Thursday, July 13, 2006

Close Elections Reflect Robust Democracy

Here is a good article by a Harvard professor about the Mexican election. Close elections, whether in Mexico or the United States are not symptomatic of an electoral system is crisis, as is so often claimed in the mainstream press. Close elections are a sign that candidates are battling for popular support. That's robust democracy. There will always be instances of irregularities or fraud, and these become more important if the election is close. But close elections bring more public scrutiny in response, which benefits the system.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

That Darn Multilateralist Bush

It's a bit outlandish to think that the US could lead the way to peace between Israel and Hamas, as Michael Hirsh suggests. Our Navy and Air Force don't provide much leverage over this intractable problem. Who would we bomb?

Is there evidence that this problem is exacerbated because the President has become more "multilateral"? On the contrary, he has been quite consistent in his Israel policy.

Prospects for a stable government in Iraq are better than the prospect of resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Why are they called "green"?

It's strange that people who consider CO2 a pollutant are called "green". Green is the color of chlorophyll, the molecule that converts the nutrient CO2 and water into glucose and oxygen. Thus, plants are green. Without CO2 there would be no vegetation, animal life or human life.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Oil Will Be Valuable

Jane Bryant Quinn states that to stave off the coming energy crunch, "What We Need is Policy". Unfortunately, she does not offer much explanation of this cryptic comment, except that there should be some tax incentives associated with alternative fuels. Right. She shows more appreciation of the magnitude of the problem in her earlier article, "The Price of Our Additiction".

What's really needed is the irresistable motivation of higher prices. This will lead to the innovations Ms. Quinn contemplates. Low prices bring complacency and set the United States up for disaster when the inevitable crunch does come. Those with access to oil need to understand its future value. They should not be inhibited from pushing the price up, or sitting on the oil like an investment.

High prices can also be accomplished via taxation. Excessive taxation is usually a bad thing, but here it is justified in the service of conserving a limited resource.

Most Republicans argue in favor of exploring the Alaska wilderness. This is fine: no serious person doubts that Alaska will someday be pumped dry of any and all oil reserves. But Republicans need to think of this as providing a cushion for the future energy crunch, rather like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. It should not be seen as a way to supply consumer demand ten years from now. It is unconscionable for Republicans not to be sensitive to the national security implications of future oil supply. And by all means, allow the Democrats to slow the process down by weeping over the pristine Caribou mating grounds, or whatever. The longer we wait, the more valuable it becomes.

Mendelev, the creator of the Periodic Table of the chemical elements, was one of the pioneer scientists who investigated the incredibly rich possibilities of hydrocarbon chemistry. He is reputed to have said "this stuff is too valuable to burn". And so it is. But we are speeding toward the end of supply.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Blog Warming Party

The first thing to do in a new house is throw a house-warming party. This is a blog-warming party, and appropriately concerns the predicted increase in the earth's mean temperature in the coming decades.

Why a party? To celebrate a recent article in Newsweek by Robert J. Samuelson which seems to be right on target. This is significant because I anticipate this blog will produce some highly critical reviews of other mainstream media commentators.

Mr. Samuelson's argument is that stopping global warming is an extremely difficult, almost impossible engineering problem. He notes politicians talk about this with "self-serving hypocrisy"
but do not, or cannot address the intractability of the problem. I agree.

CO2 levels are rising rapidly - this is an unassailable fact. It is hard to prove this is due to human activity, but it's a reasonable hypothesis supported by some evidence. It is hard to predict how this will affect the earth's mean temperature, but it's reasonable to expect greenhouse warming. The preponderance of scientific opinion tends toward the conclusion that it is happening now.

When we read about the
hypermodernization of Asian societies, the huge numbers of people make our American civilization look like a modest town by comparison. We read in the papers that America is unpopular, but the evidence is that people across the globe want to live like Americans: to generate large quantities of electricity for a better standard of living, to become mobile with automobiles, to live in the suburbs with a house and a lawn and to drive the kids to soccer practice in a minivan. Why shouldn't they? Are you going to stop them? You won't stop me. Now close your eyes and imagine ten Americas on our little planet.

All of the oil will be burned. Much of the coal will be burned. There's just no way to stop this. The stuff is too useful - too easily converted into the energy we crave. What could take its place? And what will take its place when it's gone? Increased efficiency simply does not solve this problem. Growing food to make ethanol seems irrational. Perhaps massive amounts of nuclear power could help somewhat, but there is little movement in this direction. Do any serious politicians talk about reducing the population of the earth? All of the oil will be burned. Isn't this a more profound problem?

Returning to the lesser problem of warming: perhaps a warmer world is not all bad. Up here in chilly Massachusetts, it sounds OK to me. The sea will rise many inches and we clever humans will adapt to that. Some animal species will go extinct; others will shift their territorial range. Plants love CO2. And did you ever ponder how much sparsely populated land there is in snowy Canada and Siberia? The biosphere will thrive. But we are making catastrophic changes to the earth in other ways. Global warming is a detail. What do the most knowledgable environmental scientists, like E. O. Wilson, worry about? I suspect they are more distraught by the loss of species to rapid urban development and chemical pollution.

There is a misundestanding in the enlightened classes of people who are concerned about environmental protection. They take small actions which relieve the guilt associated with the transformation of our planet. They can say, "I'm doing my part" when they turn off a light, or recycle a Coke can, or buy a hybrid car. They say, "every little bit helps" when they propose a windmill farm. But the energy problem is much worse than they imagine. No solution is in sight.

So the next time you hear someone warn about global warming, thank him politely, but press him hard on this question: Is it possible to stop it?