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.
Bank of America announced Wednesday it will reduce its financial exposure to coal companies, acknowledging the risk that future regulation and competition from natural gas pose on the industry.
The bank announced its new coal policy at its annual meeting, saying it would cut back its lending to coal extraction companies and coal divisions of broader mining companies.
“Our new policy reflects our decision to continue to reduce our credit exposure over time to the coal mining sector globally,” said Andrew Plepler, head of corporate social responsibility at Bank of America.
The announcement comes amid a growing fossil fuel divestment movement, in which universities, churches and large asset owners are being pressured to abandon or curb their investments in high-carbon energy.
Global bank HSBC said in a client research note in April that the recent drop in energy prices has put a spotlight on “stranded” fossil fuel assets, making them a risk to investors.
Here we see CSR and Climate Change considerations making their way into one our nations systemically important and indispensable banks. More work is to be done, though, as BofA shareholders also rejected a resolution requiring the bank to report on its impact on climate change from financing fossil fuel projects.
And while many claim that renewables are only competitive due to subsidies. Setting aside the fact that fossils also are heavily subsidized, solar along with other renewable energy technologies, have also seen a dramatic fall in costs, in the range of more than 60 percent over the last five years. This why nations like Britain that have scoffed at renewables now feature investors and developers actively bringing it online as an energy source.
Nonetheless, despite efforts by various groups like the Alabama Wind, an anti-clean energy group with a notably Orwellian title and whose logo on its Twitter page states “Defend Your Property Rights”, the horse is out of the barn. Or as one solar installer put it in a quote in the New York Times:
The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.
Here at the midpoint of 2014, solar power technology continues its advance while its marketplace momentum builds. Economic policy and commercial efforts designed to induce commercial innovation must keep apace. And there are pockets of progress in the political economics of deploying solar. Take for example this post from Clean Technica: “Solar Energy’s Quiet Invasion Into Professional Sports“. Or consider the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based regulatory program in the United States that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
And in Germany, one of the world’s most important economies, phys.org reports, “The Fraunhofer ISE research institute has announced that Germany set a record high for solar use on June 9—on that day the country’s solar power output rose to 23.1 GW—50.6 percent of all electricity demand. The record occurred over a holiday, which meant less demand, but it still marks a major step forward for the world’s solar power leader.”
Key aspects of the report from our perspective:
Despite not having a generally sunny climate, Germany has been pushing solar energy, but not from the huge solar farms as seen in other countries. Other nations, like the United Kingdom, report the same.
The German government is on track to reduce greenhouse emissions from electric power generation from coal fired power plants while at the same time retiring its fleet of nuclear power plants (scheduled for closure by 2022).
The FRG aims for an energy mix of solar, wind and biomass; though solar has become the national leader according to most reports.
The move to solar has not been without its problems, of course. The government plans to lower or remove subsidies as soon as possible, and the demand for batteries to store all that home-grown electricity is outstripping supply causing a rise in prices. Also, it’s not clear what sort of role utilities will play going forward. Currently, many homeowners are reporting surplus energy production on sunny days which they sell to electric companies, which now find themselves having to store it for use during cloudy stretches.
There’s another problem though it’s not as obvious: the German government noted recently that almost seven million households in the country are living in energy poverty (defined as having to spend more than 10 percent of income on energy bills). The national energy program, Energiewende, has resulted in some transfer of wealth. Economists note that even with subsidies, it’s generally the wealthy and sometimes the middle class who can afford to put solar panels on top of their houses. The poor continue to live off the grid paying taxes that provide the funds for the subsidies. There’s also some evidence that the country’s energy program is pushing energy costs higher overall, resulting in more electricity being produced by cheaper fossil fuels.
Energy poverty is also a problem in the US. As states like Ohio abruptly suspend widely popular solar power policies, working poor, middle class families, and businesses see expenses rise. Manufacturers like Honda and Whirlpool joined consumers in opposing Ohio Governor Kasich’s executive order to freeze its program. Additional side-effects weigh on taxpayers. As more coal is used public health suffers resulting in rising health care costs, and water treatment costs increase too which is also true of fracking for natural gas. These costs are passed along disproportionately to small businesses hurting them as well as working families. Continue reading Solar Power Usage in US and EU Builds, Policy Innovation Falters→
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→
We at Fund Balance are concerned that the only mention of climate change in President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address was “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.”
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences states, “The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase.” Greenhouse gas (GHG) induced climate change is a clear and present threat to our civilization and way of life. Its continued politicization is dangerous. We accept the consensus of the world’s scientific community which is summarized well by the American Chemical Society:
Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and absorbing aerosol particles. (IPCC, 2007) Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems. (NRC, 2010a) The potential threats are serious and actions are required to mitigate climate change risks and to adapt to deleterious climate change impacts that probably cannot be avoided. (NRC, 2010b, c).
We further acknowledge and accept the conclusions of our medical community. The American Medical Association (AMA) urges that we as a society confront the health issues of climate change now.
Scientific evidence shows that the world’s climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences. The AMA is working to ensure that physicians and others in health care understand the rise in climate-related illnesses and injuries so they can prepare and respond to them. The Association also is promoting environmentally responsible practices that would reduce waste and energy consumption.
We see that escalating carbon emissions are seriously damaging our oceans depleting them of oxygen and acidification. Carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities over the last century have increased the acidity of the world’s oceans far beyond the range of natural variations, which may significantly impair the ability of marine organisms to live. We realize that rapid deforestation increasingly impedes nature’s ability to buffer carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere and thus keep our air suitable for breathing.
The time is now for President Obama and Congress to heed science and pursue evidence based policy formation in addressing the real and gathering dangers of Climate Change. Putting a price on carbon is a critical first step.
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.
As we reach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, some dangerous misconceptions linger from the 20th. Two of which are that global warming is not happening and that it is not primarily a man-made phenomenon. While factors such as Solar Irradiance clearly have secondary and significant impacts, emission of heat trapping gases from human activity, coupled with wide scale deforestation of the Earth, compromise Gaia’s ability to manage such rapid change.
While that debate is settled one indication remains constant: Climate Crisis involving the rapid acceleration of Earth temperatures is real. And for the purposes of this post fighting it does not necessitate sacrificing employment in industrialized nations. In fact, an opposite case merits presentation.
This past summer anticipation of the political season overwhelmed common sense. Prominent Republican Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain retreated from support for Cap and Trade legislation eyeing mid-term elections no doubt feeling pressure from Smog Lobby financiers and pollution advocates such as Koch Industries. Many politicians abandoned their support for the legislation in efforts to distance themselves from President Obama or please mainstream media king Fox News. A very informative post-mortem can be found in Ryan Lizza’s As the World Burns in last week’s New Yorker.
Once again into the breech is California. As the innovation pacesetter, it leads in the national debate regarding policy formulation around the Climate Crisis and is poised to set pace for the rest of the country. In California many Republicans are fighting against Proposition 23, which aims to halt the State’s bold Assembly Bill 32 (A.B. 32) legislation aimed at creating a clean-tech economic factor. Meanwhile Representative Darryl Issa threatens to re-open the so-called “Climategate” hearings if the GOP regains control of the House of Representatives.
Prominent and distinguished conservatives such as George Schultz back Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his battle against Big Oil. Two Texas oil companies with refineries in California, along with pollution rights financiers Koch Industries, fund a campaign to halt California’s landmark laws designed to slow global warming and promote clean energy innovation. These would require refiners to install state-of-the-art emission-control tools. Opponents of Assembly Bill 32 assert that the installation of such technology would not create any jobs. Yet, the State of California reckons that green technology creates the most jobs right now in California, 10 times more than any other sector.
In addition, former Secretary Schultz begs to differ with the Smog Lobby, “Prop 23 is designed to kill by indefinite postponement California’s effort to clean up the environment…This effort is financed heavily by money from out of state. You have to conclude that the financiers are less concerned about California than they are about the fact that if we get something that is working here to clean up the air and launch a clean-tech industry, it will go national and maybe international. So the stakes are high. I hope we can win here and send a message to the whole country that it’s time to put aside partisan politics and get an energy bill out of Washington.”
Since President Obama and Congress have failed to pass a clean energy bill, California’s laws are our nation’s best hope to stimulate clean-tech in America – and the job creation it would entail.
Prop 23 proposes to suspend implementation of A.B. 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5 percent. The unemployment rate is currently above 12 percent. This is misleading. A.B. 32 was designed to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020 and was supported by Republicans, Democrats, businesses and environmentalists. Prop 23’s provision requiring a 5.5 percent unemployment rate is deceptive because in the last 40 years California has rarely produced an unemployment rate below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, hence the real intent is to kill clean air policy in California.
To quote Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Campaign, “Now that industry and their friends in Congress have blocked progress there, the hope for action moves to the states and the Environmental Protection Agency… polluter lobbyists are tight on our heels. They’ve offered Senate amendments to block the E.P.A. from using the Clean Air Act to cut power plant pollution. Since that failed, they are trying to block California from moving forward. … If the people of California see through the misrepresentations of the oil industry, it throws climate denialism off the tracks and opens the door for a return to a science-based approach to the climate. It would be a triumph for the National Academy of Sciences over the National Academy of Fraud.”
Energy chemist Nate Lewis of Cal tech states, “The real joke is thinking that if California suspends its climate laws that Mother Nature will also take a timeout….We can wait to solve this problem as long as we want…But Nature is balancing its books every day. It was a record 113 degrees in Los Angeles the other day. There are laws of politics and laws of physics. Only the latter can’t be repealed.”
To put a fine point on the fact that much debate on climate change is manufactured, one need only look at what Republican spin-meister, Frank Luntz, noted in a memo to George W. Bush in 2002. “The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science…Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.”
But Mother Nature and the Chinese are not going to wait around for American political cycles. Let’s close with a quote from TheGovernator. “And they [Big Oil] are very deceptive when they say they want to go and create more jobs in California,….Since when has [an] oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let’s be honest. If they really are interested in jobs, they would want to protect A.B. 32….”
Editors Note: Many of the quotes and uncited sources in the last half this post are adapted from Thomas Friedman’s excellent piece in the October 5th, 2010 edition of the New York Times “The Governator vs. Big Oil”.
One hears frequently these days that eco-nomic needs trump eco-logical ones in the public mind – especially here in early 2010. But it is increasingly hard to see a difference between the two at all.
Tanya Ott’s recent coverage on WBHM reporting on the challenges the city of Anniston, Alabama has faced is instructive. A large military base, Fort McLellan, closed there in 1995. The city was largely dependent on the revenue this installation created. Then came wide-spread land devaluation as a result of PCB contamination in the surrounding waterways. Next there was national publicity over local resistance to the incineration of deadly nerve gases left over from the military installation.
That was not the last chapter in the story. Ms. Ott notes how arts and humanities-based activities are leading the way toward the revitalization of downtown Anniston. This process also includes uncovering a formerly paved-over creek that runs through downtown.
On the policy front, various campaign officials for local and federal offices insist that jobs matter more than the environment in the vox populi and voting booth. A recent article in the Demopolis Times on concerns over coal ash disposal indicates that wastewater from coal fired plants might not just be a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. Rather it may well indicate that yet another zone in the Black Belt is starting to question the long-term cost/benefit analysis of energy consumption that produces toxic water:
“While the Tennessee Valley Authority’s cleanup has removed much of the ash from the river, the arsenic- and mercury-laced muck or its watery discharge has been moving by rail and truck through three states to at least six different sites. Some of it may end up as far away as Louisiana.
At every stop along the route, new environmental concerns pop up. The coal-ash muck is laden with heavy metals linked to cancer, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering declaring coal ash hazardous.
“I’m really concerned about my health,” said retiree James Gibbs, 53, who lives near a west-central Alabama landfill that is taking the ash. “I want to plant a garden. I’m concerned about it getting in the soil.” Gibbs said that since last summer there has been a “bad odor, like a natural gas odor.”
After the spill, the TVA started sending as many as 17,000 rail carloads of ash almost 350 miles south to the landfill in Uniontown, Ala. At least 160 rail shipments have gone out from the cleanup site, said TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci.
Since the EPA approved that plan, unusually heavy rain – including about 25 inches from November through February – has forced the landfill to deal with up to 100,000 gallons a day of tainted water.
The landfill operators first sent it to wastewater treatment plants – a common way that landfills deal with excess liquid – in two nearby Alabama cities, Marion and Demopolis…”
Birmingham’s Green Building Focus, mentioned in last week’s blog for their Green Industrial Real Estate Project, has just announced their second Green Building Focus Conference and Expo to be held in Birmingham, Alabama this August 24-26. Such activity exemplifies economic opportunity emerging from ecologic planning.
There are more signs recently of the climate crisis, sustainable industry, and ecosystem repair issues crossing party lines and effecting change in Red States and rural areas. Tanya Ott reports from WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama about “tree-hugging conservatives” in Magnolia Springs, the reclamation of a wetlands and a burgeoning eco-tourism industry. Read the story or listen to podcast here.
Writing in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman quotes Senator Lindsay Graham: “I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value. These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment — and the world will be better off for it. They are not brainwashed. … From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them.”
Over the past few weeks we have seen communities increasingly turn away from unchecked development and new electricity access, especially from coal burning plants, in the name of preserving clean air and water supplies. Even if it means that short-term economic gain may be traded for a greater quality of life.
For example in two of the reddest of Red States, Alabama and Idaho, we have a number of stories citing how local citizenry are questioning and rejecting new coal burning electricity sources in the name of clean-air and water. Two pieces from the Birmingham News note how high rates of particulate amounts of pollutants in air discourage outside businesses from relocating and increasing investment. For example, where it reports: “According to Randall Johnson, director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission, both conflicts result from a collision of trends.” These reports stand in contrast to the late 20th century argument that environmental protection impedes business activity and economic opportunity – as John Archibald points to in his column in the Birmingham News.
The New York Times covers Idahoan rejection of greater abundance of electricity, and curiously how such abundances have brought price increases.
One trend that emerges to my mind is that people across the socio-economic spectrum are settling on a common notion: a willingness to accept less extravagant (or perhaps simply more judicious) living in terms of gadgets and electricity, in order to maintain their environs and sustain the eco -systems and -nomies they inherited.
From the Fund-Balance perspective the above calls up three important points:
We must move to encourage new energy sources with fiscal and monetary policy as a nation, not as a discrete set of political parties and factions
New industrial and intellectual capital formation is demanded to power the United States.
And lastly, there is no green-magic bullet, some degree of re-alignment of lifeways in our always on society is required.