Thursday, August 11, 2011


After 1,850 posts on TommyWonk over the last six and a half years, it's time for me to turn my attention elsewhere.

Next week I start a job with the State of Delaware in the area of renewable energy. Having argued that renewable energy can and does make economic sense, I want to help make that happen. It’s work worth doing, and worth doing well.

Because the job involves many of the issues I have been writing about, I am taking a hiatus from blogging. I will also be stepping away from most of my other advocacy efforts. I plan to keep TommyWonk up to maintain a record of what I have written since 2005. I may return to blogging down the road, though I won’t make any promises.

I have been gratified by the many kind words I have heard from my readers along the way. Thank you all for your interest and encouragement.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Personal Piety and Public Policy

When it comes to environmental advocacy, I’m not interested in personal virtue. For me, this is not a moral crusade. Yes people may install solar panels or drive a hybrid car out of a sense of moral obligation to the planet, a commendable sentiment when coupled with effective action to reduce one's impact on the planet. But I don’t think we will make the changes we need by trying to instill greater piety in people. I think we make the changes in our energy economy by working to reach the tipping point where the economic advantages of renewable energy are too compelling for us to turn back. I prefer to think about changing economic systems rather than nudging people to live more virtuous lives.

The fallacy that this is about piety permeates the discussion about energy. Dick Cheney said ten years ago, “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

Cheney’s first fallacy is confusing conservation and efficiency. Conservation is driving less or turning down the thermostat. Efficiency is using less energy to provide the same benefit.

His second fallacy is confusing inputs with outputs. Energy use is not perfectly correlated with economic output. The amount of energy required to support a dollar of GDP has fallen by half since World War II.

This leads to his third fallacy: thinking that using less energy requires deprivation. I am not as interested in instilling personal virtue in others as I am in creating a cleaner and more efficient energy economy. It’s the idea that environmentalists are scolds who want to deprive their neighbors of a warm (or cool), brightly lit home at a reasonable cost that creates so much of the resistance to renewable energy policies.

This is the basis of much of the criticism of Al Gore for not living frugally enough. When Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I predicted that his critics “will probably point out his hypocrisy when he flies to Stockholm to receive his award instead of traveling by kayak.” Similar criticism has been leveled at Michelle Obama for eating an occasional burger and fries. This kind of carping just doesn't belong in a serious discussion about problems affecting millions of lives.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Record High Temperatures Across the Country

Data geeks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took the reports of record high temperatures across the country and plotted them on a map:
 The data map shows that record high temperatures were not confined to just one region:
How hot was the month of July in 2011? So hot that just by plotting the location of each daily heat record that was broken, a nearly complete image of the contiguous United States is visible. Almost 9,000 daily records were broken or tied last month, including 2,755 highest maximum temperatures and 6,171 highest minimum temperatures (i.e., nighttime records). It should be noted that the tally of records collected so far is not complete – more are expected to come in as station data from across the U.S. is mailed to the National Climatic Data Center. 
Hot weather in one location doesn't necessarily mean the entire earth is getting warmer. But the appearance of record highs in every region suggests that something unusual is going on.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Glaciers Melting in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park has some spectacular sights: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Saint Mary Lake, and for now at least some glaciers. According to this story in the travel section of the New York Times reports, you might want to make your reservations sooner rather than later:
I was in northwest Montana for the hikes and the huckleberries, but most of all to experience the namesake glaciers, which, I had recently learned, might be around for only another decade or so. Given that a century and a half ago there were 150 and now there are 25, the trip makes me an enlistee in the practice known by a somewhat prickly term: last-chance tourism.
Glaciers are a pretty good indicator of the earth’s thermal equilibrium. They are big enough to not be affected by a single summer’s heat wave or a winter’s cold snap. Changes in glaciers indicate long term trends. If the atmosphere is getting cooler, glaciers grow; if it’s getting warmer, glaciers shrink.