Archive for November, 2012

IEA announces shift in energy balance

The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that the U.S. will take over Saudi Arabia as the globe’s largest oil producer as soon as the end of the decade. As a result, the U.S. may rely less on foreign oil by depleting its own oil faster.

At the Climate Change Conference in Doha it was recently announced that the U.S. reduced its carbon emissions in 2011. Also, Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated the importance of global warming gases and climate change.

These two concerns are on a collision course. Despite the emissions reduction, the United States is still the highest greenhouse gases emitter per capita among all advanced democracies. The United States emits about 2.5 times as much CO2 per capita as Western Europe.

From one point of view, we need fossil fuels to grow the economy, but from another point of view, they are severely underpriced and real economic growth depends on energy efficiency, solar power, and more efficient land use.

Last year, for the first time in over 60 years, the U.S. produced oil as a net export. If predictions of oil consumption hold, the U.S. will perpetuate its fossil dependency. According to a Bloomberg report, demand for oil will reach nearly one billion barrels per day.

The real issue is not whether the U.S. imports oil or produces its own; the real question is how can we reduce our consumption of fossil fuels in order to avoid severe costs from climate change.

The IEA report also urges economic incentives to discourage fossil fuels and encourage alternatives to reduce the inevitable high cost of climate change. Political forces to reduce fossil dependency continue to get stronger in American politics. But the question remains: how soon will they have real influence?

Sedentation, active transportation, and obesity: report, relations, and results

It’s only fitting (albeit contrite) to begin evaluating health around the holidays. For the United States, It’s Thanksgiving week, and as most indulge, many consider their excess intake. Rather than evaluating relations between obesity and the holiday, let’s look at the bigger picture as to how obesity relates to a couple of factors in respect to a wider scope for quality of life: sedentation (the propensity to stay in place, a term and concept internationalcomparisons.org will begin to further develop as an indicator for quality of life) and active transportation (involving walking, bicycling, and/or public transit).

According to a  Rutgers University report, a markably inverse relationship is established between active transportation and quality of life. (However, the report was released in 2008, drawing on statistics from as early as 1997, and would be enhanced by some more recent figures from the OECD for obesity. Nonetheless, many of the OECD findings demonstrate the same premise, perhaps to an even greater degree.) At one end, the United States ranks last among the countries studied with one third of the population being obese. Correspondingly, the United States engages in active transportation only 12% of the time. From the opposite end of the U.S., Switzerland and the Netherlands weigh in with 8 and 8.1% obesity rates, respectively. Switzerland uses active transportation 61% of the time compared to 57% of the time for the Netherlands.

While the study admits that causality cannot be drawn between the two variables, the relation is obvious. The United States fails to incite activity as made evident in the report. Obesity is merely a symptom to a bigger issue: the sedentive lifestyle. Policy has the potential to impact lifestyle. We aim to illustrate this relationship by identifying several key indicators and the difference it makes in the countries studied at internationalcomparisons.org with a new page to be launched soon: early death by lifestyle.

Comparing elections: U.S. and Venezuela

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors voting internationally and advocates for honest and transparent elections. The United States has encouraged the OSCE in its missions, provides American monitors for elections in other countries and, in fact, has invited the OSCE to monitor our elections since 2002.

In 2012 presidential elections were held in both the U.S. and Venezuela. According to the Bipartisan Research Center the 2012 turnout was 57.5% of the eligible voters. The 2012 election was similar to that of previous elections, as reported in internationalcomparisons.org. According to the New York Times the 2012 turnout in Venezuela was 80.5%.

The OSCE summary of the American election was generally favorable but did single out some areas for improvement, including voting rights, voter list accuracy, voter suppression by Republicans, campaign finance transparency, and recount procedures. The OSCE also noted what many other observers had commented on, that financing U.S. campaigns with huge amounts of private funds is a cause for concern for democracy.

The OSCE did not observe the 2012 election in Venezuela, but the Carter Center, also an expert organization in election evaluation, was there. The Carter Center has monitored 92 elections. Jimmy Carter, former American president, announced that Venezuela’s election was the cleanest of those the Center has observed. The Carter Center particularly praised Venezuela’s simple yet secure and transparent voting procedures.

American mainstream media claimed that the Venezuelan election was tainted by fraud and intimidation, but had little to say about defects in the American election.

Reports by objective election observers indicate that the Venezuelan election was better run and had more participation than that of the United States. Multilateral, independent observers are needed to counter the power and propensity of the mainstream media to mislead and provide a sound basis for improving elections in the United States as well as abroad.

What the last 3 presidential elections say about voter turnout

“Four more years!” reverberated intermittently throughout President Obama’s reelection speech. Let’s hope for four better years. That said, let’s also compare US voter turnout in an international comparison perspective.

Voter turnout, although having shown some increase in recent presidential elections, continues to pale in comparison to other advanced democracies–and also in humiliating comparison to countries like Iran. The total of American voters has increased every presidential election since 1996 carrying with it a consistent increase in those registered to vote. Voter registration dramatically increased by 25% between 2004 and the first time President Obama was elected in 2008. Still, as a percentage of those registered, only 70.33% turned out to vote compared to 86.08% (the highest since 1988) in 2004. By these figures we conclude that in spite of a 25% increase in voter registration, there was only a 9% increase in total votes.

Fast-forward to 2012. Hope for progress in voter turnout is projected to leave us disappointed. Voting expert Charles Gans projects that a decline in voter turnout in each of the 50 states. The results indicate that the US has little chance of improving its rank at 59th in voter turnout as a percentage of total voting population. The Obama campaign has survived what it considered a mandatory requisite for claiming the 2nd term. Preliminary figures suggest 3 million fewer voters. Arguments for compulsory voting and elections on non-work days seem to be the most suggested remedies.

For more statistics from the US set against comparable advanced democracies, including voter turnout as a percentage of those registered and women elected officials, visit Internationalcomparisons.org’s Voting page.

The price of income distribution

We have all had our blinders on and carried our focus for Tuesday’s election (with tragic exception to Sandy and, hopefully, its indications concerning climate change). But before we resume full throttle in election reports with an international perspective next week, we offer a quick break from your Obamney monopolized newsfeed and towards the issue of income distribution.

In his review of Joseph E. Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality, Thomas B. Edsall cites culpability with both neoliberal and free market strategies, both democratic and republican parties. According to Edsall, the fundamental issue is

not only that inequality violates moral issues, but it also interacts with a money-driven political system to grant excessive power to the most affluent.

With the all-too-fine line between financial power and its influence on policy and elected officials, the affluent aim to perpetuate their position and status at the top with political demands to protect their ability to generate their money (by successfully fighting off tax hikes). Stiglitz and Edsall reveal the result: a far less efficient economic system that has discounted the contributions of (and even the opportunities to contribute by) those at the bottom of the system. As our income distribution page implies, there is a relation to the US’ position in income distribution (the GINI index) and our positions in child income poverty, Index of Health and Social Problems, and the Human Poverty Index, all in which we rank at the bottom among the 12 advanced democracies studied.