Archive for March, 2014


Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Getty Center

We took an end-of-winter trip out to Southern California again this year, to visit our oldest daughter & her family…. and to get away from an East Coast setting where the words “polar vortex” and “wintry mix” were heard all too frequently over recent weeks. California certainly didn’t disappoint – lots of sun & palm trees & springtime green, and a wonderful opportunity to relax and get some r&r. We hiked the nature preserve trails at Dana Point, and also took in an Ansel Adams exhibit at the Getty Center in LA. Adams’ nature photography is distinctive and instantly recognizable – but the exhibit also showed how his style changed over time, a difference readily evident when comparing images printed from the same negative decades apart. “Later in life he wanted to create images that were more impactful,” noted one of the museum’s curators, and the latter work was indeed darker, with more blacks and sharper contrasts. I have to admit that I found the earlier, softer images more appealing – but apparently Adams concluded in the final years of his life that subtlety no longer worked when addressing environmental matters.


Thursday, March 13th, 2014

This year’s GE group was a very diverse one – 28 engineers from 20 different countries, already well-credentialed with bachelors, masters, Ph.D., MBA, and science degrees, and scoring well above average on the exam I gave at the conclusion of the course. We discussed the important role that governments must play in “internalizing the externalities” of pollution; economic instruments employed in domestic and international carbon markets; and the current status of such instruments in countries around the world.

Dante’s death mask

On this Florence visit, I decided to give Michelangelo a break and focused instead on someone who had a major influence on his work: the poet Dante Alighieri, whose most well-known work is The Divine Comedy. And I’m sure you can guess why….. yes, I too – like hundreds of thousands (millions??) of others — had recently read Dan Brown’s Inferno. That novel was the biggest selling book of the past year, and it served a really valuable function in bringing both Dante and Malthusian environmental concerns to an extremely large audience…. & in a very entertaining way! I especially enjoyed the way Brown wove many of my own Florentine experiences — the Palazzo Vecchio’s Studiolo and Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God exhibit [see March 2011 posting] & a plug for Ross King’s book Brunelleschi’s Dome [April 2012] — right into the fast-paced narrative.

His book inspired a number of visits on this trip. One was a return back to the Palazzo Vecchio to see Dante’s death mask, which played such an important role in the story. Another re-visit was to the Duomo to see Domenico di Michelino’s well known painting La commedia illumina Firenze (The Comedy Illuminating Florence), shown below. That painting is on the northern wall of the Duomo, & depicts Dante, the city of Florence, and all three parts of The Divine Comedy (i.e., Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso).

The Museo Casa di Dante, where his family home stood, and Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi, were new to me, however. The latter is a church down the street from his home where as a nine-year-old boy he first saw the love of his life, Beatrice (then an eight-year-old girl). She obviously had quite an impact on the poet, because she later served as his guide in the Paradise section of his epic poem. He was never able to connect with her in real life – she married someone else, and then died at the age of twenty-four; he too married someone else (in that same church), but had a rather difficult marriage. Today there is a basket next to Beatrice’s shrine in the church where petitioners leave notes asking her to help with their love lives… & the basket was quite full on my visit!

A final stop was to see Dante’s statue in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce once again. Dante had a falling out with the city politicians, and was exiled – and was never allowed to return. Years later, the city realized its error, and prepared an elegant tomb right next to Michelangelo’s in Santa Croce – but it is still empty. His remains are buried in Ravenna instead.

(And yes, of course I visited the Paperback Exchange, Professor Robert Langdon’s favorite English language bookstore in the city, located only a block away from the Duomo – but I’m sure you’ve already assumed that as a given! In the novel he wanted to get a copy of The Divine Comedy there – but realized it was probably closed; I made sure to visit on an open weekday instead.)

Carbon Pricing

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Energy Intelligence’s New Energy newsletter had an article in its February 27, 2014 issue entitled “Carbon Markets Seen Rising, but with Volatility Constrained,” based on its survey of carbon market specialists around the world. They wrote about China’s newly developed pilot projects, and cited yours truly:

Most of the experts expected China’s emissions prices to be below Europe’s in the near term, but to be on par with or higher than them by the 2020s. US academic Roger Raufer says significant energy savings could be captured in China with a relatively low carbon price, but structural changes in the power sector would require a higher one. He sees the government allowing the former, but not letting markets dictate the latter.

Last year’s World Bank report on the status of carbon pricing found that roughly 7% of the world’s emissions were covered by various carbon market & tax regimes – with the opportunity for significant expansion if developing economies exploring such options (such as China, Brazil and Chile) implemented them nationwide. I’ve obviously been watching this closely…. and would highly recommend two books exploring the topic.

Yale University professor William Nordhaus is probably the world’s preeminent environmental economist addressing climate change issues, and his most recent book The Climate Casino is a truly remarkable – and dispassionate – review of both the science and economics of climate change. It’s targeted at a general audience, and does a really fine job of laying out the case for the types of market- based approaches (whether carbon tax or carbon trading) that need to be applied. Gernot Wagner’s But Will the Planet Notice? addresses the same issue, highlighting why individual actions alone are simply not enough. Wagner works for the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental NGO which has played a key role in fostering economic approaches in environmental management – including significant work over the years in China.

Professor Nordhaus notes:

The truth is that unless we implement an effective policy of carbon pricing, we will get virtually nowhere in slowing climate change…. Therefore, explaining the importance of the use of market-based approaches such as carbon pricing is just as important a part of the education process as explaining the science of climate change.

I wholeheartedly agree. And for those of you still struggling with the science, I’d also definitely recommend Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, a follow up to her wonderfully–written (but sobering) Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.