOE’s Energy Information Agency does not even know the amount of NGLs that are used in plastics manufacture; probably no-one does.
The scale of this problem is vast. In the USA, there are tens of millions of single-family homes with gas furnaces. If fuel prices spike sufficiently, there is likely to be a voter backlash against the conversion. There is going to be resistance in any event.
The scale of the mobilization required to decarbonize the economy will be vast and it must be done very quickly. Back in 1991, Al Gore said we needed the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to guide the change. Time has gone by, and the urgency is much great. Now we need a mobilization equivalent to that required for a total war.
If this is going to be done at all, we need the best planning possible. Hence, we need models, and I am not aware of anyone who has built even the prototypes of those models.
Enough of an answer?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and the Zeitgeist

I’ve come down from the upper class
to mend your rotten ways

Where did we get Boris Johnson from, for heaven’s sake? The man is an obvious grifter. And why Donald Trump?
Be afraid, there is an answer.
Time are hard. And when times are hard, people of most nations look back to the Olde Days when things were better. This was where Afghanistan got the Taliban from: godly men from the days of the Caliphs. Donald Trump is an image (entirely an image, he is apparently actually a failure as anything but a television personality) of the American entrepreneur. Boris Johnson plays the noble.
It’s all bosh. The Taliban were not godly, Donald Trump is a failure as an entrepreneur, and Boris Johnson is a fake noble with a fake name and a fake accent. But “Mundus vult decepi, ergo decipiatur” (“The world wishes to be deceived, so let it be deceived”) and enough of the public believes. (Lying, character assassination, and a press dominated by the far right helped.)
The world, truly, stands on the edge of a new age. Humanity either will change and prosper, learning to master its numbers and its use of resources, or its numbers will collapse and it will sink into poverty in an ecologically impoverished world. And so humanity stands, as Rome once did, on the edge of vast change, and there are purges and the reinstatement of state gods. In utter panic, the world turns to the values of its past, failing to recognize that these either never were honored in their own times and often never were even valid. And so we get the grifters and the ethnic cleansing.
If humanity is to thrive, it must live in the present looking towards the future. It must look to the future and listen to visionaries like Greta Thunberg and Bill McKibben.

All the major media firms, old and new, support Trump

(My lump of coal for the day.)

The support ranges from lukewarm (MSNBC) to full-throated (Fox), but they all support him. Facebook allows any lie to distributed to any identifiable group for a price. Twitter refuses to ban white supremacists because its software has trouble telling the difference between white supremacists and Republicans.

How the devil are we supposed to win this election? It may be possible; we won in 2018, we might, I suppose, win in 2020. But it's going to be work.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Taxes in Washington State

(In answer to someone objecting that taxes in Washington State are too high.)

Washington state gas taxes are higher than the national average, but that's 10¢ a gallon. There's 8 states higher and our climate is pretty hard on roads. (Source: http://www.gaspricewatch.com/web_gas_taxes.php.)

Here, here's a table of revenues from 2016: https://ofm.wa.gov/washington-data-research/statewide-data/washington-trends/revenue-expenditures-trends/state-local-government-revenue-sources. The biggest chunk are the sales and the B&O tax, the next largest is the property tax. That's over 50%. All the other taxes are less than 10%.

Here's a pie chart of expenditures: https://ofm.wa.gov/washington-data-research/statewide-data/washington-trends/revenue-expenditures-trends/state-local-government-expenditures-function. Highways are7%. Local roads aren't even a separate category; I think they fall in the 9.2% “other” wedge.

We know where the money goes and it isn't being wasted. This isn't New Jersey.

And look, I get that you hate paying high car tabs. You know something? So do I. When my family was broke, the sales and B+O taxes hurt a lot and car tabs were a rotten cherry on top. But we have to pay somehow or we have no roads, we have no schools, we have no … Washington is not a poor state. It's a very rich one. And yet we cannot agree to fund infrastructure and education.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Bullying and Character Assassination, Corbyn and Sanders.

I wrote this about possible Republican opposition to Bernie Sanders two years ago:
The Republicans would have dug up his 1972 alternative press essay on sexuality and gender roles and spun it as rapey. They'd have dragged out his support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and said he was a Communist and a traitor. They'd have dog-whistled the white supremacists, painting Sanders as a race traitor, and spun up the anti-semitism, all the while claiming he was a bad Jew and a traitor to Israel. They'd have told the African-Americans he was racist, and told the white folk he was too soft on African-American criminals. They'd have leaned on his atheism.
Consider this on Corbyn's defeat, just now written:
They said he was a Communist and a traitor. They dog-whistled the white supremacists, painting him as a race traitor, and spun up the antisemitism, all the while claiming he was a bad Jew and a traitor to Israel. They told the Muslims he was Islamophobic, and told the non-Muslims he was soft on terrorism. They leaned on his atheism.
We need to think carefully about our response to bullying and character assassination. Sanders, I think, is exceptionally vulnerable to these attacks, but none of the non-fascist US Presidential candidates are immune.

Character Assassination and Bullying: On the vote in the UK

I take two lessons away:
  1. Character assassination works. Jeremy Corbyn is not a racist antisemite. Boris Johnson is. Corbyn lost votes because of well-publicized lies; Johnson did not.
  2. Bullies are popular, even among the people they are bullying.
I look at this loss, and I see ghosts of the losses of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, John Kerry to W. Bush, and Al Gore to W. Bush. The exact same pattern: minor failings of a liberal candidate of good character are blown up, falsified, and endlessly reported, while major failings of conservative candidate of foul character are glossed over and buried. Those liberal candidates never knew what hit them.

Time to change our strategies. We need to fight bullying and character assassination, and that will be the subject of at least one more post.

And, 100 years after the failure of the Second International to unify against World War I,  nationalism still trumps class consciousness. Many people don't vote for bread and butter, even when they're starving.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Pelosi, impeachment, trade agreements

I think that making a deal on the USMCA was probably the price for impeachment.
Some of us are blaming Pelosi for the problems of her caucus. 

Just how deep does the rot run on the Democratic side?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Democratic Nomination Shambles

So Harris is out, and Steyer is still in. The faces in the next Democratic debate will all be light-skinned and male. I did not and do not love Harris. But why is she out, and why is Castro out, and why is Booker out, and Steyer still in?

The Democratic Party's Presidential nomination process is a shambles. And a shout-out to the Supreme Court Justices who made sure that the only way to become a Presidential candidate is to buy your way in.