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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Save the Planet Thursday!

+The Detroit Free Press has a detailed and exceedingly interesting account of how Detroit went broke.

+“Fifteen years ago, East Lake Meadows, a public-housing project with 1,400 residents, was a terrifying place to live. Nine out of 10 residents had been victims of a crime. Today it is a safe community of working, taxpaying families whose children excel in the classroom.” The founder of Cousins Properties wrote a recent op/ed in The Wall Street Journal about how to save failing neighborhoods. The article is unfortunately behind a pay wall, but here's a quick take from the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Not only is his view remarkably even-headed and thoughtful, but this got published in the WSJ. Wow.

+Since I'm going to be spending a good deal of time in the next few weeks chatting about ecological economics and the "Green" economy, here's a link to the introduction to the United Nations Environmental Programme's (UNEP) most recent report on the Green economy. It's an excellent primer on what exactly should be meant by Green and Sustainable. While I'm at it, you should all buy and read this book immediately, Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution by the ecological economist Brian Czech. Don't be fooled by the ridiculous title, this is not political shock schlock. It's really an easily-understood blow-by-blow account of the history of classical and neoclassical economics and how ecological economics is really the only way to move forward without destroying the planet. Its a brilliant, fascinating, and quick read.

+But don't worry, climate change is a liberal conspiracy.

+“Country-wide, we have observed appalling habits of garbage disposal, careless littering and insufficient availability of latrines and toilets. It is embarrassing that many Ugandans go on with their day-to-day duties oblivious of the filth that engulfs them,” Vision Group Editor-in-Chief, Barbara Kaija said. Uganda's leading newspaper group, Vision Group, decides to combat the sanitation problem in the country by awarding the title of Cleanest Town to whichever Ugandan town gets its act together fastest.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Peak Oil and the Bet

After reading about the now-infamous 1980 bet between the Neo-Malthusian biologist Paul Ehrlich and the Cornucopian* economist Julian Simon used several times over the last week to justify renewed optimism about the world's energy outlook, I feel compelled to write a quick primer on what exactly Peak Oil is (and by default nearly every other scarce resource on the planet).

To begin with: the Bet. Basically Ehrlich believed that, after geologist M. King Hubbert's theory of US peak oil production in 1974 was effectively proven correct**, resource scarcity would be reflected in the prices of several key resources (metals, oil, etc.), since increased demand and lower production requires higher prices, right? Simon, on the other hand, believed that technological progress would increase efficiencies and allow us to effectively "get more for less," and that increased efficiency would be reflected in lower prices over time. In 1980 the two bet $1000 on a basket of commodities, Ehrlich betting that the prices would be higher ten years later in 1990, and Simon betting they would be lower. Unfortunately for Ehrlich he was a victim of timing, since the Bet exactly corresponded with the last great push into conventional oil fields and a simultaneous splurge in new exploration technologies in the extractive industries, thus prices did in fact go down throughout the 1980s. If the two had bet on this same basket any time in the last 23 years Ehrlich would have won nearly every time.