Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Green Ideas Of My Favorite Journalist

The journalist I admire the most is Thomas Friedman, columnist at the New York Times, and bestselling author of "The World Is Flat."

Earlier his writings on globalization, free trade and competition in an ever closely connected world attracted international acclaim. These hopefully affect US and worldwide policy in a major and positive way. Now a lot of his emphasis is on green energy, conservation and ways to reduce dependence on oil. I couldn't agree with him more, including on the need for higher and permanent taxes in the US on gasoline. This will discourage excessive consumption, fund alternative energy R&D and can offset other taxes.

Today his OpEd in the New York Times talks of how much we have already lost by failing to curb oil consumption through a $1+ per gallon gas tax over the past six years. Read his article since he puts things so much better than I can. The opportunity to lower demand for oil in the US could have significantly lowered crude oil prices which are currently hovering around $95 a barrel. After all, the US consumes a fourth of the world's oil at a time when supplies are increasingly constrained so slight global shortages make prices spike up. If our own reduced oil consumption lowers prices we benefit not just ourselves but also most of the rest of the world that imports oil.

Of course Friedman has been talking about a lot more than simply taxing gasoline and looking at crude oil imports. You can see his many writings on going green through his NYT columnist page (now available online for free in a welcome change of NYT policy.) It's still not too late. Friedman obviously hopes that his views can influence the Democratic presidential candidates who can then follow the right policies after the next elections (don't expect Bush & Co to do anything meaningful in their remaining time.)

I doubt any leading candidates including Hillary and Obama will advocate a higher gas tax in their campaigns, and they'll be wise to avoid this. It's too risky and unlike Friedman I've less faith in the ability of the average voter to think straight on this. Still, it's what the President and lawmakers do after the election that matters, and people like Friedman may yet become a decisive influence. Let's see.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Daylight Saving Follies

I've never liked this Daylight Saving Time. The twice yearly disruptions are not worth the claimed 1% of energy savings (through less lighting) or the other purported benefits listed in a website tracking its history and rationale. Moreover, our power usage - and potential savings - on lighting is dropping as we switch to fluorescent bulbs that consume a fourth of the power of conventional incandescents.

Still, the maximum benefit of this time shift is during the height of summer. I tolerate the switches on the first Sunday of April and the last Sunday of October because it's at least in synch with most of Europe. But now George Bush slipped in a three week extension of this Daylight Savings Time in his Energy Policy Act of 2005 that took effect in 2007. So for three weeks this year we moved out of whack with Europe, causing problems on some international flights, plus other headaches like needing to install patches on computers and electronic gadgets. I don't expect the change to do any good either. Most of us turn on our lights on getting up in the morning in late October and late March so the benefit of "extra" light in the evenings is exactly zero.

Then there's the whole irony of the politics of distraction. An effective energy policy should include measures like higher mileage standards, higher gasoline taxes, or funding research and development of renewable energy sources. Instead the Bush administration comes up with meaningless "solutions" like moving the hands of our clocks out of step with other countries. Though a minor irritant, these actions also fit the "go it alone" GWB approach typified by his rejection of the Kyoto protocol and the invasion of Iraq.

There's one possible relief. In the 2005 Act the Congress retained the right to revert to the earlier Daylight Saving Time schedule if the changes prove unpopular or don't result in the expected savings. I'd like this reversal as soon as possible. To be forced to get up in the dark in the years ahead and be reminded of Bush is adding insult to injury.