October 29, 2008

Paper Topics

1. It is apparent that any attempt to limit carbon emissions requires bringing the developing world into some kind of bargain. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches that have been offered by specialists? Take as your starting point the debate over Kyoto, and assess developments since then, especially focusing on schemes to "cap and trade."

2. Natural gas is frequently touted as a “bridging mechanism” to an unknown energy regime in the future. Its great advantage is that it is much cleaner than either oil or coal. But we may be running out of it, as the proponents of “Peak Gas” argue. Take as your starting point the "Pickens Plan," which features encouragement for both natural gas and wind, and go to town. Why dudn't he like solar? What effect would various plans have on coal emissions and oil dependence?

3. Nuclear power is also a potential godsend from an emissions perspective. But it has other adverse environmental consequences and, if widely adopted in the developing world, may foster nuclear proliferation. For this paper, I would like you to take as a premise McKibben’s observation that "Coal-fired power plants operating the way they're supposed to are, in global warming terms, as dangerous as nuclear plants melting down." Are they also as dangerous, say, as cities blowing up?
So you need to consider the various environmental and safety issues raised by nuclear power, as also the whole question of nuclear proliferation. Focus on the big picture--the global nuclear industry--not just the US issues.

4. Are the Peak Oil advocates right? Weigh the evidence they put forth and examine the critique by many industry specialists and insiders that the whole thing is "garbage." If the Peakists are right, what are we now doing that seems especially idiotic? If they are wrong, what sort of penalties would we pay by following their advice? Also consider, if you can, the relationship the Peak Oil camp bears to the Climate Change camp.

5. Is coal capture and sequestration some kind of hare-brained, delusional scheme, a farce to comfort uneasy consciences, or does it have merit? If the answer is uncertain, what would be the cost of finding out?

6. What is the way the US government deals with the energy predicament. Describe the major ways in which government regulations, taxes, and laws subsidize or punish various energy actors (industries, consumers). Identify the major lobbies and interest groups that are influential. How does the political map in Washington compare with the "intellectual" map that makes up the energy predicament? You could go in a variety of ways in terms of assessing the implications of your findings, but there is a lot to do in simply describing the terrain.

7. Compare US government policy toward Iranian and Indian nuclear ambitions. Assess state of existing nuclear programs by both states, in both civilian and military dimensions. Review evolution of US policy and attitude of international community toward it. Are we doing something that we should not; if so, what would be the alternative? What will policy of the Obama administration be?

8. What role has access to oil played in US policy toward the Middle East and Persian Gulf? Assess its significance especially since 9/11/01 and the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Granted that the US would not have displayed such intense interest in the region if it were bereft of oil, are considerations deriving from that interest decisive in explaining policy? Or are other factors, such as the influence of the Israel lobby, more important? Your challenge is to describe what makes the US government tick--as it is likely to do under an Obama administration, and as it did in the past eight years under the not-so-dear-but-soon-to-be-departed administration of He Who Shall Not Be Named. (11/4/08)

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