More than ever its clear that an oil based economy is not sustainable from a variety of perspectives, both ecologically and economically. Perhaps counterintuitively, these domains are not obverse to each another, but are interlocked facets of the how the earth sustains lifecycles. They are also twin indicators of humanity’s role in the stewardship of them.
Last week we saw the somewhat mind boggling announcement by Saudi Arabia that it planned to partially wean its economy from oil sales by 2020 and do so completely by 2030. From Reuters on April 25:
The powerful young prince overseeing Saudi Arabia’s economy unveiled ambitious plans on Monday aimed at ending the kingdom’s “addiction” to oil and transforming it into a global investment power….His “Vision 2030” envisaged raising non-oil revenue to 600 billion riyals ($160 billion) by 2020 and 1 trillion riyals ($267 billion) by 2030 from 163.5 billion riyals ($43.6 billion) last year. But the plan gave few details on how this would be implemented, something that has bedeviled previous reforms….The 31-year-old prince gave assured answers to questions on the plan, and appeared to pitch his comments to appeal across the Saudi social spectrum, and in particular to young people, who face unemployment and an economic downturn despite their country’s oil wealth.
Many were of course skeptical. And while few details were given, the Saudi markets seemed to like the news as they rose by ~2.5% that day. Presumably this is because of publicly announced plans to sell public stakes in the Saudi state run Aramco. Do the Saudi’s think we are in Peak Oil?
Their neighbors in Dubai might think so as well. They are about to bring the world’s largest solar plant online which will provide electricity at 3 US cents per Kilowatt hour.
According to industry analyst Apricum:
All three lowest bids by themselves clearly set a new world record for the unsubsidized cost of solar electricity. A recent bid of 3.6 cents/kWh by Enel Green Power in Mexico did not include the value of additional green energy certificates. Solar tariffs in the USA now regularly dip below 3 cents/kWh, but these include a 30% tax incentive and other subsidies.
Twist number two was in an Oilprice.com post covering a scientific analysis of the the recent Global Energy Assessment by the International InstituteofAppliedSystemsAnalysis which finds that proven reserves are 50% lower than decades old conventional wisdom would have it:
According to Professor Michael Jefferson [of the ESCP Europe Business School] who spent nearly 20 years at Shell in various senior roles from head of planning in Europe to director of oil supply and trading, “the five major Middle East oil exporters altered the basis of their definition of ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves from a 90 percent probability down to a 50 percent probability from 1984. The result has been an apparent (but not real) increase in their ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves of some 435 billion barrels.”
Global reserves have been further inflated, he wrote in his study, by adding reserve figures from Venezuelan heavy oil and Canadian tar sands – despite the fact that they are “more difficult and costly to extract” and generally of “poorer quality” than conventional oil. This has brought up global reserve estimates by a further 440 billion barrels.
Predictions about the exact nature and timing and of the phase-out process for fossil fuels are premature. Yet, as the the developments above indicate, the pace of the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources continues to accelerate.
Economist Paul Krugman, while referencing an upcoming carbon pricing piece by David Roberts (@drvox) writes that:
Econ 101 tells us that if you want to reduce emissions of a pollutant, the most efficient way to do that is to put a price on emissions, so that all possible routes to reduction are taken, and the marginal cost is the same for all routes. It’s a real insight, and has had positive impacts on real-world policy — cap-and-trade has worked very well at reducing acid rain.
Krugman goes on to argue that pricing may not be the only solution, it may even be even sub-optimal in some cases, and that regulatory solutions may well develop sooner than robust international carbon markets. He concludes a few paragraphs later:
The point is that just because Econ 101 makes a smart, counterintuitive point doesn’t make that point of central importance….
Yet, we know ex-post from acid rain cap and trade plans that cap and trade regimes deliver results. And we also know that regulatory capture undermines many anti-pollution rules with solar being among the biggest targets. Next, there is the fact that massive amounts of Carbon Pollution remain unaccounted for. So both market making and regulation must be moved forward deliberately.
The partners at Fund Balance make frequent use of THE GREEN TRANSITION SCOREBOARD® (GTS) from Ethical Markets Media in our work. The GTS provides guidance to our thoughtlines leading up to the Rio +20 UN Earth Summit as well. The GTS provides fresh, incisive, and thorough analysis of the intersecting and diverging trends in sustainable policy and industry. As a function of our business practice, and in pursuit of our mission to utilize social, human, and financial capital in the service of a sustainable civilization, we are pleased to feature it here.
Tracking investments since 2007 in green companies and technologies globally, the GTS now totals more than $3.3 trillion.
Ethical Markets Media finds an abundance of progress in sustainable business activity in the 2012 GTS:
Asia, Europe and Latin America catching up with the USA in total non-government investments and commitments for all facets of green markets. 2011 ended with a GTS total of $3,306,051,439,680, starting from 2007. Given the many studies indicating that investing $1 trillion annually until 2020 will accelerate the Green Transition worldwide and the over 100 research reports and articles referenced in this years’ update, the “Green Transition Scoreboard® 2012: From Expanding Cleantech Sectors to Emerging Trends in Biomimicry” definitively shows green investments are becoming the norm.
GTS is a time-based global tracking of the private financial system covering all all sectors involved with green markets. Transparency is key as delineates ethical progress in wealth building as defined by the triple bottom line of planet, people and profits.
Additional detail of the GTS:
The logo a visual symbol for inevitable human progress whose barometer rises, away from the symbols of the out-dated Fossil Fuel Era, as green investments increase over the next ten years and we enter the next economy – the age of light.
The GTS was created and realized by Hazel Henderson and Ethical Markets Media, LLC and as such it is updated and maintained by them. For investors, researchers, stakeholders, cultural creatives, GTS provides rigorous triple bottom analysis and guidance to financial data and organizations that have been screened using the strictest of social, environmental, and ethical auditing standards.
WILL money saved from using clean technology simply be spent on using more energy? Jevons paradox (or the Jevons effect) is named for economist William Stanley Jevons. In the 1860’s, he observed that technologically driven increases in the efficiency of coal-use increased coal consumption in a wide range of industries. Counter-intuitively to some, he argued that technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption. Buyers simply use the savings to buy more energy. Such rebound effects as a batch of recent research reveals, are at work in energy markets yet are often overdetermined and misunderstood. Their occurrence suggests the need for carbon taxes in order to price environmental risk in energy costs. The basic logic of such taxes was sketched out in the 1920’s by another economist, Arthur C. Pigou, as the Pigovian Tax. He argued that landowners who allow their rabbits to overbreed and spill over to neighboring land, therefore damaging crops, have a financial responsibility for the damage. Such activity, often uncorrected by markets, is seen as a market failure. So its remedy is a tax or law to protect the rights of neighboring landowners.
Interest in both is keen among policymakers, thinktankers, bankers, and the general public as the tension between energy demand and supply increases. Pollution, global warming, declining oil reserves, and increasing demand for energy in the neoliberalized global marketplace underlie both the interest and the tension.
To the extent that they are at work, Jevons rebound effects in a system vary based on the scale of the market considered. For example Richard York of the University of Oregon finds:
A fundamental, generally implicit, assumption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and many energy analysts is that each unit of energy supplied by non-fossil-fuel sources takes the place of a unit of energy supplied by fossil-fuel sources 1, 2, 3, 4. However, owing to the complexity of economic systems and human behaviour, it is often the case that changes aimed at reducing one type of resource consumption, either through improvements in efficiency of use or by developing substitutes, do not lead to the intended outcome when net effects are considered.
Dr. York’s work appears to reveal an instantiation of the effect. Across most nations of the world, developed and developing, he reports an average pattern, “…over the past fifty years is one where each unit of total national energy use from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-quarter of a unit of fossil-fuel energy use. When looking at electricity specifically, the displacement of each unit of electricity generated by non-fossil-fuel sources is less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity.”
These conclusions put a useful empirical foundation under recommendations found in Google.org’s clean energy innovation study: meaningful suppression of fossil fuel consumption requires adaptation of mainstream energy policy. Also looking at the international scale, Grist.org published a chart this week titled The mind-boggling rise in Asian coal consumption shown as Exhibit 1.
Coal going unconsumed in the U.S. is being burned with little scrubbing in China and India, further arguing for the need to decarbonize via international agreements. Liberalized trade (neoliberalism) needs alignment with a flow of trade that balances externalities – pollution – created by exchanges of resources and capital. This also complements York’s finding: shifts to renewables will be inconsequential if the total decarbonization rate isn’t decelerated, that is, if amounts are merely shifted from one market to another.
When Rebound Effects Are Perceived But Not Found
Then there is the contention of the paradox at work in driver behavior popularized as the ‘Prius Effect” in sources such as Conundrum and the Wall Street Journal. Their argument is that Prius owners drive more and thus erase their net carbon and energy savings for the system. However, the work of Ken Gillingham of Yale University and analysis from CO2 Scorecard show Prius owners rack up comparatively the same vehicle mileage as non-Prius owners.
This Prius Fallacy has a dual premise: Prius drivers drive more because they are paying less for gas, and/or they use their savings on carbon-intensive goods and activities.
Gillingham’s micro-dataset on personal automobiles contains information – further analyzed by Thinkprogess – which refutes premise one as the scale of the consumer. The plot in Exhibit-2 shows no significant difference in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by Prius owners vs. the rest of California’s drivers. (For those interested in statistical details on the data and diagnostic regression Thinkprogess’ analysis is worth a good study). Prof. Matthew Kahn of UCLA writing in the Christian Science Monitor reinforces these conclusions.
So in these cases when consumers switch from conventional cars to a fuel-efficient hybrids a meaningful reduction in gasoline consumption – up to 430 gallons per year for an owner who switches from an SUV— is also observed.
THE gathering dangers of global warming for life necessitate that humanity collapse its dependency on fossil fuel energy (FFE). Ecological fiduciary responsibility requires shifting balance from political restraint to action. The challenges of managing a drawdown of FFE’s in concert with economic security, while significant, are often exaggerated. Recent research and analysis show that oil and coal-fired power plants exact pollution damages larger than the economic value they add. For example, accounting for the gross external damages (GED) from coal would add ~17.8¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated. In 2012, German utilities will obtain rooftop solar on long-term contracts for ~23¢/kWh. Large projects will receive just 18.7¢/kWh. This makes it very likely that solar electricity will be cheaper than that from coal by late 2013 in Germany. And as a result of California’s clean air bill A.B. 32 it will not be far behind. It is clear that GED considerations further strengthen the economic argument for decarbonizing our economy and that the trend of lower cost cleaner energy is accelerating. This can be contrasted with growing purchase and societal costs, often going unpaid, of FFEs.
What would a program similar to the Germany’s do for market and external costs in the U.S. market? More abundant sunshine in the many areas of the US (29% in Minneapolis and up to 70% in Los Angeles) makes parity with Germany easily attainable. Americans could buy solar energy on long-term contract fors 18.6 ¢/kWh in Minneapolis and just 15.4 ¢/kWh in Los Angeles, taking into account only current subsidies. Factor in the federal 30% solar tax credit, and solar could be had for 14.3¢/kWh in Minneapolis and 11.8 ¢/kWh in Los Angeles.
Impediments remain to growing solar as percentage of US energy sources. For example GEDs and Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) of solar modules are different. Solar cells are built in Europe with its mix of electricity generation of nuclear, wind and other sources and must be compared to building solar cells in China, which has mostly coal-generated electricity and higher GEDs. A more robust body of research for Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) of solar plants is needed as they are increasingly built at scale.
But, what about financing and scaling across the US? The existential challenges of deploying renewable energy (RE) sources to address global warming can be met like those of the Great Depression, World War II, and space exploration: 21st century versions of War Bonds and Patriot Taxes integrated with coherent public-private partnerships to develop RE sources and infrastructure. Two of the world’s largest economies in Germany and California are leading the way. Yet fossil fuel marketers still dominate the debate contending that higher (FFE) prices hurt the public economy and that renewables are impractical despite the evidence to the contrary.
Ambitious politicians assure the public they can control the cost of energy and low energy prices. They argue that there is no need or, indeed, no substantial benefit from clean energy investment subsidies but support ~12x more subsidies for FFE over RE . Meanwhile, public investment in RE projects that benefit the economy and ecology are to be found everywhere, and financial, technological, and policy innovations instantiate sustainable growth. Both Germany and California are ahead of schedule for supply from their RE investments. Yet Germany is planning to cut its subsidies via its Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) while RE plants in California come online. So more hard work to implement policy to accelerate deployment and remove market barriers lies ahead. Continue reading Green Lighting Growth: Climate Patriot Bonds and Carbon Taxes→
In the coming months, we will hear a lot about the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party’s plans for the U.S. during the 112th Congress. No doubt we shall hear how such plans signal a new, brighter era.
But do they?
The principles espoused by the Tea Party and their Republican allies already dominate policy across America in many of the red states, such as South Carolina and Nebraska. These states have for many decades now served as laboratories for TEA Party neoliberalism. They share very low tax rates on wealthy individuals and businesses, high carbon emissions, low unionization (enforced via so-called Right-to-Work statutes), privatized and under-funded public healthcare and so on.
When viewed in contrast with blue states, such as New York and Washington, what is the quality of daily life in the red states?
The picture that emerges from the numbers at left and below shows that blue states provide cleaner air, higher rates of education, and higher per capita income than red states. Furthermore, blue states pay more into the federal government than they get back while red states take more than they pay.
American states paying more into the U.S. Treasury (the blue states for the most part) also have higher rates of unionization combined with higher standards of living than their red tea party counterparts. In red states we find less unionization, lower rates of education and income coupled with higher rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy. Arguments about the failure of abstinence only approaches to family planning aside, some may argue that a lower cost of living offsets some of these drawbacks for red state citizens. But given the extent of red tea party breastbeating about “economic growth,” it is an interesting irony that these red states take more from the Treasury than they provide and afford their citizens a lower quality of life as described in Chart 1.
Chart 2 breaks out how most red states are subsidized by blue states and have much higher rates of carbon emissions, the emerging standard measure of general pollution. The not so astonishing observation we make about Charts 1 and 2 is that they would appear to suggest that the well-being and productivity of blue state citizens surpasses that of their red tea party neighbors.
Recent and ample anecdotal evidence supporting this conclusion abounds.
In Florida, a state loosely defined by a deeply conservative northern panhandle, and a progressive Southern portion, we see HDI scores just above the national average and a consumption of roughly .97 cents for each dollar of tax revenue provided. Florida’s incoming governor, Rick Scott, recently made headlines by calling for an end to public education and providing vouchers for families of up to $5280 to attend private school. Yet Florida spends $8,800 per pupil. The average cost for private schools per year is $8,549 while the median income is $24,543. Where do the families get this extra sum which amounts to more than 10% of their income? Does this not in effect, amount to a new tax? Mr. Scott’s inability to grasp the glaring problem of federal subsidies to private enterprise (eg the bank bailout) is further demonstrated by his involvement as a CEO in the largest (medicare) fraud settlement in U.S. History according to the Department of Justice.
Texas scores just under the national average of 5.17 at 4.67 on the HDI while its near neighbor Arizona manages 5.11 and takes 19 cents per dollar more from the U.S. Treasury than it pays. Perhaps that is why its Governor Jan Brewer (R) attracted attention from both parties recently for her statements that Arizona needs more Federal funds for Medicare. Gov. Brewer commented recently on her cuts to the state’s Health Care Cost Containment System, which have imperiled the lives of patients in need of an organ transplant. Brewer said that people branding the cuts as a real-life incarnation of death panels should be asking the federal government to send more money – a surprising position from someone who continues to oppose the The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2010. As Think Progress points out, “AHCA would foot 100 percent of the bill for states to expand [Medicaid] until 2016 and 90 percent after 2020 for states that are able to maintain current eligibility levels in Medicaid and CHIP.” However, the Brewer Administration recently claimed that it had been forced to cut the transplant program because the health care reform overhaul had prevented the state from being able to save cash by making it harder to qualify for Medicaid. Go figure.
Brewer – who declined to hold a special session to reinstate the funds, a refusal that leaves some patients’ lives hanging in the balance – blames Arizona’s dire financial situation. (Apparently “death panels” aren’t such a big deal when a Republican is in charge.) She argues that if people are so worried about the transplant patients, they should ask the federal government for more money. A report from the Arizona Republic gives
some insight about how Brewer used stimulus funds, and clearly healthcare was not a priority for her. Whither the death panels, Governor Brewer?
All of the red tea party’s empty rhetoric about austerity (for the middle and lower classes, the rich need more tax breaks) needs to be viewed in the light of the past and future.
Aristotle wrote, “It is clear then that the best partnership in a state is one which operates through the middle people.”
The conscious effort by the founders to create this middle class defined American success and stability since the founding. But now, with more than 9 in 10 American families experiencing significant economic shocks year in and out, the middle class in the U.S. – and with it our nation’s future – is seriously endangered.
“Shaky Ground” , a recent study released by the Rockefeller Foundation and authored by Jacob Hacker and Mark Schlesinger of Yale University paints a grim picture of widespread economic insecurity in the era of the Great Recession.
The study concludes, “Economic insecurity has become the rule, not the exception, for many Americans — even in good times.” This report finds that between March 2008 and September 2009, fully 93 percent of American households saw substantial decreases to their wealth or income, or increases in emergency spending, often for medical needs. It further shows that the impact of those shocks was not confined to the working class. The report found that more than half of families making between $60,000 and $100,000 who experienced employment or medical disruptions weren’t able to meet minimum economic needs.
Importantly the study asserts that the recession — which officially lasted from December 2007 until June 2009 — exacerbated some of these economic woes, but that many were in place even before that. “Job-related concerns did increase dramatically during the recession,” Margot Brandenburg, an associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation, told The Lookout. “But other drivers of economic worry — wealth, medical needs, family-related issues — were very high before the recession, and they’ve remained high.”
This trend formed over the last three decades. In 1985, just 12 percent of Americans lived in households that saw a drop in available income of more than 25 percent from one year to the next. By 2009, it was 20 percent according to the report. Where does the shift come from? Why is economic insecurity the new normal? Brandenburg stated what many of us already realize: economic risk has gradually shifted away from corporations in recent years onto individuals through developments such as defined-contribution retirement and high-deductible insurance plans.
Professor Hacker, who authored “The Great Risk Shift” in 2006, argues that since last year’s “winner-take-all politics,” government policies have accelerated a shift that benefits the rich at the expense of the middle and working class. Brandenburg attributes growing economic insecurity to, “the hollowing out of the middle”. Increasingly, the sectors that produce the most jobs either pay high wages and require highly skilled workers, or pay low wages and require unskilled workers. By comparison, the sectors in the middle — manufacturing, technical support, and clerical work, for example – continue to evaporate. These members of the workforce find themselves replaced by cheaper foreign workers and machines.
It is difficult to see then, in light of the data and anecdotes above, how TEA Party and Right to Work states are valuable models for our nation and our civilization’s future. If workers cannot pool their risk via organized labor – much as insurers do with policy-holder liability – then the overwhelming majority of non-union workers will be at the mercy of resource-rich conglomerates and cartels when they are unfairly denied payment for services rendered. When citizens must stand alone in defending themselves against deep-pocketed polluters they find themselves in the same position. And this soon after the great crash of 2008, it is hardly necessary to point out that banking and other corporate and industrial concerns fail miserably at policing themselves.
Society does not need another instantiation of the TEA Party’s rehashed brand of laissez faire economics. That movie was called the Gilded Age, with all the familiar Upton Sinclair and Dickensian storylines: gussied up slave labor, excruciating poverty, and multi-generational tragedy in the lower classes. Nevertheless, 3D technicolor sequels to that movie are now playing in Red and TEA party states, not surprisingly, the data again tells a tragic story.
Looking forward in 2011, we must innovate away from the proven failures of these 19th century economic models. This does not require a revolutionary rejection of capitalism but rather its further refinement.
Early 21st century capitalism is succeeding only partially or pro tanto as J.K. Galbraith would say. Balancing social responsibility and sustainable economic practice has produced great success all across the Union. Within this framework, the world’s efforts to integrate sustainability into financial and industrial systems emerges as an obvious imperative, along with the rejection of loosely regulated 19th century style economic policy.
Not surprisingly, the data suggests that municipalities that value intelligent public sector-driven resource and pollution management systems will have healthier economies and ecologies than their deregulated neighbors. TEA party policies have already run their disastrous evolutionary course. Returning to them would be a giant and unnecessary leap backwards.
In the coming months at Fund Balance, we will be presenting some of the dawning precepts of the bright green future: policies, businesses and projects that build upon the lessons of the past, not its mistakes.
With Proposition 23 in California defeated, the hard and important work on Cap and Trade in the United States can begin again. Advancing the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) will be critical in building a framework in North America for Cap and Trade policy. “A cap-and-trade system is a market-based mechanism that uses market principles to achieve emissions reduction. A core component of a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program is that an emitter must turn in one ‘allowance’ for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) that they emit.” As so defined on the WCI website. As the Great West and Canada agree, Cap and Trade is an important first step in creating a framework for Sustainable Finance initiatives.
Well-funded efforts aimed at shaping public discourse labeling Cap and Trade an “energy tax” obscure debate amongst voters in North America. Much of these funds come from abroad, from sources less interested in creating jobs in North America than extracting its resources. BP, for example, was generous in its contributions to the Tea Party. If it is a tax at all it is a Pollution Tax. Though it is much more a fee exercised on industries that withdraw essential resources from civilization and return them in degraded form. These resources are part of the public domain and when they are removed from the public trust and diminished, the public should be compensated.
And it is not axiomatic that green jobs and sustainable finance mean net job loss. Indeed, quite the opposite as California and China continue to demonstrate.
Major European financial institutions and policy making bodies lead in advancing Cap and Trade, as well as the broader goal of sustainable finance. Yet clearly there are coordinated European-based attempts to influence U.S. elections in favor of Pollution Rights advocates. A recent report used information from the Open Secrets.org database to track what it labeled Europe’s biggest polluters efforts to influence the U.S. midterm elections: “The European companies are funding almost exclusively Senate candidates who have been outspoken in their opposition to comprehensive climate policy in the US and candidates who actively deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by people.” This report lists BP, BASF, Bayer and Solvay as having made contributions.
Such funding is not restricted to European donations. A report by ThinkProgress, tracked donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from a number of Indian and Middle Eastern oil, coal and electricity companies.
All the while much of the manufactured hysteria about Cap and Trade systems misses the real point. Market based efforts to curb pollution, combat acid rain, and offset global warming, represent merely incremental steps towards sustainable economies and finance. Limited supplies of accessible Carbon will be needed for much more than just fuel. Hence society will need to prioritize its usage and deployment.
There is also another side to the proverbial coin of foreign efforts to hinder Cap and Trade. As Thomas Friedman notes in WikiChina in writing a fictional cable from U.S. based Chinese diplomats back to Beijing: “Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America.”
So while China continues to dump Carbon on the US, it is quickly consolidating its lead in some of the most lucrative technology and financial markets for the coming decades. One could be forgiven in wondering if they too, might have an interest in keeping the US electorate in the dark about Cap and Trade and sustainable finance. As per our last post, George Schultz’s business thesis may have more facets than meet the eye as well.