Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘oil’

Sarah Palin

August 29, 2008 · 1 Comment

My friends…choosing a woman makes sense, but methinks the vetting process of Kay Bailey Hutchinson must have gone terribly wrong.  It’s hard to attack Obama for being inexperienced when your own Veep has less than 2 years in a major political office.

Alaskan politics is about oil, and an Alaskan VP means drilling in ANWAR.  All of the eggs are now in the “lower the price of gasoline” and “reduce dependency on foreign oil” baskets.  Let it be remembered that Hillary Clinton tried this approach, and lost.

I’d like to think that Americans are more intelligent, and that their problems more substantial, than to vote on the promise of cheaper gas.  And if not, I’m willing to forfeit this experiment in democracy for good.

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Dropping Knowledge: The Economics and Ethics of Carbon Abatement

May 20, 2008 · Leave a Comment

This past semester I took an interesting (albeit frustrating) class on the “Risks of Globalization,” taught by an economist who was involved in the incipient development of the Kyoto protocol. 

Fundamentally, the risks of climate change are as follows:

1.      Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that the earth is becoming progressively warmer, and that this trend is accelerating.  People who still argue this fact are known in most circles as “dumb fucks.”

2.      Significant evidence suggests that this warming is anthropogenic, primarily due to Carbon emissions (CFC, CO2, and CH4).  People who argue this fact are known as Republicans.

3.      The atmosphere is treated as a global public good.  That means it is non-rival and non-exclusive (everyone enjoys it for free without diminishing anyone else’s right to enjoy it).  Also important to note is that gases disperse evenly throughout the atmosphere.  Hence the “global” part.

4.      Because the atmosphere is treated as free for everyone, it is subjected to what is known as “the tragedy of the commons.”  In economic terms, this means that because no single person (or nation) can reap the benefits of a clean atmosphere, no single entity will incur the costs to do so.  Another way to think of this is: a public toilet that everyone uses but nobody cleans up.    

5.      Generally, when dealing with the market of public good provision, we would say that the sum of everybody’s preference for clean air (instead of carbon-based energy consumption) should equal the rate at which we as a society choose that tradeoff.  That is another way of saying, if you want to reduce your individual carbon footprint, and I want to reduce my individual carbon footprint, and so on for every person in the world, the total amount we reduce carbon emissions will be equal to the global rate of change between a public good (clean air) and a private good (energy production).   

6.      The problem here is that there is significant reason to believe that we cannot afford to make that tradeoff at its current rate, because it results in insufficient abatement. 

This is where the majority of people who think about solutions to this problem begin to diverge significantly.  The consensus is that we either need some mechanism to increase the individual incentives to abate (i.e. a carbon market), or to decrease the benefits of polluting (i.e. a carbon tax).

In theory, a market (which allocates property rights or permits to emit, which are then priced and traded for competitively) provides certainty for the outcome of the tradeoff (since emissions are capped), without providing certainty for the costs.  A tax provides near certainty in costs (by internalizing the cost of the tax), without providing certainty for emissions (since there is no cap).

What makes these options trickier is the underlying game theory.  Since the policies are directly tied to energy consumption, which is directly tied to domestic output, self-imposed “carbon constraints” in a global economy put early adopters at a competitive disadvantage.  Carbon markets that aren’t global essentially introduce a “black” market in non-participating nations, who continue to treat the air as free.

Even if we can get beyond the competitive issue with present rivals, the issue becomes even more complex when we consider future generations.  As this article from Scientific America highlights, there is a fundamental ethical question surrounding inter-temporal dynamics:      

The costs of mitigating climate change are the sacrifices the present generation will have to make to reduce greenhouse gases.  The benefits are the better lives that future people will lead: they will not suffer so much from the spread of deserts, from the loss of their homes to the rising sea, or from floods, famines and the general impoverishment of nature.

I think that this way of framing the problem (sacrificing today for the benefit of tomorrow) complicates the issue unnecessarily. 

First of all, if we indeed create the incentives to reduce current consumption, we should compensate ourselves by treating this reduction as an immediate increase in investment.  As such, we (current generation) should be entitled to a return from future beneficiaries—through financing for alternative energy sources today.   

Future generations will expect a cleaner and energy independent future, and will pay for it by an increased debt burden.  This is a fair and just expectation, unlike the expectations to bear the costs of the reckless and unjust invasion of Iraq.

The problem after all isn’t energy consumption per se… it’s carbon emissions.  If we can invest in and/or subsidize immediate alternatives to coal/oil/natural gas, then we can consume all of the energy we want (hypothetically speaking).    

Second, I believe that the idea of sacrifice for future beneficiaries undervalues the costs we are currently facing from not only climate change, but fluctuating commodities.  As long as coal and oil are the most cost competitive sources for energy, we will use them, and build our infrastructure around them.  Clearly these are not viable long term investments, so the risks to the investments, and therefore the incentives to remain committed to those inputs of production, increase.

 

If you take oil off the table, there is no longer speculation on what the future holds or when it will get here.  It is not a matter of reducing current consumption.  It is a matter of leveraging the future.

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That’s a Whole Lot of Money

April 9, 2008 · 1 Comment

Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the cost of the Iraq war to be $3 trillion dollars by 2017.

These cost estimates include:

  1. disability and compensation for veterans (1.7 million troops have been deployed to date, with 70,000 wounded or diseased and 120,000 having already sought mental health care);
  2. replenishing the military to its normal level of soldiers and equipment; and,
  3. repaying the debt (with interest) that was raised to pay for this war, which has been fully funded by borrowing.
  4. lost economic contributions of those who went to war
  5. the withdrawal from the economy of family members who quit work to care for loved ones injured in the war
  6. the cost to allies and to Iraq

Now, projecting cost estimates for a destructive exercise like war over long-term periods (including well into the future) can prove to be a debatable task, especially when you’re accounting for opportunity costs (i.e. the lost economic contributions of those who went to war) and significant unknown variables (price of oil, nature of military commitment).  We can’t even agree on civilian death tolls in that country, which should be a far easier task in simple accounting.   So it’s no surprise when such attempts are dismissed or attacked for their methodologies in arriving at such an absurdly large figure.

Most importantly– and this is where journalism tends to do the public a great disservice, I think– is that the figure of a trillion dollars (let alone three trillion) is an entirely unrelatable figure for our democratic republic, which is financing the operation.  (Note:  credit the New York Times for their efforts… although presenting the figure as “what else could we have spent this money on?”, while useful in explaining scale, widens the scope of the issue beyond “why are we spending this much on this particular effort?”)

$3 trillion may not be an “accurate” figure, but I’m willing to give the former chief economist of the World Bank the benefit of the doubt in his estimates. I haven’t read the report and am not sure if the valuation is in present dollar terms (although I assume it is, including future interest payments).  Keep in mind then, that the following calculations are going to be (very) fast and loose… it’s not intended as an exercise in social science, only one in wrapping your arms around the scale of what has transpired:

Our government spends $16 billion per month on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (excluding incurred interest), putting the annual figure at something around $200 billion.  The IMF estimated the nominal GDP of the World’s Economy in 2007 to be $53.35 trillion, $13.8 trillion of which is generated by the United States.  This means that as a share of the world’s economy, government spending on Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to 1.5% of the US’ GDP.  And for what?

Some might argue that Keynesian deficit spending is necessary during a recession, but what percentage of the spending are we recapturing in our economy?  How much of that $16.6 billion per month can we actually count toward our own GDP?

What about the premium costs that war and instability have created in the pricing of oil?

What about the costs to our sluggish economy of higher energy prices?  Higher priced commodities (including food), all around?

The Bush administration initially estimated the reconstruction costs of Iraq in the $50-$100 billion dollar range, with only $1.6 billion required to rehabilitate the oil industry.  Oil revenues would help the reconstruction “pay for itself.”  Now projections suggest that this estimate was off by a scale of over 30 to 60 times the actual cost?

Can you imagine investing in a company where the CEO took on an extremely risky project, estimating tremendous (and long-term) returns, and then misses the capital expenditure by 30 to 60 times the projection?  And not only that, but the business model on which he hopes to rely on for future revenues is extremely volatile, and universally accepted as out of date and in dire need of overhaul within the next 10 years?

Now we find ourselves in a situation where on the one hand,  our country should be trying to develop new utility-scale energy sources (other than fossil fuels), and on the other hand, we’re entirely dependent on a global market for oil to recuperate the massive expenditures for the invasion, occupation, and reconstruction of Iraq.

I believe that’s what’s called “between Iraq and a hard place.”

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There Will Be… Luxury

February 1, 2008 · 6 Comments

here’s a forwarded e-mail message that will blow your mind:

Where your Gas Dollars Go

 

Dubai in 1990 prior to the craziness

Dubai 1990

 

 

The same street in 2003

Dubai 2003

 

Last year

Dubai 2007

 

The madness.  Dubai is said to currently have

15-25% of all the world’s cranes

 
Dubai Coast

 

The Dubai Water front.  When completed it will become

the largest waterfront development in the world

Dubai Waterfront

 

All of this was built in the last 5 years, including that

 island that looks like a palm tree.

 
Dubai aerial

 

The Palm Islands in Dubai. New Dutch dredging technology

was used to create these massive man made islands.  They

are the largest artificial islands in the world and can be seen

 from space.  Three of these Palms will be made with the last

one being the largest of them all.

 

 Dubai Palm Tree

 

Upon completion, the resort will have 2,000 villas,

40 luxury hotels, shopping centers, movie theaters,

and many other facilities. It is expected to support

a population of approximately 500,000 people. 

It is advertised as being visible from the moon.

 

 
Dubai from Space

 

The World Islands.  300 artificially created islands

in the shape of the world.  Each island will have

an estimated cost of $25-30 million.

 

 

The World Islands Dubai

 

The Burj al-Arab hotel in Dubai.  The worlds tallest hotel. 

Considered the only ‘7 star’ hotel and the most luxurious

hotel in the world.  It stands on an artificial island in the sea.

 

 Burj Al-Arab


 

Hydropolis, the world’s first underwater hotel. 

Entirely built in Germany and then assembled

inDubai, it is scheduled to be completed by 2009

after many delays.

 

 

Hyrdropolis

 

The Burj Dubai.  Construction began in 2005 and is

expected to be complete by 2008.   At an estimated

height of over 800 meters, it will easily be world’s

tallest building when finished.  It will be almost 40% taller

than the the current tallest building, the Yaipei 101.

 

 Burj Dubai


 

This is what downtown Dubai will look like around 2008-2009. 

More than 140 stories of the Burj Dubai have already been

completed. It is already the worlds tallest man made structure

and it is still not scheduled to be completed for at least

another year.

 

 Dubai Downtown


 

The Al Burj. This will be the centerpiece of the

Dubai Waterfront.  Once completed it will take

over the title of the tallest structure in the world

from the Burj Dubai.

 

 Al Burj


 

Recently it was announced that the final height

of this tower will be 1200 meters. That would

make it more than 30% taller than the Burj Dubai

and three times as tall as the Empire State Building.

This is a city on crack.

 Al Burj

 

And this was only half of the e-mail…

 

One day I want to be a global tycoon so I can play Risk on the “World Islands”… with real soldiers. 


 

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Douchechill!

January 3, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Via Paul Krugman:

Rupert Murdoch, said on the eve of the invasion of Iraq:

The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country.

Via Overheard in New York:

    Rupert Murdoch, at conference If you wanted to stalk a young girl, it’d be much easier to do on Facebook than MySpace.   

    Conference attendee: Douche chill…

–Grand Hyatt Hotel

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Life After Peak Oil

December 24, 2007 · Leave a Comment

From the Sacramento Bee:

The future after peak oil will involve living in such dense urban settings where destinations are walkable or bikeable, just as in pre-industrial cities (the city of London in 1801 had 100,000 inhabitants in one square mile). Homes will be much smaller, but instead of caverns of off-white sheet rock, we will spend our money in making much more attractive interiors. Nights will be darker. We will not have retail outlets lit up like the glare of the midday sun in Death Valley.

What about more extensive travel?  Vacations?  Business trips?  Shipping costs?  It seems even if oil were $500 per barrell that mass-agriculture would still be more efficient than small urban co-ops. 

None of this seems like good news for Los Angeles.

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Dropping Knowledge: Stating the Obvious

November 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

oil map of world

One thing I’ve learned studying IR Theory is that most decisions at their core are based on the theory of structural realism. That is to say, at a minimum all states make decisions to ensure their survival, and that states with greater capacities will seek to increase their capabilities (also known as “power maximization”). Great powers constrain each others’ maximization pursuits, resulting in what is known as a “balance of power.”

In today’s world, the key to power is oil. This point tends to get vastly understated in the discussions we have about current affairs. For example:

1. When we talk about the rising cost of oil (which is now flirting with $100 per barrel), we tend to neglect two important facts: first, that the price elasticity of demand for oil is extremely inelastic. That is to say, it doesn’t matter how much oil prices drop or rise, the quantity demanded remains the same. As President Bush said in this years’ State of the Union Address: “Our nation has an oil addiction.” And it’s not just our country, although we’ve got it the worst. It’s a global addiction.

Second, addiction by its very definition implies lack of control. Which brings us back full circle to the original point: whomever controls oil, controls the world. From the perspective of industry, this is because the factors of production of almost every sector include components that are sensitive to oil prices. These price sensitivities can have a direct impact on cost, as in manufacturing, or an indirect impact (via transportation costs), as in technology. And every sector has varying degrees of energy costs. So the more sensitive an industry is to oil prices, the more power whomever controls the oil supply has over that industry.

From the perspective of the consumer, rising oil prices are also felt directly (at the pump and airport), and indirectly, by both a constrained budget set (more money spent on gas means less for movies, clothes, etc.) and by the increased prices for consumer goods (the costs of which are passed along by producers). You know what they call the combination of rising prices, low interests rates, and decreased purchasing power? Inflation.

2. If I lost you above, I shouldn’t have. Go back and read it again. I’m just stating the obvious here. The first point was meant to establish just how important of a position the global control of oil is to whomever can secure it. Take a look at the map above. You see how little oil Europe has? China? The US? India? The less oil a country has, the more it is willing to give up to get oil. The more globally integrated oil is within consumption and factors of production, the more dependent consumers and producers become on oil.

Now take a look at this map. Notice how many US military bases are in the Middle East? You think that’s a coincidence?

3. The logical “next steps” everyone seems to recognize, especially given the environmental considerations of oil, is the pursuit of “alternative” sources of energy. There is of course some game theory to this though. Even if there were a cost-effective substitute for oil (and there most certainly is not, at least yet), the transition costs of adopting that alternative source across sectors would be enormous. And the countries that undertook such an enterprise would be buried by the “cheaters” who continued to use oil (and at an even lesser price due to drop-out of demand). No, oil is a fixed commodity, and unless we find some form of global governance to ration it (highly unlikely), it seems the race is on to squeeze the orange and horde the juice before its all gone in the next 25 years or so.

In the meantime, there is evidence to believe that the financial markets are grossly distorting the price of oil by placing a premium on the political risks associated with its extraction. Based on global supply and demand, it is argued that the price should not be any higher than $60 per barrel. Speculative trading creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, where oil rises to $100 because traders spread unsubstantiated rumors that China and India are insatiable, or Nigeria/Venezuela/Iran are unstable. The consumer ultimately suffers here for the reasons mentioned previously, including inflationary risks, and even risks of recession.

All of this information is extremely relevant when we consider the following foreign policy “debates.”

1.)  Iran and Nuclear Energy– Notice how much oil Iran has?  Notice how much they consume?  It would be economically advantageous if they were to consume nuclear energy and maximize foreign oil sales.  When hawks argue about Iran “obtaining nuclear weapons,” they’re really pushing an agenda that says “Iran holds the potential to leverage and balance the oil oligarchy, and once they obtain nukes we can’t foment a regime change.”

2.)  “Democratizing the Middle East”– The so called “Bush Doctrine” is a fanciful liberal justification for a realist policy.  Oil rich countries really only have two options:  1) illiberal autocracies (Saudi Arabia) or 2.)  illiberal democracies (Venezuela).  The distribution of wealth obtained from a natural resource is complicated in state systems because the citizens of the state feel entitled to the financial windfalls in some form or another.  Elites must either find their power base internally (by implementing fiscally irresponsible, short-term, socialist programs) or externally (by charging rent to the United States in return for a strong military presence or other forms of foreign “aid”).

3.)  Iraq — With the above point in mind, the US objective has become to contain the sectarian violence within the confines of Baghdad.  Let politics play out on a political stage, but keep the pipelines flowing in the fringe regions.  A true power-sharing constitutional government isn’t possible as long as the US is present: because the emergent elites are reliant on the US for security provision, they will never have popular support, and vice versa.  Not to say the US prefers a disorganized central government, only that it benefits from one.  Our presence is justified for as long as there is insecurity.

So that was my Thanksgiving dinner conversation with my parents to justify my expensive Ivy education.  No solutions provided, only a survey analysis.  My stepmother thinks that Hillary will have solutions to these problems.  I introduced her to Mark Penn, the next Karl Rove.  She’s no longer so optimistic.

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More On: Oil Distortions

November 4, 2007 · Leave a Comment

For those interested in the idea behind rentier states , how difficult governance is in sole-resource economies, and the megalomaniacal appeal of Hugo Chavez, check out this article.  Not exactly well written, but certainly very interesting.  Thanks to Faraj for the heads up.

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