Sunday, July 31, 2011

Unleashing Big Money for a Green Economy

I just read the finance section of the Green Economy Report by the UNEP (UN Environment Programme), the Green Economy : Finance I am most interested in the section about new markets and instruments such as the carbon market, green bonds, and green property. The insurance industry is also an ideal vehicle for driving more environmentally sustainable decision-making.

To me, it is critical that assets controlled by the high net worth community, asset pools of insurance companies and pension systems, and the financial services and investment sectors get directed towards driving the transition to a green economy. I would like to do work or research on redirecting assets towards green industry and infrastructure, but I'm not sure where to start. I still need to figure out who works on this already.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Favorite Economist

I think I have a favorite mainstream economist now: Kenneth Arrow

Last weekend I went to Raven Used Books on Newbury Street. I got a book by Kenneth Arrow, the Limits of Organization. I just finished the first chapter, Rationality: Individual and Social, where he argues that "collective action can extend the domain of individual rationality."

Collective action is a means of power, a means by which individuals can more fully realize their individual values

I like how he frames the discussion about organization, trust, and social good.

I think everyone should read this in high school or maybe college. It would help people think about what markets, organizations, and governments are for. It is about ethics and how to form the value judgments about what we want as individuals and how we can cooperate.

Practicing Painting

Latest creations. Even though I'm getting better at painting, it's clear that I'm still much better at pencil and pen. I still use brushes as if I wish they were pencil, and I am still surprised when I don't get the same sensation of the pen pushing back from the page from painting.

Weird mountain

abstract inspired from Ratatat song "Shempi."

2 weeks till cross country road trip!!!!

in two weeks, I won't be in Florida anymore. whooooo

Fowl in Boston

Last weekend I visited Boston for the last time before leaving Florida. There were a lot of ducks and swans at the Swan Pond in the Boston Public Gardens. There were many ducklings and the swans were nesting. It was a nice scene.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ignorance Preserves Peace Between Friends

It's true. I like watching the Real Housewives shows. The Real Housewives of New York just ended its 4th season. A quick summary of the format. Camera crews follow 5 women around, and after each day of filming, each woman talks about what they were thinking earlier in the day as things were happening. Editing puts clips of things that happen right next to what they thought. They often were commenting on what they thought while talking to each other. Then, at the end of the year, the women get together for a "reunion show," and they all talk about what happened in the season. Well, it seems like every reunion show gets increasingly heated and out of control. People generally chalk it up to the casting of relatively outspoken and aggressive women. There is certainly some truth to that. You probably must be a little loony to think putting your life on television is a good idea. However, I have a theory that it would probably happen to anybody, man or woman.

Usually, when we go about our day, we interpret things that happen our own way, and while we do talk to other people when we have disagreements, of course there are still things that we don't say out loud. People generally have a positive view of themselves and even if they know other people have an uncharitable opinion of them, if nobody ever bothers to bring it up, there are no conflicts. If a camera crew and producer is following you around all the time, though... Plus, usually people stop thinking about things, but when it gets rehashed on TV, and then at the reunion show months after it happened, the negative feelings stick around and probably get stuck.

I think this means that a certain level of "collective cognitive dissonance" is needed for people to get along. I don't know if there's a real term for it. Actually Smark made it up. Sometimes we need to think everyone else is stupid without knowing that everyone sometimes thinks we're stupid in order to get along. People are often able to accept that they're a little bit wrong, but not too wrong. I think this rationalization is necessary for protecting one's mental health. Otherwise you would either get depressed or you'd constantly be second guessing your actions, which would probably make you depressed.

Anyway, all those women should probably quit the shows for their own mental health and emotional well-being.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Next Climate Conference in Rio

It's not too early to start thinking about the next UN Conference on Sustainable Development. It will be next June 4-6 in Rio DeJaneiro. One of the objectives this time is the Green Economy. I have to admit I'm a little confused, though, because shouldn't this be a theme every year?

At any rate, the UN Environment Programme is putting out a Green Economy Report this year that is pretty comprehensive.

It has plans for Agriculture, Water, Fisheries, Forests, Renewable Energy, Manufacturing, Waste, Buildings, Transport, Tourism, Cities, Modelling, Enabling Conditions, and Finance.

I think I'm personally most interested in Renewable Energy, Manufacturing, and Finance.

Power Struggle

Al Gore recently wrote a piece in the Rolling Stones about politics and climate change. He urges:

Finally, and above all, don't give up on the political system. Even though it is rigged by special interests, it is not so far gone that candidates and elected officials don't have to pay attention to persistent, engaged and committed individuals. President Franklin Roosevelt once told civil rights leaders who were pressing him for change that he agreed with them about the need for greater equality for black Americans. Then, as the story goes, he added with a wry smile, "Now go out and make me do it."

This is not naive; trust me on this. It may take more individual voters to beat the Polluters and Ideologues now than it once did — when special-interest money was less dominant. But when enough people speak this way to candidates, and convince them that they are dead serious about it, change will happen — both in Congress and in the White House. As the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass once observed, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will."

I really like the quote by Frederick Douglass. It really also applied to money. The kinds of people who typically end up with a lot of money or power are ruthless. That's how they got where they are. It is self-selection. I often feel that the majority of Americans are too trusting of these people, believing them to be fair-minded and deserving of their power or wealth. To me, it's not about "deserving" it or not. Ruthless people don't think about what is fair. They think about what is the most they can get. In my view, when it comes to money or power, the only difference between earning it and taking it is that when you "earn" it, people give it to you voluntarily. If the average American employee wants a bigger cut of the profits or for wealthy Americans to pay a bigger share of the taxes, they just need to demand it. We don't need to shy away from demands for fear of economic repercussions. Do Americans really think that those at the top worry about the national economy when they decide on their bonuses?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

After Darwinism

Lynn recently introduced me to the ideas of Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris. She is a biologist who presents a framework for science that motivates the transition to environmental sustainability. The most interesting part of her talk was that Darwinism only describes the adolescent stage of human society development. After that, there must be cooperation to create a sustainable ecosystem.

I think she mischaracterizes entropy, though. Entropy is orthogonal to destruction vs organization. It is simply going from a higher energy state to a lower energy state. If you build something, like a house, you are adding organization, but you are putting a lot of energy in, so the entropy of the whole system is still increased, although the entropy of the house itself is decreased. The sun decreases entropy on the earth, but in the scope of the universe, entropy is still increased. It seems like people who talk about sustainability and ecology really like talking about entropy. I don't really get it.

Godel, Escher, Bach for Kids!

I was talking to my friend James today. He says that what he'd really like to do one day is host a children's science show, kind of like Bill Nye. Kids today really don't have anything like that anymore, and they really need it. He made this back in college about the concept of infinity. Blast from the past!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

California Green Jobs Report

I read more about the California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment for Energy Efficiency, Distributed Generation, and Demand Response.

This is really a line of research I am interested in pursuing. Here are some things that stuck out to me.

They talked about the need for "high-road agreements," which I think means including higher standards in contracts for businesses. The report also stresses the importance of enforcing standards and having certifications for labor force training.

The study found that incorporating environmentally friendly practices and standards into traditional training programs was more important than brand new training programs for new specialized green jobs. That is, greening traditional trades is more effective than anticipating narrow specialized emerging occupations. Actually, this is exciting because this has been my attitude towards green jobs, although it was just based on a hunch. The report's conclusion is more about the technicalities of job creation and training, but the message I was trying to send when I did the Big Picture Panel Lecture was that students should try to work on sustainability within whatever field they chose, not feel like they needed to change careers to work on environmental sustainability. While I think it makes sense to try to get a Sustainability minor or certificate, it would not make sense to make a Sustainability major. At least, not for most people.

I also thought of two other ideas while reading this report. One is that maybe businesses that work on contracts should have online rating sites like Yelp, especially government contractors. Consumer product ratings are now ubiquitous, but taxpayers regularly pay companies that they don't know much about. On the other hand, it may be that this information is readily available, and people are just not that interested.

The other idea is that students in high school and also college should have more information available about possible career choices so they can make better decisions. It seems like to me that most people make career decisions based on their interests, which is good, but I think it would be better if there was at least a little bit of data or infographics. Otherwise, the bit of data that students use are from TV shows and celebrities. It is becoming clear that the middle class has benefited the last three decades from cheap goods in China, and so it has not been particularly difficult to maintain a pretty good standard of living in the United States even if you did not make savvy career choices. It simply has not been that competitive. I think that the labor market is going to get more and more competitive now in the United States, and that more data for students are in order, not just more SAT prep.

Viral Web Commercials

Hu Ge is a Chinese filmmaker who got his start making spoofs and posting them on the internet. He did a couple of internet commercials for 7-Up that I think are really funny.

I also think it's really impressive that he sort of invented his career by being creative with his interest in filmmaking.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shipping 3,000 Miles

Today I called Amtrak to find out more about Amtrak Express shipping service. Apparently, there is an Amtrak shipping booth at every Amtrak Station, where you can drop off packages, and it gets delivered to any other Amtrak Station by freight. It's pretty affordable.

For Boston South Station to Oakland California:

50lbs $52

100lbs $67
$.57 each lbs over 100

500lbs $295 max
delivery in 4-7 days

Train also emits the least CO2 at 0.055lbs CO2 per Ton-Mile. Plane is a whopping 3.366lbs CO2 per Ton-Mile, and car is about 0.654lbs CO2 per Ton-Mile.

I've been trying to do my own little calculations for transporting things in my particular car. The easiest way to approximate how much extra emissions it takes to transport an extra 100lbs is to compare the average fuel economies with and without the extra weight. With just me, my car can average 33mpg if I'm driving on the highway 80% of the time. With an extra 100lbs, which is just a bit less than another person, I estimate that my fuel economy gets down to 28mpg at most. It takes an extra 5.4 gallons to travel 1000 miles with the extra 100lbs. There is about 19.4lbs of CO2 per gallon of gas. It comes out to being about 1lb of CO2 per Ton-Mile. The cost in extra gas would be about $64 for $4/gallon gas, so about the same as Amtrak Express.

(An optimistic estimate would be 30mpg, which comes out to 3 gallons more, which is about .582lbs per Ton-Mile and $36.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good to Sea

Green Economy Labor Economics

Yesterday I applied for a research job at the UCB Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to do research on the minimum wage.

On their main page, they were spotlighting research by the Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy. They just put out a new report that "California’s energy efficiency policies have a big job impact, but state needs to support more highly skilled and highly paid construction trades work force."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dance In Berkeley

The Mahea Uchiyama Center for International Dance is in Berkeley, which is really exciting. Mahea Uchiyama is a well-known hawaiian and tahitian dance instructor. I probably won't join this fall or winter, but maybe next spring. The performance classes go to Hawaii and Tahiti sometimes for performances, which would be really fun. I think I will be too busy with classes and hopefully research work to do much performing, though.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Debt and Politics

Economist article shaming Republicans.

Senate Democrats present an alternative.

GSPP Autobiographical Sketch

I am entering the Goldman School of Public Policy's Masters in Public Policy Program this fall. This is my introduction. I'm not sure how long they would like it to be, though.

Yang Ruan was born in China and grew up in the United States. She studied electrical engineering at MIT and worked in the electrical engineering field for several years. She has always been interested in environmental sustainability, and is changing careers to shape environmental policy more directly. Yang's interests range from environmental finance and environmental markets to energy and technology policy. She wants to learn more about quantitative tools, economics, and dynamical systems to design effective and equitable environmentally sustainable economic policy. She also enjoys painting, drawing, singing, dancing, playing piano, eating, and event planning.

UCB Professor Lee Friedman

Professor Lee Friedman is another economist who works on environmental policy. He works on a broader range of topics, though, than Professor Hanemann, and his research tends to be more applied. He specializes in applied microeconomics and environmental markets. I am most interested in his work on pricing in the energy market and carbon market to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He teaches a core GSPP class, the Economics of Public Policy Anaylsis.

Friday, July 8, 2011

UCB Professor Michael Hanemann

Professor Michael Hanemann is an economist who works on environmental policy. He is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Dr. Hanemann’s research interests include non-market valuation, environmental economics and policy, water pricing and management, demand modeling for market research and policy design, the economics of irreversibility and adaptive management, and welfare economics.

He is an expert in the economics of water, the valuation and the demand of water. I would be more interested in applying his techniques to other material resources, though. On the one hand, according to standard environmental economics analysis, my drive to reduce the use of other material resources is to minimize the negative externality of pollution or climate change. However, I feel it is more than that. I suppose that fundamentally I feel that exponential increases in material resource use is a problem. I also think that improving supply chain is an insufficient solution. It only seeks to make resource use efficient, but there is no mechanism to ultimately constrain it. Even so, it's a necessary first step.

UCB Assistant Professor Margaret Taylor

Another faculty member who works on environmental policy and technology is Margaret Taylor. Her line of research has lately been about technology push and demand pull policies. She studies how policies can effectively achieve environmental goals through supporting technological innovation.

She works with the climate modeling community as well. It seems that climate and technology modeling becomes important to all environmental policy work.

I'm not sure what the defining differences are between her and Dan Kammen. It seems that they don't work together. I wonder if they have opposing perspectives or there is just no interest overlap.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

UCB Professor Dan Kammen

Another professor who works on environmental policy is Dan Kammen. He is also a professor in the Energy and Resources Group, and he is the director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, which seems to be pretty well funded. He actually has a background in physics.

Dr. Kammen's research interests include: the science, engineering, management, and dissemination of renewable energy systems; health and environmental impacts of energy generation and use; rural resource management, including issues of gender and ethnicity; international R&D policy, climate change; and energy forecasting and risk analysis.

I need to find out more about his research on engineering management. The dissemination of renewable energy systems is appealing because those policies and projects could be implemented immediately. However, part of me wants to work on projects that are more general in scope.

There is a project in RAEL on clean energy financing that is well-aligned with my interests. Maybe I could work with that group.

Professor Kammen teaches a GSPP class that has been highly recommended called Energy and Society.

Bill Clinton on the Debt

Obama has been really bad at explaining the debt limit issue and even worse at building a case for just raising it without spending cuts or more taxes. No one articulates the issues about fiscal policy better than Bill Clinton, though! Bring back the triangulation!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

UCB Professor Richard Norgaard

Professor Richard Norgaard is one faculty at UCB whose work I am excited by. He is a founder of ecological economics and an Energy and Resources Group professor.

Among the founders of the field of ecological economics, his recent research addresses how environmental problems challenge scientific understanding and the policy process, how ecologists and economists understand systems differently, and how globalization affects environmental governance. He has field experience in the Alaska, Brazil, California, and Vietnam with minor forays in other parts of the globe.

His research seems to be more focused on the interactions of social systems, science, and governance than on the economic impacts of policies or setting up markets for managing resources. That may just be a more recent focus, though. He has written a lot about a coevolutionary interpretation of ecological civilization. This is the concept that the evolution of a species is the aggregate of the evolution of our values, knowledge, organization, technology, and environment. I am not sure how this line of research can help us evolve towards environmental sustainability or even how to conduct this research in a rigorous way, but it is an interesting concept.


Favorite song of the moment

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Today my mom and I went to Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Fl to hang out and watch fireworks. It was like a fair like on Memorial Drive in Boston. We got to sit on a dock, which was almost right under the fireworks! I hope the economy can keep getting better and that we can have more responsible policy-making. Just have to keep pushing...

Drawings of Smark's brother and his wife

These are actually from Christmas last year. They're about 2 feet wide. As you can see, his brother likes cello and his wife likes Disney!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Oh yeah, it's my Birthday

I keep forgetting and then remembering it's my birthday today (July 3). I never really feel like it's anything special, but I bought some clothes for myself. Anthropologie was having a crazy awesome sale.

Building the Case: Get Rid of Unnecessary Tax Breaks

Executive compensation is back up: it's a lot!

Equilar, an executive compensation data firm has found that median compensation for top executives at 200 big companies increased 23% from 2009 from $9.3 million to $10.8 million. Big executive payers are media companies, oil and commodities, and technology companies. As many people are aware, most workers are not getting raises this year and have not been getting raises for the past few years. Unemployment is still high. Profits are supposedly up, but it must be up for some sectors or maybe for large companies but still low for others. Profits on paper are also not necessarily a good indicator of how well a company is doing financially.

President Obama and the democratic party have thrown down the gauntlet about putting taxes on the table to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. I hope that people start paying attention to how well executives and certain corporations are doing so that we get tax policies that make sense. Not every tax break is good because not everyone needs a tax break. When people who don't need tax breaks get one, there is a hole in the revenues that needs to be filled by someone else's taxes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Berkeley People

I've been doing some research on faculty at Berkeley I am interested in. When I get there I'll probably try to take some classes or seminars with them and see if they have any openings for research positions.

W. Michael Hanemann

Richard Norgaard

Daniel M. Kammen

Margaret Taylor

Lee S. Friedman