Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

November 13, 2012

Sandy, The Election, and The Fiscal Cliff: The Perfect Storm?

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Economics,Policy – Tom Harrison – 4:51 pm

I have heard more about climate change in the “big” news in the last few weeks than I think I have heard in … years.

The confluence of several big things may have presented an opportunity: the “fiscal cliff”, the hurricane Sandy, and the outcome of the 2012 election. (more…)

December 24, 2010

A Merry Christmas for Exxon: Crude over $91/bbl

Category: Climate Change,Economics – Tom Harrison – 3:29 pm

Light Sweet Crude Over $91 at End of 2010

Where She Stops Nobody Knows

Crude Oil prices have been on the rise this month, and most are projecting they’ll continue to increase.

There are two groups of people who say things like “Oh, yeah!” when passing a gas station selling unleaded for $3.09/gallon, or fist-pump when they hear that light sweet crude is selling for $91.41/bbl.

Rex Tillerson and his cronies in the oil business (e.g. Republican Party)…


Me (and my family and some others).

Our reasons are different.

Rex wants money. And he’ll get it.

I want climate change and related legislation. And I’ll get it … eventually.

Am I A Bad Person For Wanting Oil Prices To Rise?

No, I am not a bad person.

The bad person is all those in our Senate who failed to recognize the importance of climate change, and deniers, and all the others who are foolishly preventing a rational response to climate change.

Most of these people know they mainly want to retain power, or remove people from power. They know what they are doing, and that it is wrong. These are bad people.

To be sure, rising oil prices tend to hurt many people, mostly the ones with less money (a recurring theme these days). Here in the northeast, many people heat their houses with oil. People use gasoline to drive to work. It’s real.

It’s so real that one could argue in the last big oil price spike, it set the national agenda and was a factor in electing our President. Some would even argue that high oil prices were the straw that broke the camel’s back, sending us into the Great Recession. High oil prices hurt.

How High Oil Prices Help

However, high oil prices also do a few other things:

  1. High prices help remind us that we’re dependent on oil (and other energy)
  2. High prices help demonstrate that relatively small price increase signals can result in significant reductions in consumption
  3. High prices also demonstrate that change is temporary; when prices fall again, so will our memory
  4. High prices let us know that putting a price on carbon would help us finally get off this roller-coaster

Because the US Senate failed to act on climate change in 2010 (blame whoever you want, it doesn’t matter: we failed) the world will take even longer to start dealing with the issues of climate change in a real way.

(I recognize that oil is a relatively small contributor to GHG emissions compared to coal and natural gas. Price isn’t the point. As we have seen lots of things change when oil prices increase. It’s not just increased fuel efficiency — everything about energy is affected. It hits people in their wallets, and, whether for the right reasons or not, they react.)

So all we can do now is hope for oil prices to rise. Because of the reasons cited, high oil prices seems to be the only thing that will awaken us as a nation sufficiently to result in longer-term legislative response to climate issues.

December 13, 2010

Why Is My Refrigerator Running When It’s Colder Outside?

Category: Economics,Household – Tom Harrison – 12:02 am

Steam Heat

Baby Its Warm Outside

Last week, it was colder outside than the temperature inside my fridge and freezer … but the fridge kept running — why can’t it use the cold air from outside? And while I am asking questions, why do I need a humidifier in winter while exhausting that nice, hot, humid air from our showers outside with a fan? Or, that nice hot humid air from the dryer — big plumes of hot air into the icy cold? It smells nice, too.

Our homes and their appliances are dumb as stumps. Or, is it us?

To be sure, the bathroom exhaust fan is not a simple problem — there are indeed times when that which is being exhausted is, um, best left outside.

But the clothes dryer — if you put in a dryer sheet, you’re sending nice smelling, warm, humid air outside (and, by blowing air outside through one hole, it is replaced by sucking in cold, dry, outside air through some other leak or hole). The fridge is even more perverse: 20°F outside, and the motor is running? Huh?

Afraid To Be Too Smart

Of course the reason for these inefficiencies is simply that adding smarts to appliances increases complexity, and that increases cost. (more…)

September 10, 2010

Review: Merchants of Doubt

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Technology – Tom Harrison – 11:39 am

I sometimes fail to understand the breadth, depth and complexity of human behavior. After reading Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming I have been reminded how perfectly rational it can be for a person to promote a position they know to be wrong, for some greater objective.

The book is written by two science historians and is very readable. They make some rather startling and direct assertions, extensively backed up with footnotes (a significant part of the book is the footnotes themselves). Their research took five years and is careful, fact-checked, and cohesive. Their conclusions are, in short, that for whatever reasons, a very small number of scientists … real scientists … found purpose and financial support in undermining the findings of real science. (more…)

June 24, 2010

Why the Jevons Paradox Does Not Apply Today

Category: Climate Change,Conservation,Economics – Tom Harrison – 11:02 am

In a couple cases recently, I have heard people talking about how the Jevons Paradox will undermine efforts to use energy more efficiently — and it certainly seems like it would fit, but it doesn’t apply to our current energy problems for several reasons: conservation, and improved efficiency are still our best options.

Or, so started a post that I began writing a couple weeks ago. Then, in some sort of karmic mind-meld, Peter Troast at wrote a post about Jevons, with almost the same conclusion as I was going to draw. Yeah, right, I hear you say.

So anyhoo, I think this topic is important to the larger discussion of energy, especially renewable energy, so here’s a link to Peter’s post on energy efficiency, which already has a nice thread of comments and observations — take a look, it’s a good read — and, add your thoughts!

March 21, 2009

Great Explanation of Cap-and-Rebate

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence – Tom Harrison – 2:52 pm

Check this out. A simple (yep, simple!) explanation of why cap and trade, and another similar program called cap and rebate, both work. From TerraPass.

February 14, 2009

Cap and Trade Explained Clearly and Simply

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:01 am

I came across this excellent, straightforward, and compelling page describing how cap and trade works in the Green Room blog of the Environmental Defense Fund. If anyone knows of such a clear explanation of how a carbon tax would work, please let me know and I’ll post it.

Update, 3/17/09, Here’s another article with a good explanation of cap and trade, in particular with a good contrast with carbon tax.

August 12, 2008

Oil Prices are Falling, and that is a Good Thing

Category: Economics,News,Observations,Political – Tom Harrison – 8:50 am

Oil Prices as of August 12, 2008, from WRTG EconomicsThis Spring and Summer, oil prices spiked. They got our attention. Boy did they get our attention!

But prices are falling again, and are now down. This is good.

So why are lower prices good? The recent oil price spike has done what it can to wake us up. We need a respite; a chance to calm down, and a chance to see that the oil market is doing what markets do. They go up, they go down. When things are clear and investors are confident, markets respond calmly. When there’s a surprise, markets over-react, then settle. When there’s general nervousness, they become volatile and hard to predict. (more…)

April 18, 2008

Freakonomics Gets It Right/Wrong (Completely)

Category: Climate Change,Editorial,Rants,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 10:46 pm

Cars cost a lot more than we pay for, say Dubner and Levitt of “Freakonomics” fame:

with roughly three trillion miles driven each year producing more than $300 billion in externality costs, drivers should probably be taxed at least an extra 10 cents per mile if we want them to pay the full societal cost of their driving.

Their article will be published in Time Magazine this week. In nearly the first paragraph, they define the problem:

…there are all sorts of costs associated with driving that the actual driver doesn’t pay. Such a condition is known to economists as a negative externality: the behavior of Person A (we’ll call him Arthur) damages the welfare of Person Z (Zelda), but Zelda has no control over Arthur’s actions.

That’s the good news (I guess). The bad news is they say that externalities from carbon emissions are a mere $20 Billion of that $300 Billion a year cost (traffic congestion and property damage are both far more costly unrealized costs). (more…)

April 15, 2008

Congestion Pricing: Simplicity is the Key

Category: Economics,Policy,Save Fuel,Technology,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 9:22 pm

New York City recently failed to pass a law that would change the price of tolls based on the time of day—higher prices during busy times and lower prices off-peak.

It’s not hard to see why this well-intentioned law didn’t pass. Take a look at this article (actually a “Freakonomics” Blog Post) in the New York Times. Are your eyes glazing over? Mine were.

The thing is, this is not only something near and dear to my environmental leanings, it is the main topic that I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on in college: change the price of something based on predictable patterns of use. So it’s possible that I am slightly more willing to understand this stuff than most people.

But my eyes glazed over anyway. (more…)