Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

Do America’s Future Jobs Lie in Traditional Energy?

by Michael Levi Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Joel Kotkin has a provocative essay in Forbes that claims to show how booming extractive industries, led by oil and gas, have been cranking out massive numbers of high paying jobs over the past five years (hat tip: Walter Mead). He reports that employment in “mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction” has increased by 545,386 jobs from 2006 to 2011, and that average annual earnings in that sector is $101,486. He also flags spillovers to manufacturing, both of inputs (e.g. steel for well construction) and of products that require lots of cheap energy to make. Read more »

Peak Oil and Faith Based Energy Debates

by Michael Levi Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dan Yergin’s weekend essay on peak oil in the Wall Street Journal (summary: don’t worry) has certainly stirred up passions in the blogosphere. Lynne Kiesling and Michael Giberson, both at Knowledge Problem, are big fans: economic forces and human ingenuity, they agree, will stave off the feared peak indefinitely. Christopher Mims, writing at Grist, seems to have completely flipped out upon reading the article, accusing Yergin of being a “peak oil denier” akin to the frauds who claim that climate change is a hoax. (Note to Chris: you’re insulting climate science if you think it’s no more settled than the debate over oil futures.) Jim Hamilton at UCSD has a more measured and substantive but still highly critical take (which The Economist’s Free Exchange blogger mostly endorses): Read more »

Are Natural Resources the Road to Economic Prosperity?

by Michael Levi Monday, September 19, 2011

The always insightful Jim Hamilton has an interesting post at Econbrowser in which he asserts that “a vision of what American economic growth over the next decade could look like might also help us address our immediate economic problems”, and thus suggests that “taking maximal advantage of our natural resources” ought to be “a top priority for U.S. policy”. Harking back to U.S. history, he observes that “our abundant natural resources have always been an important advantage for America, and are still an important advantage today”, but bemoans the fact that U.S. regulation has led oil rigs to leave the Gulf and rare earth elements to be produced in China rather than in the United States, among other deleterious consequences. Read more »

Why Methane Doesn’t Matter*

by Michael Levi Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Methane emissions from natural gas extraction have been getting a lot of attention in recent months. The latest contribution is a forthcoming paper in Climatic Change by Tom Wigley and colleagues at NCAR that has been attracting considerable attention. It models a scenario in which much of the world’s coal consumption is replaced by gas and finds that near term temperatures increase a little bit while longer term temperatures (beyond a few decades) are only slightly lower (see the figure below). It thus concludes, as several others have, that replacing coal with gas is at best a waste of time, and potentially even bad. Read more »

Separating Fact from Fiction on Keystone XL

by Michael Levi Thursday, September 1, 2011

Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move diluted bitumen from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast, has come into full force over the past couple weeks, with over five hundred people arrested at protests in DC. I’ve written extensively regarding how both sides of the oil sands debate exaggerate their arguments; in reality, the oil sands are neither a climate catastrophe nor an energy security bonanza.

As opposition has ramped up, though, pipeline opponents have gone into overdrive, introducing a host of new arguments, most of which are bogus. The purpose of this post is to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to the newer claims.

Let me be clear up front that my neglect of pro-pipeline arguments here doesn’t imply approval – many of them are ridiculous too. But I’ve written about them before, and don’t want to rehash old points. Nor should this post be read as saying that those who oppose Keystone XL are necessarily wrong on the fundamental question (though I tend to lean the other way): this fight is as much about power as anything else, and in politics, power matters.

Read more »