Time again to consider things that directly impact humans ability to achieve a sustainable trajectory for their civilization.

First, two great items from CNN today:

1. Time has “The Great Recession: America Becomes Thrift Nation.” A lot of great Timesqe poster material.

2. EMR does not often quote former Speaker Hastert’s staffers but John Feehery has some good things to say about “What’s Driving the U.S. Over the Cliff?”

BOTTOM LINE FROM BOTH: If a nation-state sets out to create a consumer driven economy, they better have a comprehensive strategy to educate the citizens in something beside Mass OverConsumption.

Now to Energy:

Readers of this Blog may recall EMR’s perspectives concerning the dispersed distribution of renewable energy sources and the focused energy demand of Urban civilization.

WaPo today tees off in a good direction with “In Green Energy, an Environmental Paradox: Wind and Solar Projects May Carry Costs to Wildlife.” Well, it is not JUST wildlife…

Those interested in the topic of spacial distribution of human activities will find the graphics on the jump page (A 14) of critical importance.

Check the “demand for land” graphic and then recall that at MINIMUM densities that functional Urban settlement patterns for the projected 2050 population would occupy less than five percent of the Lower 48.

See where the renewable sources are located and then recall where 85 percent of the population is – in a dozen MegaRegions. The demand is not close to the foci of the renewable resources.

The article focuses on the impact of transmission lines on wildlife. It does not even mention the gross waste of transmission line loss carrying mega watts past Open Land.

Nor does the story mention the need to cut energy demand, recycle waste heat and carry out the other energy conservation strategies that result in even more compact settlement patterns.

The area per Terawatt-Hour graphic is worth the cost of the paper today.


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20 responses to “DISPERSAL VS FOCUS”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “America Becomes Thrift Nation”

    Funny, I was just listening to a special onthe “Paradox of Thrift” which described how too much saving could wreck the economy, prolong or deepen the recession and reduce the availability of resources for needed tasks: like environmental protection, high speed rail, etc.


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “See where the renewable sources are located and then recall where 85 percent of the population is – in a dozen MegaRegions.”

    Mostly along the coasts where we could deploy offshore renewable sources – at a price. We can protect a lot of land, environment and desert by going offshore, but the environment is harsh.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “Well, it is not JUST wildlife…”

    Yes, apparently a wind farm in Illinois is disrupting the doppler radar system, which thinks thee is a permanent rains torm in the vicinity of the wind generators.

    In fact, a big enough wind farm might slow down and cool the wind or create enough additional turbulence suchthat we will see rain shadows sownwind of the farms similar to the lake effect snows coming off the great lakes.


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “It does not even mention the gross waste of transmission line loss carrying mega watts past Open Land.”

    What is the alternative?

    To hear renewable energy proponents tell the story, once you recover the capital costs the continuing costs of renewable generation are almost nothing. The old phrase from the hacyon days of nuclear power comes to mind “Too cheap to bill”

    If that is the case, then why do we care how much loss we have in generation / transmission?

    Or else, what is the alternative? Solar or wind is going to take a lot of space – more space than available in the 5% of area we actually use. it is not going to happen all on rooftops, and anyway those are all going to be planted, maybe, for other environmental reasons. Too much competition for limited rooftops, especially if many of us are living in multifamily units.

    Bottom line is that it is not a gross waste as long as it is a legitimate cost tradeoff against some other gross waste.

    EMR seems to labor under the (wrong) supposition that efficiency is the only reason we live, that we can eventually reduce all waste if we just reduce the area we use to a single point in space, which will mean no pollution and infinite resources for all the wildlife we have dominion over.


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “Nor does the story mention the need to cut energy demand, recycle waste heat and carry out the other energy conservation strategies that result in even more compact settlement patterns.”

    I’m a big proponent of combined cycle or cogeneration to recover waste heat wherrever it is economical to do so. The main reason we haven’t done it and Sweden has is that our economics and energy budgets are different from theirs.

    Having said that, this sentence strikes me as nonsense. If we have renewable energy, what waste heat are we talking about? Wind or wave genarators won’t have any. Solar panels do get very hot because they absorb mre energy than they convert to electricity. Probably you won;t want masses of them anywhere near the urban heat island, or else you will want some kind of trade off which allows you to recover heat from some of them in the winter without raising the summer air conditiong bill too much in the summer.

    Again, if it is a matter of using renewables, why do we care how much we use, beyond the capital coast of installation?

    Unless you believe that renewables will need substantial backup. Then you have to decide if you want to colocate your generating pollution with the population using electricity, just so you can capture the waste heat. that might not be a cost effective or politically possible tradeoff.

    Put another way, big distribution netwrks, wasteful as they are allow you to collect renewables from different places from where the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine. That distribution helps reduce the need for conventional backup, and it is a legitimate cost of a renewable systemthat needs to be considered while we are jumping headlong into a plan to reduce combustion by 70% in the next 23 years.

    Finally, what’s this about even more compact settlement patterns? If we are only using five percent and the wildlife get the other 95%, unfettered and for free, why do we need even more compact patterns of development? At what point does this become undesirable, unwanted, and neither safe nor cost effective?


    “Another supper
    From a sack
    A 99 cent heart attack
    I got a poundin head and an achin back
    And the camels standin in a big straw stack


    Im gonna live where the green grass grows
    Watch my corn pop up in rows
    Every night be tucked in close to you
    Raise our kids where the good lords blessed
    Point our rockin chairs towards the west
    And plant our dreams where the peaceful river cools
    Where the green grass grows.”

    Tim Mcgraw


    Based on lyrics like thes, it seems like we have already passed the not desireable threshhold.

    “The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors reports that:

    Sales activity in Greater Northern Virginia for March 2009 continues to show an increase from 2008. The number of Greater Northern Virginia region homes sold in March was 2,755, a 19.94% percent increase from March 2008’s total of 2,297 sales.

    This marks the twelfth consecutive month of increased year-over-year sales totals for Greater Northern Virginia. The average sales price of $317,158 in March 2009 compares to a March 2008 average sales price of $409,294.”


    This means the dollar volume of sales is still down, but people are buying MORE homes in NOVA, not less as a result of the crash in prices.

    EMR will, of course, put a different spin on this. I think the real economics and energy budgets will place a limit on EMR’s vision.

    Think of city and its urban support areas like an attom with a cloud of electrons: If you try to compress the cloud of electrons their mutual repellant action will push back very hard. Meanwhile at the core, strong nuclear forces manage to hold similarly repellant particles together: for a while.

    I just don’t understand why we don’t objectively look for the best answer based on real limitations, rather than mindlessly promote one vision beyond its obvious limits of merit.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    “The area per Terawatt-Hour graphic is worth the cost of the paper today.”

    So you favor nukes?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “There is no free lunch when it comes to meeting our energy needs,” said Johanna Wald, a senior lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

    Pretty much what I have been saying here for the past four years. We are going to make trade offs. It would be nice if we know what they cost.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Is there an echo in here?


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    “To remind you of the key elements here; to combat climate change — we want to transition from coal and natural gas generated electricity. Solar and Wind offer two “green” substitutes but they take up land and in the case of Solar use water (see below). The BLM faces a tradeoff between green power generation and natural resource use. The hope, of course, is that the smart engineers come up with a way to make solar work without using so much water.

    Solar finds it hard to squeeze water from desert”

    Environmental and urban economics.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “Installing and maintaining new solar and wind in rural areas will create lots of new jobs, as will rebuilding the national grid to handle the power.

    That’s no empty campaign promise but real jobs in mostly rural areas that desperately need them.

    BTW, schools that train people to be wind techs can’t keep students long enough to graduate because they get hired out of the classroom.”

    Posted by: Bob Morris in Environmental economics.


    Imagine that, jobs are needed in rural areas.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    California is creating a low carbon fulel standard: the state is trying to do something that hasn’t been tried before: regulate not just the direct “life-cycle” emissions from producing, transporting and using fuels, but the indirect emissions that result when land is converted to grow crops for biofuels. Starting in 2011, companies that sell fuel in California will have to lower the overall carbon intensity of their various fuels at a rate that will increase every year until 2020, or else buy credits from companies that sell cleaner fuels. The state uses complex formulas to score each type of fuel based on its life-cycle emissions and part of that includes a land use charge. Carbon intensity is calculated by comparing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a fuel over its life cycle with the amount of energy it produces

    Because of taxes on competing fuels, subsidies and congressional mandates use of first generation biofuels has surged. But now first generation biofuels may face competition from second generation cellulosic feed stocks that do not compete in the food market, require irrigation etc. The indirect land use change penalty would give the advanced fuels a boost and discourage food-based fuels by calculating the carbon emissions that result when farmers convert land to grow biofuel crops and adding that number to the fuel’s carbon intensity score. First generation biofuels producers are now joining the ranks of conventional fuel suppliers who think paying for externalities is unfair and gives undue advantage to higher cost alternatives. The land use charge applies only against first generation biofuels and not conventional fuels, since they have little land use in comparison.

    Funny how uncomfortable the shoe is when it is on the other foot.


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    The Making of a Conventional Wisdom, by Robert Stavins:

    “Despite the potential cost-effectiveness of market-based policy instruments, such as pollution taxes and tradable permits, conventional approaches … have been the mainstay of U.S. environmental policy… Gradually, however, the political process has become more receptive to innovative, market-based strategies.”

    “Steven Kelman surveyed Congressional staff members, and found that support and opposition to market-based environmental policy instruments was based largely on ideological grounds: Republicans, who supported the concept of economic-incentive approaches, offered as a reason the assertion that “the free market works,” or “less government intervention” is desirable, without any real awareness or understanding of the economic arguments for market-based programs. Likewise, Democratic opposition was based largely upon ideological factors, with little or no apparent understanding of the real advantages or disadvantages of market based instruments.”

    From Economists View – Environment

    Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.


  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet


    "1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers’ passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology — and that, believe it or not, is good news, because…

    2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run. "

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “In dozens of studies, researchers identified Kuznets curves for a variety of environmental problems. There are exceptions to the trend, especially in countries with inept governments and poor systems of property rights, but in general, richer is eventually greener. As incomes go up, people often focus first on cleaning up their drinking water, and then later on air pollutants like sulfur dioxide.”

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m referring to the oil price implicit in US government incentives for some hybrid cars and alternative fuels. While these programs doubtless offer benefits beyond simply displacing imported energy, including stimulating new jobs and reducing emissions, the effective price paid for the avoided energy or emissions is still relevant, because it contributes to the federal deficit and determines how much of these benefits we can afford to buy.

    In a well-known mystery story Sherlock Holmes points out “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time”, referring to a dog that didn’t bark when it would have been expected to. In the context of energy, the dog that didn’t bark is the energy we didn’t consume, but might have. In particular, if we avoided consuming a gallon of gas or kilowatt-hour of electricity as a result of investing in more efficient technology, then the cost of that investment puts an implicit price on the energy we saved. When it’s lower than the going rate, we get an economic return on our investment. When we pay more than a market price, the premium paid comes at the expense of other things we could have bought with the extra money. That’s true at either at the personal or national level.”

    “Based on its EPA fuel economy estimate of 32 mpg, the Escape hybrid would save 1,223 gallons of gasoline over a 100,000-mile life, compared to the 23 mpg non-hybrid 4-cylinder Escape. On an undiscounted basis that equates to $2.45/gal. for the avoided fuel. That’s a little higher than current pump prices but seems reasonable enough. Still, after you factor in the $0.184/gal. federal excise tax not collected and convert to barrels, Uncle Sam is paying the purchaser of that Escape Hybrid the equivalent of $110/bbl for the fuel it won’t use. “

    From Energy Outlook


  16. Anonymous Avatar

    “Wanted: FBI Adds Environmental Terrorist to Most-Wanted List
    Posted by Keith Johnson

    For the first time ever, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has included a domestic terrorist on its international most-wanted list—an environmental terrorist.

    Daniel Andreas San Diego, a 31-year old “animal rights extremist,” is wanted for allegedly placing nail bombs at two San Francisco-area buildings in 2003.


    So what does all this mean for the environmental protest movement? There is a world of difference between putting mail bombs at research facilities and demonstrating against new coal plants, obviously. But police forces are increasingly taking a hard line against eco-demonstrators—witness the U.K.’s preemptive arrest this month of more than 100 climate protesters, a crackdown which included searching their homes. “

    From Environmental Capital


  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “One only has to visit a city in a country like India and then visit New York or LA to realize that if New Delhi becomes like LA, it would be a huge improvement. I expect places like Shanghai would be the same.

    As for the less developed tinier cities, one may not have smoot, but one will find the stink of garbage and filth. A little cough is a big step in the right direction from the malaria and the cholera.”

    Comment by Realist Theorist


    Environmental Capital


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “According to data released today from the Federal Highway Administration, travel on all roads and streets in the United States fell by -0.9% in February 2009 compared to February 2008. This marks the 16th consecutive month of traffic volume decline (starting in Nov. 2007) compared to the same month in the previous year. The moving 12-month total for traffic volume has fallen for 15 consecutive months, going back to December 2007 “


  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “From “How Environmentalism Misses the Forest for the Trees,” by Edward L. Glaeser in the NY Times Economix blog:

    Homes in coastal California use much less energy than homes in most other places in the country. New building in California, as opposed to Texas, reduces America’s carbon emissions. Yet, instead of fighting to make it easier to build in California, environmentalists have played a significant role stemming the growth of America’s greenest cities.

    Why is California so green?

    The primary reason is climate. January temperature does a terrific job of explaining carbon emissions from home heating and July temperature does almost as well at explaining electricity usage. California has the most temperate climate in the country and as a result, homes use less heat in the winter and less electricity in the summer. In hot, humid Houston or frigid Minneapolis, people use plenty of energy to artificially recreate what California has naturally.

    Environmentalists should, presumably, be out there lobbying for more homes in coastal California, but instead, for more than four decades, California environmental groups, such as Save the Bay, have fought new construction in the most temperate, lowest carbon-emission area of the country.

    This anti-growth movement has achieved enormous successes, and the growth rate of California has plummeted. In the 20 years that ended in 1970, California’s population increased by 88%. Between 2000 and 2007, the population of California grew by less than 8%, which is slightly more than the growth of the United States population. California’s low growth doesn’t reflect lack of demand (prices remain quite high) or lack of land (densities are low), but instead one of the most regulated building environments in the country.

    The local opponents of construction don’t have the ability to stop building in the United States as a whole, which hums along at roughly the rate of new household formation. When California’s anti-growth activists restrict building in California, then construction increases in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. These three areas are both among the nation’s five most carbon-intensive living areas and among the four fastest-growing metropolitan areas. To be complete, California’s mandated environmental-impact reviews should ask not only about the impact on the local environment if a project proceeds, but also about the impact on global environment if the project gets moved elsewhere. “


  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “The swine flu outbreak triggered a formal U.S. state of emergency, akin to getting ready for a hurricane, with about 20 non-lethal cases identified in the U.S., in the WSJ. The combination of increasingly urban populations and ever-tighter transportation links makes pandemics a question of when, not if, notes Andy Revkin at Dot Earth.”

    In a related story the president of Mexico proposes shutting down the subway as a means of limiting the epidemic of swine flu there.


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