Andy Brett


Gristniks hit the pages of the Globe

It looks like modesty has prevailed in the Grist offices again, as there hasn't been a peep about the op-ed in today's Boston Globe, entitled "A fit of (oil) peak," co-authored by Dave Roberts and Chip Giller. It's also the first hit on Google News for "peak oil."

Recreation vs. preservation

New National Park Service guidelines proposed

Dueling stories in the NY Times and LA Times today on a document that would loosen restrictions on what qualifies as recreation and is allowed in national parks. The changes, which would allow snowmobiles, cell phone towers, and low-flying tour planes, are the "brainchild" of Paul Hoffman, a "high-ranking appointee at the Interior Department" according to the Times. The change that's getting the most attention is the insertion of "irreversibly" into the language describing what makes a use illegal, to the effect that a use that harms the park's resources but does not do so "irreversibly" would be just fine. 400 Park Service employees have started a campaign to block the plan. Marketplace has a slightly more humorous title.

Access is free


The Economist has on its cover this week a not-so-flattering caricature of Uncle Sam and a dragon, both sipping down oil like there's no tomorrow. The article is "The Oiloholics." Why do I mention this now? Usually you have to subscribe to the magazine to read this article. But today you can promise to watch an ad and do something else for 30 seconds watch an ad and get access for free.

I'll take "things that get libertarians really mad" for $400, Alex

What are ‘price caps’

Hawaii has responded to soaring gas prices by capping wholesale prices at $2.74/gallon including taxes, starting September 1st. This would put the retail cap at about $2.86, slightly higher than the state-wide average but significantly lower than prices in Maui, which are over $3/gallon.

Can you hear me now?

Africa goes cellular

One in eleven Africans is now ... a mobile phone subscriber.Africa has an average of just one land line for every 33 people, but cellphones are enabling millions of people to skip a technological generation and bound straight from letter-writing to instant messaging.Sound familiar?

Going it alone

Vashon Island goes energy independent

From the Seattle PI: Vashon Island, located just south of Seattle, has plans to do what every environmentalist and geo-green wants to see America do: become more energy independent. But Vashon Island is shooting for 100%. The proposal, which is receiving nearly unanimous support from the island's famously liberal residents, is centered on a report [PDF] from the Institute for Environmental Research and Education. It suggests a variety of renewables to provide power to the 10,000 island residents. On some days, the island might even be able to send power to the mainland via the already established underwater power lines. More on giving back to the grid here. The one potential sticking point seems to be the wind turbines and the view of the island from the mainland. But even that looks like it will go smoothly, or at least more smoothly than Cape Wind. Google map of Vashon Island.

We have a taker

Tierney puts up $5,000

"I know next to nothing about oil production [in Saudi Arabia] or anywhere else." But John Tierney is still willing to put up $5,000 to say that the price of oil will stay low. He's found a taker in Matt Simmons, the peak oil Cassandra featured in Sunday's New York Times Magazine cover story. The terms are: Both parties put $5,000 into a joint account. If the average price for a barrel of oil for 2010 is above $200 in current dollars, Simmons wins. If it's under, Tierney wins. Winner takes the contents of the account, which will include interest by then. Rita Simon, widow of Julian Simon, the winner of a similar bet with Paul Ehrlich, has gone in with Tierney. If I had to put up some money on this, I would side with Tierney. 2010 is a little too soon. And 200 (2005) dollars is a little high. But, then again, there's a reason that I'm not the one putting money on this.

Not so fast

The pendulum swings back on ecosystem services

In a developing field like ecosystem services, there's bound to be a lot of competing paradigms out there, some of which may even argue that the entire field isn't all it's made out to be. A four-year long study [PDF] done by the UK-based Forestry Research Program might be seen as one such setback for proponents of ecosystem services. The study's "main finding" was that the method of planting trees in the upstream areas of watersheds does not have the desired effect of increasing the water yields downstream. I might be misunderstanding this, but I could have guessed that more trees upstream means less water downstream, and without the four year study. Setting that aside, however, the report cites other hurdles to ecosystem valuation.Local biophysical relationships are too complex to be translated into direct economic trading relationships and, because of the difficulty in providing absolute proof, could be challenged legally.However, John Palmer, manager of the Forestry Research Program, is not convinced that the whole idea is finished. "The key message," says Palmer, "is there are no blanket recommendations." The report does come close to a blanket recommendation, though, when it advises that a regional scale may be more appropriate because it will solve some problems of unreliability in individual watersheds. Via the Ecosystem Marketplace Newsletter.

Some light sweet crude reading

The NY Times does peak oil

Peak oil made what might be described as its MSM debut today, and in dramatic fashion, as the cover story in the New York Times Magazine. Weighing in at just about 9,000 words, the article by Peter Maass qualifies as a quick read just about as much as it qualifies as uplifting. After describing some of the effects of peak oil on life as we know it, Maass then asks: "But will such a situation really come to pass?" (Collective sigh.) Like it or not, Maass says, Saudi Arabia is the key to the if and when of peak oil. It's difficult to read the article and not be, among other things, a little miffed about the practices of Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC, between the vague numbers about output and reserves and the outright refusal to be audited. Matt Simmons, the peak oil "Cassandra" of the article, is frustrated as well -- if the Saudis issued the necessary data, he says: It would then take anybody less than a week to say, "Gosh, Matt is totally wrong," or "Matt actually might be too optimistic."For better or worse, Maass presents both sides of the story throughout the article, leading off the final section with, "So whom to believe?" After citing a US DOE report [PDF] that claims peak oil will be "abrupt and revolutionary," the article states (in the very next sentence) that "most experts do not share Simmons's concerns about the imminence of peak oil." Maass does, however, conclude by saying: When a crisis comes -- whether in a year or 2 or 10 -- it will be all the more painful because we will have done little or nothing to prepare for it.For more on "PO," check out Dave's post handicapping the Hamilton v. Kaufmann, free-market v. intervention discussion.