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Clark Williams-Derry's Posts

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The end is nigh

Geologists predict that oil production will decline within a decade

As I'm sure you've noticed by now, gas prices have fallen back from the phenomenal highs of last summer. The immediate cause has been the economic crisis. When credit markets seized up, some companies that wanted to buy oil simply couldn't get the cash. And perhaps more importantly, the economic slowdown has decreased projections for oil demand. Markets that seemed tight are now looser than they've been in a while. But those changes are just on the demand side. On the supply side, though, little has changed. If anything, the outlook for oil supplies is somewhat more pessimistic than it …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Loan payday

California’s innovative energy efficiency loan program is a model worth copying

A request: If you a) have anything to do with city or county government, and b) have any interest in, or authority over, property taxes, finance, or energy efficiency, please drop whatever you're doing for two minutes, and skim this article. Oh, all right, I bet you didn't actually hit the link. So to make your job easier, I'll pull a quote or two. California [just] enacted a law that allows cities and counties to make low-interest loans to homeowners and businesses to install solar panels, high-efficiency air conditioners and other energy-saving improvements. Participants can pay back the loans over …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Staycation, all I ever wanted

"Staycation ... a portmanteau that combines "stay" and "vacation" and refers to a holiday that takes place either at or near home." With gas well above $4 per gallon this summer, and with airlines raising prices and canceling flights because of high fuel costs, it's not too surprising to find a word like "staycation" gaining a toehold in the North American lexicon. Google now finds nearly 200,000 web pages that use the word -- most of them added within the last few months, if my casual browsing is any indicator. But even back when fuel wasn't so pricey, some of …

Read more: Living

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Feeding climate change

Still more reasons to eat local and lay off the beef

Photo: Elizabeth Thomsen via Flickr. Increasingly, consumers are trying to reduce the environmental impacts of the foods they eat. But it's not so easy to know what to do, in part because of the bewildering array of food choices the market offers, but also because it's hard to know what food choices carry the biggest impact. This nifty study tries to clear away some of the murk by tackling a fairly straightforward question: If you care about the climate, which is more important, what kind of food you eat, or where that food is grown? To summarize the findings: All …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Calling all economists

Are the CGE models useful for predicting the effects of climate policy?

Photo: StuSeeger via Flickr. My pal Peter Dorman is looking for answers: Does the class of economic forecasting tools known as "computable general equilibrium models" (aka CGE models) have any documented track record of success? This may seem like an arcane point, but it's quite relevant to climate policy. Government agencies throughout North America are using CGE models to forecast the economic impacts of various cap-and-trade proposals. But many academic economists -- Dorman among them -- think that the CGE models are built on sand. Says Dorman: I think these models are so dubious theoretically and unreliable in practice that …

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Give it away, now

Interesting research findings on wealth and happiness

Photo: sean-b via Flickr University of British Columbia researchers have put a price tag on happiness. The good news: It's available for the low price of $5. The better news: You can't spend that money on yourself. Instead, to get the most smiles per dollar, you have to spend money on other people. Dr. Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver and colleagues found that [experimental subjects] report significantly greater happiness if they spend money "pro-socially" -- that is on gifts for others or on charitable donations -- rather than spending on themselves. The researchers apparently looked at …

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A glass potentially more than half full

What’s right with the WCI?

Last week, my colleague Eric de Place dinged the Western Climate Initiative -- an effort by Western states and provinces to develop a carbon market with a strict, declining cap -- for kicking the can down the road on transportation fuels. Of course, the WCI has not ruled out the possibility of capping emissions from the transportation sector. They've just delayed a decision until they run some more economic analysis. So there's no reason to gnash our teeth over a lost opportunity -- not yet, anyway. Still, it's hard to tell whether the glass is half full (transportation fuels haven't …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Driving in circles

A fun traffic simulator and lessons learned

Via Brad Plumer: a traffic jam in in a bottle. To me, it's pretty remarkable how closely the real-world experiment above matches up with this java-based computer traffic simulator. Warning: if you click the last link, and you're at all geeky, prepare to lose your afternoon! A few years back I wasted hour after hour playing with the java settings, and watching "traffic" jams materialize and melt -- just like in real life. My favorite quirk: for one lane-narrowing scenario, I could make traffic flow along beautifully at 40 miles per hour, but seize up like glue at either 20 …

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Cuteness saves the climate

I thought this was clever -- a Cliff Notes version of climate-friendly lifestyle choices. Click the image for the full-sized version. There's nothing groundbreaking here, really, but it's a nice summary. And it's cute!

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Vicious life cycles

Can we trust carbon labeling?

About a year ago, I was cautiously bullish on British supermarket giant Tesco's pledge to start putting carbon labels on its food. But I think that their progress so far -- which I'll get to in a minute -- suggests an important lesson about the policy risks of treating a fuzzy exercise as if it were completely reliable. Tesco's idea was that the chain and its suppliers would pay for objective, comprehensive reviews of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the foods on the store's shelves. The analyses would cover all major steps in bringing food from farms to the checkout line …