Archive for July, 2009


Monday, July 13th, 2009

Le Procope

I flew from Beijing to Paris for this year’s IFP lectures – and even before giving any presentations, IFP invited me to have dinner with the visiting executives at Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in the city (founded in 1686). Certainly a delightful way to start this year’s Paris visit!

I was also invited to lunches & dinners with a number of friends & colleagues…. & you can see that significant portions of my Parisian visits seem to revolve around food & catching up with long-time friends — so it’s no wonder I enjoy them so much! But I did spend a bit of time in the classroom – and in fact upped my teaching load from nine to twelve hours for the Petroleum Economics & Management students. Obviously, there’s lots to cover now in emissions trading!

Just like last year, I was reading Alain de Botton’s latest book on this Paris visit, this one entitled The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I’ve become quite a de Botton fan, and over the past year I’ve read more of his earlier works, including the books on Proust, philosophy, & his novel On Love. His latest work has chapters exploring the diverse ways in which people make a living, and I especially enjoyed the chapter about French rocket engineers launching a Japanese satellite (that would be broadcasting anime films & wacky game shows) from French Guiana in South America. He notes the struggle of living with modernity in such a primitive setting, and writes:

I felt the temptation of hoping that all activities would acquire the excitement and rigours of engineering while recognizing the absurdity of those who, overly impressed by technological achievement, lose sight of how doggedly we will always be pursued by baser forms of error and absurdity.

Perhaps — like Beida below — they should consider a statue of Cervantes at the launch site??

Beida Statuary

Monday, July 13th, 2009

I was very pleased to be a guest at Peking University (‘Beijing daxue,’ or ‘Beida’) on this recent Beijing trip. When walking from the hotel to Prof. Zhang’s office, however, I was quite startled to see the artwork in front of the University’s Guanghua School of Management.

Standing Mongol

“Standing Mongol” is a rather substantive, no-nonsense-type fellow – but perhaps you’ll notice on the picture that there is one shiny area, from the frequent touch of visitors. A few tens of meters away, facing him, is a statue of Lao Tze – but instead of the normal, somber portrait of this revered Taoist teacher, this one shows a rather coarse figure with his tongue sticking out.

Lao Tze

They were quite controversial when they were unveiled last year, & I asked my Beida colleagues about the meaning of all this – but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus. One faculty member suggested that this was simply a case of “brains over brawn,” with the erudite Lao Tze literally sticking his tongue out at the powerful but plodding worker…. perhaps a fitting (if gloating) approach for a university, and a school of management at that. But I’m not really convinced – especially since they had separate sculptors.

Cervantes at Beida

More conventional – although still a bit incongruous – is the statue of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. I took a stroll around campus on a warm & sunny Sunday afternoon, and found the statue I had seen many years before. Don Quixote is one of my all time favorite novels – it so wonderfully captures the absurdity of life’s strivings & our (often comical) interpretations of reality – and I had been quite surprised to come across a statue of its author at Beida. Apparently it was donated by the Spanish government in 1986. No shiny parts on Mr. Cervantes – although it does seem that some students have made off with his sword.

Beijing & Baoding

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Another busy travel period, with a third Asian trip in as many months…. this one took me to Beijing on behalf of UN ESCAP, which was sponsoring an Asian-Pacific Low Carbon Economy Forum (in conjunction with China’s Energy Research Institute and others). I prepared a Background Document for the Forum – with the considerable assistance of U. Penn student Ms. Sudha Iyer — and then made two presentations stressing the role of ‘urban energy integration.’

Baoding hotel solar wall

One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to Baoding, a city in Hebei Province southwest of Beijing. Baoding is conscientiously making a transition to high tech green technology, and is one of two cities in WWF’s Low Carbon City Initiative.

UN ESCAP’s Li Shaoyi

We visited a facility there making solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, another one manufacturing blades for wind turbines, and a five-star hotel with a ‘solar wall’ of photovoltaics. 

Roger at solar PV plant

In the pictures you can see UN ESCAP’s Mr. Li Shaoyi (my co-author on the emissions trading ‘leapfrog’ paper) at the wind blade plant, as well yours truly wearing a hairnet for the PV tour. Quite a fashion statement, huh?

On this trip I also did a presentation for the Beijing Energy Network, a group of (mostly young) professionals in the Beijing area who meet every other week to discuss China’s energy/environment issues & to hear a guest speaker. We met at the Blue Frog bar in the hip Sanlitun area of the city, & I talked about the ‘leapfrog’ emissions trading approach. Afterwards, one of them said: “Thanks for giving us such a ‘geek-y’ talk.” He meant it as a compliment – I think.

I was reading the new political thriller Ultimatum, by Matthew Glass, on this trip. This somewhat grim novel takes place in the year 2032, after the effects of global warming have kicked in, and the US & China are at loggerheads about reducing emissions. The Economist gave it an enthusiastic review, calling it ”a thriller for our age,” and noted that, as “the first politico-diplomatic-disaster thriller, Mr. Glass’s engrossing work leaves the reader thinking long after the last page is turned.” Reviewers on have been a bit less kind. I thought the novel started off quite strong, outlining the differences in US & China political responses & negotiating approaches to the problem….. but then the story became increasingly less plausible as the novel went on. The degree of precision suggested throughout (e.g., we need a 12.3 percent reduction in emissions in the first five years, followed by 11.4 percent in the following five) was troublesome — but of course it’s meant to be a novel, not a policy document. Many reviewers have compared it with Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, another popular (but opposite view) global warming novel. The Economist called that one “a diatribe,” and considered Ultimatum the better work….. and I suppose that’s true. But State of Fear was over-the-top, popcorn-munching reading entertainment, with murderous graduate students & faked car crashes & cannibalistic islanders. This one certainly has more gravitas — but truthfully, there’s already more than enough to fret about in those policy documents.