Mailing list

At the suggestion of Hall Greenland, I’m planning to start a weekly email, with links to stuff I’ve written, and odd bits of news. If anyone would like to receive it, please email me at j.quiggin@uq.edu.au.

Killing the zombies

Among the measures in last night’s budget was the decision to kill off, once and for all, more than $10 billion of “zombie measures”. These cuts proposed in Joe Hockey’s disastrous 2014 Budget, rejected by the Senate, but kept on the books as proposed savings until now.

More importantly, the Budget abandons the undead ideology of market liberalism (aka economic rationalism, neoliberalism and so on) that dominated policy thinking in Australia in the decades leading up to the Global Financial Crisis, and continued to be taken for granted by most of the political class long after that.
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Drones (the good kind)

It’s now pretty clear that renewables can replace fossil fuels in their main uses, electricity generation and land transport, at a very modest cost or, as appears to be the case for electricity, with a cost saving. But that still leaves room for doubt over whether the economy can be fully decarbonized in time to hold CO2 concentrations to 450 ppm or below. Among the big gaps are air and sea transport.

I’ve tended to argue on the basis of the idea of induced innovation that, since there are plenty of possible options, at least one will work out, given some incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. That’s proved true for electricity (solar and PV worked, while other promising contenders like geothermal and Gen III nuclear haven’t), and more recently for storage. But it doesn’t seem to satisfy everyone.

So, I was struck to realize that drones (which I’ve always thought of either as toys or as particularly nasty weapons systems) may be on the way to displacing a good deal of air and sea freight transport in the relatively near future. Initially at least, the bigger ones are likely to use conventional engines, but with greatly reduced fuel costs, as with this proposal. But it’s easy to imagine a version that carries its own solar PV system being developed in the future – possibly slower but even cheaper than the current verison.

Moreover, the size and capacity of battery-driven electric drones is increasing all the time. The current leader appears to be the Griff 300, which can (as the name indicates) lift 300kg, including its own weight of about 65 kg. Apparently there is a Griff 800 either released or in the works. At least to my understanding, there’s no fundamental scaling limit here, although there will obviously be plenty of technical challenges. On the other hand, with batteries getting lighter every year, performance can be improved over time without any significant change in design.

None of this deals with passenger air travel which looms larger in the culture wars over energy policy that its objective significance as a source of emissions justifies. But again, in the absence of fundamental limits (the kind that apply, for example, to carbon capture and storage), a sufficiently strong incentive will in all probability bring forth a solution.

Heckling a criminal offence in the US? (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

In response to discussions about freedom of speech, particularly at university campuses, I started thinking about the question of heckling a speaker, and to what extent this is, or ought to be, protected by advocates of freedom of speech. I assumed that the correct formulation (both legally in the US context and in terms of what is appropriate) is the one attributed to Nat Hentoff

“First Amendment law is clear that everyone has the right to picket a speaker, and to go inside a hall and heckle him or her—but not to drown out the speaker, let alone rush the stage and stop the speech before it starts

It turns out, however, that Hentoff was wrong, as shown by the case of the Irvine 11.
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