Thursday, May 12, 2011

New and Noteworthy (Armchair Generalist, Shifting U.S. Domestic Politics, Energy)

In today's edition:

* After six and a half years Jason Sigger has written the last post for his blog, The Armchair Generalist due to a job change. By offering a blog devoted to a progressive view of military affairs, Sigger's blog filled an important niche, and I am sorry to see it go. However, it seems his earlier posts will remain available online, so those unfamiliar with his site can still check out his previous commentary.

* At the Washington Post, Ezra Klein recently assessed President Obama's policies--and found that, far from being the "socialist" he has so often been accused of being, his policies are those of an early '90s moderate Republican. At the New York Times' blog Five Thirty-Eight, Nate Silver offers a rebuttal to this analysis, but doesn't--indeed, can't--dispute the significant rightward shift of American politics overall since the '90s, by no means the start point of the trend.

On a related note, two pieces from the Huffington Post. In the first, Dan Froomkin at reports on a study by public watchdog group Public Citizen of Democrats' increasing fear of the power of moneyed interests to mount attack campaigns in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. In the second, British columnist Johann Hari considers what Donald Trump's apparent bid to become America's answer to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi says about the Republican Party.

* Two new studies regarding energy consumption. The first (discussed in an article by Jeff Tollefson in Nature) is Energy Emergence: Rebound & Backfire as Emergent Phenomena, a review of the academic literature on the "rebound effect" in energy use by researchers at the Breakthrough Institute. To quote the summary's findings,
Rebound effects are real and significant, and combine to drive a total, economy-wide rebound in energy demand with the potential to erode much (and in some cases all) of the reductions in energy consumption expected to arise from below-cost efficiency improvements . . . [and] render the relationship between efficiency improvements and energy consumption interrelated and non-linear, challenging the assumptions of commonly utilized energy and emissions forecasting studies.
Nonetheless, the study does not dismiss energy conservation, rather offering a "new framework for envisioning the role of below-cost efficiency improvements in driving energy modernization and decarbonization efforts." (Summed up briefly, the authors suggest the benefits of "below-cost energy-efficiency improvements" are worthwhile, mainly because of their contribution to economic growth, which will better enable a more plausible source of decarbonization--a shift to "decarbonized" energy production that will be easier for a more affluent society.)

The second (which Christina Larson reports on for Scientific American), is an assessment by the China Energy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, China's Energy and Carbon Emissions Outlook to 2050. China's Energy suggests that China can meet its government-set goals in the area of energy efficiency and carbon intensity, and anticipates a
saturation in ownership of appliances, construction of residential and commercial floor area, roadways, railways, fertilizer use, and urbanization . . . [and] slowing population growth
by 2030. The result is still a massive increase in energy consumption and carbon emissions, but perhaps a more useful (and hopeful) basis for action than other scenarios of more explosive growth (this study including an "alternative" as well as a "baseline" scenario).

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