Everybody's got a thing.
How, exactly, did Greece come to be teetering on the edge of economic collapse? A John Oliver segment from this past February offers a very helpful explanation.
Back then, Greece got a four-month extension to pay back money borrowed from the International Monetary Fund to keep its economy afloat. It's that four-month extension that runs up Tuesday, and Greece still doesn't have the money to pay back.
The four-month extension required Greece to make some difficult cuts to government spending. And at the time, Oliver flagged some reasons to be skeptical this would all play out well for the country. Exhibit A: The Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said the country would have to do something akin to Ulysses and "tie [itself] on a mast in order to get where you're going and avoid the Sirens. We intend to do this."
"That's not that reassuring," Oliver pointed out at the time. "Everybody in Ulysses' crew dies in that story, and Ithaca falls to absolute shit in his absence."
The whole clip is worth watching and, if you're looking to learn more, check out Vox's explainer on the Greek financial crisis here.
This post seems to be in favor of shitposting (since Far Side is excellent), but after further extensive research (http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/shitposting) I realize one of my main MOs is shitposting. Fuck.
a verbal description of a far side comic is indistinguishable from a fine shitpost
far side comics are just visual shitposts
It’s rare that I come across a post about the Far Side.
God I love the Far Side. I used to have a calendar of the comics and my dad had a bunch of books. They’re great.
via Tertiarymatt. I like the inclusion of Lebanon. I would not have expected that.
It's not perfectly constructed, but it's pithy and poignant.
via firehose. "Draw me like one of your french girls..."
via firehose. This is curation at its finest. (firehose, you have my permission to use that as your new slogan.)
|Courtney shared this story from Super Opinionated.|
Lacking Vangelis, but otherwise perfect. via Sophia.
Blade Runner (1982) dir. Ridley Scott
via Christopher Lantz. #symmetry #mushroom #italiansausage
via wumpus. Spreading liberty like the Bullet Gardener.
Flags! They’re so crazy.
Hey! I revamped the rewards for Patreon patrons this week. The rewards are full of all sorts of recurring goodies, including a patron-exclusive bonus SFAM comic every month!
Check out these rewards:
Consider becoming a SFAM patron today! Your support makes this whole comics thing possible. I can’t do it without you.
via GN. I want to make this a part of my internet of things. On second thought, maybe not.
Trying to add to my playlist in beyondpod. Adam Savage on themoth via TertiaryMatt.
Follow-up. Looks like stemming coal consumption in China will help the climate, not the increase in aerosols/particulates as proposed earlier this week by TM and me.
Here’s something rare in climate reporting: a bit of good news. Or, more accurately, not disastrous news.
As we explained last week, China has long exerted an outsize role in global climate change, not simply because it’s by far the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gas, due largely to its enormous population, its rapid growth, and its reliance on dirty coal — but also because of China’s influence over global politics as a hold-out in international climate deals.
Now the reigning heavyweight contributor to global warming might be slimming down a bit.
China’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak, and then begin to taper, around 2025, according to a new report. That’s five years ahead of a promise made by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in November 2014, as part of China’s historic climate accord with the United States.
The new analysis, released Monday by the London School of Economics, says China’s emissions “could peak even earlier than that” and begin to fall rapidly thereafter, holding out a tantalizing possibility: The world could stay within the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) of warming above pre-industrial levels, according to the authors. That limit is seen by scientists as a crucial threshold to stay within to prevent some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change. It’s also a limit world leaders hope to enshrine in an international agreement in Paris later this year.
The findings are all the more startling when you consider that the growth in China’s coal consumption has been responsible for more than half of global CO2 emissions growth in the last decade, according to a separate Greenpeace analysis.
“Whether the world can get onto that pathway in the decade or more after 2020 depends in significant part on China’s ability to reduce its emissions at a rapid rate, post-peak,” write Nicholas Stern and Fergus Green, the authors of the new LES report. Stern was also the author of the U.K.’s landmark “Stern Review” on climate economics.
Driving the shift in China is a decline in the importance of coal. “It is now possible to say with confidence that coal use in China has likely reached a structural maximum and begun to plateau,” the authors write, pointing to a recent dip in coal consumption in 2014 and in the first quarter of 2015. Natural gas use will increase rapidly over the next five to 10 years, the authors say. Combined with aggressive investment in alternative energy and new restrictions on coal consumption in response to China’s air pollution crisis, the gas boom will help tamp down greenhouse gas emissions.
The report’s authors cast a surprisingly upbeat tone when describing the structural changes in China’s energy sector, including its investment in cleaner technologies such as solar and wind and its pilot carbon pricing programs. “Eventually, this increasing momentum could unleash a large wave of clean energy investment, innovation and growth — a new energy-industrial revolution,” they write.
Bringing China’s emissions under control will also inspire political change, the authors argue: Continued strong action by China could silence critics in the West who justify their own inaction by using China as a climate bogeyman — a very common argument in the U.S. — and thereby “lower the political barriers in rich countries to stronger climate action.”
“China holds the keys,” Stern and French conclude.
Reminds me of @Lev.
If there is one thing the great men of history have in common it’s this: books. They read, a lot. Theodore Roosevelt carried a dozen books with him on his perilous exploration of the River of Doubt (including the Stoics). Lincoln read everything he could get his hands on (often recording passages he liked on spare boards because he didn’t have paper). Napoleon had a library of some 3,500 books with him at St. Helena, and before that had a traveling library he took on campaigns. The writer Ambrose Bierce, the Civil War veteran and an underrated contemporary of Mark Twain once remarked, “I owe more to my father’s books than to any other educational and directive influence.”
The point is: Successful people read. A lot. And what about us young, wildly ambitious people who want to follow in their footsteps? We have that hunger, that drive, and desire. The question is: What should we read? What will help us on the path laid out for us — and all that it entails?
Now a lot of the right recommendations are domain specific. If you want to be a writer, there are certain books you should read. If you want to be an economist, well, there are genres you need to deep dive into. If you want to be a soldier, there are others too. Still, there are many books that every person who aspires to leadership, mastery, influence, power, and success should read.
These are the books that prepare you for the top, and also warn against its dangers. Some are historical. Some are fiction. Some are epics and classics. These are the books that every man must have in his library. Good luck and good reading.
|The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro. It took me 15 days to read all 1,165 pages of this monstrosity that chronicles the rise of Robert Moses. I was 20 years old. It was one of the most magnificent books I’ve ever read. Moses built just about every other major modern construction project in New York City. The public couldn’t stop him, the mayor couldn’t stop him, the governor couldn’t stop him, and only once could the President of the United States stop him. But ultimately, you know where the cliché must take us. Robert Moses was an asshole. He may have had more brain, more drive, more strategy than other men, but he did not have more compassion. And ultimately power turned him into something monstrous.|
|Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow. I found Rockefeller to be strangely stoic, incredibly resilient, and, despite his reputation as a robber baron, humble and compassionate. Most people get worse as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. In fact, Rockefeller began tithing his money with his first job and gave more of it away as he became successful. He grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. And what made Rockefeller stand apart as a young man was his ability to remain cool-headed in adversity and grounded in success, always on an even keel, never letting excessive passion and emotion hold sway over him.|
|The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Notorious Life by Robert Evans. If you’re specifically looking to make your way in showbiz, this is the book you have to read. It’s the rags-to-riches, rise and fall and rise of Robert Evans, one of the most notorious figures in Hollywood. From pants salesman to running Paramount Pictures (and producing The Godfather), his story is the one that everyone who heads to L.A. hopes to have. It was one of the first books I read when I started working in the business. I think it shows you how far hustle and hype and heat contribute to success. And how they can also lead to your downfall and exile.|
|Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office by Zack O’Malley Greenburg. This is a biography that also functions as a business book. It shows how as a young man in Brooklyn, Jay applied hustling techniques to the music business and eventually built his empire. A true hustler, he never did only one thing — from music to fashion to sports, Jay dominated each field, always operating on the same principles. As he puts it, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” And related to that, I also recommend The 50th Law, which tells the stories of many such individuals and will stick with you just as long.|
|The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen. This book tells the incredible story of Sam Zemurray, the penniless Russian immigrant who, through pure hustle and drive, became the CEO of United Fruit, the biggest fruit company in the world. The greatness of Zemurray, as author Rich Cohen puts it, “lies in the fact that he never lost faith in his ability to salvage a situation.” For Zemurray, there was always a countermove, always a way through an obstacle, no matter how dire the situation.|
|The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X. I forget who said it but I heard someone say that Catcher in the Rye was to young white boys what The Autobiography of Malcolm X was to young black boys. Personally, I prefer that latter over the former. I would much rather read about and emulate a man who is born into adversity and pain, struggles with criminality, does prison time, teaches himself to read through the dictionary, finds religion, and then becomes an activist for Civil Rights before being gunned down by his former supporters when he tempers the hate and anger that had long defined parts of his message. Booker T. Washington’s memoir Up from Slavery and Frederick Douglass’s epic narrative are both incredibly moving and inspiring as well.|
|Personal History by Katharine Graham. If one thing is certain about your path to success, it is that it will be fraught with adversity. Fate will intervene in ways you would never expect. Which is why you absolutely must read Graham’s memoir. After the tragic suicide of her husband, who ran the The Washington Post and which they both owned, Katharine Graham, at age 46 and a mother of three, with no work experience to speak of, found herself overseeing the Post through its most tumultuous and difficult years (think Watergate and the Pentagon papers). Eventually, she became one of the best CEOs of the 20th century, period. She pulled through and endured with a strong sense of purpose, fortitude, and strength that we can all learn from. In similar regard, read Eleanor Roosevelt’s two-volume biography to see how she managed to turn what was at the time a meaningless position in the White House into a powerful platform for change and influence.|
|The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It is impossible to describe this book and do it justice. But if you plan on living life on your terms, climbing as high as you’d like to go, and avoid being controlled by others, then you need to read this book. Robert is an amazing researcher and storyteller — he has a profound ability to explain timeless truths through story and example. You can read the classics and not always understand the lessons. But if you read the The 48 Laws, I promise you will leave not just with actionable lessons but an indelible sense of what to do in many trying and confusing situations. As a young person, one of the most important laws to master is to “always say less than necessary.” Always ask yourself: “Am I saying this because I want to prove how smart I am or am I saying this because it needs to be said?” Don’t forget The Prince, The Art of War, and all the other required readings in strategy. And of course, it doesn’t matter how good you are at the game of power, without Mastery it’s worthless.|
|Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Part of ambition is modeling yourself after those you’d like to be like. Austin’s philosophy of ruthlessly stealing and remixing the greats might sound appalling at first but it is actually the essence of art. You learn by stealing, you become creative by stealing, you push yourself to be better by working with these materials. Austin is a fantastic artist, but most importantly he communicates the essence of writing and creating art better than anyone else I can think of. It is a manifesto for any young, creative person looking to make his mark. Pair up with Show Your Work which is also excellent.|
|Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. Ah yes, the drive that we all have to be better, bigger, have more, be more. Ambition is a good thing, but it’s also a source of great anxiety and frustration. In this book, philosopher Alain de Botton studies the downsides of the desire to “be somebody” in this world. How do you manage ambition? How do you manage envy? How do you avoid the traps that so many other people fall into? This book is a good introduction into the philosophy and psychology of just that.|
|What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan. There are lots of books on aspiring to something. Very little are from actual people who aspired, achieved, and lost it. With each and every successful move that he made, Jim Paul, who made it to Governor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, was convinced that he was special, different, and exempt from the rules. Once the markets turned against his trades, he lost it all — his fortune, job, and reputation. That’s what makes this book a critical part in understanding how letting arrogance and pride get to your head is the beginning of your unraveling. Learn from stories like this instead of by your own trial and error. Think about that next time you believe you have it all figured out. (Tim Ferriss recently produced the audiobook version of this, which I recommend.)|
|Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I would call this the greatest book ever written. It is the definitive text on self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization, and strength. Bill Clinton reads it every year, and so have countless other leaders, statesmen, and soldiers. It is a book written by one of the most powerful men who ever lived on the lessons that power, responsibility, and philosophy teach us. This book will make you a better person and better able to manage the success you desire.|
|Cyropaedia by Xenophon (a more accessible translation can be found in Xenophon’s Cyrus The Great: The Arts of Leadership and War). Xenophon, like Plato, was a student of Socrates. For whatever reason, his work is not nearly as famous, even though it is far more applicable. This book is the best biography written of Cyrus the Great, one of history’s greatest leaders and conquerors who is considered the “father of human rights.” There are so many great lessons in here and I wish more people would read it. Machiavelli learned them, as this book inspired The Prince.|
|Lord Chesterfield’s Letters by Lord Chesterfield. Just like Meditations, which was never intended for publication, this is a private correspondence between Lord Chesterfield and his son Philip. We should probably be happy that this guy was not our father — but we can be glad that his wisdom has been passed down. I have not marked as many pages in a book as I have in this one in quite some time. Of course, the classic in this genre of letters is Letters From A Self Made Merchant To His Son. Dating back to 1890, these are preserved letters from John “Old Gorgon” Graham, a self-made millionaire in Chicago, and his son who is coming of age and entering the family business. His letters are an incisive and edifying tutorial in entrepreneurship, responsibility, and leadership. Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet is also moving and profound. Addressed to a 19-year-old former student of his who sought Rilke’s critique, these short letters are less concerned with poetry and more about what it means to live a meaningful and fulfilling life as an artist and as a person.|
|Plutarch’s Lives (I & II) by Plutarch. There are few books more influential and ubiquitous in Western culture than Plutarch’s histories. Aside from being the basis of much of Shakespeare, he was one of Montaigne’s favorite writers. His biographies and sketches of Pericles, Demosthenes, Themistocles, Cicero, Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Fabius are all excellent — and full of powerful anecdotes. These are moral biographies, intended to teach lessons about power, greed, honor, virtue, fate, duty, and all the important things they forget to mention in school.|
|The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari. Basically a friend and peer of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and all the other great minds of the Renaissance, Giorgio Vasari sat down in 1550 and wrote biographical sketches of the people he knew or had influenced him. Unless you have a degree in Art History it’s unlikely that anyone pushed this book at you and that’s a shame. These great men were not just artists, they were masters of the political and social worlds they lived in. There are so many great lessons about craft and psychology within this book. The best part? It was written by someone who actually knew what he was talking about, not some art snob or critic; he was an actual artist and architect of equal stature to the people he was documenting.|
|The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Widely held as a classic, this book is much more than a manifesto and manual on swordsmanship and martial arts. It’s about the mindset, the discipline, and the perception necessary to win in life or death situations. As a swordsman, Musashi fought mostly by himself, for himself. His wisdom, therefore, is mostly internal. He tells you how to out-think and out-move your enemies. He tells you how to fend for yourself and live by a code. And isn’t that precisely what so many of us need help with every day?|
|This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. If you wanted to read a book to become a successful, well-adjusted person, you probably could not do worse than Catcher in the Rye. Tobias Wolff’s memoir is a far better choice for the young man struggling with who he is and who he wants to be. I also suggest pairing it with the female counterpart: Totto-Chan. The latter is the memoir and biography of one of the most famous and successful women in Japan (akin to Oprah). It’s an inspiring little story of someone who didn’t fit in, who always saw the world differently (sound familiar?). But instead of making her hard, it made her empathetic and caring and kind — to say nothing of creative and unique. (The former is actually fiction but based on a true story. The latter is a true story but reads essentially like fiction).|
|The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. Duddy is the ultimate Jewish hustler, always working, always scheming, always looking for a deal, and looked down upon by everyone for his limitless ambition. Duddy never stops in his pursuit to acquire real estate in order to “be somebody” — never forgetting his grandfather’s maxim that “a man without land is nobody.” Except it doesn’t work out like he planned. From this book, you learn that the hustler — the striver — if he cannot prioritize and if he does not have principles, loses everything in the end.|
|What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg. A composite figure based on some of Hollywood’s first moguls, the book chronicles the rise and fall of Sammy Glick, the rags-to-riches boy from New York who makes his way through deception and betrayal. Essentially, Sammy is your Ari Gold without the slightest bit of human decency. He’s running from self-reflection, from meaning. It’s fear knocking on the door that he’s frantically trying to block with accomplishments. Sammy is an accomplished man, but not a great man — that takes ethics, purpose, and principles. All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is another similar story — a sort of fictional version of The Power Broker — that tells of the effect that power and drive can have.|
|The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg and The Crack Up & The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Disenchanted and The Crack Up are both about the fall of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one from the first person perspective and the other from the fictional eyes of a friend watching his hero fall to pieces — just like the story of Gatsby itself. The Crack Up is a collection of essays, many of which are off-topic, but they had to be — a person cannot look so directly and honestly on their own broken soul without turning away at times. Fitzgerald’s Crack Up has always been illustrative to me and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about. I call it the Second Act Fallacy, and you pity and feel for a man with so much talent and wisdom who was helpless to apply it to himself.|
Liber medicina animi — a book is the soul’s medicine.
Of course, the books listed here are by no means all you need to be healthy or fulfilled. It’s just the beginning. But they do make a solid start to your library.
Enjoy and be careful out there. It’s a perilous road to the top.
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumphs and two other books. He keeps a popular monthly book recommendation email that currently has more than 40,000 subscribers.
"Fortunately, Americans wouldn't fall for such Stalinist…"
"The horrible attack in South Carolina seems to have caused a national reexamination of some of the more visible Southern symbols honoring that time that they fought, uh… us," Stewart said. "It's actually part of our new segment: 'Huh, I guess it is pretty fucking weird that we fly a flag in honor of a pro-slavery secessionist army.'"
"Taking down the flag only 150 years after the South surrendered and 20 years after NASCAR did it," Stewart added. "Congratulations!"
Stewart pointed to one Republican state senator who compared removing the flag to "a Stalinist purge."
"Removing a flag would not really be Stalinist purge style," Stewart countered. "Stalin, what would he do? He'd probably keep the flag, but whitewash it of its associations with slavery and secession, and then concoct some bizarre narrative about, 'Actually, it just represents something lovable and positive — the kind of thing you just slap in a shirt or the back a truck.' And then he'd say this dual meaning would justify not just keeping it, but elevating it, honoring it. Fortunately, Americans wouldn't fall for such Stalinist…"
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This is beautiful. Although the correlation/causation leap is easy to trip on.
For those brutalist architecture lovers (including me, Russian Sledges, Rosalind, and others), some brutalist art.
Si hay algo que destaca de los monumentos soviéticos es su característica construcción. Muchos de los edificios construidos por los rusos tienen un aspecto demasiado vanguardista para la época, como si realmente pertenecieran a otro siglo más avanzado de aquel en el que fueron construidos.
No obstante, esta concepción arquitectónica se encuentra explicada por una corriente, el futurismo ruso, iniciado en el país poco antes de comenzar la Primera Guerra Mundial. Como la mayoría de corrientes vanguardistas, lo que buscaban era romper con los cánones de todo lo que se encontraba establecido por aquel entonces, ya sea en lo referente a la literatura, la arquitectura o la pintura.
Concretamente, como señalan en artescritorio, los monumentos soviéticos que vemos en las imágenes se encuentran abandonados en Yugoslavia. Sin embargo, éstos están construidos mucho después de que se iniciara el futurismo ruso. Fue el expresidente Josip Broz Tito quien en los años 60 ordenó construir dichas estructuras con motivo de conmemorar las batallas de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.
Créditos: Jan Kempenaers
After reading the script, we definitely felt that Blade Runner was of that film noir genre, and we looked back to the films of the 1940s for inspiration. Deckard was as much a gumshoe as Sam Spade. For Rachael’s character, our chief inspirations were the tailored suits that Adrian [the creative brain behind Dorothy’s sparkling ruby slippers, and Joan Crawford’s signature shoulder pads] designed in the late 1930s and early 40s. I liked the idea of combining different shades of suiting fabrics to create patterns. In this case I used amazing vintage suiting woollens in shades of grey and beige, with metallic threads that I was lucky enough to find, which created a subtle luminous quality. I wanted to create a futuristic heroine who was believable in the future, but with her feet firmly planted in film noir past. [x]
Blade Runner (1982) dir. Ridley Scott
costume design by Michael Kaplan and Charles Knode
production design by Lawrence G. Paull
My Vagina: Brought to you by the Minnesota Vikings #wtf #why #Vikings (at OBGYN West)
Poorly Drawn Mammals of the Pacific Northwest by Dwight Uncleroy
Rebound effect! That's what it's called. TL:DR Engineering estimates of energy savings are way too idealized for the real world, at least in weatherization programs.
In climate-policy circles, energy efficiency has long been considered the ultimate free lunch. There are, in theory, lots of opportunities to upgrade our insulation, our furnaces, our appliances so that we're squandering less energy. Not only would boosting efficiency cut down on pollution, but we'd actually save money over time. Everyone wins.
Except ... what if energy-efficiency policies aren't always as cost-effective as everyone assumes?
That's a question raised in a new working paper by Meredith Fowlie, Michael Greenstone, and Catherine Wolfram. The economists conducted a large randomized controlled trial of 30,000 homes in Michigan involving the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families replace their furnaces, upgrade insulation, and seal up leaks along doors and windows. This experimental set-up allowed for a more rigorous evaluation of weatherization efforts.
The researchers found that the upfront cost of efficiency upgrades in the Michigan program came to about $5,000 per house, on average. But their central estimate of the benefits only amounted to about $2,400 per household, on average, over the lifetime of the upgrades.**
The program did help households save energy: after the upgrades, homes used 10 to 20 percent less energy for electricity and heating. But, notably, that was less than half of the savings that had been predicted beforehand.
One possibility is that households compensated for their reduced utility bills by increasing their energy consumption after the upgrades. But the economists didn't find evidence of a "rebound effect" here — they went knocking door to door and found little sign that people were, say, cranking up their thermostats in the winter.
"We were very surprised by the result," says Greenstone, an economist and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. He notes that it's still not entirely clear why Michigan's weatherization program didn't save nearly as much energy as had been predicted — a fact he calls "unsettling."
Now, to be clear, this study only examined federal weatherization efforts in a single state, and these results don't necessarily apply to all types of residential efficiency efforts. For one, federal weatherization programs can vary from state to state. What happens in Michigan may not apply to New Jersey.
What's more, experts note that low-income weatherization programs aren't always designed to be as cost-effective as possible — in part because they have social goals like clearing out mold or helping poor people survive through the winter (this Michigan study didn't assess those benefits). Indeed, past research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that low-income weatherization policies were twice as costly, per unit of electricity saved, as the average utility efficiency program. That suggests the much larger array of utility-run initiatives throughout the country are more likely to be cost-effective.
Still, the results do suggest the need for closer study and field-testing of policies to promote energy efficiency.
(John B. Carnett/Popular Science/Getty Images)
Many estimates of the value of energy efficiency come from engineering studies that look at what's possible under ideal conditions. These studies typically suggest that we're wasting a lot of energy in our homes, office buildings, and cars — waste that could be eliminated with existing technology at negative cost. See this big McKinsey report for a great example.
But, Greenstone says, these engineering studies might not always capture the messiness of the real world. It's easy to find ways to cut down on waste in laboratory conditions. But outside the lab, homes might be irregularly shaped, insulation might not always be installed by highly skilled workers, and there are all sorts of human behaviors that might reduce the effectiveness of efficiency investments.
That's why field tests are a valuable check — and randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard here. This particular RCT, the first of its kind, found that the federal Weatherization Assistance Program only seemed to be saving about 39 percent as much energy in Michigan homes as engineering tests had predicted:
Greenstone cautioned that this study hardly undermines the rationale for every single efficiency policy out there. After all, this study only looked at weatherization efforts in one state. It's entirely possible there are genuine untapped opportunities to reduce energy use and save money elsewhere — in industrial sectors, in transportation, even in other residential programs. But, he says, "this needs to be verified in the field."
It's an important question for climate policy more generally. Energy efficiency is often considered the great low-hanging fruit — the cheapest and easiest policy to reduce CO2 emissions. Peek under the hood of any grand plan for addressing climate change, and you'll usually find that energy efficiency is playing a central role.
And yet, in this particular study, the economists found that the federal home weatherization program was not a particularly cheap way to reduce CO2 emissions. Although energy use (and hence carbon pollution) from the homes studied did go down, it came at a cost of about $329 per ton of carbon. That's much higher than the $38-per-ton value of the social cost of carbon that the US federal government uses to evaluate the costs and benefits of climate policies.
"This underscores the value of field-testing," says Greenstone. "Particularly in a world where economy-wide carbon pricing does not look feasible, we should be redoubling our efforts to find those CO2 reduction measures that have the biggest bang for the buck."
** Note: For those interested, the central estimate of the lifetime benefits for the weatherization program in Michigan was $2,400, assuming a 6 percent discount rate over 16 years. The paper adds: "estimates of the present value of the savings range from approximately $1,450 [10% discount rate over 10 years] to about $3,500 [3% discount rate over 20 years]. These estimates are just 32% to 77% of the upfront cost of the energy efficiency measures."
-- On Twitter, energy analyst Chris Nelder takes issue with the study's assumptions about future electricity and natural gas prices in America (see his critique here, here, here, here, here, here). If you believe those prices are going to rise significantly in the future, then efficiency starts to look like a better bet.
-- Back in 2013, I took a look at the launch of E2e, a joint project between economists at MIT and the University of California Berkeley that aimed to take a more rigorous scientific approach to the concept of energy efficiency. This latest study comes out of that project.
jfc John Oliver. via firehose.
Last Week Tonight s02e18
“With the internet, the only limit to how miserable you can make another human being is how angry you are and how fast you can type.”
That first one tho. "Infant Care."