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Philip Bump's Posts


Charles Koch, America’s largest crony capitalist, takes on crony capitalism

You gotta hand it to Charles G. Koch: The guy's got chutzpah.

Charles is the one on the left, not that it matters.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece from the infamous CEO of Koch Industries, the oil and gas (and many other things) giant that Forbes pegged as the second-largest private company in the world in 2010. The topic of the piece? The dangers of "crony capitalism," the again-in-vogue term used by the right to assail the president's efforts to subsidize anything that the right doesn't like. (He wrote something similar last year; here's Mother Jones' excellent takedown of that one.)

Let's see what the honorable Mr. Koch has to say today, shall we? Some selected excerpts.

Businesses have failed to make the case that government policy—not business greed—has caused many of our current problems. To understand the dreadful condition of our economy, look no further than mandates such as the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac "affordable housing" quotas, directives such as the Community Reinvestment Act, and the Federal Reserve's artificial, below-market interest-rate policy.

Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.

Charles Koch hates hates hates subsidies.


U.S. sees a spike in solar installation over last three months

Over the last three months, the U.S. installed more solar panels than in almost any other three-month period in history -- thanks mostly to utility companies. From Businessweek:

U.S. solar-panel installations more than doubled in the second quarter from a year earlier led by demand in California, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installations totaled 742 megawatts in the quarter, up 45 percent since the first quarter, and may reach 3.2 gigawatts by year end, the Washington-based trade group said today in its quarterly market report. California led installations with 217 megawatts, followed by Arizona with 173 megawatts.

The U.S. now has 5.7 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power 1 million homes, according to GTM Research, a Boston-based consulting company that prepared the report with SEIA.

Graph via the Solar Energy Industries Association. (Click to embiggen.)

The record for installations in one quarter was in the last quarter of 2011, with 791 megawatts installed. The number of panels installed topped the number installed in all of 2009.


Watch the Arctic thaw, in video and graph form

I don't mean to harp on the Arctic ice melt. I don't. But literally every day it gets worse. At some point soon it's supposed to start re-freezing, but that hasn't happened yet.

The ice loss is a fascinating, terrifying marker of how global warming is advancing -- and the ice loss can itself make warming worse. There are a ton of great resources to track what's happening with Arctic ice levels. Call it iceporn, if you will. And consider this post your Penthouse.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a number of cameras near the North Pole. This is a timelapse from one, beginning on June 30 and running until August 12. Keep an eye on the black-and-white poles that you'll see; they measure the depth of the ice cover.

Go full-screen if you can. 

Read more: Climate & Energy


Here are all of the various animals that climate change has empowered to kill you

Let me set the scene for you.

There you are, Joe America or Jane Patriot, minding your business on one of the last weekends of summer. Walking along through one of America's Majestic National Parks,™ you see an adorable animal and think, "I will take this home and keep it as a pet."

STOP. While it is totally appropriate to take things from National Parks (motto: "This all belongs to the American taxpayer, so help yourself, including to coal."), You should think twice about taking any of the following animals away with you, because climate change has ruined them.


A mouse. (Photo by C G-K.)

We told you last week that mice in Yosemite are trying to kill you. That is true. After the massive drought in 2002 wiped out their habitat in New Mexico, deer mice moved north, causing an unprecedented outbreak of hantavirus. To date, three people who stayed in cabins at Yosemite National Park (motto: "Do not stay in our cabins.") have died.

Scientific American has a FAQ about the virus, in case you didn't learn enough about the illness from the X-Files movie. The virus is not contagious from human-to-human, happily, but it may be present in nearly every state. As SciAm notes:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Saudi Arabia may be a net oil importer by 2030

Here's a good reason for America to wean itself off of oil, particularly from foreign countries: As foreign economies expand, they'll increasingly need to use their oil domestically.

Camels in Saudi Arabia, 1982. (Photo by Brian Harrington Spier.)

Case in point, Saudi Arabia, which may become a net oil importer within the next two decades. From the Telegraph:

The Kingdom is the world’s largest oil producer, accounting for about 13pc of global supply, but it may need to use a growing share of its production for power generation to meet rising electricity demand, Citi said.

Its export capacity could steadily reduce and, “if nothing changes, Saudi may have no available oil for export by 2030”, Citi analyst Heidy Rehman wrote.

Saudi Arabia consumes 25pc of its oil output and oil accounts for about 50pc of its electricity production. With peak power demand rising by about 8pc per year, the nation is aiming to more than double its power capacity by 2032 through new nuclear and solar installations.

Nuclear is not an ideal option, given the critical challenges of keeping a reactor cool.


Our constantly warming summers, animated

James Hansen has been beating the "climate change is happening" drum so long that his arm must be getting tired. His recent declaration that he was over-optimistic in his famously pessimistic 1988 congressional testimony was based on scads of new data showing the extent to which the climate has already shifted.

Shortly after his declaration, NASA (where Hansen acts as director of the Goddard Institute) released this video that demonstrates his points. Here's how the average summer temperature in the Northern Hemisphere has shifted over time.

The blog Marginal Revolution (where we stumbled onto this) describes what you're seeing.

The initial smooth distribution is based on data from 1950-1980. The video advances in yearly increments showing data for 10 year periods from 1950-1960 through to 2001-2011. As the data advances one can see a pronounced shift in the curve to the right and also, a little less clearly, the curve gets shorter and fatter. Thus, not only are we seeing an increase in the mean temperature but also a greater possibility for extremes in temperature around the increased mean.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Shocker: The oil that Isaac washed up on the Gulf Coast is from the BP spill

BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.

Earlier this week, we noted that Hurricane Isaac washed tar balls onto beaches in Louisiana. The chunks of old oil appeared in an area that was heavily affected by the BP oil spill, prompting everyone to think, oh, look, BP oil is resurfacing.

Except BP. "Woah, woah, woah, not so fast, guys!," a company spokesperson said in a statement that I am making up. "That seriously could have been from any other oil spill. Maybe it was the Exxon Valdez spill and it took a while to get here! Or maybe it's from a future spill caused by Chevron, and Hurricane Isaac ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. We may never know the truth!" This is a bit of an exaggeration, I admit. The company actually said that it's "important to fingerprint the residual oil to determine its origin," and that "if any of it is connected to the Deepwater Horizon accident," they "stand ready" to clean it up.

And voilà. From the Guardian:

Laboratory tests show that globs of oil found on two Louisiana beaches after hurricane Isaac came from the 2010 BP spill.

Tests run by Louisiana State University (LSU) for state wildlife officials confirmed that oil found on Elmer's Island and Grand Isle matched the biological fingerprint of the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that spewed from BP's Macondo well.

On Wednesday, BP said oil from its spill had been exposed by Isaac's waves and that the company would work to clean it up.


Obama’s solid week falls flat with disappointing jobs report

Photo by Shutterstock.

As he stepped to the mic last night, President Obama knew something that only a handful of other people in the country knew: the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) estimate of the number of new jobs created in August. Pundits looked for any sign that might indicate what those numbers would be; a wild swing in either direction can greatly influence the markets.

Now we all know them. In August, the country added an estimated 96,000 jobs, lower than the 130,000 expected by analysts. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent -- but as the Post's Neil Irwin points out, that's largely because hundreds of thousands of people stopped looking for work. (The smaller the total pool of people working and people seeking jobs, the higher the percentage that is people working.)

And it gets worse: June's BLS estimate was revised from 64,000 to 45,000; July's from 163,000 to 141,000. Combine those drops with the fact that 9,000 of the "new" jobs were actually because of the resolution of a labor lock-out in New York, and the total gain in new jobs is only 46,000.

Read more: Politics


What do you do when climate change drops out of politics? Whatever you can

We're in a weird moment here. It's obvious that there won't be any political movement on climate change in America any time soon. The Democratic Party, the party that once at least displayed a green banner, has tucked the issue away until after November. There's been only one real mention of the issue at the convention, from Bill Clinton -- less than half a second of his 48 minutes. Clinton is both highly popular and not running for anything, so it was easy for him to do.

Bill ClintonClinton says thousands of words, including a special two. (Photo by Jason Reed / Reuters.)

If the party wanted to focus on climate, Bill isn't even the Clinton administration official one would ask. But his vice president, Al Gore, isn't in Charlotte; instead, he's covering the convention for his doomed cable channel, Current. An anonymous person told The Daily that Gore boycotted the Democratic convention because "he doesn’t get along with President Obama and is disappointed that Obama hasn’t pushed harder for a cap-and-trade law that would force Americans to use less fossil fuels." Yeah, right. Convention organizers who've shown no desire to talk climate would have no incentive to offer the unpopular and polarizing former VP a speaking role.

Why Gore isn't there is unimportant. What's important is that Gore is now equivalent to climate change, and neither made it to Charlotte. Climate change is just getting mentions around the fringes, tiny bones from Clinton and delegates — and from activists outside the hall.


Arctic ice melt has global-warming impact equal to 20 years of CO2 emissions

Remember when you learned about colors and how white reflects light whereas black absorbs it? You know, then the teacher suggested that maybe the reason you were so hot during recess was your black, long-sleeved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt, but you wanted to wear that shirt because you were totally into Donatello until you learned he was some Italian artist?

You know what's white? Arctic ice.

The loss of Arctic ice is massively compounding the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, ice scientist Professor Peter Wadhams has told BBC Newsnight.

White ice reflects more sunlight than open water, acting like a parasol.

Melting of white Arctic ice, currently at its lowest level in recent history, is causing more absorption.

Prof Wadhams calculates this absorption of the sun's rays is having an effect "the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man".

This is what the ice cap looked like, as of yesterday. That orange line was the median coverage back when people knew what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were.

Sea ice extent on Sept. 5. (Map via NSIDC. Click to embiggen.)
Read more: Climate & Energy