TRUE Independence Day

From an announcement from Frank Popper:

The link below comes from TRUE Independence Day, a group formed
on Facebook less than two weeks ago by Frank Popper and Rebecca and Matthew Hersh,
a brother and sister who are neighbors of mine in Highland Park, New Jersey.

A response to the BP/Gulf crisis, TID asks its members not to
buy gas from any source on July 4. TID’s point is not to harm oil
companies or gas stations, which is impossible in a one-day
boycott anyway. Instead the point is make a vivid symbolic patriotic
gesture against American dependence on oil, its politics, and its
environmental and economic damage to our country.

We are all complicit in these matters. We should start grasping
our involvement and take measures to undo it. The July 4 action
represents a relatively easy and simple first step in that direction.

Our Facebook group has gathered over 1300 members in the last
ten days. The statement linked below appeared on our website,, two days ago. Please do everything
you can to help us before July 4: join our group, tell others about it,
write about it. And then don’t buy gas on July 4.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with me, Rebecca
or Matt. Thanks and best wishes,
Frank Popper
Rutgers and Princeton Universities,
732-932-4009, X689 (Rutgers office)

How is anybody supposed to understand WTH is going in energy?

I’ll admit that even though I had have some very good teachers (JR DeShazo from UCLA) and brilliant colleagues (Adam Rose and Donald Paul from the USC Energy Institute), I don’t understand large things about the economics of energy delivery. It’s not like water; it’s not like transport. I clearly need to do more reading.

What isn’t helping, or perhaps it is helping, is the fact that my home state has become the battleground for climate change and energy policy. Every day we have a new development, but I have yet to really understand what it means. I am not sure that the answer is to have municipalities getting into the energy business: I am also not sure that wouldn’t be a great idea. Here’s a write up from the NYT’s new Green blog:
Dollars and Daggers in California’s Energy Battles РGreen Blog Р

I know the attempt to dismantle AB32 is bad news:I doubt they’ll succeed on that. But the other proposition? I am confused.

Solar and Coal in the LA Times

One of my excellent students from USC, David Hale Feinberg, brought this story from the LA Times to my attention. The story concerns a partnership between SolarReserve and Rocketdyne–shuttle engine manufacturers. The technology uses heliostat mirrors to heat up molten salt. I’m still learning about energy technologies, so this is pretty interesting stuff.

Contrast this with the lead story in this morning’s LA Times on mountain top removal. The contrast helps us understand three major lessons about energy and renewables.

First, if the history of the energy industry is any lesson, the Barstow plant is where the future resides: high capital requirements favor existing corporate actors over small-scale, local producers, no matter how much some environmental advocates believe that local businesses are the key to sustainability. If you want faster implementation of petroleum substitutes, energy creation won’t be small-scale production.

Second–again from history–the renewables coming online will be substituted for future energy demand, not replacements for existing energy sources, at least in the short term. New energy supply is not a conservation strategy in the same way that unplugging your electronics is. New supply means that new demand is met via cleaner sources, not that old sources necessarily diminish in productivity.

Third, the mountaintop removal story brings home, at least to me, how our failures in social policy contribute to environmental loss. At a time when everybody is lecturing me on the importance of ‘green jobs’ we don’t have the policy language to talk about transitioning miners from their current livelihood to different employment. This is very sticky problem; these areas of West Virginia are both gloriously beautiful and deeply impoverished, and there are few ready substitute employers. Think about the losses that accrued to tobacco farmers as Americans moved away from smoking in the mainstream.

Americans don’t have the cultural capacity to think about that type of assistance as anything other than “welfare”–a shaming word. And yet, Coase applies here: to those of us who want to stop mountaintop removal, financially supporting their transition to new work can be both efficient and socially desirable even if it takes some time. Moreover, it isn’t as though the activity isn’t valuable: we would need to think about ways to change feedstocks for electricity generation to reduce the demand for coal. In other words, it’s not enough to just want an activity to stop because it is unsightly or environmentally bad.