Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

Why Do Green Jobs Pay Better Than Other Jobs?

by Michael Levi Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I’ve always been skeptical of the oftheard claim that “green jobs” are “good jobs” – that is, that green jobs somehow pay better than other ones. A recent Brookings Institution study, though, takes a rather thorough look at the “clean economy”, and concludes quite emphatically that green jobs do in fact pay better than the typical U.S. job. That invites an obvious question: Why? Read more »

Weeklyish Reading

by Michael Levi Friday, August 19, 2011

It’s that time of the week again. Some recommendations:

  • Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of Marcellus shale gas”, Environmental Research Letters. Six researchers at Carnegie Mellon take a careful look at the emissions from shale gas development. They conclude that they’re far lower than those from coal.
  • Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy”, American Economic Review. (Working paper version here.) Three researchers look at what would happen if you included air pollution damages in U.S. economic accounts. More bad news for coal: the damage created by coal-fired power appears to be considerably larger than the value that the sector creates.
  • Jared Bernstein and Brad Plumer both wonder why driving has taken such a dive during the recent economic downturn. (It barely budged during the last couple.) Each speculates about fundamental shifts that might underlie the change. I’m not so sure that exotic explanations are necessary: the most recent recession featured a much larger dip in output than the previous two and way followed by much higher gasoline prices than on either of the other occasions. I’m hoping someone with a bit of time on their hands will take a look at this.
  • Read more »

The End of OPEC?

by Michael Levi Thursday, August 18, 2011

Is the “center of gravity” of the global energy system about to shift from the Middle East to the Americas? That’s the provocative thesis of an article by Amy Jaffe in the new issue of Foreign Policy. “By the 2020s”, she writes, “the capital of energy will likely have shifted back to the Western Hemisphere”. (The headline writers drive home the point with a simple “Adios, OPEC”.) Her case is fairly straightforward: on one side, technical developments are boosting oil and gas development in the Americas; on the other, revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa promise to induce “long and steep” declines in oil production. Indeed she sees a potential feedback loop at work: the “boom in the Americas” means that Middle Eastern rulers “may not be able to count on ever-rising prices to calm resive populations”. Read more »

Are the New CAFE Standards for Trucks Justified?

by Michael Levi Monday, August 15, 2011

Megan McArdle and Mark Kleiman have been engaged in a little debate on their blogs over the merits of the new CAFE standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles that were announced last week. McArdle criticizes the standards by pointing out (correctly) that commercial trucking operations are pretty sophisticated and cost conscious, which means that unlike car consumers, they’re quite likely to already buy efficient vehicles when high fuel costs merits that. Kleiman replies in defense of the standards by asserting (also correctly) that there are externalities involved: even if no individual trucker benefits from increasing fuel efficiency, society can gain as a whole, since reducing aggregate oil consumption should cut the price of oil. McArdle responds in his comments with three basic claims. First, the rebound effect for heavy trucks should be large, i.e. truckers will drive more if they get more efficient trucks, which will deeply erode any claimed oil savings. Second, since truckers buy diesel rather than oil, the impact of higher fuel efficiency on oil prices will be limited. Third, there are other externalities arising from CAFE standards, some of which may be negative. Read more »

A Must Read Report on Shale Gas

by Michael Levi Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board has published its 90-day interim report (PDF) on “Improving the Safety and Environmental Performance of Hydraulic Fracturing”. It is an exceptional piece of work. Anyone who wants to understand the environmental consequences of shale gas development, and the tools available to manage them, should read it in its entirety. Read more »

Apple Beats Exxon: Less than Meets the Eye

by Michael Levi Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Apple has passed Exxon in market capitalization. The two companies traded places over the course of yesterday; at pixel time, Apple was in the lead. The headlines are emphatic. Dow Jones Newswire: “Apple Inc. briefly overtook Exxon Mobil Corp. to become the world’s most valuable company on Tuesday”. Forbes: “Boom. Apple, Briefly, World’s Most Valuable Company”. Washington Post: “Apple Overtakes Exxon Mobil as most valuable company”. Read more »

The Case for a Natural Gas Severance Tax

by Michael Levi Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A big fight is underway in Pennsylvania over the possible introduction of a “severance tax” on natural gas producers. Severance taxes are paid when natural gas is extracted from the ground. They are taken either as a percentage of the wellhead gas price or on a per-unit basis, on the theory that natural resources are at least in part public property, and the public should thus be compensated when they’re extracted. Most of the country – Texas, Louisiana, Alaska, etc – imposes severance taxes on natural gas drilling. Pennsylvania, however, does not. Read more »

Weekly(ISH) Reading

by Michael Levi Friday, August 5, 2011

I promised I’d post weeklyish reading lists on this blog. That was a month ago – hence the capital letters in this post’s title. In any case, here are some suggestions:

Another Way to Think About Alternative Fuels

by Michael Levi Thursday, August 4, 2011

Some people assess the relative attractiveness of alternative transportation fuels by comparing their greenhouse gas emissions to those associated with oil. Others compare different fuels based mainly on price: cheaper fuels, in this view, are invariably the most desireable ones. A third crowd, meanwhile, focuses first on whether any particular fuel can be produced at home rather than abroad. Each of these lenses leads to different conclusions: corn ethanol, for example, scores poorly on the first measure, moderately on the second, and well on the third. Read more »

The Wrong Way to Defend Shale Gas

by Michael Levi Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I wrote yesterday about the troubling revelation that the New York Times relied on emails authored by an EIA intern as a key source for a hard-hitting recent article on shale gas while presenting that intern as an “official”. Later yesterday, in a move that can only be described as baffling, EnergyInDepth, a prominent industry-backed website that defends the natural gas industry and fights regulation of hydraulic fracturing, piled on – by stridently attacking the intern. Read more »