Category Archives: Energy & Environment

Comments related to global energy use, the presumed-to-be-impending energy crises, and related impacts on people, the economy and the environment. Global warming and other environmental issues.

Is telecommuting facing a new oil crisis?

Over the past few months the global energy situation has made some significant shifts. One of the potentially most far reaching of these is the drop in oil prices. Last Thursday, after Opec decided to continue pumping its oil at the same rate as it had been doing, oil prices hit a four-year low of just over $71 per barrel. The reason is that the availability of oil exceeds the demand for it; Economics 101. America’s greatly increased oil production, largely from shale, is clearly distorting the market by adding to that surplus availability. Our previous forecasts of hitting the absolute peak of oil production have to be modified.

For some stakeholders in energy this situation is an oil bonanza; for others it is an oil crisis. For commuters worldwide the lower price at the gas pump is a gift, an incentive to buy a new gas guzzler rather than a hybrid or an electric car, to increase the rate of global warming. For those of us trying to persuade people to telecommute this situation feels like a new oil crisis. High oil prices supposedly help encourage individuals to  telecommute. Will low oil prices act to discourage telecommuting? Here is some history.

Continue reading Is telecommuting facing a new oil crisis?

The focus factor vs. the office

What is telework’s central secret? Its ability to enhance the  level of teleworkers’ focus on their work. This both increases worker productivity and enhances their job satisfaction. Why? Because many, if not most, contemporary office environments are definitely not conducive to the level of focus required for work to be done efficiently and effectively. They suffer from low focus factors.

Here’s an example. Suppose you arrive at your downtown office after an “exciting” commute to work. You grab your first coffee, sit at your desk, try to relax for a few minutes then start to focus on today’s first task. Just as you’re getting into it one of your office mates wanders by and starts talking about last night’s ball game. You try to look absorbed but it doesn’t work to fend off your colleague. After a few more minutes of this she wanders off and you try to get back to your mindset before the interruption began. Cogitatio interrupto.

Continue reading The focus factor vs. the office

A no-net-cost global warming fight?

The news is trickling in: it’s possible to fight global warming without wrecking the economy; the savings might even outweigh the expenses.  A no-net-cost global warming fight is possible if we all get to work at it. There are costs, of course, but the evidence is growing that the benefits of decreasing global warming may outweigh them. It’s possible that the net costs may be zero to negative, making the global warming fight free or even a winner.

Here’s some of the evidence.  The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has just released a report (The New Climate Economy) giving the big picture. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has written about that report and another from the International Monetary Fund with supporting material. A quick glance shows that the task of quickly reducing global warming is formidable — but doable. The doing part of it is what is crucial.

As I have written in the past, telework/telecommuting is one of the weapons to fight global warming. Continue reading A no-net-cost global warming fight?

What global warming? Part 2

As the “unseasonal” cold snaps and blizzards continue in parts of the US—and as other parts experience unseasonal warmth—the evidence keeps coming in that global warming is real. And largely a result of our burning fossil fuels.

To celebrate this clear trend the European Union, once a leader in the struggle to reduce greenhouse emissions, is having second thoughts. It seems that the fight against global warming is bad for business; Europe may be losing its competitiveness, according to the Financial Times. Continue reading What global warming? Part 2

What global warming?

The favorite retort by many of us in the midwest or eastern US in the past few weeks has been: “What global warming? I’m surrounded by icicles!”  Others of us, such as in the southwest (and much of Russia), have been sweltering in temperatures dozens of degrees above normal. The key to understanding all of this is to remember that weather is not climate. The polar vortex is not all there is, even when it’s errant. For some explanation see this from the Weather Channel.

Yet all this recent weird weather does allow us to crow: “Telecommuters do it at home! They don’t need to go out in all that snow, ice and slush. When disaster strikes we can deal with it (unless the power goes out too).”

Continue reading What global warming?

The coming Carbon wars

This week President Obama announced his plans for outflanking Congress with regard to global warming by implementing a series of executive orders that don’t need congressional approval. Foremost among these orders is one that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to require caps on the carbon emissions of power plants. Coal burning power plants produce roughly 40% of the global-warming CO2 produced by the United States (and possibly a larger proportion of the CO2 produced by China, a country outside the jurisdiction of the EPA).

The reaction by the coal industry? Shock if not awe. The immediate responses of that industry tended to be focused on the jillions of jobs that would be lost by coal miners, operators of the forecast-to-be-shut-down coal-fired power plants, small businesses that would be adversely affected by the higher costs of plants using alternative energy sources and so on down the impact-chain of dominoes. Free-market war is about to be declared: the carbon requirers versus the carbon eschewers.

Continue reading The coming Carbon wars

Passing 400 on the way to the frog test

In mid-May the atmospheric carbon dioxide measurement at Mauna Loa in Hawaii hit 400 parts per million (ppm). The scientists of the world (at least 95% of them) have declared that 450 ppm is the point where it may cause the atmosphere to warm to at least 2° Celsius, to the point where it was 3 million years ago (when sea levels were 75 feet higher). That, according to many forecasts, could produce many serious climate change events such as extra strength hurricanes and tornadoes—like the one that leveled parts of Moore, Oklahoma last week—not to mention inundation of all low-lying coastal areas.
Yet, apart from the immediate victims of these catastrophic events, most of us are blithely unconcerned about the omens such disruptions represent. It reminds me of the old fable about the frog in a pan of water. Continue reading Passing 400 on the way to the frog test

Climate Change: Winners/Losers

As we approach the end of another year, one fraught with difficulties, bad decisions and indecision, it is worth looking at what might lie ahead. In the US we are facing the so-called “fiscal cliff” which is less of a cliff than a return to the Clinton years (in which the US ran a surplus). Despite all the tearing of hair and cries of imminent disaster the economy is likely to muddle through. So that’s not good, but not-so-bad news.

Then there is the brontosaurus in the corner: climate change. The deniers to the contrary, climate change is not only meeting but exceeding the dire predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In mid-December this year’s negotiations on expanding the Kyoto treaty on climate change basically came to nothing. Outside the discussion chambers in Doha news came that the Arctic ice pack was melting even faster than last year; the glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica also were accelerating their rate of melt; the oceans are rising faster than forecast in the 1990s, they are growing more acid because of the increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and they are likely to cause the demise in the next few decades of much of the world’s coral reefs. But all these supposed dangers are remote, right? Why should we worry?

Continue reading Climate Change: Winners/Losers

Sandy, climate change, politics and telecommuting

I’m writing this as Hurricane Sandy is drenching and/or flooding the East Coast of the United States. It’s an appropriate time to wonder why, just a week before the vote in this very heated and close presidential campaign, neither of the contenders has mentioned climate change in any recent speeches or debates. Well that’s not exactly the case, Pres. Obama did discuss climate change in a recent interview by Sway Calloway, a reporter from MTV.

Still, I should point out that most reference to the problems of climate change by either contender have been indirect at best. Pres. Obama explains that this is simply because no one has asked him about climate change in any of the recent debates. Governor Romney, on the other hand, seems to feel that the human-engendered part of climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberals meaning to somehow penalize the coal and oil industries. Continue reading Sandy, climate change, politics and telecommuting

Reviewing the situation . . . for oil

A few years ago I posted some comments on the global oil situation. The gist of the comments was: We are at or past the peak of global oil production; therefore we need to reduce our need for oil somehow. Otherwise the market will reduce demand for us by pricing oil out of reach of many/most of us. That was in  the mid-2000s. There’s a similar set of comments I made in the mid-1990s.

Now there’s a new review of the situation titled: Oil’s tipping point has passed. Authors James Murray and David King, in the 26 January 2012 edition of Nature [481, 433–435],  maintain that: “the economic pain of a flattening supply [of oil] will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels”. Their argument goes along the line of the Hubbert peak oil theory that the major oil companies have been trying to downplay for the past several years. Continue reading Reviewing the situation . . . for oil