You'd think that Ted Kennedy would support wind power, being a prodigious producer himself, but you'd be wrong. Really wrong:
As record oil prices turn attention to the need for renewable fuels, momentum is building in Congress to buck Senator Edward M. Kennedy's bid to block the proposed Cape Cod wind energy project, potentially reviving efforts to construct the sprawling windmill farm in Nantucket Sound.
Why is he opposed? Perhaps because he owns a house nearby:
The 130-turbine, 24-square-mile cluster of windmills would be about 8 miles from Kennedy's home in Hyannis Port, and he has long opposed it. The Coast Guard bill would give Governor Mitt Romney, another wind farm opponent, the power to veto it, even if the project clears all other hurdles.
Kennedy denies that, but some are skeptical:
Bass said the Cape Wind project has been treated differently in Congress because powerful lawmakers and special interest lobbyists vacation on Cape Cod and treasure the ocean views.
''It's odd that the people who are against it are the people who have [scenic] views," Bass said.
Kennedy's even getting fire from the left on this one: "The right loves this story. And love it they should. It's a clear cut case of liberal hypocrisy. Here's a leading member of the party that claims to be pro-environment trying to shut down an environmentally responsible project because it would take away from his scenic views. It's classic NIMBYism. John Stossel couldn't make up a better narrative if he tried." Nope.
"NIMBYism" -- for "Not In My BackYard" is a potent barrier to alternative energy. But we keep hearing about how we need to sacrifice to gain independence from foreign oil, and to fight the greenhouse effect. Shouldn't fatcats with beach houses sacrifice, too?
UPDATE: It's hard for me to imagine why anyone would find the windmills unsightly. Just look at this gallery of images -- I think they're rather attractive.
Oil fears and follies
We've been hearing more about "peak oil" theories -- that global oil production is about to enter an irreversible decline, setting off shortages, war, and worse. Ron Bailey is skeptical:
So who's right? Fortunately, it looks like humanity is at least a generation away from peak oil production. Unfortunately, there could be another "oil crisis" any day now.
That's pretty much the bottom line. What's more, alternative oil sources -- like the Alberta tar sands, and the Colorado oil shale deposits, both of which dwarf Saudi oil reserves -- start to become economical at prices over seventy dollars a barrel. That means that if prices stay this high, we'll see considerably more oil come on line. Which suggests that there's an upper limit to oil prices, over the long term, of about seventy dollars a barrel. Which is not to say that we won't see short-term spikes considerably higher, given limits on refining capacity in the United States and political instability in a lot of oil-exporting countries.
Meanwhile, there's all sorts of interest in alternative fuels like ethanol, hydrogen, methanol, etc. The folks at Popular Mechanics have taken a pretty thorough look at what's promising, and what's not. In the meantime, I note that things can't be too bad, as people don't seem to be driving any less -- or, for that matter, any slower. When a significant number of drivers are voluntarily going 55 miles per hour on the Interstate, we'll know that gas prices have gotten out of control.
Gas prices hype: A lot of wasted energy
Okay, so I drive a Toyota hybrid SUV, and got 34 miles per gallon going to work today. Still, it seems to me that much of the hoopla over gas prices is more an indication that our political leaders combine economic ignorance with a willingness to pander in the worst way than an indication of any real problem.
Energy-blogger Lynne Kiesling agrees. She writes:
The outright demagoguery from DC is disgusting but not surprising. More FTC studies of "price gouging", more threats of "windfall profits" taxes, more ranting and puffery. Ladies and gentlemen (and I use that moniker to be polite, not truthful) of Congress, look within yourselves if you want a true explanation for the increase in gasoline prices this spring beyond their previous spring increases.
Here's a situation in which I really hate to say "I told you so". Even politics-hating, non-active me, I am ready to call my senators and try to teach them some economics upside the head on this one. Grrrr.
President Bush is getting bad reviews, too. James Glassman writes:
With gasoline prices close to $3 a gallon, President Bush this morning gave a disingenuous speech to an alternative fuels association about what he was going to do to stem the rising tide. There were a few flashes of candor and insight, but, on the whole, it was a sad example of political capitulation by a former Texas oilman who certainly knows better.
Then again, the media -- with their breathless reports of "record high" oil prices -- get bad marks, too. Like movie grosses, these numbers only look bigger than previous records because of inflation. As Ron Bailey writes:
With some headlines blaring about "record oil prices," a bit of perspective is in order. It is true that in nominal dollars, the price of crude oil has never been higher. However, in inflation-adjusted terms, the picture looks somewhat different. It turns out that the price for a barrel of oil peaked at about $98 in December 1979.
Still oil prices have tripled in the past four years, but the economy nevertheless chugs along.
[T]he price of oil would need to double from today's $70 per barrel to have the same impact on the U.S. and world economy that prices had during the 1970s oil crisis.
That's because we use energy much more efficiently than we did in the 1970s. Not efficiently enough, of course -- and here are some thoughts on what we could be doing on that front.
You can also hear Lynne Kiesling -- along with Roger Stern of Johns Hopkins University -- talking about oil supply and demand, global energy politics, and more, in this podcast.
But the bottom line is that gas isn't all that expensive, by historical standards. Nor, in my experience, do people seem to be feeling the pain much -- at least, not enough to get them to slow down on the Interstate, or make fewer trips around town. Most people can afford to pay for gas at today's prices without feeling the need to cut back on driving. That'll probably be true even if gas prices go higher, which they very well may.
But the market is sending us a signal, and that signal is that demand is up, but supply isn't. Some people will take the lesson, and adjust their habits or buy more efficient cars. Others will conclude that it's worth it to drive as much as they want even in the face of higher gas prices. Auto companies (those that want to stay in business, at least) will respond to the former group; oil companies will respond to the latter. That's what markets are all about.
Trial by newspaper
Over at Slate, Jack Shafer writes: "The fairness of a trial-by-newspaper, of course, depends on how closely a news organization apes the practices of official courts. Fairness requires it to consider not only the statements and evidence of the accuser, but that of the accused, no matter how heinous the charge. By that measure, the New York Times has failed the two Duke University lacrosse players who were indicted Tuesday of raping a woman during a party in an off-campus house on March 13."
I think that's right, and I also think -- as Shafer implies -- that the Times, and many media outlets, would be treating this story differently if the races of the parties were reversed.
We'd be better off, of course, if the media in general didn't give so much time to sensational trial coverage. That reporting is often inaccurate, usually a tool for one or the other party, and generally divisive. But it gets ratings.
I've written before about women and heart health, and here's a report that underscores the importance of the topic:
Still, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in women over 25, killing more than 250,000 a year in the United States. Before they reach their 60's, women are less likely than men to develop heart problems, but once the disease does occur, women often fare worse than men.
Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease, and though overall coronary death rates have dropped in recent decades, most of the improvements have been in men.
Heart attacks in women are often misdiagnosed, too.
We did a podcast interview on this topic a while back. If you're a woman, don't ignore your heart.
Free Hao Wu!
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, blogger Rebecca MacKinnon was raising the case of imprisoned Chinese blogger Hao Wu:
Another victim of Chinese state kidnapping -- with whom I am personally connected -- is Wu Hao, an independent filmmaker, blogger and U.S. permanent resident. It is unclear why state agents abducted him on Feb. 22, but his friends think it may be related to his work on a documentary about China's underground Christians. He continues to be held -- this is the 58th day of his detention -- despite the fact that Chinese law limits the maximum detention without charge to 37 days.
About a month before his abduction, Hao (his first name) also took up the part-time role of Northeast Asia editor for an international bloggers' network that I co-founded, Global Voices Online. He was excited about introducing the perspectives of Chinese bloggers to an English-speaking audience. He also kept an English-language blog at BeijingOrBust.blogspot.com. While his writings were considerably more honest and edgy than those in the China Daily, he was by no means a dissident and often defended his government against Western criticism.
Hao turned 34 this week. He personifies a generation of urban Chinese who have flourished thanks to the Communist Party's embrace of market-style capitalism and greater cultural openness. He got his MBA from the University of Michigan and worked for EarthLink before returning to China to pursue his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker. He and his sister, Nina Wu, who works in finance and lives a comfortable middle-class life in Shanghai, have enjoyed freedoms of expression, travel, lifestyle and career choice that their parents could never have dreamed of. They are proof of how U.S. economic engagement with China has been overwhelmingly good for many Chinese.
Problem is, the Chinese Dream can be shattered quickly if you step over a line that is not clearly drawn -- a line that is kept deliberately vague and that shifts frequently with the political tides. Those who were told by the Chinese media that they have constitutional and legal rights are painfully disabused of such fantasies when they seek to shed light on social and religious issues the state prefers to keep in the dark.
But we have a serious problem that won't go away: How can Americans respect or trust a regime that kidnaps our friends?
China wants to be thought of as a modern, developed country. For a start, it could try acting like one.
Blogging from Iraq
Blogger Michael Totten has been blogging from Iraq. The latest installment is here, with links to his earlier posts.
With his detailed first-person reports and excellent photos as he travels the area, Totten is offering a kind of reporting that Big Media seem not to be delivering. I'm not sure why that is, but his stuff -- supported entirely by reader donations -- is well worth your time.
I think it's also the wave of the future. Not that traditional media will be replaced by the Michael Tottens of the world, exactly. But they'll certainly be supplemented by them, and they'll often be shown up by them.
He's not the only one. Another Michael -- Michael Yon, is blogging from Afghanistan, and will soon be in Iraq, too. He's also supported by reader donations.
Read them both, and I think you'll find a quality and kind of reporting that you're not seeing anywhere else. Which is too bad.
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