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.

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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.

 

 

My former party does not know much about healthcare

The Graham-Cassidy Bill seems to be on its last legs, but these bills are like Jason – just when you think you kill the serial killer, he remains alive. This latest effort may be the worst bill by my former party, which I left in 2006. It is apparent to me that Republican leaders don’t know much about healthcare and don’t care to know or take the time to know. That includes the man in the White House who just wants to sign something that negates something Obama did. “Who knew healthcare could be so complicated?” he asked earlier in the year. The answer “Everyone, but you.”

Every bill either put forth by the Senate this year or passed by the House has been scored poorly by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has been not appreciated in polls and has been denigrated by medical and hospital associations. Not involving women, Democrats, experts and due process in the planning revealed a haphazard approach to legislation.The Graham-Cassidy Bill is the worst of the bunch as it places the burden, and eventually all of the financing, on the states. In a nutshell, the bill says we cannot figure this out, so we are punting it to you.

In addition to the tens of millions of Americans negatively affected by these bills, if passed, the authors make a concerted effort to kick people in poverty and near-poverty in the teeth. Since we have a poverty problem in America, these bills are especially cold-hearted. And, Graham-Cassidy gives states the right to do away with pre-existing conditions, which was incorrectly refuted by Cassidy after being called on the carpet by Jimmy Kimmel. Seeing protestors in wheel chairs at the Senate was telling.

Further, I have shared with Senators, Congressional Representatives and the White House, these bills would be dilutive to the economy. Standard & Poor said yesterday in their global report the Graham-Cassidy would harm the American economy by $240 Billion through 2027 and cause 580,000 job losses. In a nutshell, when people in need no longer have insurance, the trade-off becomes between food/ rent and medicine. So, less is spent in the market place which dilutes the economy.

Yet, let me emphasize one thing that has been raised by more than a few state Medicaid Directors and Governors. Building a new healthcare delivery system will take longer than the time given. In my view, it will take longer than even these folks are thinking about. In business and government, leaders tend to vastly underestimate the complexity to set-up administration of things. As President Obama found out, setting up healthcare exchanges was hard and initially failed to deliver.

This is an important observation about the Affordable Care Act. It is in place. It is not in a death spiral and it is not broken. From the lens of fewer uninsured, it has been successful. Yet, it needs improvements, but first it needs to be stabilized. Part of the reason for the latter is the GOP’s efforts to hamstring its success by defunding subsidies for adverse selection to insurers. Coupled with slow funding of other subsidies, nineteen states who did not expand Medicaid and general naysaying, the law has not been given full opportunity to be successful.

So, this retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager recommends the ACA be stabilized under some version of the bipartisan Alexander/ Murray Bill. Then all members of Congress can spend more detailed and thoughtful time in deciding how healthcare can be delivered going forward. My recommendation is they improve the ACA.

Let’s speak plainly

After watching a few newscasts with politicians using words that sound nice, but lack substance, I am in the need of some plain spoken comments. Here are a few to start the conversation. Please let me hear some of yours.

The US President and Congress are speaking of Tax Reform, but what I am hearing are tax cuts. We have a debt of $20 Trillion and an annual budget deficit. There is no way in hell to reduce either with lower tax revenue. We need spending cuts and tax increases, but no politician has the stomach to do what is needed.

Steve Bannon is the latest White House departure to say the President likes for his direct reports to compete for his attention and favor. People say this is how he likes to run his businesses. Two comments. First, I have witnessed this model as an employee, manager and consultant and it is a highly unproductive model. Second, biographers and financial reporters have all said Trump’s business record is spotty. He is a great salesman, but the word great is rarely used to describe his management style. It shows in the level of chaos and incompetence in the White House. General Kelly has helped, but it is a tall hill to climb.

While I understand the reasons for Brexit, I have been very concerned by the consideration and vote to exit the EU. From the outset, financial experts forewarned of the British leaving the EU. They spoke of EU headquarter movement, less investment, and less collaboration. This is already occurring in plans of the exit. I understand Former PM Tony Blair has an idea to govern immigration better without leaving – my strong suggestion is to hear him out.

Along these lines, those who want to retrench from global markets need to know a truism – it is very hard to shrink to greatness. I understand middle income workers in flourishing economies feel the brunt of globalization, but a large part of that is due to and will continue to result from technology gains. Retraining is a must. Shoring up wages is a must. But, we need to be careful about retrenching from global markets, that also add jobs here.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with these comments? If you do not, let me know why?

 

Sunday morning muses

First and foremost, best wishes to our friends, family and folks in the path of Hurricane Irma. This juggernaut has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and is poised to do more.

Second, continued best wishes for those dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey here in the states and those abroad who are being flooded in other parts of the world. This will be a long haul, as will recovering from Irma.

Third, best wishes to the forest fire fighters in the West who continue to battle unending blazes. These tireless heroes are a huge line of defense.

Fourth and finally, best wishes to the families and friends of earthquake victims in Mexico. For those who also lost their homes, may you find cover and shelter as you rebuild or relocate.

Disasters bring us closer as they reveal our petty differences are just that. I greatly applaud all of those who have stepped up to help through donations of time, energy, goods and money.

As we rebuild, we must be mindful of what the future holds – more powerful storms, more flooding, more drought in drought stricken areas and more forest fires. We must rebuild to withstand, prevent and manage water, wind, heat and fire. I am happy to see consultants from The Netherlands here to advise some cities on managing ocean flooding given their hundreds of years of experience as a country below sea level.

For now, let’s do our part to help others withstand, survive and get back on their feet.

Monday, Monday

With a shout out to the Mamas and the Papas, I borrow their song title to share a few miscellaneous thoughts this Monday.

Kim and Trump scare me as they see who has the longest private part. I hope cooler and more rational heads prevail. I keep thinking neither man is that stupid to launch a nuclear warhead, but the probability is higher than it was a year ago.

Just to make sure the White House incumbent does not understand the risk climate change poses, even after Hurricane Harvey was made worse as a result, he appoints another climate change denier to head NASA. It is one thing to not having scientists in positions that should likely have them – Departments of Energy, EPA and NASA- but they should at least not pretend they know more than scientists do. Their arguments ring shallow.

The White House incumbent will be telling us this week what he plans to do with kids of undocumented parents who were brought here. These over 800,000 kids and young people have the backing of business leaders and Congressional leaders. Speaker Paul Ryan says leave this to Congress, but he fails to recall Obama acted because Congress would not, even after a bipartisan Senate bill was passed. The business leaders see this as an intellectual capital issue as well as a fairness issue. Trump has been all over the place on this issue, so who knows.

Thank goodness the waters are subsiding in Texas and Louisiana. It will be a long, arduous struggle to repair and rebuild. Someone mentioned earlier said it would be quick, which are just words. I hope our Congress can help in funding. And, I wish FEMA, HUD and the EPA well in helping these people.

Have a safe week. If you are religious, say a little prayer for wise actions by incumbent heads of state and helpful public servants for those in need.

 

 

 

The Renewable Energy Train continues to board former skeptics

I have written before the renewable energy train has left the station. The current White House incumbent’s position on climate change and promoting more fossil fuel development, can slow the train, but he cannot stop the market forces that are driving it down the track.

A newspaper story reprinted today supports this thesis and illustrates how more unlikely folks are getting on board the train. An editorial from the Fayetteville (NC) Observer entitled “Solar turning a corner in NC?” noted the opening of the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi. But, a new solar farm in NC is not news, as NC trails only California in solar energy.

What I found newsworthy beyond the size is the attendance at the grand opening of at least two Republican politicians – US Representstive Robert Pittenger and State Senator John Szoka. Szoka had spearheaded a renewable energy support bill, which is ironic since he was a previous skeptic. He noted “What changed my opinion is facts. Facilities like this are drawing down the cost of energy.”

But, these folks are not alone. There are groups like Conservatives for Clean Energy that are helping to propel the train. There is the work in several red states that have developed wind energy into a sizable part of their energy portfolio. These plain states like Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, e.g. are investing heavily in this increasingly cheaper source, with Iowa getting 1/3 of its electricity from wind energy.

I highlight the Conservatives who are jumping on the train, as unfortunately, climate change and renewable energy have been made a political issue. The people who have made it so are the fossil fuel companies who continue to wield their powerful influence to garner more profits. The White House incumbent and his cabinet are perpetuating this influence, but fortunately they are on the wrong side of the tracks and market forces and other political, business and citizen leaders are moving the train forward.