Sunday, January 28, 2007

Big businesses on the global warming bandwagon

In my previous post (entitled "Why is big business suddenly hopping aboard the global warming bandwagon?") I neglected to reference an article in The New York Times by Felicity Barringer on Friday, January 19, 2007 entitled "A Coalition For Firm Limit On Emissions" which tells us that the "coalition, including industry giants like General Electric, DuPont and Alcoa, aims to reduce emission by 10 to 30 percent over next 15 years." The Times web site also had a correction on Friday, January 26, 2007 pointing out that a chart should have indicated that "The group wants to cut greenhouse emissions to 20 to 40 percent of current levels by 2050." The original chart had indicated "60 to 80 percent of current levels."

I would note that although these seem like wonderful goals, they don't tell us what the atmospheric loading of carbon dioxide will be compared to 1960, 1945, 1890, or before the industrial revolution. There are three distinct numbers that need to be examined: base, loading, and rate (of emissions). The base is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before human activity supposedly started changing it. The loading is how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere at any given moment. The rate is about emissions or any attempts to actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if emissions were reduced by 90% or even 95%, we would still be increasing the loading. And even if we removed huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it would take a huge amount of effort and energy just to get back to the loading of say 1980.

Although there are plenty of climate change activists who will applaud any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (rate of addition to the existing atmospheric loading of carbon dioxide), it is not clear whether even the lofty goals of the coalition will make much of a dent at all in the actual environmental impact compare to simply letting technology and economic factors evolve on their own natural path over the next fifty years.

-- Jack Krupansky

Why is big business suddenly hopping aboard the global warming bandwagon?

It seems like everybody (but me) is suddenly clamoring to hop aboard the global warming bandwagon. What's up? Has the science suddenly become crystal clear and truly indisputable? (Nope.) Have the opponents all suddenly had a change of heart about the environment and future generations? (Nope.) Then what could it be? The answer can be found the same way you answer most mysteries in Washington, D.C.: follow the money. Yep, businesses are realizing that there is big money, boatloads of it, to be made from claiming that they are working to counter and reverse the effects of greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change.

A small story that got a lot of notice was a brief comment by President Bush in his latest State of the Union Address:

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. (Applause.)
[My emphasis]

That's it. There was no elaboration, but people interpret it as at least an admission by the administration that they now fully acknowledge greenhouse gases, global warming, and climate change, and the role of fossil fuels in the warming process. I would point out that the emphasis of that paragraph was oil dependence, and that the global warming benefits of a reduction of the use of crude oil are essentially a freebie. In the rules of politics, if you can get some political mileage from a freebie, you should always go for it. If the paragraph had been worded in the opposite order, then it would have been a strong signal of a commmitment to countering global warming, but it wasn't. For example, it would have been much more meaningful as a commitment to countering global warming if he had said something like "In order to counter the environmental damage from global warming, we need to dramatically reduce our consumption of oil and other fossil fuels", but he didn't say anything like that.

That was on the evening of Tuesday, January 23, 2007. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, earlier on Tuesday there was an article by Jeffrey Ball in the Wall Streeet Journal entitled "In climate controversy, industry cedes ground" that tells us that "The global-warming debate is shifting from science to economics" and that "some of the country's biggest industrial companies are acknowledging that fossil fuels are a major culprit whose emissions should be cut significantly over time. A growing number of these companies are pushing for a mandatory emissions limit, or 'cap.'" Wow, that's a major turnaround.

But then, just when we are tempted to praise these companies for their amazing foresight and environmental stewardship, the article bursts that bubble by telling us that:

Some see a lucrative new market in clean-energy technologies. Many figure a regulation is politically inevitable and they want to be in the room when it's negotiated, to minimize the burden that falls on them.
[My emphasis]

There you have it, their naked motive: money. I love that phrase: "lucrative new market." How to make more of it and how to keep more of it. Sigh.

The Journal tells us that:

Monday, 10 companies, including industrial giants that make everything from bulldozers to chemicals to electricity, joined environmental groups in calling for a federal law to "slow, stop and reverse the growth" of global-warming emissions "over the shortest period of time reasonably achievable."

It is fairly clear that rather than trying to facilitate environmental efforts, some of these industries are simply trying to negotiate a better deal:

In the center of the regulatory cross hairs are utilities. They're the world's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, the global-warming gas that's produced whenever fossil fuels are burned. Written one way, a cap would help utilities in the Southeast or the Midwest, which burn lots of coal, a particularly carbon-intensive fuel. Written another way, a rule would help utilities on the West Coast, the Northeast and the Gulf Coast. They use mainly natural gas, which produces lower CO2 emissions than coal, and nuclear energy, which produces essentially no CO2.

My own reading on this move is that big business sees huge opportunities for revenue enhancement by selling newer and more expensive technologies, as well as huge opportunities for massive government subsidies to pay for the technology upgrades. It's not at all clear to me that the environment will be that better off with all of this expense compared with the natural evolution of unsubsidized technological and economic forces, but it is clear that a lot of big businesses and corporate executives will be earning huge piles of "green" by going green. And a lot of that money will simply be a transfer from the pockets of average workers who are already struggling from paycheck to paycheck to already overpaid executives and nimble investors. Sure, I'm sure there will also be some number of new jobs as well, but the net economic impact on the average person will likely be negative.

The real bottom line is that although the administration and big businesses are now acknowleding global warming and climate change, that in no way validates the so-called science behind the push against carbon dioxide, nor does it mean that the environment will really be better off fifty years from now because of these efforts.

I do want to emphasize that I am all in favor of reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and imported oil, but I don't think you need to misguidely embrace so-called global warming and climate change to justify reductions in energy usage. Simple economic efficiency (over the long run) is sufficient. Alas, there are far too many people who believe that you have to beat people over the head and use naked force and the power of central government to effect any kind of change. I am deeply disheartened by the lack of honesty, integrity, and respect for others that so many of these people employ.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Carbon dioxide is NOT the primary greenhouse gas

Repeating the title of this post:

Carbon dioxide is NOT the primary greenhouse gas.


If you watched Al Gore's movie (I did) and read the popular press and even a lot of hard-core scientific commentary, you would come away with the very clear and "indisputable" view that carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. But, it simply isn't true.

I myself thought it was true. I had no reason not to assume that it was true.

But then two weeks ago I was reading up of all this "global warming" and "climate change" stuff on the NOAA web site (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where a number of the top experts on all of this stuff work) and there it was. I was reading their Climate of 2006 - Annual Report which has a link to their web page for Global Warming Frequently Asked Questions which has the following section:

What is the greenhouse effect, and is it affecting our climate?

The greenhouse effect is unquestionably real and helps to regulate the temperature of our planet. It is essential for life on Earth and is one of Earth's natural processes. It is the result of heat absorption by certain
gases in the atmosphere (called greenhouse gases because they effectively 'trap' heat in the lower atmosphere) and re-radiation downward of some of that heat. Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas, followed by carbon dioxide and other trace gases. Without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about zero degrees F (-18°C) instead of its present 57°F (14°C). So, the concern is not with the fact that we have a greenhouse effect, but whether human activities are leading to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect.

Right in the middle of that paragraph, there you see it:

Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas...

Yes, it also says that carbon dioxide is number two:

... followed by carbon dioxide ...

But the key fact there is that carbon dioxide is not number one.

Putting it very clearly, in my own words:

Water vapor is the primary, most abundant, greenhouse gas.

Now, NOAA is a government agency, and under the control of the evil Bush administration, so one might treat any "data" from NOAA with skepticism, but they really are the best of the best when it comes to understanding weather, the atmosphere, and climate.

Nevertheless, I decided to "check" this NOAA research by consulting the Wikipedia. Known for its articles that are created and edited by real people (including professionals and scientists) rather than big business and "the government", here is what Wikipedia has to say about greenhouse gas (you can also read their articles on the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change):

Greenhouse gases are components of the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Certain human activities, however, add to the levels of most of these naturally occurring gases. [1]

There it is, water vapor first in the list.

But wait, there is much more... The article has a section entitled The role of water vapor which states:

Water vapor is a naturally occurring greenhouse gas and accounts for the largest percentage of the greenhouse effect.

There it is:

Water vapor ... accounts for the largest percentage of the greenhouse effect.

The Wikipedia article even gives us some numbers:

The major natural greenhouse gases are water vapor, which causes about 36-70% of the greenhouse effect on Earth (not including clouds); carbon dioxide, which causes 9-26%; methane, which causes 4-9%, and ozone, which causes 3-7%. It is not possible to state that a certain gas causes a certain percentage of the greenhouse effect, because the influences of the various gases are not additive. (The higher ends of the ranges quoted are for the gas alone; the lower ends, for the gas counting overlaps.)[2] [3]

Even the upper end of the carbon dioxide range is well below the lower end of the water vapor range (26% vs. 36%). The midpoint of the water vapor range (53%) is three times greater than the midpoint of the carbon dioxide range (17.5%).

There is certainly a lot more to the topics of greenhouse gas, greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change, but the relative effect of the various greenhouse gases would seem to be a very relevant starting point, but you wouldn't know that from listening to Al Gore or the popular media or even the expert scientific commentators.

BTW, there may in fact be an upwards trend in water vapor in the atmosphere, at least according to this chart from the Wikipedia. That chart is only for one locality, but a key point is that we aren't reading about global water vapor trends in the press or hearing about it from Al Gore, et al.

Burning of fossil fuels is the heart and soul of the global warming/climate change "movement", with the idea that burning fossil fuels puts an excess of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Guess what... burning fossil fuels also puts water vapor into the atmosphere. Don't believe me? See that little cloud coming out of a car's tailpipe on a chilly day? That is simply the exhaust water vapor condensing due to the low temperature. On a warmer day the water vapor goes right out the tailpipe and into the atmosphere. Granted, there are some differences in how water vapor and carbon dioxide persist in the atmosphere. So, I'd like to see some real science that can justify why the focus is on carbon dioxide rather than water vapor. Not some hand-waving brush-off, but some real science.

Hmmm... Al Gore pointed to Hurricane Katrina as an effect of global warming, but what would a hurricane be without water vapor? Couldn't an excess of water vapor account for bigger and fiercer hurricanes? Show me some real science that can justify an excess of carbon dioxide as being a bigger effect on hurricanes than an increase in water vapor.

A key question is that if excess water vapor is a primary cause of the greenhouse effect and even a bigger cause than carbon dioxide, then "carbon segregation" might be a waste of time and energy and resources if the goal is to moderate the greenhouse effect.

Some things to think about.

BTW, I would like to see efficiency-based improvements in energy consumption, and those alone might yield a much larger reduction in the human impact on the environment than all manner of hare-brained schemes for directly manipulating the environment. I would also like to see attention to reducing deforestation and would like to see significant efforts at reforestation (where it makes economic and environmental sense). Trees are great, natural machines for "carbon segregation" (absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it to plant cell matter), and I would love to see some real science that looked at the impact on greenhouse gases of the loss or gain of even one tree. Why are so many people so convinced that burning fossil fuels is a bigger net addition than the net loss of carbon segregation caused by dramatic deforestation over the past hundred (or two hundred) years? Not to mention that paving the world with asphalt roads and parking lots and building roofs has been reducing the ability of the Earth's surface to reflect solar radiation.

I found one very curious statement in the Wikipedia article on greenhouse gas:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) IPCC Third Assessment Report chapter lead author Michael Mann considers citing "the role of water vapor as a greenhouse gas" to be "extremely misleading" as water vapor can not be controlled by humans [3]; see also [4] and [5]. The IPCC report discusses the water vapor feedback in more detail [6].

What on earth does not being "controlled by humans" have to do with it?!?! We want to understand greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change regardless of the sources of the effects! If some are due to human activity, fine, so be it. But if some are due to natural processes, that should be fine as well. Science should be blind to the source of an effect. The statement highlights the fact that there are significant numbers of people who have an agenda or even multiple agendas that have little to do with a truly scientific understanding of atmospheric and climatic processes.

A lot of my questions and concerns may in fact be addressed somewhere in the vast scientific literature, but my first complaint is that the media and the "promoters" of the global warming/climate change agenda are not giving us a clear and scientifically honest story.

I would like to clearly state that I do recognize that the fact that carbon dioxide is not the primary greenhouse gas does not necessarily tell us that global warming could not be "caused" by excess levels of carbon dioxide, but it does tell us that the conclusion about carbon dioxide being the dominant cause is nowhere near as clear and "indisputable" as a lot of people are claiming. 

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Was 2006 really the warmest year on record for the U.S.?

An article in The New York Times by Andrew Revkin entitled "Agency Affirms Human Influence on Climate" tells us that "2006 was the warmest year for the 48 contiguous states since regular temperature records began in 1895. It surpassed the previous champion, 1998", but is that really true? The so-called warming trend is cited as evidence of Global Warming and Climate Change due to the effects of man-made greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide. The article is based on an annual report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) entitled "Climate of 2006 - Annual Report", specifically the sub-report entitled "2006 Annual Climate Review- U.S. Summary", and described in a news release entitled "NOAA REPORTS 2006 WARMEST YEAR ON RECORD FOR U.S. - General Warming Trend, El Niño Contribute to Milder Winter Temps" which opens by stating that "The 2006 average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was the warmest on record and nearly identical to the record set in 1998." That seems clear enough, but there is more to the story.

It turns out that analysis of the data is not as cut and dry and final as some commentators lead you to believe. The NOAA news release states that:

NOAA originally estimated in mid-December that the 2006 annual average temperature for the contiguous United States would likely be 2 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) above the 20th Century mean, which would have made 2006 the third warmest year on record, slightly cooler than 1998 and 1934, according to preliminary data. Further analysis of annual temperatures and an unusually warm December caused the change in records.

So, the data is still in a state of flux. Further, if you look at the 1934, 1998, and 2006 data points, you see that they are very close and don't "obviously" lead one to conclude an absolute trend.

Furthermore, the report goes on to say that additional revisions to this data are likely:

An improved data set being developed at NCDC and scheduled for release in 2007 incorporates recent scientific advances that better address uncertainties in the instrumental record. Small changes in annual average temperatures will affect individual rankings. Although undergoing final testing and development, this new data set also shows 2006 and 1998 to be the two warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S., but with 2006 slightly cooler than 1998.

So, yes, right now 2006 is considered the record year for the U.S., but not by much and 1998 is expected to reclaim the record not too many months from now. Either way, neither year, nor any of the past 25 years has been that much warmer than 1934.

Furthermore, this is only for the continental U.S. The Global Summary section of the NOAA report states that:

The global annual temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces in 2006 was +0.54°C (+0.97°F) above average, ranking 5th warmest in the period of record. However, uncertainties in the global calculations due largely to gaps in data coverage make 2006 statistically indistinguishable from 2005 and several other recent warm years as shown by the error bars on the global time series. Globally averaged land temperatures were +0.78°C (+1.40°F) and ocean temperatures +0.45°C (+0.81°F) above average, ranking 4th and 5th warmest, respectively. The land and ocean surface temperatures for the Northern and Southern Hemisphere ranked 2nd and 6th warmest, respectively.

Or to summarize: On a global scale, 2006 was not a record year for temperature and in fact ranked only 5th.

For the Northern Hemisphere, 2006 was in fact the 2nd warmest year, but for the Southern Hemisphere it was the 6th warmest year.

For the record, NOAA is the agency of record for climate data. Also for the record, I personally have a lot of confidence in NOAA, provided that they stick to their knitting and give us hard data and hard science and refrain from engaging in speculation and forecasting of the distant future or concerning government policies.

The main point of the Times article was the extent to which NOAA is now claiming or admitting that "a buildup of greenhouse gases was helping warm the climate." The Times quotes the news release as saying that "A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases." The full paragraph from the news release is:

The unusually warm start to this winter reflected the rarity of Arctic outbreaks across the country as an El Niño episode continued in the equatorial Pacific. A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases. This has made warmer-than-average conditions more common in the U.S. and other parts of the world. It is unclear how much of the recent anomalous warmth was due to greenhouse-gas-induced warming and how much was due to the El Niño-related circulation pattern. It is known that El Niño is playing a major role in this winter's short-term warm period.

The Times was careful to caveat its quote by characterizing the news release as "emphasizing that the relative contributions of El Niño and the human influence were not known." To be very clear, the news release stated:

It is unclear how much of the recent anomalous warmth was due to greenhouse-gas-induced warming and how much was due to the El Niño-related circulation pattern. It is known that El Niño is playing a major role in this winter's short-term warm period.

In other words, the debate over global warming, at least at the hard-data science level is still open and certainly not "over" as many "Climate Change" commentators continue to claim.

I'm all in favor of doing more and better research on climate, but will resist efforts to prematurely rush to dramatic conclusions that are not very clearly justified by hard-data real science.

NOAA struggles mightily to do short-term weather and climate predictions, and they really are the premier agency when it comes to climate knowledge and expertise. The idea that climate can be forecast decades into the future is a dubious concept at best.

The NOAA news release states:

U.S. and global annual temperatures are now approximately 1.0 degrees F warmer than at the start of the 20th century, and the rate of warming has accelerated over the past 30 years, increasing globally since the mid-1970s at a rate approximately three times faster than the century-scale trend. The past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S., a streak which is unprecedented in the historical record.

That sounds rather horrendous, but we do need to be careful not to read too much into that reading of the data. Or any specific reading, for that matter. In fact, it turns out that half of the top 10 temperature years for the U.S. were more than fifty years ago:

  1. 2006
  2. 1998
  3. 1934
  4. 1999
  5. 1921
  6. 1931
  7. 1990
  8. 2001
  9. 1953
  10. 1954

Notice that the four consecutive years 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 don't even make the top 10. Only four of the past ten years made the top 10.

It is worth noting that "the historical record" used by NOAA goes back only to 1895. That seems to me to be far too short a base period to use to forecast climate decades into the future. Sure, scientists (and pundits) can make their best guess based on that limited data and use sophisticated models, but guesses are still guesses and models are not implicitly hard forecasts of the future, and as we say in computer science, "garbage in, garbage out."

The technical term for man-made greenhouse gases is anthropogenic greenhouse gases. It turns out that water vapor is in fact categorized as a greenhouse gas and is the primary greenhouse gas, ahead of carbon dioxide. For reference, here is what NOAA has to say about the greenhouse effect:

The greenhouse effect is unquestionably real and helps to regulate the temperature of our planet. It is essential for life on Earth and is one of Earth's natural processes. It is the result of heat absorption by certain gases in the atmosphere (called greenhouse gases because they effectively 'trap' heat in the lower atmosphere) and re-radiation downward of some of that heat. Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas, followed by carbon dioxide and other trace gases. Without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about zero degrees F (-18°C) instead of its present 57°F (14°C). So, the concern is not with the fact that we have a greenhouse effect, but whether human activities are leading to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect.

Will 2007 be a warmer year? Hard to say. I know that it was fairly warm back east, but it has been colder here in the northwest. Personally, I'd like to see another decade of data before getting too excited that the past 25 years is indicative of the trend for the next 25 years.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Renewing my passport

I don't anticipate any international travel any time soon, other than possibly nearby Vancouver, BC, in May of June, but back in November I finally got around to mailing in a renewal application for my expired passport. It should be arriving any day now. They say it takes about six weeks and I mailed it in on November 27, 2006, so tomorrow, Monday, January 8, 2007 is exactly six weeks, although that included the holiday period, so it could be another week or two. I'm in no hurry, but I want to get it out of the way. I read that they are going to get much more strict with travel even to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, and Canada.

-- Jack Krupansky

Trip to San Francisco

I've only been back from my big two week trip to New York City for a few days and already I'm starting to think about my next trip, possibly to San Francisco, maybe in March or mid-February. I still need another two or three months to finish paying for my NYC trip. If I do go to San Francisco, it will be if I can get a really cheap air fare and really cheap hotel rates.

President's Day weekend (Monday, February 19, 2007) would make a great four-day weekend, going out on Friday morning and returning Monday afternoon or evening. I would only need to use one vacation day for such a trip.

My tentative budget would be $225 for airfare and $90 per night for hotel for three nights, for a total of $495. That feels doable with my budget.

I am not committed to this tentative plan. If I do decide to go, I would buy the plane ticket a month in advance, which would be January 19.

The other trip out on my horizon would be to Washington, D.C. in the April or May timeframe, if the Shadow Open Market Committee resumes holding its semi-annual meeting on monetary policy.

-- Jack Krupansky

New year's resolutions

There are certainly plenty of ways that I might want to improve myself over the coming year, but right now I still feel rather overwhelmed by recovering from my financial problems of recent years as well as trying to come up to speed on my new job, too overwhelmed to feel comfortable making any further commitments other than to continue to get my financial house in order and get my career back on track.

That said, I can certainly list a number of areas where I would like to see improvement and where I will try to seek improvement, but only as I feel comfortable about the effort and won't feel over-committed:

  • Better nutrition, live healthier
  • Lose some weight -- and not gain it right back
  • Do more writing, something a little more intensive than a few blog posts
  • Do some more intensive reading, maybe in philosophy, history, politics, law, economics, psychology
  • Learn more about the science (or lack thereof) behind the theory of global warming and climate change
  • Find something non-work to focus on in 2007
  • Relax more, try to be more effective but less intense

For 2007, my hard goals:

  • Pay down remaining debt (back taxes)
  • Save for retirement
  • Save for my rainy day fund
  • Put enough extra time and effort into my job to come up to speed more rapidly and become more effective so that my career future is assured
  • Carve out enough non-work time to relax enough to assure that I can function effectively at work

My intention is that my entire first year at my new job will be dedicated to coming up to speed and finding the right "groove" to work effectively. After my first year or year and a half, then I can begin thinking about committing effort to non-work projects. In other words, sometime in the latter half of this year. Until then, any non-work projects will be halfhearted at best.

Happy New Year!

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Where and how will I live when I retire?

I need to get back to thinking about retirement planning. A key component of any reasonable retirement planning process is setting up an estimated monthly budget. A big part of the monthly budget for most people is their housing costs. Housing costs depend on location as well as the quantity (size) of housing and the quality (comfort) of that housing. So, these are the three unknowns about housing that I need to grapple with:

  1. Where will I live in retirement?
  2. How much space will I need (want) to live?
  3. How fancy a place will I need (want)?

There are three possible starting points for thinking about your overall housing needs way off in the future:

  1. Live roughly as you do today.
  2. Downsize and live more frugally.
  3. Splurge and pursue the kinds of creature comforts that you denied yourself during your more frugal "working years."

I've been living in studio apartments for over 20 years now, so downsizing is not exactly an option for me, but I don't feel any urgent need for much fancier housing than I have been used to.

There are a variety of kinds of locations:

  1. Urban
  2. Suburban
  3. Country
  4. Resort
  5. Retirement community
  6. Mobile

If I had my choice, I'd prefer to have a number of homes and bounce between them as my mood suggested. Even so, a primary location is still warranted. For me, that would be urban.

I would rather live in Manhattan, near Washington, D.C., or near Disneyworld.

If I could afford it, I'd rather live in semi-decent hotels, staying as long as I liked and moving on whenever I liked. Hmmm... maybe that actually is possible. My recent trip to New York City cost me $116 per night, which works out to about $3,500 per month. That's not completely out of the question, but I suspect that my final housing budget will have to come in closer to $1,500 per month. That is moderately more than my current rent of $925 plus maybe $75 for utilities.

My ultimate dream location would be to own a nationwide or even international chain of semi-luxury hotels (ala Hyatt or Marriott) and be able to just check into any of "my" hotels at my own whim. Somehow, I don't see this as a practical option to consider, but it would be my preference.

I suspect that my final choice for location will be somewhat dependent on my budget, but I also suspect that I can always trade off location for size and quality. My personal preference would be to trade up to my most preferred location and give up size and possibly quality.

It is also quite possible that my retirement location might change every few years.

Owning is a possibility, but given my interest in moving around and lack of a "nesting" instinct, renting seems more appropriate for me, but I might consider owning if the economics makes sense.

I simply do not have a clear conception of my ultimate preferred (low-budget) location at this time. It is something I need to give more thought to, maybe as I get a better handle on what my housing budget can be.

My tentative housing location would be Manhattan or Washington, D.C. Three years ago I was paying $1,275 for a studio in Manhattan and $850 for a studio in Washington, D.C. I checked craigslist and it looks like a decent studio can be had for $1,800 in Manhattan, and it looks like about $1,500 for a decent studio in DC. I'm sure I can do better than those prices today, but in the interest of being conservative in my budgeting and to allow room for going a bit more upscale, I'll stick with those numbers.

I would like to be able to have a place in both Manhattan and DC. That would run $3,300, almost as much as staying in hotels every night.

If my overall retirement budget fits only $1,800, Manhattan would be my choice. If I could have a $3,500 budget, I would go the hotel route.

There is still plenty to think about here, but at least I have my starting point: budget $1,800 for a studio in Manhattan.

I also need to determine an estimated annual housing inflation rate. For now, I'll assume housing and inflation at about 2.5% a year.

I'll budget $100 per month for utilities, although my last apartment in Manhattan included all utilities in the rent.

-- Jack Krupansky