Tag Archives: energy

Tax Dollars and the War

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Here is a short (less than 4 minute) video that illustrates the fact that 53% of our tax dollars, conservatively estimated, go to finance our military.

And here is a link to a recent study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier on the employment effects of military spending versus alternative domestic spending priorities, in particular investments in clean energy, health care, and education.

The authors first examine the employment effects of spending $1 billion on the military versus spending the same amount on clean energy, health care, education or tax cuts.  The chart below shows their results.

defense.jpg

Moreover, even though jobs in the military provide the highest levels of compensation, the authors still find that “investments in clean energy, health care and education create a much larger number of jobs across all pay ranges, including mid-range jobs (paying between $32,000 and $64,000) and high paying jobs (paying over $64,000).”

Let’s see if these facts come up in the next Congressional budget debate.

Global Energy Use Predictions through 2035

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) just released a new report on projected growth in global energy consumption. In case you were wondering, it’s going to continue to climb, by an estimated 53% by 2035. And the majority of that energy use will occur in countries outside the highly industrialized nations that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; map of member states):

That said, while non-OECD countries will consume the majority of energy, the OECD nations will continue to lead the world in carbon emissions per person, still more than twice that of non-OECD nations by 2035, according to projections:

While renewable energy sources will increase as a proportion of all electricity production, fossil fuels, especially coal and natural gas, will continue to be the most important sources:

 

If you are fascinated by the ins and outs of global energy use — how much different nations use, what different types of energy source are used for (electricity, transportation, etc.), and how carbon intensive different economies are — check out the full report, as it’s chock full of data. There are also customizable tables that allow you to select topics of interest and see trends in different nations over time. But I warn you: if, say, global climate change worries you, this isn’t exactly a soothing read.

(Via Talking Points Memo.)

Hidden Costs of Gasoline

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a video put together by the Center for Investigative Reporting about some of the hidden costs of gasoline use in the U.S.:

Also check out our earlier posts on Lisa Margonelli’s TED talk about the political economy of oil in the U.S. as well as the inconsistent relationship between gas prices and how much we drive.

Gendered Marketing of Fuel-Efficient Cars

Megan H. and Ami R. sent in contrasting examples of using gender to market fuel-efficient cars. Megan saw this ad (one in a series that plays on the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” Apple ads) advocating electric cars over gasoline-powered ones. In this ad, femininity is associated with environmental responsibility. The most stereotypically masculine man in the ad — the blue-collar worker in a hard hat and filthy clothes — represents the harmful oil industry. Beneficial, good wind energy, on the other hand, is personified by a pretty woman in a filmy dress. Her beauty renders the bad guys speechless:

Dodge, on the other hand, wants to distance its claims to fuel efficiency from any association with femininity. Ami found this ad for the new Dodge Charger in the magazine for Go! Chapel Hill, an organization that advocates less car use:

So here, fuel efficiency with is also associated with femininity, but in the negative sense of emasculation. The Charger is the one exception to the other fuel efficient cars out there. You can get better gas mileage and still protect your manly reputation.

For other examples of gender representations of the environment or environmental movement, see our previous posts on femininity and benign nature, using PETA tactics to oppose the BP oil spill, nature in vintage men’s magazines, and even girls can drive electric cars!

Cancer Is Good For You (Asthma Too)

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Sometimes public relations efforts are in such extraordinarily poor taste that it’s difficult to tell whether they’re real or a spoof.

In the 1950s, as the evidence on smoking was becoming undeniable, someone suggested that the cigarette companies were about to launch a new ad campaign: “Cancer is good for you.”

It was a joke, of course. But how about “A really bad recession is good for your marriage”? No joke. The National Marriage Project has released a report with a section claiming that the current economic crises has produced “two silver linings” for marriages. (Philip Cohen at Family Inequality eviscerates this report with the level of snark that it deserves.)  A bad recession is good for crime too, or so says the title of James Q. Wilson’s article in last Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, “Hard Times, Fewer Crimes.”*

And now welcome Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, which spends millions each year lobbying against clean-air legislation.  Last month, Peabody was the object of Coal Cares, a clever spoof Website.

(click to enlarge; source: Wired)

It was Peabody’s press release in response that makes them the clear winner of the Cancer-Is-Good-For-You competition.

The United Nations has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, and the World Resources Institute found that for every tenfold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer.

The spurious logic — the implied fallacy of composition and the attempt to fob off correlation as cause — is so obvious that it could easily be part of the Coal Cares spoof.  But no, it was for real, at least while it lasted.  Unfortunately, Peabody removed the document before we could award them the CIGFY trophy .

What the UN data actually show is not surprising: Richer countries produce more electricity. They also have better health, education, and income. The message Peabody wants us to get takes the global and misapplies it locally, and it reverses cause and effect: If you want to be long-lived, educated, and rich, live near a coal-driven power plant.  Cancer, asthma, and heart disease are all good for you.

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*I don’t know if Wilson also wrote that title. Unlike the post-hoc logic suggested by the title, Wilson does not argue that the recession caused the decrease. But he does imply that the recession did not exert any upward force on crime.

Interesting International Comparisons Website

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a link to the website If It Were My Home. The site allows you to select two nations and then explains how your life would compare if you lived in each one in terms of rates of HIV/AIDS, employment, energy consumption, infant mortality, class inequality, and other factors (based on CIA data). As an example, Dmitriy chose to compare the U.S. and Ukraine, “the 2 greatest countries in the world, as determined by the poll conducted in my head”:

You can then choose one of the items for more details; I selected life expectancy:

The site is set up with the U.S. as one of the default comparisons, but at the top there’s a button that lets you select a non-U.S. comparison. (Note: Reader Parodie says it appears to detect whatever country you’re accessing the site from and set that as one of the default comparisons.) It’s a fun site that you can spend quite a bit of time playing around with.

UPDATE: Just a caution–a couple of readers seem to have found situations where the math doesn’t add up in the comparisons of some countries. And other readers noted that this does an enormous amount of averaging, which definitely hides the differences in quality of life in various countries, which are so extreme in some nations that “averages” might be nearly meaningless.

“The Magic Washing Machine”

My great-grandma was born in 1914 and lived until 2005, so she witnessed an enormous amount of technological and cultural change during her life. I asked her once what single thing she found most impressive or was most grateful had been invented. She answered, without hesitation, “the electric washing machine.” As the mother of 7 children with a husband who did not do housework, laundry had been the bane of her existence. Getting a washing machine that had a hand-powered wringer helped, but it was still exhausting. The way she saw it, getting an electric washing machine changed her life. Her fear of ever again having to do laundry by hand with a washboard was so great that she kept the hand-crank-powered washer next to her electric one until the early 1990s, just in case.

In this TED clip, “Hans Rosling and the Magic Washing Machine,” sent in by Dmitriy T.M., Rosling discusses the ethical problems involved in efforts to combat climate change that rest primarily on telling individuals in developing nations that because we need to use less energy globally, they just can’t have the same appliances and conveniences, like electric washing machines, that those of us living in (post-) industrialized nations do:

Transcript after the jump.

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UPDATE: Media Coverage of the Fukishima Nuclear Reactor Crisis

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the twin disasters received a lot of media attention. However, it didn’t take long before concerns about the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors became a major focal point of media coverage. I remember first hearing about the explosion that damaged the outer containment building at one of the reactors. Every few hours brought more news accounts that seemed to indicate impending disaster — possible radiation clouds set to arrive in Tokyo within hours, evacuations of employees from the reactors, more explosions, the possibility that a full core meltdown would occur. Officials in the U.S. expressed concern about the 20-kilometer (12 1/2-mile) evacuation zone established by the Japanese government and suggested Americans evacuate a larger area.

But criticisms have emerged of media — particularly much of the non-Japanese media — coverage of the problems at the nuclear reactor, suggesting the reporting was often inaccurate or that the severity of the situation and potential dangers were exaggerated, and as a result drew attention away from the destruction and suffering caused by the earthquake and tsunami. The blog Japan Probe posted screen captures illustrating the different tone of coverage of the attempt to dump water from military helicopters onto Reactor 3 as part of the efforts to keep the fuel rods cool. The first, from the Huffington Post, implies more of a sense of panic and looming disaster than does the title to a BBC article using the same photo:

Japan Probe also links to a New York Times map, titled “Forecast for Plume’s Path Is a Function of Wind and Weather,” that shows when various detecting stations could potentially be able to pick up what the NYT takes pains to say would be “extremely low levels” of radiation that would have “extremely minor health consequences” (that last phrase bolded). Here’s the scenario that was forecast for March 18:

Scary, right? But then take a look at the color legend for the map:

The radiation levels indicated by different colors are reported in “arbitrary units.” So the different colors reflect differences in the potential level of radiation as it might hypothetically spread. But it’s based on a scale where the reader has no way to know whether the difference between purple, yellow, and red are actually meaningful and whether everything from 0.001 to 100 units, or a hundred billion gazillion units, all still count as “extremely low levels”of radiation, or if the red would indicate we’re all going to die.

I’m sure that the scientists who developed the model explained what the arbitrary unit was, but as provided in the NYT map, despite the text saying there is little to fear in terms of health, the map with the color coding seems likely to generate concern without providing much useful information.

UPDATE: Dmitriy T.M. just emailed me a link to a post about this topic at TechCrunch, which includes a clip from CNN in which Nancy Grace “schools” a meteorologist about how he’s totally wrong about radiation:

 

And the San Francisco Chronicle has a post up on SFGate summarizing some of the problems with coverage (via Talking Points Memo).

On the topic of concerns about radiation levels, my friend Kelly V. sent me a graphic put together by xkcd to put the level of radiation exposure from various sources into some context. The image is too large to fit in the space available here, but it’s worth clicking over to take a look. Here are two segments of it, but really, go look at the full image:

I’m certainly not in a position to adequately sort through the actual dangers posed by what’s going on at the Fukushima reactors, but it’s certainly worth questioning media coverage, especially insofar as that coverage drew attention away from the horrendous aftereffects of the earthquake and tsunami.

On a related note, and as a contrasting example, Dmitriy T.M. sent in a cartoon based on an idea by artist Kazuko Hachiya that explains the problem at the Fukushima Daiichi facility to kids through metaphors about constipation, pooping, and farting. So…there’s that. It’s unclear whether the video has really been shown on Japanese TV to actual children or not.

UPDATE: Reader Rei Tokyo, who lives in Tokyo, says the video has never been shown on local TV to their knowledge. I have a feeling this is more of an internet sensation outside Japan than within it.