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Articles by Andy Brett

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.