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clean energy: Germany vs CO2 [Frank Dohmen / Spiegel]

Article link [Spiegel Online] – The info-graphic in this article makes some important points.

Germany, Europe’s leading economy, has in many ways led the way in environmentally conscious development. They adopted wind and solar with vigor. Yet the nation’s carbon emissions have barely changed (see image below).

What happened was that, similar to the US, wind and solar displaced the most expensive and toxic fuel, nuclear. Unlike the US, there was not a simultaneous replacement of coal with natgas. Reasons include availability of resources, geopolitics, and willingness (in the US) to abandon environmental protections in exchange for cheap energy.

A partial reduction in coal did take place, but it was mostly in exchange for biomass and household waste. These fuels, while renewable, are similar to coal in carbon intensity. (It is still worth doing, for reducing both solid waste and the environmental impact of coal mining).

The article also notes that German automotive carbon use has not come down. However, Germany was starting from an already more energy efficient vehicle fleet and use pattern compared to the US, due to (1) more diesel passenger cars, which are more carbon-efficient, (2) smaller passenger vehicles,  (3) more mass transit, and (4) shorter travel distances. Also, electric cars were not practical until the last 5 years.

Some notes relevant to US discussions:

  • Wind is 2x the amount of solar
  • It took 15 years, with a deliberate policy, to reduce nuclear use by about half
  • The system already has the capacity for wind and solar to fully power the country — when conditions allow peak power output for both. At the same time, the average wind/solar contribution is only ~16-20% [note 1]. It will go up as even more capacity is added, but the point of this statistic is that the required peak capacity for wind/solar will have to be far greater than actual peak use, and in this regard, wind/solar differ from the technologies being replaced. Corollaries:
    • Non-wind, non-solar generation will continue to be built for longer than optimistic estimates would suggest. Power storage technology will help, but the scale required is daunting – we are just now starting to even consider the economic feasibility of 5-10 hours worth of system wide storage. (At this point, the plausible use case is limited to solar-rich climates, covering the time delay between peak solar availability at midday and peak electric use in the late afternoon or evening).
    • In a grid with wind/solar, all generation types will be impacted by the eventual necessary situation of wind/solar over-capacity. Analysis of economics will be dominated by curtailment and the policies that govern it. We shouldn’t extrapolate the economics of current generation of installations, when solar/wind capacity is well below 100% peak use.
    • If storage tech is developed after the necessary level of wind/solar over-capacity is built, it will economically ruin the wind/solar installations existing at that time.

As for Germany – if they continue on this path, I am confident they will eventually see big reductions in carbon use. But it is hard to imagine that they can reach the goal of 80% non-carbon energy without maybe 20-30% nuclear.


link:  [via NakedCapitalism]

[note 1 – Another version of this bar graph, with a scale and apparently slight variations in the data, can be found here [], on pdf page 11 ]



Bernie Sanders interview on ABC (2019-05-05)


Why Socialism [Albert Einstein / Monthly Review] (1949)


Video [YouTube]:

Text (60th anniversary edition) [Monthly Review]:

[via Dandelion Salad]

earth image: NASA, Scientific American


Fixing the Electoral College [Edward B. Foley / Politico]

donkeyphant-us-mapAs I’ve been saying for a bit, one of the glaring deficiencies of the US electoral system is a serious lack of proportional vote, resulting from both single seat districts and the electoral college. The result is the hold-your-nose-for-the-least-worst logic of our two-party system.

Passing state-level Proportional Representation (PR) and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) initiatives is a practical workaround to some of the problems with the system – in this article, the focus is on the electoral college.

Link:  Want to Fix Presidential Elections? Here’s The Quickest Way [Politico]

A fundamental principle of the US, from its formation, is that smaller states get extra power. The way this is arranged is (1) the Senate, and (2) the electoral college. This mechanism is extremely well protected by the constitutional amendment process, which requires amendments to be ratified by legislatures of 3/4 of the states.

Similarly, the National Proportional Vote Initiative (NPVI), while well intentioned (and discussed on this blog earlier), does not have much of a chance to gain the threshold of support it requires.

However, state-level proportional assignment of electoral college already exists, in Maine and Nebraska. The author of the politico article above points out that doing the same in a handful of swing states would be a drastic improvement right there.


quicklink: Jacobin Podcast – Bhaskar Sunkara

Interesting interview


[via Jacobin]

Biden vs Sanders: Is it a good idea to compromise with Republicans?

An interesting poll nugget from last year, below, shows a novel effect of the Trump presidency on Democratic voters. [Pew data, via Bloomberg]


Next, the same phenomenon, further broken down by education [same source]. Note that the less educated in both parties are less interested in compromise.


This is perhaps relevant, because Trump took key states by persuading a 5-10% block of the white-non-college-educated demographic, which had actually voted for Obama in 2012.

Which brings us to Biden vs Sanders. Biden built his career around making deep compromises with Republicans on many issues (he was Strom Thurmond’s long time legislative partner). I’m not the only one who thinks this would make Biden a poor general election candidate [The Intercept] , since being a compromiser won’t win the respect of either party. Though conservative Democrats in the primary may see things otherwise, just as they did in 2016 – to everyone’s detriment.

I’m biased of course, but Sanders polls equally well against Trump [FiveThirtyEight] to Biden in PA, the state that matters the most. In addition, Sanders is far more likely than Biden to stay true to the principles he lays down on the campaign trail, and for Sanders, the working class and independent demographic has been a core strength throughout!

That’s electability for you. Not that letting what you think others will do override your own beliefs is a smart way to make decisions – but we’re going to hear more appeals to that logic than we should, so I hope such arguments can be debunked ahead of time.

2020 general election, polling

The power of procrastination worked its magic again – I just wasted 3 perfectly good hours looking at polling data. I’m talking about the 2020 general election. Still far too early to speculate, but let’s do it anyway. These are my opinions, and I’ll stand by them until they change 🙂


  • Dem expected to win by about 20 electoral votes.
  • deciding states: PA, FL, (AZ, maaaaybe)
  • swing but in my opinion, looking like Dem: MI, WI
  • swing but in my opinion, looking like Rep: AZ, probably
  • watch, but prob not deciding: NV, VA, OH


The election will, even more than usual, be a referendum on the incumbent. The best public data so far is the copious national Trump approval polling, but we have a couple of per-state polls.

(1) Conceptual notes

  1. I focus on polls of registered voters, rather than all-adults, or likely voters — since the RV’s give us a consistent basis to make a comparison.
  2. I assume that in an approval poll, we can split the undecided’s 50-50 to figure voting intention (this is a dubious assumption, in some states it checks out, in others it doesn’t).
    1. Example: a poll of RV’s saying 40%/50%  Trump approve/disapprove -> implies a 45% Trump voting intention among RV’s, unless we have data to say otherwise
  3. My Likely-Voter model will be super simple:
    1. voting_intention_LV = voting_intention_RV + 2%.
    2. This is a touch on the low side historically.
    3. Unfortunately, this assumption will make all the difference.
  4. Actual polls of voting intention take precedence over approval numbers.
  5. I am prepared to completely disregard national numbers in favor of individual state analysis

(2) National Trump approval polling, from FiveThirtyEight-polls-listing:

Looking at their raw data for this year, looking ONLY at RV polls, and using the weightings they suggest, I get RV approve/disapprove = 42.5/53.5  [trailing average of the past month or so]

Splitting the undecided’s, that implies Trump gets 44.5% RV or 46.5% LV. Subject to state level breakdown, this level of national support is typically a point or two shy of putting a Republican in the white house.

(3) State level Trump approval polling, from Morning Consult, per their latest (Mar’19), for selected states.

STATE : RV-Trump-approve/disapprove (implied Trump voting-intention)

NC: 49/48 (RV=50.5 , LV=52.5)
FL: 47/49 (RV=49 , LV=51)
VA: 46/50 (RV=48 , LV=50)
OH: 45/51 (RV=47 , LV=49)
AZ: 45/51 (RV=47 , LV=49)
PA: 45/52 (RV=46.5 , LV=48.5)
NV: 43/53 (RV=45 , LV=47)
IA: 43/53 (RV=45 , LV=47)
MI: 42/53 (RV=44.5 , LV=46.5)
WI: 42/54 (RV=44 , LV=46)

NB! I don’t really trust this analysis (the numbers in the parentheses above). Some widely held consensus expectations that do sound right to me, such as OH and IA expected to vote Rep. and VA expected to vote Dem, contradict it.

(4) actual state level polling for general election matchups (per FiveThirtyEight again)

FL: There essentially isn’t any. This in itself is actually a red flag.
One poll from March 6th (RV) that 538 didn’t even list in their per-state breakdown:
favorability/unfavorable/no-answer: 43/52 (implies 45.5% RV)
re-elect/not: 40/53 (implies 43.5% RV, which seems like it’s on the low side for the perennial tossup state)

PA: 538 lists 4 state polls. Most recent one: Trump approval: about 41%, Trump RV-voting-intention about 45%. In this case, the crude formula for converting approval/disapproval into voting intention seems to fit. Other interesting state note for PA: when asked which news source they trust the most (e.g. FOX,CNN,etc), the plurality,  responded “none-of-the-above”. Presumably this includes the critical undecided / decided-but-unsure-to-turn-up voters. That one could hurt, in light of the boy-cried-wolf aspect of Russiagate. Anyway, PA is shaping up to be the sine-qua-non swing state of 2020.

AZ: 538 lists Just one poll from Feb, showing Trump even with Biden, and beating everyone else (RV voting intention).

MI/WI: I think Dems will take these states without too much trouble. 2016 was a bit of a fluke, with lower turnout among african americans (WI) and latinos (MI). (source: interesting article by a gigantic PAC). Anyway, Dem organizers won’t make the same mistake again in these states.

(5) plugging it all into the electoral map (…

Exercise for the reader =).

(6) other resources:

Article on “Likely Voter Model” from 2014 (Pew). Note that it is for a non-presidential year, but serves as a useful example still.

PA turnout data (.gov)

MI turnout data (.gov)

WI turnout data (.gov)

turnout data for all states (united states election project)

turnout data for all states (

analysis of turnout (and other factors) for 2016 post-mortem (center for american progress, a gigantic PAC)

Trump approval, with state breakdowns, via correlations, but from sizeable data set. (Morning Consult)

Trump approval, aggregation of national data (FiveThirtyEight… I recommend filtering out the non-RV data, since it just confuses the picture. They massage the topline, in ways I am mostly okay with, but you can get at the actual data in the footnotes. It’s interesting to fish out series/trends for individual pollsters)

electoral map calculator (

An Evaluation of 2016 Election Polls (American Association of Public Opinion Research) – Asks why the LV models in the 2016 polls missed so badly in the critical states (a month out, Clinton was showing as +10 in many polls in PA!), for polls conducted more than 1 week prior to the election.

  • An interesting PEW “callback study”, surveying the same voters before/after the election. About 11% of all voters did not vote as they told pollsters they would prior to the election, which is typical. What was atypical was that this 11% favored Trump, resulting in a roughly 1-2% bonus in the national outcome. I.e. the “Shy Trump Vote” phenomenon.
  • The other perhaps bigger phenomenon was that about 10% of voters in the swing states simply made up their minds during the very last week, and in the states that mattered, they broke heavily for Trump, giving him another 2-3% in those states.
  • A lesser effect was that college-educated voters were believed to be over-represented in state level polling.
  • What was unusual is that all the systematic errors in 2016 mostly went in the same direction, except for one or two pro-Trump polling houses.
  • For this year, the only real conclusion I can make is to be more skeptical of LV models.