1. The Complacent Class
Anyone who knows me well knows that one of my intellectual passions is economics. I studied it in school, and something about the subject, and the way it touches on so many aspects of our lives, satisfies the big-picture view of history and culture that I love, without getting too woolly or vague or losing intellectual rigor. Anyone who feels similarly will enjoy Tyler Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution. Cowen is an economist at George Mason University, but he is more than that. He is also a fascinating public intellectual with a lot to say about American and global culture. His new book, The Complacent Class, looks quite interesting, and while I have not yet read it, I do recommend these interesting videos (presumably covering material in the book), which are quite thought-provoking and cover themes of economics and American culture. Please understand that I recommend many thinkers in this blog, and none of it should be considered a full endorsement of everything they say. With that in mind, I highly recommend Tyler Cowan’s Marginal Revolution, and the following 5 videos on The Complacent Class.
2. The US Carbon Footprint Is Decreasing
We’ll start with good news—courtesy of the oil and gas industry. Fracking may be controversial, but it’s also been successful in helping clean up America’s power grid. A recent report by the international Energy Agency highlighted the reality that natural gas has radically changed the US energy mix, and carbon emissions are dropping as a result. US emissions have actually dropped to pre-1994 levels. And we’re exporting LNG (liquefied natural gas), which hopefully will help other nations clean up their energy mix as well. Even in China, emissions are falling. Over the long term, I hope and expect that solar and wind, which are becoming much cheaper (especially the former), will significantly increase as a percentage of overall energy usage, and the transportation sector will largely wean itself off of oil. However, natural gas (or even better, nuclear) may still be needed for base load power requirements. But that’s a mix that’s a heck of a lot cleaner than what we have had over the previous decades, and not just in terms of carbon. Coal is slowly going the way of the Dodo due to market forces (no matter what the President does). Imagine, decades from now, a smart energy grid with next-generation nuclear power providing clean energy (with maybe some legacy natural gas in the mix), combined with lots of solar and wind powering the grid, and massive battery farms. And along with that, millions of battery powered, self-driving cars zipping around. That’s a future where the air is clear, power is relatively cheap, and carbon emissions are close to zero. We can get there, but we can’t just get there overnight.
And while we’re on the subject of carbon emissions, it’s worth noting this report that changes in diet—notably the less beef that Americans are eating—has changed our carbon footprint as well. As a long-time vegetarian, I’m particularly happy about that.