Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Green jobs update and theory-of-value arguments

My favorite jobs board, Clean, is still posting lots of those Saudi Aramco jobs, but the new development in the last few weeks is a boom in hiring for energy analysts and auditors in California.

It isn't hard to figure out why.

Four characters:


The landmark California climate change mitigation law has passed its various court tests and survived until the big Implementation Day. This has been a six-year wait, and there have been a lot of strange bets placed and weird hedges made in the meantime, including a ballot provision challenge, but it's finally down to the wire and time to hire.

Of course, the free-marketeers will cry out that these jobs being spurred by climate change legislation aren't "real jobs." In doing so, of course, they are using the theory-of-value argument that there's no real value of economic production created by environmental regulation, that all that we're creating is a complicated market of arbitrage centered around an actual fact of industrial decline due to environmental over-regulation.

I think that's utter claptrap and nonsense, of course.

The real value that is created is inherent, first and foremost, in abated future climate change (assuming other states and world regions follow suit -- see my recent post for Revkin's NYT blog about how this might be made to happen economically and diplomatically), second, in non-climate related pollution reduction improvements (such as reduction of lost work and school days due to asthma, for instance, but there are many others), and third, but not least, large future reduction in dollars needed to patrol the middle east militarily since the Carter Doctrine was first promulgated.

Besides, you can't have it both ways. If reducing emissions is zero-sum game or net-loss arbitrage in terms of a theory of value, what is stock market speculation?

I'm fond of my own personal theory of value argument, which says that we should get back to a more physical theory of value, and move away from marketing spin and claptrap.

Actually, to be more forceful here, I don't think we can abate or mitigate climate change unless we get back to a more physical theory of value. If all we do is spin, we'll keep adding to atmospheric carbon. Then all we'll be left with is adaptation, and adaptation in the force of grave geopolitical danger to boot.

Which at heart will be a forced superstorm of global revaluation, won't it? Never mind the most extreme test of societal leadership in human history.

The root theory of value question is, well, "what is it, actually, that we hold most dear?"

If you're a farmer who feeds his family and maintains and heats his own home, this is not that hard of a question to answer. First and foremost, I value the food on my plate that I grow myself, the house and barn that I maintain myself, the logs in my woodpile, and the physical capital of cost-effective, energy-efficient, labor-saving machines, that I own and maintain myself, that help me produce these valuable physical goods with less labor than would otherwise be required.

Now, extrapolate to the greater society.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Major NYT feature on the energy prospect (for class)

A half-million jobs as a result of cheap gas? Seems at least plausible. Low cost industrial energy may bring some manufacturing back from the far east, where gas is much more expensive.

But read, and consider, carefully, before you decide.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reinhart-Rogoff abused by Romneyites

My former economics professor at the policy school, Carmen Reinhart, is upset that the Romney campaign has misused and abused economic theory on recessions, the correct view of which she feels is given in her recent book (co-written with Ken Rogoff) This Time is Different.

The title is meant to be ironic (about how recessions follow predictable pathways but policy makers always think "this time is different"), but the Romney campaign team may have missed this, and are stressing difference.

Perhaps they don't do irony.

Krugman blogged about it this morning. Carmen and Ken attempted to set the record straight via the Bloomberg editorial page last week.

This is a nice Teachable Moment on recoveries, and leads into our new topic of inflation calculation, so we'll study this today in Ec & Quant.

Why they were hiring

A couple months ago I noticed, on the green tech jobs boards, a lot of Saudi Aramco hiring of green tech types.

This is why, recently revealed.

They must not have wanted to bid the market up. (But of course, they just did.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Don't expect to find "high wage, medium skill jobs"

There were other ideas to be extracted from this NYT editorial by Tom Friedman, but that was the one I liked, since it will help me with my perennial project of driving home to students how competitive the US job market is now and has been for several years.

You choose. Do you want to properly learn your college skills ("read, write, think, figure"), to the appropriate competitive level?

Or do you prefer a low wage, low skill job?

High wage: high skill?

Medium wage: medium skill?

Low wage: low skill?

The choice starts now, today, not tomorrow.

Competition for "high wage, high skill," and even for "medium wage, medium skill" started the first day of your first college class, and even back in high school.

Have you been competing? Are you taking advantage of every opportunity college offers to develop theses skills? Or are you just kind of drifting along, not really caring about what happens next?

If you don't like Mr. Friedman's message, don't complain to me. Or him. That's "shooting the messenger", something you would realize is fruitless, had you used the opportunities college offered you to learn to think critically.

I'm not in charge of the job market. I didn't make it this way.

Deal with it now. Or deal with it later. But you will have to deal with it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Iron fertilization fury

Is he an out-of-control nutcase businessman, or providing a market answer to the perils of climate change?

I'd like to know. But I'm going to have to see the data, and think about it. And we need very long-term data on food web impacts to evaluate this study.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

On despair, and its management

Here's an interesting piece by Jonathan Porritt, one of the UK's leading environmentalists, on why it makes little sense at this point for scientists to play down the ongoing climate disaster for political reasons and in order to get "taken seriously."

I tend to agree with his main thrust. I'm becoming sick and tired of all these efforts to appear politically correct and willing to compromise, in the face of what is actually the most unreasoned, unscientific, illogical, corrupt, and downright immoral movement of recent human history: organized climate denial.

The time for compromise may be running out.

Indeed, how can you compromise with a lie?

In twenty or thirty years' time we'll be talking about climate denialism the way we currently talk about communism and fascism -- how even smart, educated people were duped or soothed by the lies and manipulation of the apparatchiks, and how the whole thing was really run as a racket by a shady cabal of Stalinesque insiders -- except of course that these insiders aren't foreign idealogues and Homburg-hatted thugs, but rather the leading lights of major American corporations and, saddest yet, the rank and file of one of America's historically great political parties. Followed deliriously, of course, by an army of monstrously ignorant, ranting, drooling Internet trolls -- modern day "Orcs".

And don't we need the imagination of a Tolkien or an Orwell to simply grasp the full hideous meaning of it all? Billions of humans will have their lives impoverished, shortened, and made infinitely more stressful by what will happen to the planet's climate.

And not what may happen. What will happen. The amount of uncertainty about whether or not warming is underway, about what it will do to the planet's weather, and about whether it's happening too fast for human systems to deal with, was reduced to a irrefutably irrelevant statistic long ago.

The danger is, of course, despair.

I'm not particularly prone to despair myself. One of the special advantages of a military career, particularly one in military rescue, is of course that the training and the practice drives you to your physical and mental limits. You become fully familiar, even intimate, with the feeling of despair and learn to manage it.

As you get older, you may lose the physical prowess, but you keep the mental ability.

I was reminded of all this last night when one of my advisees and mentees came to class to give his internship presentation. Young Andy was in both the British Royal National LifeBoat Institution
and the US Coastguard before coming to Unity College to take a degree in Conservation Law Enforcement. He's had a lot of experience with Outward Bound, and made his first year as a Lead Instructor for Outward Bound into his required Unity College internship, which I have to say was a unique but ideal combination, because Outward Bound trains its lead instructors very well indeed.

His well-humored and humane presentation reminded me of the philosophy and reasoning behind the development of Outward Bound and its founder Kurt Hahn -- it was to learn to deal with despair and to manage it, to save lives in the Atlantic convoy system during World War II. (It also reminded me of what good human beings Unity College students turn out to be. Andy is a great credit to us all, although we can't take all the credit, with so many other great institutions in his background.)

Outward Bound works by pushing young people to and through what they think are their physical and mental limits, so that they experience the depths of despair, and the heights of victory over despair, all in a controlled and safe environment, if you can imagine.

If we are to survive the monstrous and fully avoidable idiocy we call climate change, we'll have to call on these old but trusted techniques for dealing with despair again, and again. Read Hahn's Wikipedia page, if you need a starting point. Of course, I've always loved the educational principles he used, especially the one about rescue service.

It's funny how you get so involved in the minor struggles of each day that you sometimes forget what your life has been all about. After literally years of working in the wilderness, these ideas were a huge part of why I came to Unity College all those years ago. I got so focused on climate change and the energy solution to climate change that I lost a little bit of my old focus on experiential education.

It may be time to move back in the other direction and in fact bring the two back together. After all, we're going to have to learn anew how to deal with despair.

A poet, nearly a hundred years ago now, may have figured a lot of it out for us. (Although the sexism must today be edited out. I'll let you do that part.)

(Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pakistani girl shot for speaking her mind

Germane to our discussions about women's education and birth control in developing countries, read this piece by Andy Revkin that explains the case of the Pakistani girls recently shot by the Taliban.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"It's not rocket science"

Sierra gets ready to launch her group's rocket.
Click on any photo to enlarge.

What goes up, must come down!

The instructor switches to the triggered launcher. Sam is holding on to the mast, which is threatening to fall over in the breeze.

Raising the mast at the start of class.
Lecture instructor Janet Preston is closest to the camera in the center.

"It's not rocket science, you know."

How many times have you heard that saying? And what do you think people mean by it?

Usually they mean that a task or an idea isn't very hard to learn.

But rocket science itself is not particularly hard to learn, at least to begin.

A rocket is defined as a vehicle whose thrust is derived solely from the mass and velocity of its propellants. The basic idea in rocket propulsion is that of Newton's Third Law, "[f]or every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Funnily enough, this is the only one of Newton's Laws that survived into 21st century American science language more or less as Newton originally stated it and as I learned it in Tapton School's 1970s physics classes.

Not that us British schoolkids learned them in the original Latin. Far from it. In the schools of darkest Sheffield city, in the depths of the socialist period, attending the city's best science school, we took no Latin, or at least very little.

But we were fairly serious about anything to do with engineering, and so we learned the more or less traditional English phrasing of all three Newton's Laws.

Call me a traditionalist, but I think them easier to learn and to apply:

Newton's First Law: An object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, in a straight line with constant speed, unless acted upon by an outside force.

Newton's Second Law: Force is proportional to mass times acceleration.

Newtons Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

So, real so-called "rocket science", if it is anything at all,  is primarily the application of these laws.

Students in PS 2003 Physics Lab learned how to apply Newton's Laws by launching water rockets during Week Four. Water rockets are made using soda or pop bottles and a launcher made from PVC pipe. You can get instructions for their manufacture from NASA, no less.

Ours had a twelve volt compressor salvaged from a vehicular emergency battery pack whose battery had expired. Although this rig was prone to overheating, having the electric compressor made it easy to use, saving the hours of hand pumping normally required for these experiments.

I made the launcher at home and briefly demonstrated it during Week Three's lab at the end of the period. Students went away with group tasks to complete for Week Four:

All groups: design and build a rocket to test. Vary nose cone, fins, shape, size
Group 1: Figure out a way to measure the final altitude of a rocket using triangulation
Group 2: Figure out a way to measure the final altitude of a rocket using slow motion video
Group 3: Figure out a way to find the optimum mass of water, keeping air pressure constant
Group 4: Figure out a way to find the optimum air pressure, keeping water mass constant

Of the groups, I would say Group 3 had the hardest job. They had to make a new launcher with a trigger, since the original launcher was designed to just released the rocket when the air pressure from the compressor overcame the friction on the launcher tube.

They came up with a handy-dandy trigger mechanism involving electrician's tape, a part of a pop bottle and cable ties that worked very well, (and indeed at the end of the class I stored their launcher away carefully for next time).

Each group had to collect data and write up their results as a formal lab report.

Now that's what I call rocket science!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Update on electric cars -- more lifecycle analysis

(Click to go to the original)

In a blog piece a few days ago I explained the life-cycle analysis technique as it applies to vehicles using my own small "fleet" of four aging vehicles and my possibly bad habit of maintaining them myself as an example.

I pointed out that any production-distribution-maintenance system that can potentially provide a longer useful life for a vehicle may reduce overall environmental impact/mile considerably.

Properly skeptical students, and my wife Aimee, may be correct in suspecting that this is just an excuse for owning an ancient Land Rover.

The lifecycle methodology is, however, serious business. If production impacts are significant, then there's a clear dividend to longer lifecycles. It's the combination of production with maintenance that provides the benefit.

An interesting example of this thinking is this Norwegian study on the lifecycle impacts of electric cars, released through the Journal of Industrial Ecology in the last few days. Among other methodologies, the study compares 100,000 km with 200,000 km lifecycles for the same vehicle.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The MOFGA Fair in the NYT: feels like "what has gone missing from America"

I was happy to see our friends and partners at MOFGA make the front page of the New York Times today.

The Land Institute's Prairie Festival was also there:


In our discussions about the difficulties created by oil we're mentioned Venezuelan near-dictator Hugo Chavez.

Here's an up-to-date report from the Guardian.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Barry Commoner

Andy Revkin's obituary in the NYT is here. The official one is here.

Here's what you need to remember:

- Everything Is Connected to Everything Else
- Everything Must Go Somewhere
- Nature Knows Best
- There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Monday, October 1, 2012