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Articles by Michael Levi

Michael Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at "Energy, Security, and Climate."

Featured Article

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 spending on energy innovation to pay off. U.S. consumers spent roughly $30 trillion on primary fuels and electricity infrastructure between 1970 and 2009. (Data from here; I’ve adjusted everything to 2005 dollars.) That doesn’t include all the money spent on energy consuming technologies like automobiles and air conditioners. Even ignoring that, though, one can loosely conclude that if government spending lowered either energy prices or consumption by a mere 0.5 percent, it was worthwhile. (I say l... Read more

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  • 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. […]

  • 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 […]

  • Can Rick Perry create 1.2 million energy jobs?

    Perry and Romney both promised to create over a million jobs in the energy sector. A closer look at the numbers reveals them to be vastly overstated.

  • What the Nobel Prize tells us about oil

    The Nobel Prize in economics was awarded for work on cause and effect, highlighting the difficulty of understanding how oil prices affect the economy.