Water – the real crisis facing us

While Americans are distracted and consumed by the routine chaos out of the White House, we are letting huge problems go unaddressed. One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.



Headwinds and Tailwinds to the Economy

Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but global market forces tend to control what happens. By headwinds, I mean the wind is against the economic growth, with tailwinds aiding economic growth.

In the US, we are under the third longest economic growth period in our measured history with 103 consecutive months of growth. We have also had seven consecutive years of 2 million plus jobs created. And, the stock market more than doubled under Obama and continues its rise under Trump. These are great numbers. But, before we pat ourselves on the back too much, not everyone has benefitted and wealth disparity among economic classes has been widening for the past thirty-five years.

Economists I have watched project the good news to continue for the year, but several have cautioned about the future and if we don’t address the inequity, we will have major problems on top of other concerns.

On the tailwinds ledger, the global economy continues to grow and the World Economic Forum projects a 3.9% increase for the year. In the US, the cut back on regulations, plus the reduction in new ones over the rates of the past, have given more confidence to businesses (more on this later). Plus, the reduction in corporate tax rates will help fuel some growth, provided these companies who are sitting on cash, choose to invest it in their people and business. And, with more money in many people’s pockets, this will add some fuel.

On the headwinds ledger, several economists have noted we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, leveraging our future with even more debt. Not only did we not address the expected increase in debt taking it from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in 2027, the tax law will increase it by $1.5 trillion. The interest cost thereon will take a greater bite out of our budget. But, other headwinds are of concern. Retrenching from global markets and trade agreements replacing them with binary ones, will be dilutive to growth. Not investing as much in science and innovation is a major concern to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics.

This will be heightened if we restrict immigration. What seems to get lost in the argument where some have become too cold-hearted in my view, is immigration is accretive to the US economy. Plus, the people immigrating tend to be more entrepreneurial and better educated, in many cases. These sh**hole countries that someone demeaned are sending us more educated people than reside here in the states, on average.

We should not fail to remember that “innovation is portable” so says David Smick, an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Jack Kemp, one of the smartest Congresspersons who considered a run for President. If we do not provide an inviting place, innovation may be hindered. I should note that Steve Jobs was born to Syrian immigrants to the US. What if they had been denied entry? Apple might not have ever come to fruition.

Finally, not all regulations are bad, so restricting regulations may cause headwinds down the road especially with more freedoms given to pollute the environment and take advantage of customers. This is a developers mindset. Remove obstacles to build, but leave the clean up for others. Unfortunately, we taxpayers are the others. We citizens, that must drink and breathe more polluted waters and air and realize the impact of climate change, are the others. As coal ash deposits have taught us, there is a cost to environmental degradation.

So, we need to be mindful of what we are facing. I have communicated with numerous Congresspersons, Senators and the President, that we are avoiding some elephants in the room – debt, climate change, water crisis and income inequity. In my view as an Independent voter, passing a tax law that increases the debt was extremely poor stewardship, as we cannot cut our way out of this problem. The math won’t work.


Good energy news on this cold, snowy day

Global citizens are rightfully concerned the US President is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, but progress continues as “we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy.” Even the US pullout cannot stop the train, as states, cities, businesses and other countries continue the push. It just means the President and his team will not be at the adult table on this issue and may not be invited at all.

Here are a few miscellaneous energy tidbits that should offer encouragement.

Per the UK Based organization Carbon Tracker, here are a few highlights from the past year:

  • more than 1/2 of the US coal plants in existence in 2010 have been closed;
  • more than 1/2 of the remaining coal plants in Europe are losing money;
  • the UK has slashed electricity from coal usage from 40% to 2% in the last five years; and
  • there have been big strides in China and Australia on reducing coal usage.

Per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five member, Republican dominated agency denied the request by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to fund the building of more coal-fired and nuclear plants. This was a surprise move given the make-up of the committee. I would call this decision as not wanting to throw good money after bad.

It should be noted, it is not just coal that is giving the FERC commissioners pause. The US division of Westinghouse Electric Company had to declare bankruptcy for cost overruns on a new nuclear power plant for SCANA, the South Carolina utility. As a result, the new plant is being shuttered and SCANA is being sold to Dominion Resources, so as not to overburden SC citizens with the cost of the lost investment.

The International Energy Agency in their 2017 Energy Outlook notes the cost of new solar photovoltaic electricity has declined by 70% and wind energy has fallen 25% since 2010. It should be noted the IEA has tended to favor fossil fuel energy in past releases. China, the new country leader in the climate change fight, will be investing US$360 billion more in renewable energy by 2020. Plus, the price of solar has fallen so much in places like Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it has won bidding contests against fossil fuel energy sources for projects.

Finally, any discussion on future energy cannot exclude the declining cost and increasing capacity in battery storage. Per Bloomberg New Energy Financials, energy storage will double six times between 2016 and 2030. Elon Musk just helped southern Australia go live with a major battery installation and 21 states in the US have planned projects on energy storage.

All of the above stories are important because it has always been a financial argument to combat the environmental concerns, whose long term costs have been undervalued. Now, the financials are favoring the renewable energy engine, so market forces will continue to force the ultimate demise of coal-fired energy, which started with the lower cost of natural gas. If a company can find a clean energy source which is cheaper and more predictable long term, that is easily the better path forward. If you don’t believe me, just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Walmart and IKEA to name only a few.



A few hard truths

In the land where entertainment and sports news get much more attention, a few hard truths need to be communicated. On the first Saturday of the new year, here are a few of those truths.

Our capable intelligence community is convinced with a high degree of certainty that Russian elements influenced the 2016 Presidential election and continue to sow seeds of discord to disrupt the US. This is a continuing attack on the US by a foreign entity that our President and this Congress have largely chosen to ignore. My suggestion is to ask your Congressperson, Senators and President what they plan on doing about it?

The US Tax Plan was passed to a lot of fanfare and chest beating under the guise of stimulating the economy, but it still needs a larger sales job on disbelieving Americans. Giving a lot of money to rich people and corporations is supposed to trickle down, yet do we need to add $1.5 trillion more to an increasing debt? Do we need to further stimulate an economy that has had 103 consecutive months of economic growth dating back to June, 2009? Do we need to stimulate an economy that just posted 2 million added jobs for the seventh year in a row, with a continuing run up of the US stock market? Nonpartisan economist groups have posed the same questions.

Let me get this straight, is the Republican Party for states rights or for federal rights? It seems to differ based on where the power lies. The White House has announced that 95% of coastal areas will be subject to offshore drilling to the dismay of governors who want to foster their tourism and fishing industries. Further, the Attorney General wants to crack down on states who are now selling regulated medical and retail marijuana changing an earlier Obama order to allow states to do this. Both of these decisions are getting heavy nonpartisan pushback from state leaders and it is my understanding the White House was asked not to do this.

Finally, the US continues to declare the cut in funding to countries that do not cooperate with us. This is not necessarily new, but we seem to be bullying others more and to what end? We are not the biggest funders to these places and China, India and Russia are easily picking up more influence as we decrease ours. The Pakistan PM basically said it is not a big deal if they lose US funding. The question to ask as we beat on our chest, is who are we trying to convince, the other country or a base of uninformed voters?

That is all I have for today. Unfortunately , the answers to these points can be summed up in one ugly word, “politics.” Have a great weekend and 2018. One thing is for certain is it will be interesting one.

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.

The weather outside is frightful

The weather outside is frightful. Inside it’s so delightful. And, since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let is snow.

Please think good thoughts for those who are exposed to the severe cold and wintry precipitation. May they stay warm and travel safely if they must. We will be in the teens here over several nights, but our Minnesota based friend, Hugh, said he awoke to 19 below, Fahrenheit. Yikes!

I also want to emphasize the word “weather.” The US President either purposefully or unknowingly confused climate with weather. If purposeful, his intent was to play up to the “climate change is hoax” crowd among his followers. Unfortunately, this becomes an annual confusion effort which is either cynical of filled with malintent. Someone needs to tell the President that it is summer time in the Southern Hemisphere and 2017 set a new record for average heat around the globe. A few days of frigid weather in December north of the equator and June south of the equator will not alter that fact.

It would be nice if the President did not forsake the US global standing and stay engaged as a leader on climate change efforts. We have some of the leading climate scientists and data in the world. We are also one of the two biggest carbon emitters. Fortunately, other state, city and business leaders will keep the US moving forward leveraging the many good efforts.

Have a wonderful 2018. Let’s move this ball forward. Our children and their children need us to.

Note to young folks – Republicans are leaving you holding the bag

As a former Republican, now Independent voter, it is very hard to defend what my former party stands for. What used to be a party that boasted fiscal stewardship with a little heart, now is fiscally narrow-minded and mean-spirited. There are three major themes that have emerged during the Trump version of this party, all of which are leaving young people holding the bag.To summarize, they are:

  1. ignoring a huge debt problem, making it worse with the Tax Bill,
  2. ignoring the impact climate change is having and will have on our planet, and
  3. ignoring the wishes of young adults eliminating net-neutrality, demeaning civil rights of those who are not white heterosexuals, and denigrating free press.

Note, I placed three separate, but related issues into the third basket, as I see each in a composite context to restrict the rights of information to the masses.

On the debt problem, we are currently at $20.6 trillion US debt. But, that is only part of the problem. In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017, we had a $666 billion deficit with $3.3 trillion revenue falling short of the almost $4 trillion in expenses. The Congressional Budget Office projects the debt to grow by $10 trillion over the next ten years without the impact of the Tax Bill. That would put us at over $30 trillion in 2027. When the Tax Bill impact is thrown in, the debt could be as high as $32 trillion. Note, with a $3.3 trillion annual budget, it would take us ten years to pay the debt if we spent no other money and there was no interest cost on the debt. What this means is there will be a reckoning that will come in major tax increases and major spending cuts which will hit young adults,

Ignoring climate change is a fossil fuel industry funded requirement placed on Republicans. In the book, “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn, these hard-working folks see what climate change is doing everyday, yet they have to tiptoe around Republican politicians in their states to explain what is happening to water, crops, topsoil, fisheries, bayou, etc. without using the word climate change. Even though we have many great things going on to combat climate change in the US, our country was not invited to the most recent climate change planning event with other major leaders. Fortunately, our business, city and state leaders don’t necessarily need Washington to make a difference, but it would be great to see what we could do when DC is not putting up roadblocks.

The net neutrality issue is frustrating, as with the Tax Bill, it favors those with money and not those folks the President promised to help. What will backfire on the GOP, is young folks are passionate about this issue and know Ajit Pai’s name as the demonized head of the FCC. Yet, it goes part in parcel with the restriction of flow of information. The media are demonized because they dare criticize the President. Civil rights are being squashed unless you look like the President – what he said about Charlottesville is insulting and distasteful. And, communication companies like Sinclair are being greenlighted to buy even more local stations and influencing their content.

None of us can sit on the sidelines and let this happen, but especially our younger voters. If we do not demonstrably deal with the debt and climate change, these failures will come home to roost. But, the attack on the free flow of information by this President and his party is also dear. It is a way to combat the changing demographics in America that do not support the GOP. Instead of wooing new voters, the strategy is to step on others. This observation comes from a former Republican who left the party ten years ago.

Please lend your voice to fight for better stewardship. These leaders are not even talking about issues that are of import, such as our infrastructure, water and healthcare needs, in addition to the three problems noted above.