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January 22, 2009 08:27 PM UTC

CO's Alternative Energy Industry?

  • by: Steve Harvey

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

This is another one of my diaries in which I am asking to tap the collective genius of ColoradoPols participants (as “Yevrahnevets” did a couple of years ago, requesting, and receiving, a very rich crash course in Colorado state and local politics). Please, tell me everything you know about the topic named in the title. Details and background below:

I am about to write a research paper on sustainable energy and issues of human “security” (the definition of “security” being a part of the topic of the paper). The paper will take a dynamical systems approach, from general to specific. I will start with James Lovelock’s “Gaia Theory” (how improbably balanced, finely integrated organic and inorganic systems maintain the biosphere); extend it to an analysis of how social institutional subsystems interface with those ecological, geological, and meteorological systems; and then focus on the technical, political, and economic possibilities and challenges implicated by the entire range of existing and potential energy regimes.

My intention is to develop a global analysis with a local focus. There is no “one size fits all” assumption: I expect that various packages of energy technologies will be appropriate or optimal for various regions and political economic contexts. Neither is the analysis limited to “green” energy: It will include consideration of all energy technologies and resources, such as shale extraction and coal liquification. I am particularly interested in the political economic challenges of implementing more sustainable energy regimes, both at home and abroad. Finally, given my plan to pursue a career in Colorado state and local government policy analysis, I want to examine Colorado’s actual and potential role in this general endeavor.

I am asking for whatever information you have that is pertinent to the topic outlined above. Please, bombard me with information, even if you think it is obvious or well-known. Citations are always helpful (though not necessary). Tell me about our research institutes and projects, our natural resources, our energy industries, the relevant bills and legislation, regulations and judicial decisions, local ordinances and lobbying groups, citizen organizations and non-profits, and the economic costs and benefits imposed by all of the above.

With luck and good will, this can turn into a highly informative survey of Colorado’s involvement in the politics, economics, and scholarship of fueling human civilization. Thanks for your help.


28 thoughts on “CO’s Alternative Energy Industry?

  1. Steve,

    I’m just going to provide a link for a recent analysis of several options for low carbon energy for vehicle transportation. I haven’t had the time to really read it yet but the abstract and figures are intriguing.

    In return for any assistance you get from posters on ColoPols, I ask that you provide a link to your final product whenever it is finished. This would seem like a fair exchange to me.

    Also, you might consider in your analysis the security issues associated with centralized versus distributed energy generation. The author of the below paper also included this aspect in his analysis.

    Here’s the link:

    Jacobson. 2009. Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security. Energy Environ. Sci.

    1. Who is your intended audience?

      What decisions do you want to influence?

      Will you assess private market opportunities vs government responsibilities?

      Will you assess the credibility of advocates of various alternatives?

      What are your biases? Will you openly state them? Will you try to be objective, or are you writing a propaganda document?

      If the private sector isn’t willing to invest in various schemes, will you explain why they aren’t good investments and why taxpayers should invest in them anyway?

      Will you assess the risks that private sector investors and/or governments will take in investing in the alternatives you advocate?

      How will you come up with dollars and cents quantifications  of risks, rewards, annualized?

      Will you have a statistician design your study and another one audit it? Or no statistics?

      How will you make the report readable and comprehensible for non expert investors and policy makers who will make the ultimate decisions?

      Are you a scientist, economist, lawyer or just a policy wonk wading into a new arena?

      1. The short answer is: The answer to each is what you would probably hope it to be, where a preference is likely. This is a mid-term paper for a CU Law class taught by Prof. Guruswamy called “Energy Insecurity, Sustainable Energy.” It is not a polemic, nor an argument for a particular ideological approach, other than an integrated dynamical systems approach, including market considerations, costs and who will bear them, efficiency, and so on. My biases are pretty much the biases you see woven throughout my posts: I believe in collective action and social policy which facilitates it, but does so with an awareness of limited resources, costs and benefits, variable efficiency, and so on. It probably wouldn’t be appropriate to the format of such a paper to declare that bias explicitly, but I think it will be implicitly quite clear and hopefully inoffensive.

        The form of analysis is descriptive rather than normative: I will try to describe and analyze what exists, what options face us, what costs and benefits are implicated in each option, and so on. I doubt that I will end up making any explicit policy recommendations.

        I will adress issues of public v. private investment, though, you may have noticed, that I accept a general game theoretic argument for why some public investment is necessary. That “assumption” (similar to the “assumption” that 2 + 2 = 4) will be explained in the paper.

        I have a family, a long commute, am off the wagon regarding my addiction to participating here, and enjoy a bit of relaxation, as well as attending law school full time, so I do not intend for this paper to be anything more than a somewhat casual exploration of the topic. No statisticians employed, though probably some cited, and so on.

          1. And in the real world, post-grad, that’s common and completely ethical practice. It’s the most efficient way to organize the information industry: Share information freely and frequently, and ask for it unabashedly.

              1. which is the gathering of available information before either doing original research (controlled experiments, field studies, participant observation, statistical analyses, and so on), or simply synthesizing and analyzing the available information. Secondary research can be conducted by various means, including internet searches, library searches, and, yes, just talking to people. There is no rule, formal or informal, that says, “when you do research, don’t ask people for information; you have to wait until they publish something before you can use whatever information they may have, or you have to find whatever information they direct you toward by some other means.” No. It really doesn’t work that way.

                As for “graduate” and “post-graduate,” sure, you’re right. Being in my 13th year of post-BA graduate education, and all that goes with it, I don’t feel any need to pad my CV. I meant “education after one graduates from college.”

        1. Energy insecurity makes me think of cases that involve energy exploration companies and conservationists, mineral rights owners and water rights owners. Would the developers be able to plead “energy security” for the country as a reason for them to prevail?

          As for sustainable energy, isn’t all energy sustainable under ideal conditions and threatened by everything from political (including internationa) action, litigation and the exhaustion of resources?

          I guess you’ll have fun with Lexis-Nexus on this one. What is the prof trying to find out about you? Is he trying to see how you think and write on any topic, or is he trying to find out how you research case law?

          Seems like a vague assignment with an agenda for a law school course.

          1. As asked by AS:

            isn’t all energy sustainable under ideal conditions and threatened by everything from political (including internationa) action, litigation and the exhaustion of resources?

            The short answer is NO.

            Sustainable means that a resource is used no faster than it is replenished. Thus, by definition, the modern rate of use of fossil fuel type energy is NOT sustainable. (And what do you mean by “ideal conditions?” Standard temperature and pressure? In the absence of friction?)

            Security relates to potential for disruption, price volatility, long-term prospects for continual generation, etc.

            As for the “vagueness” of the assignment … this is typical of graduate school. Students are given the responsibility to identify what they are interested in, identify worthy issues and problems within these areas of interest, and to pursue self-directed research. In other words, good graduate students are in charge of their own education. If you still need someone to narrowly define your scope of work, you should quit grad school and go work for someone else.

          2. If you take a short-term, localized perspective, then the forms of “insecurity” you identify are completely legitimate. However, we live in an increasingly interdependent world, and, hopefully, have a long future to consider. There are many organic processes which accommodate both globalization processes and facilitate future paradigm shifts, but human will and effort are both elements of those processes, and potential augmentations of them. Their absence is risky and costly, while their presence can accelerate useful developments, and anticipate problems before they become first crises and tragedies.

            In a world comprised of intertwined complex dynamical systems, including intertwined human social institutional subsystems, and ecological, geological, hydrological, and meteorological subsystems; how humans effectively deal with problems requires understanding those system dynamics, and working in ways which both respect and exploit those dynamics. It should not be a matter of trying to micromanage individual and organizational behaviors by an overbearing central government, nor should it be a matter of disregarding demands on more encompassing levels of intentional human organization. Government, at all levels, can and should be one partner among many, in networks characterized by multiple levels of nodes and spokes, encouraging as many actors as possible to act with enlightened self-interest. There are many benefits to be reaped by successfully forging modes of cooperation, and intelligently self-interested actors strive mightily to harvest those benefits. Cooperation (among opposing parties, factions, nations, or ideological movements) isn’t always possible, but it is always the ultimate goal.

            Government is at its best when it facilitates the ability of other actors (such as entrepreneurs and corporations, community activists and non-prfits, religious organizations and community organizations, schools and universities, lower levels of government and transnational organizations, families and other social networks), and other institutional modes (such as markets, norms, and ideologies) to act in mutually reinforcing and socially productive ways. It is one tool among many, best suited to facilitating the effectiveness of other tools.

            Many people want to think in black-and-white terms, to oversimplify complex problems and offer shallow solutions. But the subtlety and complexity of the world we live in makes a mockery of such orientations. The opposite and extreme beliefs that government is bad or good, the problem or the solution, are both simply absurd. Neither libertarianism nor socialism are wise responses to the challenges and opportunities that humanity faces. A subtler, more nuanced approach is required, one that understands that human action requires institutional agents, and that human inaction impoverishes us all.

            I’m not arguing with you, AS, and I don’t begrudge you your ideological assumptions and beliefs. We all simplify reality in order to cope with it; we all internalize models of how the world works, and use those models to inform our political and social orientations. The trick, I think, is to devise models as subtle and flexible as possible while still remaining coherent, to let those models evolve and adapt as new information and analyses present themselves and as they are tested by application, and to recognize that they are never the final and absolute truth, but rather only works in progress, approximations that develop and improve over time and through effort.

            It’s not necessary or useful to respond to others with rancor, or to feign superiority. We humans have little to strut and crow about, but much to celebrate. It is wise, I think, both to marvel at the power of our minds, and be humbled by the enormity of what those minds attempt to comprehend. We are less impressive when we pretend to know than when we strive to know, less successful in our endeavors when we are complacent in our achievements than when we are hungry to devise better strategies and address deeper challenges.

            We are more adept at designing useful processes than final solutions. The scientific method, the rule of law, the freedom of expression and organization, are all very potent processes which continually increase our understanding, preserve our ordered coexistance, and defend our individual dignity, respectively. We should continue to focus on refining such processes, and refrain from trying to impose our individual or factional conception of the correct final solution. The ugly history of “final solutions” may be a mere semantic coincidence, but I think it is a poignant and telling one.

            When coming to tentative conclusions, reliance of empirical evidence and rigorous logic is generally preferable to arbitrary or dogmatic certainty. The notion that decentralized, private-sector decision-making and action is always to be prefered to centralized, public-sector decision-making and action is both empirically and mathematically unsupported. Absolute litmus tests, which arbitrarily acknowledge some predetermined level of appropriate participation by government in general, whether minimal or maximal, are blind ideologies. How much and what kind of government participation is appropriate for which situations under what circumstances is a matter that can be answered only by the crucibles of experience and analysis, not by presumption.

            Blind adherence to oversimplistic ideologies is one of the obstacles to our collective welfare that we should strive to surmount, not one of the means to surmount them.

      2. Anyone who hasn’t done so, please read this hilarious “debate” between the utterly clueless Andrew Schlafly and actual scientist Richard Lenski over Lenski’s results on bacterial evolution.

        Then come back and tell me if AS’ questions are worth taking seriously.

        1. and character assassination, whether based on truths or lies, isn’t a legitimate argument in public discourse. I generally disagree with AS, but he is honest in his views and intellectually engaged in our debates. People who disagree with me, even sometimes passionately, are not my enemy, and I do not seek to defeat them by any means possible. Rather, I seek to refine my own arguments by honing them against their’s, and, when their’s are stronger, by modifying my own accordingly.

          Nothing is gained by the pissing contests, the cheap shots, the attempts to unmask the villains with the temerity to come to conclusions with which I don’t agree.

          Of course they’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean I won’t let them (and you) buy me a beer on Sunday…. 🙂

                1. I don’t really care about his character flaws while interacting in this venue, and would have a pretty high threshold of tolerance in any venue. I’m not the morality police, but just a Coloradan having a conversation with my neighbors.

                  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that, while we should pleasantly hold one another to high standards of personal conduct, and that serious predation certainly merits formal punishment, there’s nothing particularly constructive about the undercurrents of anger that permeate so many interactions.

                  Good will is more powerful. We should try to exercise it until the challenge to do so really is insurmountable, and judge ourselves by how easily that threshold is met.

                  1. 🙂

                    I take your comments to heart.  (yes, bitches, I have a heart….only sometimes of stone).  It sounds as if you truly don’t care whether AS, or anyone, is honest or sincere in his views.  And that’s fine…..keeps your blood pressure down and eyes bright.  But you also declared earlier (in the post to which I responded) that AS is honest and sincere, which is why I thought such putative facts were relevant to you.  Now that I know they’re not, I won’t bother you with such details!

                    1. then who’s going to give me a hard time for being inconsistent?

                      To be honest, my tolerant and forgiving spirit is more a wish than a reality. But as I approach the half-century mark, the effort of getting angry is just too exhausting, and usually requires a nap afterward. So, in the interest of staying awake, I try to avoid it.

  2. administration after a court order, this:

    is a comprehensive look on global climate change with a local focus,, as well. Knowing your proclivities for research, I hope this document helps with the “security” issues, as well as energy issues in general.

    Good luck! Enjoyed our meeting yesterday. Afterwards, with a cancelled meeting, I took the motorcycle out for a mid winter run around.

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