Monday, February 24, 2014

The man who met Papa Masaryk

In some recent tidying up, I came across a piece of paper scribbled with some notes. It was the quick recollections of a chance conversation in Stromovka, the large park near our apartment in Prague. The notes were on the back side of a printout of items that were checked out to me from the Prague City Library on my card. As best I remember, that’s the paper I used because it’s what I could find to get down some of the details of the conversation before I forgot them.

The date on the printout was June 6, 2011, and we left Prague on July 1, so that puts a reasonably tight window on when the conversation happened.

I’m writing them down here in case they might be of interest to someone, and so I can throw out the piece of paper.
We’d gone down to Stromovka to play on the zip line and stroll around, and I don’t remember how, but I got into a conversation with an elderly gentleman who was there.

He said his grandfather had been a park warden in Stromovka.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The wrong symmetry

Morning Edition had an interview on Friday with Marcia McNutt, described as "one of the country's most influential scientists. A former opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, she's now come around to support it. Her arguments were interesting and had a certain amount of sense in them, but she wrapped up with a couple of statements that strained reason, and one of them would get an "F" on a logic exam.

The argument against the pipeline is that it's being built to bring the Athabascan tar sands to market, and that we need those tar sands to stay in the ground if we're going to have any chance at all of preventing run-away climate change. McNutt observed that the tar sands are moving to market anyway, just by truck and by rail, and those means of transportation use a lot more energy than would a pipeline.

People have also raised concerns about the safety of the pipeline, and several recent spills and/or explosions have increased those fears. But truck and rail transport are also prone to accidents, as has also been recently demonstrated. McNutt argued that environmentalists would do better to cooperate, relinquishing opposition to the pipeline in return for (among other things) advanced safety features to make the pipeline really safe.

Those seem to me like serious arguments that are worth weighing in a discussion of Keystone, but other parts of her argument undercut her credibility. She observed that transport by pipeline is much cheaper than alternatives, and suggested that in this "austere" time there might be a way to use those savings as a source of funding for alternative energy sources.

Well, sure, in principle. From an aggregate perspective if the economy is saving money through cheaper transport of gas, it should have more means available for other things, like investments in green energy. But the oil companies were planning to pocket those savings, or maybe split them with consumers, so—again from an aggregate perspective—redirecting some of those savings toward green energy would be tantamount to a tax on tar sands extraction.

Look at the political situation today.