Archive for April, 2010

My Dad

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

If you’ve noticed just a touch of heaviness in recent postings – Death in Venice musings, etc. – it might have something to do with the fact that my father has been quite ill over recent months, and passed away on April 7th.

Young PECO engineer, Henry F. Raufer

My dad was truly an engineer’s engineer – completely at home in the mechanical world, with a fundamental understanding of the way machines worked, how to keep things running, and how to fix them when they didn’t.   After graduating from Drexel U. in the early 1950s, he started out as an electrical engineer at the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO), working at the Schuylkill Station (the photo is from a company newsletter at that time) — and he was  quite pleased when I too worked at that site in the 1990s, helping to bring the fifth generation of combustion technology with the Grays Ferry Cogeneration project (please see the website’s ‘power plant’ page).  In the late 1950s he moved into the metallurgical field, working at Inductotherm (a company which makes electrical furnaces for the metals industry) and later at Consarc, a subsidiary company which specializes in vacuum technology (i.e., for making high quality specialty alloys).

But such a technical history hardly begins to describe his life….   or his profound influence on me.  Remember those Philadelphia row houses in the movie Rocky?  That was similarly my dad’s early life, before he joined the Navy in WWII and fought in the Pacific.  He then raised a family of eleven children (I’m the oldest), and even more amazing than its size was the fact that he moved that family overseas — to both England in the 1960s and Brazil in the 1970s — and proceeded to take us on world travels and explorations that you might have noticed in recent postings (e.g., my boyhood trips to Florence and Venice).

He used his wonderful technical skills, and created a world for his family that was rich & vibrant & loving – and when growing up, more than anything else in the world, I wanted to be just like him.  I will miss him immensely!

R&R in Venice

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

“Where did one go when one wished to travel overnight to a unique, fairy-tale-like location? Why, that was obvious.” It was obvious to Thomas Mann, who penned those lines in his classic novel Death in Venice — and it was obvious to me as well. And so I took a couple of days after the Florence training sessions and headed over to Venice, a city I had first visited at the age of 14 – exactly the same age, in fact, as the youthful Tadzio in Mann’s novel. Now, of course, I’m more the graying Aschenbach.

Michael Cunningham has written a very perceptive Introduction to the recent M.H. Heim translation of Mann’s work, and claims that Heim has given us “an Aschenbach who is more clearly and unavoidably all of us, who wants more than life is willing to provide…” He pictures him as Icarus, flying high near the end of the novel — dyeing his hair dark, rouge on his cheeks, and a gaudy striped ribbon in his hat – before crashing & burning on the beach at Lido.

My own Venetian visit was certainly a bit less flamboyant than that (i.e., my hair is still gray, & I didn’t lose that engineer’s sartorial look!). But that quest for beauty and vigor and life-affirming experience burns in all of us — and Venice is particularly adept in bringing it out. I did many of the things that folks usually do when they visit the city: took a walking tour around the old sections, and got lost several times in the narrow maze-like, winding alleyways; marveled at the gold ceiling mosaics in St. Mark’s; took a vaporetto ride the length of the Grand Canal; had a drink at Harry’s Bar; and, yes – I’ll spare you those photos of me riding around in a gondola.

La Fenice

But one of the more interesting attractions was ‘La Fenice’ – the Venetian opera house that was burned to the ground by arsonists in 1996. I had recently read John Berendt’s book The City of Falling Angels, and he described the pre-fire Fenice as “arguably the most beautiful opera house in the world, and one of the most significant.” (It had, for example, premiered Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto). Berendt is better known for his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and his Venetian book starts off a bit slow….. but it soon gets better as it moves along. ‘La Fenice’ means ‘the Phoenix’ (due to previous rebuilding efforts from fires in 1774 and 1836), and the theater was rebuilt from the ashes this time com’era dov’era (i.e., “as it was, where it was.”) I wanted to check out the new ‘same-as-before’ reconstruction, and found the theater to be absolutely stunning inside. (You can get just a hint about that from La Fenice’s website.)

Faded grandeur alongside stunning beauty — Mann certainly chose the appropriate city for his novel!

Cap-and-Trade’s Last Hurrah?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Such was the title of an article in the Economist – notably, though, without the question mark — during the very week I was lecturing in Florence about that subject and carbon markets. An article in the International Herald Tribune the same week asked the question: “Why did cap and trade die?”

News has certainly been unremittingly bleak over recent months: the failures of Copenhagen, VAT tax fraud on carbon transactions in Europe, the sale of ‘recycled’ credits from Hungary, and a brutal political environment for cap & trade in the US Congress. The State of Arizona recently withdrew from the Western Regional Initiative, carbon market traders are being laid off, and markets of any kind – regulatory or otherwise – took a considerable beating after the financial meltdown of late 2008.

But I guess I’m just an incurable optimist, because those obituaries still seem a bit premature to me. Even at this point, any US plan is likely to use such a mechanism for power plants (e.g., building on RGGI’s experience), and perhaps adding other industrial sources down the road. Other countries continue to explore how they might develop new markets to address GHGs and related environmental concerns. Strictly speaking, many of these are not cap-and-trade efforts (e.g., China’s energy intensity trading in Tianjin) – but they could nonetheless have beneficial effects.

I’ve been working over recent months with China’s Ministry of Commerce and the China Beijing Environment Exchange to foster VER transactions within that country, and Business Week cited yours truly in a piece about Japan’s proposed market-based system. One of my students is currently studying the development of RECs and white certificate markets in India. Overall, we seem to be moving more and more towards a wide range of small-scale, nation-based environmental markets, built from the bottom up — rather than one large, global, top-down approach (as in the Kyoto Protocol). This is very much in line with David Victor’s ‘Madisonian’ approach, discussed in the CLSA report I wrote a couple of years ago with Christine Loh. So don’t give up hope….. & stay tuned!


Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Hotel view of Santa Maria Novella

In late March I was in Florence once again, giving presentations at GE’s Oil and Gas University in conjunction with my colleagues at IFP. We stayed in a wonderful, old-world hotel at Santa Maria Novella, and it was really great to be back in this beautiful city once again. This year’s class had 25 young engineers from all around the world, representing 21 countries. And although I was prepared to give four lecture modules, the participants were so inquisitive and asked so many questions that I was only able to cover two.

I came to Florence well prepared on another front as well. Dr. Michael Willingham, a friend & colleague for thirty years now, has spent a considerable amount of time in Florence – and so he & his wife Linda passed along a listing of their favorite local restaurants. I was able to visit a number of them – e.g., the ZaZa Trattoria on Piazza del Mercato Centrale; the Osteria de’ Benci near Santa Croce, etc. – and it made for an especially appealing (i.e., gastronomical!) trip. Linda is now fluent in Italian, having spent time in language schools in the city – and I’m sure the waiters at these establishments would have much preferred to deal with her; they usually quickly decided that English was the safer choice after hearing my own initial forays into their language.

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation

The trip was special in another way as well – I was able to re-visit the Museo Nazionale di San Marco, to see the Fra Angelico frescoes once again. I remember first seeing Annunciation as a boy, several weeks after studying the work in an art history class. I was used to seeing great art hanging in picture frames in museums – but this was unexpectedly different, a fresco painted right onto a hallway wall, in a dormitory corridor near the top of some stairs. The fresco, painted in the early 1440s, is well known for its architectural and spatial perspective, and the sparseness of the scene for that period (leading many to suggest Angelico’s focus was the spiritual relationship between its two characters). The setting didn’t surprise me on this visit – and the fresco is still sublime!

When China Rules the World

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

A number of folks have now asked me whether I’ve read Martin Jacques’ recent book, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. I have indeed — and found it to be a thought-provoking & interesting read.

It’s certainly an antidote to many – like George Friedman, whose The Next Hundred Years is mentioned in a previous posting – who see China breaking up in the near future as a result of stress from an unresponsive political system. Jacques highlights the forces of unification that have held sway in the nation-state (or, in his view, the ‘civilization-state’) over millennia, and sees a homogenized racial status (i.e., Han Chinese) supporting this unity. He also draws attention to the considerable economic success of the Communist Party over recent decades – a Party significantly different than the Soviet model, and rooted in a long-running Chinese ‘state-tradition’ that has been accepted by its citizens, without ever relying upon popular electoral mandates. The imperial dynasty didn’t share power with other competing groups – e.g., the Church, the merchant class, or other elements of what Westerners considers ‘civil society’ – and its legitimacy does not rest upon their approval either.

Much of this is dependent upon a Confucian world-view, and any Westerner trying to understand Asia has to wrestle with that fundamental difference. [And btw, I’ve found Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought to be a particularly useful guide to that topic. His book is subtitled ‘How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…. and Why,’ and my lectures often contain stories & examples found in that book to illustrate differences.] Jacques discusses this culture, and its collective — rather than individualistic – focus; the corresponding family-orientation of its social mores; and the lack of a rule-of-law approach for resolving conflicts. He throws in many other nuggets as well, discussing the tributary — rather than co-equal – historical relationship with surrounding countries; the implications of the sheer size of the country (a population bigger than North America & Europe combined); China’s simultaneous developed/developing country status; etc.

He does see some problems ahead, mostly in the cultural area. China’s ‘Middle Kingdom mentality’ will struggle to deal with outsiders and other racial types, with “a sense of inherent superiority” (p. 270) that is likely to become even more pronounced.

I’m sure you realize by now that my own views tend to be filtered through an energy/environmental prism, and Jacques pays some attention to these issues, including a section about China’s ‘environmental dilemma.’ He suggests that no one really knows how the country will handle the problem of sustainable growth, but that its leaders have already recognized that a resource-intensive growth model is ultimately impossible – even its current model will ultimately become prohibitively expensive. The very real physical damage being done to that country – its air, water and land – in the name of economic development is extremely worrisome, and I’d add that its lack of a rule-of-law tradition has certainly been a major problem within the environmental arena. Given the poor natural resource base of the country, it also seems that the rest of the world will be dealing with the issues Jacques raises in his book sooner rather than later. (Another recent book well worth a look, Michel & Beuret’s China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing’s Expansion in Africa, makes clear that that road will not necessarily be smooth!)