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Adam Stein's Posts

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Competition dreams up new ways to harass suburbanites

Dwell magazine and Inhabitat have teamed up to sponsor a “Reburbia” competition in which designers re-envision suburbia in ways that make environmentalists seem as scary and dingbatty as possible. The finalists include a lot of inspiring ideas, but my favorite by far is the proposal to have menacing 3,000-foot-tall robots stomp into suburban villages, rip the homes out of the ground, and install them in bleak, Matrix-like hives. “By radically retrofitting suburbs, the old methodology of horizontal sprawl is supplanted with a scheme of vertical-core sprawl freeing the suburbanite from the demands of automotive travel.” Unless, of course, the suburbanite …

Read more: Cities

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Digital downloads are greener than CDs

Several studies have looked at the climate impact of internet infrastructure and information technology, and other studies have attempted to compare the relative efficiency of internet retailing vs. traditional bricks-and-mortar stores. A new study takes a different spin on the subject, comparing the energy embodied in physical products with their digital, network-based counterparts. The result is hardly shocking, but it’s kind of fun nonetheless: a life cycle analysis reveals that downloading music digitally creates less than one sixth the carbon emissions of buying it from a retail store (pdf). The study compares six scenarios: Music purchased from a traditional retail …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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What does it mean for a car to get 230 miles per gallon?

Chevy VoltGM has created a bit of buzz around its claim that the Chevy Volt gets 230 miles to the gallon in city driving. From the internet a great chorus has replied: “This number doesn’t make any sense!” And it doesn’t. The trouble is, it’s not clear what better metric exists for measuring the efficiency of all-electric or plug-in hybrid cars. GM isn’t the only company to make such claims. Tesla has long stated that its electric roadster gets 135 “MPG-equivalent.” Nissan has responded to GM’s claims by announcing that its all-electric Leaf, also slated for sale in 2010, gets …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Cash for Clunkers is a hit. Does it work?

The unexpected popularity of the cash-for-clunkers program has sent congress scrambling to find more funding. About 250,000 people have taken advantage of the incentives to trade older cars for ones with better fuel efficiency, burning through the first billion dollars in about a week. The price tag of the program has given politicians something to argue about, but I’m interested in a more basic question: does it work? The last time I looked at this question, I came up with a somewhat equivocal answer: cash-for-clunkers is an interesting experiment, but it’s tough to pass judgment without some hard data. Hard …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Oil prices and the recession

Economist James Hamilton crunched some numbers and found that the current recession can largely be explained by sub-prime mortgages financial derivatives imploding credit markets insolvent banks winged monkeys the surge in oil prices in 2007 and 2008. It’s a result so unexpected that even Hamilton claims not to believe it entirely, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Previous oil shocks in 1973, 1979, and 2000 were all followed by recessions. The Wall Street Journal weaves the finding into a sort of grand unified theory of the financial crisis: Maybe what happened to oil prices had something to do with …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Did environmentalists get played on cap and trade?

Although it’s not his regular beat, Kevin Drum blogs sensibly about carbon policy from time to time. Recently, though, in an otherwise agreeable post about the fecklessness of opponents of climate change legislation, Drum offers up a narrative that is both fairly commonplace and also riddled with misconceptions: It also goes to show how fleeting conservative support for “market-oriented solutions” like cap-and trade is. A lot of the liberal enthusiasm for cap-and-trade over the past decade has been based on the idea that it might be more acceptable to conservatives than a straight tax, but obviously that hasn’t turned out …

Read more: Politics

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Waxman bill threatens children and elderly, says very concerned power industry

Reactions to the Waxman energy legislation are going to be pouring in over the coming days and weeks. On an early read, environmentalists are enthusiastic. But who is looking out for society's most vulnerable? Power companies, of course! Says Scott Segal, chairman of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council: ... the bill's silence on a method for allocating credits leaves open the option of an auctioning system that could double up the impact on energy consumers. Those living at or near the poverty level or on fixed incomes, and institutions like schools and hospitals are likely to be particularly hard hit. …

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Oregon’s successful mileage tax experiment worked smoothly — and helped curb congestion

Recently I've been flogging the concept of a mileage tax, a system of per-mile road usage fees that over time can replace our dysfunctional gasoline tax as a way of funding transportation infrastructure. Although people have raised a lot of interesting objections, I'd like for now to skip ahead and simply describe Oregon's successful experiment with a mileage tax. A single real-world example can be a lot more illuminating than an entire internet's worth of abstract debate. Way back in 2001, Oregon recognized the problem that many state legislatures are now staring down: gas tax revenue is falling inexorably as …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Cap-and-rebate is more robust in the face of carbon high prices

The other day, I used the fanciful example of $50,000-utility bills to illustrate how cap-and-rebate schemes can inspire energy efficiency and conservation. The numbers were deliberately exaggerated, but they highlight one of the features of cap-and-rebate that I like: the robustness of the system in the face of higher carbon prices. The political battle over climate change legislation is mostly a battle over cost. Who pays and how much? Even the arguments that seem to turn on fine policy points (safety valves, offsets, circuit breakers, permit auctions, etc.) really boil down to cost. While a high price of carbon isn't …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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How cap-and-rebate brings about carbon reductions

David Roberts asks: Who, in this scenario [carbon revenue rebated to consumers], has any new incentive to shift to low-carbon electricity or efficiency? Short answer: everyone. Let's say I'm your utility, and I raise your energy prices so that, at present rate of consumption, your bill will rise to $50,000 per year. Pretend that energy here means everything: heating oil, electricity, natural gas, everything encompassed in a carbon cap. Then I hand you an annual rebate check for $50,000. You can do two things. Give the money right back to me to pay for energy. Money is shuffled. Nothing changes. …