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Who’s behind zFacts, oil companies or what? Nope. I’m Steve Stoft and this is my web site. I’m building it with a little help from my friends and volunteers, but so far, it’s mostly my work. I’m a Ph.D. economist and my day job was consulting for public electricity markets—California, PJM, ISO-NE, some private generators, and occasionally the World Bank, DOE and the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. (Now retired.) My professional web sites are stoft.com and carbon-price.com. My books are Power System Economics, and Carbonomics: How to Fix the Climate and Charge It to OPEC. I started out in physics and I still find that field more simpatico.
What are your biases? At heart, I’m a scientist; that means I’m a skeptic. I don’t trust easy answers especially from politicians. I also don’t trust extremists, either left or right. But I don’t think these are biases; they’re based on observation. It’s hard to know your own biases, but I believe openness, information, and clear thinking are helpful—maybe those are my bias. I tend to be hard-headed and soft-hearted.
But you are obviously biased. Well maybe so, but it can be hard to tell if you’re biased or if I’m biased. For example, a lot of folks thought I was biased against Bernie Sanders. But I started out assuming he was a good guy, and was favorably impressed the first time I heard him speak. Then I did my homework. I read all about the party he hangs out with but doesn’t mention (DSA). I read a pro-Bernie masters thesis, by a Marxist-Feminist, very carefully and highlighted it. I read people from Vermont that liked him and someone from the political part he was President of (the Liberty Union Party), and I checked on his Vermont Progressive Coalition (after 30 years they’re failing because Bernie won’t support them and worse.) I read Madeline Kunin, the feminist first-woman-governor of Vermont. I read on his Senate webside about his 750-page health-care amendment to ObamaCare that almost derailed ObamaCare. And much more. As a result I concluded he had mostly reasonable political ideals, but an awful approach to actually getting stuff done, and that he’s a bastard. My guess is that those who say I’m biased about that probably have only listened to his self promotions. So I’m going to claim I’m not biased on that, I just have a strong, well founded opinion.
Why are you building zFacts? I like to figure things out, and I don’t like deceptions or misunderstandings, especially ones that harm people. So with zFacts, I get to investigate many of my interests, expose some deceptions and clear up some misperceptions.
Are you opposed to alternative energy? No, I love the idea of harnessing wind and solar. I’m just opposed to hyping things to well-meaning people, that don’t do what’s claimed. Corn ethanol is not working. Brazilian ethanol may be. Home-based solar voltaics are a rip-off of other people who foot the bill for your cheap solar.* The better hybrid cars are a great idea. With my physics and economics background, I’m sorting this out for myself and posting it on zFacts.
What about global warming? I’ve spent about ten years with almost no pay working on how to forge policies that will work to curb global warming—unlike Kyoto and cap-and-trade, which were sure-fire political failures from the start. In spite of that, I’m still a skeptic. Climate science is still unsettled. But we know one thing for sure, there’s a 50/50 chance, more or less, that it’s going to be bad. That’s all we need to know right now. It’s idiotic to take that kind of a risk with our only planet and do nothing. With a 1/200 chance that your house will catch fire this year, you buy insurance, so don’t be an idiot.
Update: I’m an editor of a book, Global Carbon Pricing, that’s about to be published by MIT press, that includes papers by most the top people in this field including Joe Stiglitz (and he even let me add some slide to an important Climate talk he gave).
What about markets? Markets are amazing for what they can do, but they are no more of a cure-all than antibiotics. Corporations are basically sociopaths—they have no conscience. But we need them. What we don’t need is a bunch of billionaire sociopaths (corporations) fooling with our government—but that’s what we’ve got and the conservatives are supporting it. Conservative are right that liberals are not careful with government money, but they are dead wrong that we should trust corporations and trash the American government. That’s also not patriotic.
What’s on the zFacts agenda? As of August 2011, I’m planning on trying out a newsletter, and see if we can figure out how to make zFacts more effective, and perhaps get some research help. My next focus is the $12 trillion Republican debt. Blaming that on the Dems or Obama is the biggest political lie of my lifetime.
* Solar PV. OK, a lot of people ask about this. Here’s the math:
Right now Scientific American (and others, who are pro alternative energy) put the cost of solar at $0.55/kWh. Wind is about $0.08/kWh and new fossil is about $0.05. So for 3 cents a kWh we can subsidize wind into the system but it takes $0.50 to subsidize in 1 kWh of PV. So if you have a buck to spend on global warming you can get 2 kWh or solar or 33 kWh of wind. They both save about the same carbon per kWh. If you’re an environmentalist, why would you choose 2 kWh of green power when you could get 33 kWh for the same money? I work with these people and I can tell you the answer—it’s a good cause, but they’ve become religious about it. Green power is sacred and its sacrilegious to make tradeoffs regarding green power that involve money.
Individuals can do better then 55¢/kWh, but only because they get subsidized. But these subsidies give greens a bad name by subsidizing better-off folks out of public coffers so they can feel green. Progressives must learn how to shop wisely. That’s good economics and a basic American value and the conservatives are right that the left often ignores this because they feel their cause is just. In my view that’s a sin. OK, I’m an economist, but this is just home economics.
And by the way, the $0.55 cost is the low end of the range and it’s for centralized PV which is much cheaper per kWh than home-roof solar.
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