Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

Budget Deal Casualties

by Michael Levi Thursday, April 28, 2011

The EIA got slammed by the budget deal, which cut its FY11 funding by $15.2 million from its FY10 level of $110.6 million. It’s just announced the efforts that it will have to terminate as a result (hat tip: the indispensable RFF Library Blog). The result is pretty ugly. What are we missing out on in order to save a whopping $15.2 milion, or roughly a nickel for every American ? Here are a few highlights: Read more »

Why Trying to Suppress Volatility Can be Dangerous

by Michael Levi Monday, April 25, 2011

Nassim Taleb and Mark Blyth have a great article in the new issue of Foreign Affairs that makes the case against government efforts to suppress volatility in the political and economic worlds. Their basic argument, as I read it, works along two lines. The first is pretty common: squeezing volatility out of big slices of any complex system inevitably means shifting it elsewhere, in potentially ugly ways. Banks, for example, found ways of getting steady returns 95% of the time out of what should have been a turbulent housing market – but the price was far more catastrophic consequences when the other 5% hit. Read more »

Truth and Nonsense on Chinese Clean Energy

by Michael Levi Thursday, April 21, 2011

There is a serious fact-based case to be made for why China is not crushing the United States in a clean energy race. Unfortunately, Bjorn Lomborg’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post makes the argument using a mix of truth and nonsense. This won’t do much but perpetuate an ongoing battle of misleading statistics and dubious interpretations. Read more »

Some Thoughts on the Howarth Shale Gas Paper

by Michael Levi Friday, April 15, 2011

A new paper by Cornell’s Robert Howarth, which claims that shale gas is worse for greenhouse gas emissions than coal, has been getting a lot of attention in the popular press. Howarth’s basic question is an important one: what happens to the claimed emissions benefits of natural gas once you include the methane leaked in its production and transport? Alas, his analysis is based on extremely weak data, and also has a severe methodological flaw (plus some other questionable decisions), all of which means that his bottom line conclusions shouldn’t carry weight. But someone else, with better data and more careful calculations, ought to address this important set of questions that he raises properly. Read more »

Heading Off A Shale Gas Clash

by Michael Levi Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I’m planning to write about Robert Howarth’s latest shale gas study (summary: gas is worse than coal), which was reported in the New York Times this morning, but I’ve been tied up at the annual meeting for Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative, where I’ve been learning all sorts of fascinating stuff in fields ranging from chemical engineering to economic modeling to ocean dynamics. For now, all I’ll say is that while the study raises some important questions that ought not be ducked, the actual data in it strikes me as very flimsy. Read more »

The Unenlightening Oil/Tar Sands Debate

by Michael Levi Friday, April 8, 2011

The oil sands debate is heating up again. At the center is a fight over whether to permit the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

I’ll probably have more to say later about exactly how I feel about the project. For now, though, I want to look at how silly much of the debate has become. Read more »

Kyoto Zombie Still Walking

by Michael Levi Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Here’s what I wrote the morning after the Cancun climate talks ended:

“There is one big hole in the Cancun agreement that many observers, in their excitement, appear to have quickly forgotten: its treatment of the Kyoto Protocol…. The Cancun result punts the dispute to next year’s talks…. The big challenge for next year’s talks will be to protect Cancun’s progress and momentum from the inevitable acrimony over Kyoto.” Read more »

Is The Obama Energy Plan Really That Bad?

by Michael Levi Monday, April 4, 2011

Daniel Ahn wrote a post here last Friday voicing strong disappointment with President Obama’s big energy speech. Here’s the core of his argument:

“President Obama’s speech on energy given Wednesday on Georgetown University’s campus was disappointing to say the least. In particular, the highlight of his speech, a pledge to reduce the nation’s oil imports by one third by 2025, is both conceptually unsound as well as difficult to achieve physically.” Read more »