Saturday, December 01, 2007

Questioning King Coal

I drove by some U.Va. students in Student Environmental Action protesting on the Corner yesterday. They were criticizing Bank of America for funding the construction of new coal plants. They are also encouraging people to sign a petition on the subject. Not this one or this one, but this one. Wow, Bank of America ticks a lot of different people off. And who knew March of Dimes did animal testing?

I'm thinking a lot about coal these days too. Here's a nice little service that tells if you are paying for mountain top removal with pictures of the sites and where the coal is being burned with Google Maps and Google Earth.

And here's a service that tells how much your energy company contributes to global warming and how carbon efficient it is (set to Dominion, but you can change it).

If you want to buy renewable energy, you can look here.

Or just contact Dominion and ask why they still aren't offering a green power option for green-savvy consumers.

Great job SEA, I hope you heard me honk when I went by.

The picture is copywrited by the Hook, used here strictly for educational purposes. Please don't sue me, I'm a student.
Is Range Right?

A few months ago, I commented that our voting system is flawed and that proportional representation or instant runoff voting may be superior. I believe now that I was incorrect, thanks to some help from Clay Shentrup and the information over at
My main concern with the winner-takes-all style of voting currently dominant in the US is its tendency to establish unbeatable incumbent politicians and parties. Government is only effective if it is legitimate, and its legitimacy is based on responsiveness to voters. The security blanket offered to incumbents by the winner-takes-all system eliminates that responsiveness in many cases and thus the legitimacy and effectiveness of government itself.
That seems like a bad idea.
I studied runoff voting as one potential alternative. This remedy was pushed hard by the Green Party a few years ago as a way to eliminate the "wasted vote" concept. The idea is that you prioritize each candidate running, giving each a number. If your number one choice gets the fewest votes in the first round, that candidate is eliminated and your vote turns to your number two.
As it turns out though, in Ireland and Australia, where it's used, Instant Runoff Voting produces the same two party dominance as winner-takes-all.
And fundamentally, the problem isn't how many important parties there are, it's how responsive government is to the needs of the governed, and IRV doesn't offer solutions here and can actually increase problems, such as situations where a candidate is selected where a majority of voters prefer another because of arbitrary cutoffs.
I thought perhaps Proportional Representation might solve this problem. In this system, voters vote for a party, and then however many votes that party gets is how many seats they get in a government body. The party selects who goes in those seats.
The evidence is unclear that this system is better, except that there is some evidence that countries with more PR like Ireland and Switzerland have a superior quality of life than per capita GNP would suggest. I don't like that this system prevents voting directly for candidates. I think that people are more important than parties.
This other option, range voting seems more promising. In range voting, voters rank each candidate from 0 to 100 based on their personal preference. Then the numbers are all added and whoever has the highers numbers wins.
Mathematically, this system comes closest to a state where God comes down and personally selects the candidate that best represents the people, which everyone immediately agrees with. In one analysis, the switch from a plurality winner-takes all system to a range voting system produced a superior improvement in democracy than the difference between the plurality system and picking candidate's names randomly out of a hat. This suggests that a global switch from plurality to range voting might usher in a Renaissance of good government and associated economic boom as better decisions lead to less waste and greater opportunity.

Can it happen in Charlottesville?