Ice on Fire

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK too allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

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Out of the pool

I think it is time to fire any politician in Washington who is forgetting why they are there. We could start with the White House incumbent and then take out hundreds of members of Congress in both houses. I understand fully Congress must investigate and provide oversight over the Executive Branch. That is part of their job and the current incumbent has given them cause to dig further.

Yet, I have this simple idea that leaders of both houses sit down with legislative liaisons from the White House and figure out some things they can pass and sign into law. I think a civilian board could list about a dozen major issues to focus on and say work these out. It should not take a civilian board, but these folks are too beholden to funders to come up with a workable list.

A key reason for not listing the problems is too much discussion occurs around whether not solving an issue helps them politically. A curse word comes to mind, so please insert your favorite. A good example is a bipartisan Senate immigration bill was passed in 2013, but the House refused to take it up as leaving immigration unaddressed would help the Republicans in the 2014 midterms. The Democrats should not be smug as they do the same thing.

Because of the Republicans unhealthy focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, the party justifiably lost seats in the 2018 midterms. To be frank, they should have lost seats with a rushed process that did not follow form and came up with several awful ideas. They should also thank Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for saving them from themselves by voting against an ill-conceived vote.

But, what have Dems done with improving the ACA with their winning back the majority in the House – nothing other than “beating on their chest” bills that went nowhere? Not that they were bad bills, but don’t wait until an election in 2020 to address healthcare. The ACA is imperfect, but is working OK and needs some more stability and improvements due to initial design flaws and several efforts by the GOP to sabotage it.

So, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. McConnell, and Mr. Pence, get your fannies in a room with a white board and figure out how to get something done. I do not care which party benefits from what comes out of this. The key is we benefit. Do something that will be signed into law by the mercurial man in the White House. So, Mr. Pence you better have the Queen of Hearts’ blessing to make deals or you may lose your head.

Here are few items for the list:

  • Stabilize the ACA: pay insurers what we owe them (yes we reneged on two deals with them) and invite them back to the market to have more competition. Consider expanding Medicare to age 62 as a trial to improve the risk pools in both the ACA and Medicare. Push for the remaining states to expand Medicaid.
  • Address better gun governance: another mass shooting occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. More suicides occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. A few accidental shootings and homicides occurred and nobody in office cares. It is a holistic problem that needs holistic solutions. Do something, anything that will help even if it is just a little. Universal background checks and elongated waiting periods would be well received by the majority of Americans.
  • Address climate change at the federal level: Cities, states and some industries are moving forward without an active federal government role, which is rightfully being sued by 21 children for failure to address what they have known about for three decades. They actually have a good case. This is also a jobs and economy issue as we can look backwards and get passed by or look to growing renewables industries. As a good example of looking backward, we let China seize a significant majority of the rare earth metals market share from us which is now a threat to national security.
  • Address the debt and deficit: Trade deficits are not a big thing as we are a consumer driven economy. The far bigger crisis is our national debt and growing deficit. We have to pay for things and the less we do, the more risk we have with a growing interest cost as a percent of our annual budget. We must increase taxes and reduce spending, both. The GOP has forsaken its role in being a budget hawk passing a tax bill that made a growing problem worse. Revisit the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan and do some of those things.

I will stop there, but there are more problems to address. Immigration is a problem, but it has been made worse under this president by cutting funding to help some Central American countries improve the lives of their citizens and the lack of judges to address the increased migration. A wall is not an answer. It is merely a structure. Dusting off that bipartisan Senate bill from 2013 would be a good start as well as addressing DACA. We need to keep educated young people in our country, as growth is an issue.

So, legislators, please get in a room and do some things that will pass. The focus should be on helping Americans, not helping legislators. Stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job. And, yes continue your oversight role as we are a republic not a kingdom.

 

 

 

Coal can’t be made great again says conservative economist

Walter Block is a professor of economics at Loyola University in New Orleans and a Libertarian. He recently penned an op-ed piece in The New York Times called “Coal can’t be made great again.”

Block sets the context for free-market thinking using more basic purchases – shoes, clothes, restaurant meals. This “leave it to the market forces” is a mantra for free-market Republicans. Yet, as Block notes “One would think that Republicans would apply that same logic to our fuel industry.”

He adds while government has a “legitimate role” in ensuring the safety of nuclear and other plants, “it should not favor, or oppose, nuclear power, gas, oil, coal, wind, water, solar, or any other source of energy over any other.”

He also notes a couple of observations of data points which reveal “the market is moving away from coal.” First, he writes “In 2016, American reliance on coal had dipped to 30% of total electric energiy expenditure, from about 50% in 2000. In contrast, natural gas and even wind, solar and water power are becoming less expensive, and will likely take on a greater share of the overall energy industry.”

Second, he notes “For the first time, as predicted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analytsis, in April, renewables generated more electricity than power plants fueled by what was once called ‘King Coal.'”

It is through these lenses, he views the efforts to subsidize coal use and place tariffs on imported solar panels as a political attempt to “pick winners.” We should not be “propping up coal” at the expense of alternative energy sources.

In my view, we are passed the tipping point on coal. New plants are too costly to build and the present value cost of acquiring, transporting, burning, storing the ash, health and environmental degradation and litigation of coal exceeds other sources. Further, the solar energy jobs are 4x the number of coal jobs. And, wind energy is soaring in growth, especially through the plains states.

This is not a US-centric result. Renewables are growing rapidly abroad with Germany now getting more energy from renewables than coal. China has been heavily investing in solar panels. But, my favorite global example is southern Australia is now solar powered using American Elon Musk’s battery storage and a French company’s installation of solar panels. Three continents came together to forge a renewable future.

While I agree with Block for the most part, government can play a role to help move forward cleaner energy initiatives, at least temporarily. So, the temporary 30% tax credit for solar power installation makes sense, especially when our Department of Defense continues to cite climate change as a significant threat to national security, even under the current president.

But, as the renewable costs have become more on par from a production standpoint, they can stand on their own without the tax subsidy. Embracing future technologies that will drive the economy is essential. As an example, yesterday, Toyota announced the movement from 2030 forward to 2025 when 1/2 of their vehicle sales will be electric cars, with batteries being made in China. So, if our leaders look backwards too much, we might get passed by.

 

 

 

 

A few odds and ends

Absent a large theme, let me toss out a few odds and ends for your digestion. In no particular order:

– When the pro-Brexit planners were organizing the vote, they tolerated Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson’s efforts, but did not involve them in the planning process. To see those two once again involved is not encouragjng to any future organized departure.

– There is a reason a certain US President does not want people looking down the Deutsche Bank rabbit hole. Malfeasance abounds with all parties, including the bank itself, which has been required to pay fines for money laundering. When you add to the mix a real estate developer who cannot get a US bank to lend him money and no better to place to launder money than in real estate, and it is not hard to fathom unscrupulous behavior.

– The US leaving three agreements will make the world less safe and prosperous, including the US. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed for the eleven participating countries to compete against China; with the US withdrawing, the other ten countries moved ahead, but it lost some clout without the US. Leaving the Iran deal (which they were in compliance with) was unwise. Instead of some stability, we are at risk, as much from Trump as from Iran. And, leaving the Paris Accord on Climate Change made us an outlier at a crucial time for our planet.

– Anti-immigration rhetoric abounds, yet facts are usually casualties in the debate. Rather than have a healthy, data-centric analysis, fear and blame are the selling points. It was succesful in the US, in the UK and in Hungary. People have a right to feel the way they do, but if they heard thoughtful discourse, they may be less zealous with their hatred.

– The ecologist and biologist Sandra Steingraber once wrote environmental impact tests are too geared toward a fifty year-old man, when children are more susceptible being closer to the ground, outdoors more, putting their hands in their mouths and mouth breathing more and without fully developed lungs and brains. I read yesterday, the Trump EPA is defunding tests to perform chemical impact analysis on children. Why? Steingraber, a bladder cancer survivor, notes we do not consider the environment enough as a cause for poor health.

That is enough for now. Let me know your thoughts.

 

The concerns we are not talking enough about

In the US, we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about whatever the President may tweet or say. And, since he is not known for being the most truthful person, we often chase issues that are over-stated, over-simplified or just not true.

Yet, what we are not talking enough about concerns me. Here are a few items that get too little air time.

– With global warming, coral reefs are in jeopardy. Coupled with over fishing due to territorial issues (like in the China Sea), fish populations are diminishing. This should concern us all, and will create conflict along with industry and food loss. *

– Also due to global warming, we are seeing heavier and repetitive weather patterns which are flooding our farmlands, causing more elongated droughts in drought prone areas, and sparking more forest fires. I read a forward-looking report from 2010 sponsored by the largest global pension trustees that predicted global warming causing more of these occurrences and the multiple tens of trillion dollars in costs to remedy them. *

– We also have a global water crisis that is rearing its ugly head in a number of places such as Capetown and Saudi Arabia. Aquifers are diminishing in certain areas and increases in population far exceed the ability for some areas to provide fresh water. Global warming is making the water crisis worse.

– Bee populations around the globe are in decline. The UN reported 37% of bee species are in decline with 9% now extinct. That is 46% of bee species. The bees pollinate many foods which will be in decline as well, which when added to other threats should raise alarm. Certain pesticides are one cause, but it is likely a more holistic problem, including global warmlng.

– Finally, as alluded to above, we need to be concerned about population growth. A scientist said a few years ago that if everyone consumed resources like the average Rwandan, the earth could support 15 billion or so. Yet, if they consumed like the average North American, the number drops to around 2 billion. We have about 7 billion now. Family planning and birth control have to be in the equation.

There are so many more things to discuss, but we need to discuss protecting our species and environment. Call me crazy, but I think that is important.

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* Note: I did see a few stories this morning that were encouraging and concerning. The Central US flooding is a recurrent issue for some towns and even barge shipping traffic on the Mississippi River has shut down until June as a result.

On the coral reef bleaching, I read that Florida and Australian scientists are sharing working approaches to save and try to revitalize dying reefs. That is encouraging, but is it enough?

A science teacher teaching climate change is actively identifying (and teaching her students to do so) the approx. 30,000 internet sources of misinformation on climate change using dated, refuted and untruthful information saying variations that climate change is a hoax. Also, several petroleum companies have provided free teaching materials, which downplay climate change and sell the advantages of petroleum. In contrast, there are about 700 reputable, peer reviewed scientific sites that are worthwhile. That smaller number reveals where the money lies.

Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from U.S. refining lobby

Last month. Reuters wrote an article entitled “Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from US refining lobby.” Here are the lead paragraphs.

“Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Tuesday became the first major oil and gas company to announce plans to leave a leading U.S. refining lobby due to disagreement on climate policies.

The review is part of Shell’s drive to increase transparency and show investors it is in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s goals to limit global warming by reducing carbon emissions to a net zero by the end of the century.

It is also the latest sign of how investor pressure on oil companies, particularly in Europe, is leading to changes in their behavior around climate. Last year, Shell caved in to investor pressure over climate change, setting out plans to introduce industry-leading carbon emissions targets linked to executive pay.”

Shell is not the first oil company to cave to investor pressure. Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum (along with utility PP&L) have to inform shareholders of their progress to addressing climate change after shareholder votes required them to do so. Exxon also has two lawsuits it is dealing with accusing them of misleading investors on the financial impact of climate change.

Climate change is real and is impacting us now. The greater number of sunny days coastal flooding, increased number of droughts, increased and more severe forest fires and the added flooding due to slow moving storns are traceable to the impact of climate change, so says climate scientists. I encourage you to ask politicians what they propose to do about this existential threat to our future. If they do not respond or fail to offer any tangible ideas, do not vote for them. We must move forward as we have squandered much of our window to act.

 

Call me crazy

I hope everyone had a great weekend. We are living in interesting times, some would even use the word “crazy.” Here are a few random thoughts to match the times.

– A real hero is someone like Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year-old woman who lost her life in this weekend’s synagogue shooting. She lost her life because she threw her body in front of the Rabbi. Please share her story rather than the name of the cold-blooded killer, who not only killed her, but shot two others, including an eight year old girl.

– I agreed with the President when he said people need to get vaccinated for measles.. Then, as I read on, he said during the campaign the measles vaccine is linked to autism. When will this man understand that words matter and people do not realize that the significant majority of the words this man says are untruthful ones?

– Speaking of lies, The Washington Post has recorded 10,000 lies by Trump as President. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich defended the President saying he is a businessman and is allowed to exaggerate. Mr. Gingrich, I am a businessman and if someone in business lied like the President, people would not do business with him very long. Further, why did an independent contractor who dealt with Trump companies say “Word on the street is if you do work for Trump, get paid in advance.”

– A recent poll conducted by Opinium said 55% of Brits now feel the 2016 Brexit vote was a bad idea. They have time for another vote, but not if they wait. A fact based process would help, but it would also help here in the states.

– With the advent of market segmentation in all things, including the pseudo-news and now data, we seem to be moving closer to another Robber Baron period. Now, it is so easy to obfuscate voters, they do not know that elected officials are making changes that help the wealthy. What is also unsurprising is how easily more strident groups can be fooled to go along, provided you play to their fears.  Immigration is being sold as the problem, but the main problems are technology and CEOs chasing cheaper labor costs. In Western countries the haves and have-nots are even more divided. Unless something is tangibly done, this bifurcation is unsustainable.

– Finally, it is amazing how little the US leaders talk about our ticking time bomb problems – job retraining as technology kills more jobs, increasing debt, environmental degradation, global water crisis, stabilizing healthcare costs, crumbling infrastructure and climate change. The GOP is running on building a wall, proliferating gun ownerships, restraining abortions and how bad socialization is. Make all candidates answer questions about these ticking time bomb problems. If they cannot, do not vote for them.

Call me crazy, but maybe, just maybe, the ones who are crazy are the ones not addressing real issues and telling real truths. You be the judge.