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James Barrett's Posts

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Can the Keynes notion of ‘spontaneous optimism’ help U.S. investments in clean energy?

This post originally appeared on the Great Energy Challenge blog, in partnership with National Geographic and Planet Forward.  John Maynard Keynes, a giant in modern economic theory, famously wrote, "Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits." This notion, laid out in his seminal book, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, was meant to push back on the notion that people behave in an purely economically rational manner, that many of our decisions …

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Drilling down on oil

It may be true, but domestic oil drilling won't help.This post originally appeared on the Great Energy Challenge blog, in partnership with National Geographic and Planet Forward.  It's an unfortunate fact that stress has a way of making people crazy. At the moment, rising oil prices are creating a lot of stress. One of the problems with our deep dependence on oil is that oil prices can (and do) swing wildly in relatively short periods of time. Between January 2007 and July 2008, the average price of crude oil paid by U.S. refineries went from about $51 to $129 per …

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What Obama should know about ending oil subsidies

This post originally appeared on the Great Energy Challenge blog, in partnership with National Geographic and Planet Forward.  Despite my seriously mixed feelings about the State of the Union speeches, I tuned in to this year's speech for the first time in several years. Like many, I was disappointed if not surprised that President Obama didn't mention climate change even once. Climate policy is hard sell in a down economy. I hope Mother Nature understands. Less disappointing, and less surprising, is that he called for the economy to reduce our oil consumption. I'm sorry to be unimpressed, but when a …

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Silly Season 2.0

To those with more than a casual interest in politics, “Silly Season” is a common term used to indicate the time running up to an election when the logic of Capitol Hill, such as it is, gets crazier than usual. Votes are scheduled or canceled depending on how much they would help or hurt the opposition in their home districts rather than on the merits of the bills in question. Silly Season used to start in late spring or early summer before an election and ran right up to election day, though you could argue that it now starts earlier …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Rebounds and Jevons: Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded

This post originally appeared on the Great Energy Challenge blog, in partnership with National Geographic and Planet Forward.  My last post on David Owen's piece in the New Yorker and on the Jevons effect stirred up some interesting questions and discussion that I want to follow up on here. My last one purposely avoided some of the more technical parts of the issue to keep it readable and under my word limit. I think I'm about to undo that. But first we should pay thanks to the great 20th century philosopher, Yogi Berra, from whom I shamelessly stole the title …

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Rebounds gone wild

Let's talk rebound.Photo: Ryan FungThis post originally appeared on the Great Energy Challenge blog, in partnership with National Geographic and Planet Forward. Energy efficiency has become very popular in recent years. So much so that it's becoming cool for the truly hip to hold it in disdain. Case in point: David Owen's piece in this week's New Yorker: "The Efficiency Dilemma" [$ubreq]. It reads like he's being contrary just for the sake of being contrary. I don't want to make a habit of highlighting this type of work, and to do a thorough job of dismantling the piece would take …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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The messy side of energy efficiency: finance

Roof retrofitting is going to require the private financial system.Photo: David TreboscThis post was originally published on The Energy Blog, a project with National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge and Planet Forward. The sad truth is that if you want to learn about or work on energy efficiency, you need to understand the world of finance. Many of us in the energy/environment field (especially those working on policy) are more comfortable talking about efficiency ratings than credit ratings. But implementing energy efficiency projects at the scale we need will require large sums of money moving through our financial system. Government programs …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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The problem with a green economy: economics hates the environment

Cross-posted from the Wonk Room. Economics is critical to getting decent climate legislation passed, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman discusses in a extended piece for the New York Times. Economists like me have always suspected that this was true, but then we also suspect that economics is critical to pretty much everything. The problem is that economics hates the environment, or at least environmental policy. In the real world, environmental policy has been very good for the economy. But economic analyses of climate legislation find that pollution limits slow economic growth and increase costs. The Waxman-Markey climate bill -- …