A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

 

 

 

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If you give a mouse a cookie

The childhood book by this name reveals that some are never satisfied when you do them favors. I was thinking of this as I thought of the litany of things done by a self-promoted populist on behalf of his true benefactors, the wealthy mice. He started with cookies, but the list goes on.

If those onerous environmental regulations were getting in the way, he just rolled back a few of them. Plus, if those scientists and their data were problematic to polluting businesses, he just fired a few, ran off a few and deleted access to important research data.

If access to public lands and what lies thereunder was a roadblock, he just cut back on the national parks and gave easier access to developers. What is land, if it cannot be exploited for short term gain? As a rancher put it, when the developers come, the profits go to Houston and Calgary, but the degradation is left for them long term.

If paying taxes is preventing investment in employees or business, even though conpanies are sitting on cash, then he gave the mice more money. The key is how much will flow into investment and employees and how much will be used to make the executives look good?

Along the way, there are some photo ops to say look what is happening, but the mice seem to be the ones who are getting the cookies and added benefits. As one energy consultant noted, the President has done a lot for coal owners, but not much for coal workers.

I am all for making things easier, but we need smart regulations that protect Americans from short cutting and corruption. We must pay for things as well, and debt and environmental costs are dear. Saying they don’t matter is poor stewardship as our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price for our avoidance.

Three More Renewable Energy Tidbits

In an effort to highlight continuing good news on the renewable energy front, here are three new stories. First, Google has now invested more than twice the nearest company or organization in renewable energy. Google can claim that they generate enough power through renewable energy to cover 100% of their global electricity needs in data centers and offices. Amazon does a lot as well, but they are in a distant second.

Second, Elon Musk’s Tesla Company is primarily a battery company parading as an electric car company. Last week, forty days ahead of schedule, Tesla switched on a 100 MW lithium ion superbattery storage facility in Southern Australia, which will help power 30,000 homes through renewable wind energy provided by French company Neoen. Musk said in the spring if they could not deliver on the promise in 100 days, the batteries and installation would be free.

Third, last week in Miami, the second annual conference on Companies vs. Climate Change was held. Companies like Ford, GM, Walmart, and Mars, e.g. were in attendance. While all regret the President announcing the US pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, they are not letting that stop their movement down the path of battling climate change.

It would be nice if the President supported global efforts, but he cannot stop the significant progress that is occurring. And, as one climate scientist has said, Trump did everyone a favor by the announced withdrawal, as it has heightened the urgency and brought even more attention to the problem.

Let’s keep up the momentum.

A few painful truths

We are overlooking some very painful truths primarily for short term gain. As I chatted with staff members for several US Senators, I found myself saying “you sound like a young person; you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?” I hope they start thinking more about what I said because of what we are ignoring.

The reason for my question is Congress has passed one Tax bill and is debating another that will increase our $20.5 trillion debt by at least $1.5 trillion. Yet, not only are we ignoring the $20.5 trillion debt, we are ignoring that the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to grow by $10 trillion without the Tax bill impact. So, in 2027, the debt could be $32 trillion if the Tax bill is signed into law. This is beyond poor stewardship – it is malfeasance. We would be screwing those young staffers I spoke with.

Unfortunately, there is more. Our leadership has decided to make the US the only country in the world to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord. Not only are we denying hard truths and overwhelming scientific evidence, we are shooting ourselves and planet in the foot. Renewable energy is passed the tipping point and we risk getting left behind as other nations invest in Innovation for the new economy. Fortunately, cities, states and businesses are carrying the banner dropped by our leadership, who is being relegated to the kids table at Thanksgiving. At the next post-Paris event, the US may not be invited at all. If we don’t deal more decisively with climate change, we will be screwing those young staffers and their children.

A final issue to mention, but not the final problem we are ignoring, is the US is retrenching from our global leadership role to the delight of China and Russia and chagrin of our western allies. The President gave a speech in Vietnam this month similar to the one made in Davos earlier in the year. America will retrench to a nationalistic country seeking bilateral agreements. On each occasion, his speech was followed by Xi Jingping who gave the global leadership speech the US normally gives. What our President fails to understand is globalization lifts all boats and our economy benefits more than if we look to maximize only our share. This concept has been called the “Nash Equilibrium” in honor of the Nobel Economics prize winner who developed it, John Nash. If we retrench, we will be harming our future growth and screwing those young staffers.

As I mention, these are not the only things we are ignoring – poverty, job losses due to technology advances, healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure, better gun control, etc. Yet, should we not alter our path set by these leaders, this path will be defined in the future as the period when the US gave up its global leadership role. And, the world will be a lesser place because of it. Sadly, I have witnessed these words spoken by more than a few global financial and security experts.

 

 

A couple of climate clues

I am reading a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn. She focuses her attention on people in these professions (plus a few others) and how they work the earth and its waterways. They see what is happening with climate change and environmental degradation and have adapted over time what they do to continue their livelihood. The book has a subtitle of “Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.”

A quote from a mentor to Justin Knopf, the farmer, is compelling. “Dr. Gary Pierzynski, head of the Kansas State University agronomy department describes…‘We have no doubt that climate change is happening. But we recognize that talking directly about it raises issues with some of our elected officials, who remain unconvinced and don’t support investing state resources to study it. So we emphasize our focus on challenges like extending the life of the Ogallala aquifer; we don’t disguise it but take away the climate change message.'”

It should not be lost on anyone that this man is about as far away from the coast as possible, but speaks of the impact on climate change on the agro economy and water sources. As an example, Knopf has used his experience to realize that using “no-till” farming is ideally suited for growing wheat and other products in his neck of the woods. When tilled, more of the topsoil is washed and blown away. When untilled, the ground keeps more of the creatures that naturally fertilize and break down the soil. It also aborbs more carbon.

He notes farmers continually experiment and share ideas, so what works there may be less suited elsewhere. I will write more on the book later, but what is fascinating is how these folks see what is happening first hand and adapt over time. Sometimes what they try fails and often it takes a few seasons for changes to fully be realized.Their livelihoods depend on it, so it is done with seriousness of purpose and observation.

On a different note, I saw a news report about Kodiak Island in Alaska. They are close to 100% renewable energy powered, using hydro and wind energy with battery storage. They switched when the diesel fuel got too expensive to shore up the hydro power when the demands increased. Also, a creative solution was used in the ship docks where they send and receive freight. Using a fly wheel concept, as one of the freight containers is lowered by the crane, it creates energy that is stored and used to lift the next container. The process continues as the containers are loaded and unloaded.

It should be noted the fly wheel concept is getting a lot of attention due to its elegance. In computer vernacular, elegance means the simplest and most effective solution. It also should be noted the cost of energy for the Island is more predictable and is lower than it was ten years ago. I highlight this cost statement as this is the new norm for renewable energy versus fossil fuel energy. The city of Georgetown, Texas came to the same conclusion when they signed a twenty-five contract for wind and solar energy rather than a shorter fossil fuel contract.

On the ground, local leaders, farmers, ranchers and fisherman are seeing what is happening first hand. They are making informed decisions that impact their future. It would be nice if our President, EPA director, Energy director and Congressional Republican leadership would make informed decisions. We could use their help and not their obstinance. The world is passing them by and they are not allowed to notice it.

Two Roads Diverge

Two news stories from yesterday paint pictures of which road can be taken with respect to battling climate change. The first road leads us to Copenhagen, where it is reported the goal of leadership is to be net carbon zero in the city’s mpact on the planet.

The city has new building codes which require eco-friendly approaches. There are schools with solar panels on the walls, buildings with greenery on top that utilize rainwater effectively, e.g. They also have numerous bicycle and walking paths, which support the 62% of the commuters who pedal to work.

The second road leads us to Washington, where the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is going to repeal the Obama Clean Power Plan. This plan gave the flexibility to states on crafting individual plans to bring down carbon emissions beneath 2005 levels.

Pruitt said the “War on coal is over” as he announced the change in Kentucky. What he fails to realize, it is over. Coal has been dying off and being replaced by cheaper and cleaner options. Natural gas drove the first dagger into coal and continues to do so. Trump’s own plan will drive it deeper.

But, we should not ignore that wind and solar are growing by double digit rares over the last five years and will continue to do so. In fact, in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, they are one of the top wind energy states in the country.

Fortinately, cities around the world are leading the way on battling climate change, as they are the biggest polluters. And, they are learning from each other. States are also leading the way – several states will enable the US to meet the Clean Power Plan requirements by themselves.

Let me conclude with a quote from the CEO of a solar energy company at a conference in NC, the second largest solar energy state. He told legislators to “Just stay out of the way and we will blow past the Clean Power Plan requirement.” That is the question – we need Trump and Pruitt to just stay out of the way.

Drawdown – a detailed guide to reducing climate impact

Paul Hawken is an optimist about battling our climate change crisis. He is also active in planning to do something about it. But, who is he? Hawken is an author, advocate and businessman who is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown, based his book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Priposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

The book is based on the concept of drawing down the amount of carbon that is getting dangerously present in our atmosphere and warming the planet. It summarizes 100 solutions noting their cost, long term savings and estimated impact. Project Drawdown has an impressive Board of Directiors and research staff offering a seriousness of purpose.

Rather than list all 100, let me note the top ten solutions, which are interesting and makes one think holistically. And, some of these have small price tags.

1. Refrigeration Management: While the hydrocarbons that were hurting the ozone were banned, their replacement (HFCs) is warming our planet, much of it released in the last few years of life of the refrigerator. There is a plan to phase out HFCs from new refrigerators. It is also key to decommission old refrigerators earlier to prevent the greater release.

2. Offshore Wind Turbines: With the heavy ocean breezes, the offshore turbines have a huge upside on savings and impact. As with onshore wind energy, the cost has dramatically declined and wind energy is ready to replace even more fossil fuel energy sourcing. Offshore wind energy is being used significantly by other countries, with the first US development opening last December off Rhode Island.

3. Reduced Food Waste: Of all the issues, with relative little cost, we can make a huge dent in emissions from unused, rotting food. Between supermarkets, restaurants and homes, this wastage could be minimized with some concerted efforts which would not compromise taste. Better labeling on best-by dates, using imperfect looking food, better food planning at home, better gleaning of unpacked crops, using local produce more, etc. would produce dividends.

4. Plant Rich Diet: If cows were a country, they would be third largest abuser of the climate change impact. By shifting to more plant rich diets, we can reduce the amount of emissions leaked into the atmosphere and improve our own health.

5. Tropical Forests: We have greatly reduced our carbon eating forests, which has changed the equation dramatically. The planet used to be covered 12% by tropical forests, but it has declined to 5%. By replenishing tropical forests, the trees can have a positive impact on the environment and absorb more carbon.

6. Educating Girls: I have been an advocate of this for civil rights and economics, but it has a significant impact on climate. Hawken notes through education, girls can enter womanhood on their own terms. Now, too many girls are married at very young ages and never have a chance to consider a career. The younger they are married, the more children they have. Also, more educated women, means more intellectual capital to solve problems.

7. Family Planning: This goes hand in hand with the education of women. Larger family size is highly correlated with increased poverty. It is also highly correlated with a larger carbon footprint. Our planet also does not have unlimited resources, so we need to use what we have more efficaciously. If all people consume like the average North American, we have 2X too many people already.

8. Solar Farms: The cost of solar has dropped dramatically and jobs are growing  at an annual double digit rate for the past several years. Solar farms are much cheaper to build than a power plant and will continue their growth rate as battery storage improves.

9. Silvopasture: What does this mean? It is an ancient practice of integrating trees and pastures for crops and livestock. The symbiosis of the two better controls carbon absorption in a sustainable way.

10. Rooftop Solar: Putting solar panels on rooftops scares utility companies as it changes their model. Solar energy need not be done only through big projects to be effective. It can be very decentralized, Utilities are pushing back in several states to buy surplus electricity at a lower rate than they sell it when you need it at night. As battery storage improves, solar power will be even more integrated and expansive.

Hawken says we need to be alarmed by what is happening by climate change, but we should plan to act and then act. While discouraged by the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he said the positive is far more Americans are aware of climate change and cities, states and businesses are acting in lieu of the void caused by the federal government.

I have been encouraged by this renewed vigor in addressing climate change. There are many good things occurring in the US and abroad. We can no longer wait and should celebrate, focus and leverage these solutions.