Smart Ideas: Confronting Chinese Aggression, and Storing Energy Through Trains

AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara
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May 17, 2016, 9:30 p.m.

The U.S., China, and the "Thucydides trap"

Jonath­an Fenby, writ­ing for New States­man

The U.S. and China ap­pear destined to “play out the ‘Thucy­dides Trap,’” in which an as­cend­ant power and a status quo power even­tu­ally come in­to con­flict, the longer they co­ex­ist in the same sphere. Here, the “im­me­di­ate theatre for the show­down is the huge ex­panse of the East and South China Seas. China’s in­creas­ingly ex­pan­sion­ist drive to as­sert sov­er­eignty there has led to con­front­a­tions over the past five years with Ja­pan, Vi­et­nam and the Phil­ip­pines, which re­gard wa­ters and is­lands claimed by Beijing as their own.” Mean­while, the U.S. is in­volved via “its se­cur­ity treat­ies with Ja­pan and the Phil­ip­pines, its re­stored re­la­tions with Vi­et­nam and its role as the main mil­it­ary power in east Asia since 1945—the U.S. 7th Fleet, based in Ja­pan, has between 60 and 70 ships, 300 air­craft and 40,000 Navy and Mar­ine Corps per­son­nel. The Amer­ic­ans also have nearly 30,000 troops per­man­ently sta­tioned in South Korea.”

Energy storage through trains, rocks, and hills

Aari­an Mar­shall, writ­ing for Wired

The trouble with re­new­able en­ergy sources: They don’t al­ways pro­duce when you need them to, so stor­ing the en­ergy be­comes a big chal­lenge. Enter train cars haul­ing heavy loads up and down a hill in Nevada. “In April, the Bur­eau of Land Man­age­ment ap­proved an ARES—that’s Ad­vanced Rail En­ergy Stor­age—pro­ject, con­ceived by a Santa Bar­bara-based en­ergy star­tup called, well, ARES. … When the loc­al util­ity’s got sur­plus elec­tri­city, it powers up the elec­tric mo­tors that drag 9,600 tons of rock- and con­crete-filled rail­cars up a 2,000-foot hill. When it’s got a de­fi­cit, 9,600 tons of rail­car rumble down, and those mo­tors gen­er­ate elec­tri­city via re­gen­er­at­ive brak­ing.” 

Artist’s rendition of ARES energy-storage facility in Pahrump, Nev. ARES North America

The link between corruption and terrorism

Sarah Chayes, writ­ing for the Carne­gie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tion­al Peace

“Cor­rup­tion en­tails a vi­ol­a­tion of a per­son’s ba­sic hu­man­ity that can spur an en­raged re­sponse,” up to and in­clud­ing join­ing mil­it­ant, fun­da­ment­al­ist, or ter­ror­ist groups. There’s “grow­ing evid­ence that cor­rup­tion is help­ing to drive many people in­to the folds of ex­trem­ist move­ments and in­deed lies at the root of many of today’s se­cur­ity crises.” In Afgh­anistan, the situ­ation is es­pe­cially acute. “Out of a hun­dred Taliban, eld­ers would tell me, few­er than a quarter were ‘real’. The rest had taken up arms in dis­gust with the gov­ern­ment.”

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Fracking is bringing down U.S. emissions

The Ed­it­ors, writ­ing for the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner

“Amer­ica will meet the tar­get set for it by the ori­gin­al Kyoto Pro­tocol (which the U.S. nev­er rat­i­fied) without ad­opt­ing any of the eco­nom­ic­ally ru­in­ous re­forms de­man­ded by rad­ic­al en­vir­on­ment­al­ists.” The reas­on is that “low nat­ur­al gas prices, driv­en by the frack­ing boom, made it a much more eco­nom­ic­al fuel than coal.” And it’s a much clean­er fuel at that. In fact, coal-fired power gen­er­a­tion is down by one-third since 2005, and its share looks to drop even fur­ther in com­ing years. “The les­son here is not that mar­kets ma­gic­ally solve en­vir­on­ment­al prob­lems. They ob­vi­ously do not. But they do rep­res­ent the only feas­ible hope of a solu­tion to those prob­lems that the pub­lic at large will ac­cept.”

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