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Michael Levi's Posts


Has government spending on energy research been a waste?

Cross-posted from the Council on Foreign Relations. Steve Mufson had a piece in the Washington Post Outlook section this past weekend suggesting that the $172 billion that the U.S. government has spent on early stage energy research since 1961 has largely been a waste. (I say "suggesting" rather than "arguing" because Mufson doesn't quite make the point explicitly; that said, it's hard to read his essay without being nudged toward that conclusion.) There's a lot of smart stuff in the piece, but in the end, it's unconvincing. The basic reason is simple: it doesn't take much for $172 billion of …


Can the Keystone XL coalition stop climate change?

Cross-posted from the Council on Foreign Relations. Bryan Walsh, writing at TIME, is right: Bill McKibben and the Keystone XL protestors have pulled off something pretty impressive. I'm not talking about the merits of the indefinite delay to the pipeline that the State Department announced yesterday -- the substantive case for blocking Keystone is weak. But you'd have to be pretty blinkered not to acknowledge that, purely as a matter of organizing and impact, the anti-Keystone movement is punching way above its weight. Whether it can translate this victory into something bigger, though, is an entirely different question. I want …

Read more: Politics


Are we all toast after 2017?

Cross-posted from Council on Foreign Relations. The annual International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO) was published yesterday with an attention-grabbing headline: The chance of avoiding dangerous climate change will "be lost forever" unless the world changes course by 2017. The basic argument is simple. The world is constantly accumulating more fossil fuel-based infrastructure (power plants, cars, and so on). If the infrastructure that's expected to be in place by 2017 is allowed to live out its economic lifetime -- something that seems like a realistic assumption -- it alone will generate enough emissions to put the world on …


Can Rick Perry create 1.2 million energy jobs?

1.2 million jobs? Try again, buddy.Photo: Gage SkidmoreCross-posted from Council on Foreign Relations. The centerpiece of Rick Perry's economic plan, released this morning, is a pledge to create 1.2 million energy jobs. Mitt Romney has already promised to create nearly 1.5 million energy jobs. Why do we keep hearing numbers in this ballpark? And are they plausible? A quick preview since this is a long post: I see about 620,000 jobs max, of which about 180,000 are actually in the energy sector. The real world numbers are almost certainly quite a bit lower. Now back to the analysis. The figures …


What the Nobel Prize tells us about oil

Cross-posted from Council on Foreign Relations. Do you think that it's straightforward to figure out whether high oil prices cause recessions? Many people apparently do. The 2011 Nobel Prize in economics, awarded today to Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims for "empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy," should make them reconsider. The basic reason is simple: If it was easy to separate cause from effect and thus measure the relationship between stimulus and response, they wouldn't be awarding Nobel Prizes for related progress. Indeed, the difficulty of distinguishing economic cause from effect is a big reason for economists' …


Separating fact from fiction on the Keystone XL

Rhetorical attacks on both sides of the tar-sands battle have gotten out of control.Photo: 350.orgCross-posted from the Council on Foreign Relations. Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move diluted bitumen from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast, has come into full force over the past couple weeks, with over 1,000 arrests at protests in D.C. I've written extensively regarding how both sides of the oil-sands debate exaggerate their arguments; in reality, the oil sands are neither a climate catastrophe nor an energy security bonanza. As opposition has ramped up, though, pipeline opponents have gone into overdrive, …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil


Why do green jobs pay better than other jobs?

Jobs in industries like mass transit and waste management account for nearly 40 percent of the green economy.Photo: Kymberly JanischCross-posted from the Council on Foreign Relations. I've always been skeptical of the oft-heard claim that "green jobs" are "good jobs" -- that is, that green jobs somehow pay better than other ones. A recent Brookings Institution study, though, takes a rather thorough look at the "clean economy," and concludes quite emphatically that green jobs do in fact pay better than the typical U.S. job. That invites an obvious question: Why? A decent part of the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, lies in …


A must-read report on shale gas

Protesters concerned with the safety of fracking.Photo: ltmayersCross-posted from the Council on Foreign Relations. The Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board has published its 90-day interim report [PDF] on "Improving the Safety and Environmental Performance of Hydraulic Fracturing." It is an exceptional piece of work. Anyone who wants to understand the environmental consequences of shale gas development, and the tools available to manage them, should read it in its entirety. I won't rehash the substantive contents of the report here; its executive summary, and various news reports, do a good job of that already. But I …


ideas for shale

Don't screw up natural gas

Photo: Zhong Min/Xinhua/Zumapress.comClimate policy is in a state of near crisis. Cap-and-trade is dead in U.S. politics for now. Analysts and advocates, focused for so long on that approach, are largely bereft of credible alternatives. It has become fashionable to advocate instead for energy innovation or for "making clean energy cheap." But unlike cap-and-trade, these are not policies: They are goals. Advocates of energy innovation -- and advocates for cap-and-trade -- need to put new policies on the table. As Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus point out, government support for clean-energy innovation is essential to bringing down the cost of …