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.

 

We measure environmental impact on adults, not kids

I have written several times about Sandra Steingraber. Who is she, you may ask? She is a biologist, ecologist, author and environmental advocate. Steingraber has spoken in front of the United Nations, the European Parliament and US Congress on the impact of chemicals on our environment and people.

Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor which led her to her passionate advocacy. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer, meaning it is almost always caused by environmental toxins. Her home was in proximity to several chemical plants. In addition, her siblings and nearby cousins also had various cancers, including bladder cancer. A key factoid is she was adopted, so her cancer was not genetic and it came from exposure.

Steingraber has strongly advocated for kids on environmental issues. Her first two books called “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah,” using her son’s name, focus on these issues. A huge takeaway from her books and advocacy is we tend to measure the impact of environmental toxins on a fifty year old man, not children.

Why is this statement important? Kids are still developing their brains, so they are more susceptible to environmental toxins. Their lungs take time to fully develop as well. Plus, children are smaller in weight, closer to the ground, breathe more through their mouths and put their hands in their mouths with much greater frequency. If they touch something, it winds up in their mouth (remember the pretreated lumber playgrounds? – arsenic was used in the pretreatment).

Steingraber and other scientists’ analyses reveal toxins from chemical plants can damage us from air particulates as much as from seepage into the water. She notes these toxins settle on playgrounds, fields and trees, but then become airborne when the wind blows again. So, kids will often get exposed from what they touch or breathe in from what they scuff up from the ground.

I have seen her speak and have read both of these books. Her message resonates with parents. With the assault on environmental regulations by the current White House, her message is needed even more. Plus, she has another huge caution for all of us. As the climate warms, the impact of these chemicals will only get worse. She likens the earth to a crock pot that is warming these chemicals.

I encourage you to read her books. Her message is pertinent, loud and clear. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops, but especially from the playgrounds. We owe it to our children.

Innovation is portable (and attractive)

Innovation is portable. This is a quote from David Smick’s book “The World is Curved.” Who is David Smick, you may be asking? He was an economic advisor to Congressman Jack Kemp, President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton, two Republicans and a Democrat. His comment is telling in that he notes if we do not do our best to keep the innovators here, they will go elsewhere. And, when they go elsewhere, manufacturing from the innovation will be based elsewhere.

The US has the world’s best college and university system and it draws people from around the globe and country. So, we should grease the skids to make it easier for them to stay and innovate here post graduation. It would be a shame for the idea creation to start here and migrate to another country. As that will be where the job creation begins.

So, what do we need to do about it? We need to make sure our immigration laws are improved to make it easier to keep talent. Industry has been crying out for this, yet it is held hostage by a political gamesmanship to speak to a strident base. We need to reform our patent laws to make sure “patent trolls” do not interfere and sabotage the innovators. These trolls are extortionists who will use a key word or phrase in an idea by someone else to state that someone is violating a patent they filed (with no product or development behind it). What the troll wants is “go away money” without a court case.

We need to understand the historical marriage and timing of venture capital, government funding and other investor capital. Our nation has been forged on the interplay between these funding sources, as they are needed to perpetuate ideas and implement the initial manufacturing effort. The money is needed at various times in the process, with the government money sometimes in advance of the venture capital, sometimes in tandem with the venture capital and sometimes following it. The need varies based on the what is needed to get stuff off the ground.

There are numerous examples of joint investment. I spoke of one last night about an offshore wind turbine testing facility in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a joint venture between folks like GE and Siemens who make turbines, Clemson University, the City of Charleston, the US Department of Energy and the SC Department of Energy (although it may have a different name). The idea is to improve the efficacy of these offshore wind turbines making them more economical to use here in the states, as they are done elsewhere.

Another good example in Durham, North Carolina is a company called Semprius, which makes the most elegant solar photo-voltaic panel in the world, where 33% of the sun’s energy is convertible to electricity, a huge leap forward. This is a joint venture between Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne, Siemens and the US Department of Energy. With solar energy taking off everywhere, but especially in North Carolina with about 23,000 jobs which have been growing at a 25% annual rate the last three years, it shows what innovation means to an area. Nationally, at year-end 2014, there are 174,000 solar jobs which have been growing at a double-digit rate over the last five years per annum.

It should be obvious that I picked two renewable energy examples, as these two sources not only have to be a key part of our future energy mix, but they have and will promote jobs as a result. And, not only is innovation portable – it is attractive to new business. So, this is where we need to fund more of our resources. It is good for our environment and it is good for business. And, per Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change which is on point, it is good for God’s creation. Given that the Pope is also a trained scientist with a Masters in Chemistry, as well as a humanitarian, I think the world should listen to what he has to say on these issues. Especially, since he is echoing the findings of so many scientific bodies and panels.

I am a tree hugger and a capitalist

It is not uncommon for me to be called a tree hugger when I am speaking about protecting our environment, addressing man-influenced climate change or the perils of some fossil fuel retrieval processes that can and are wreaking havoc such as fracking or mountain top coal mining. Some who use this term intend to belittle my arguments, as they espouse the belief if you label something with a moniker that has a negative connotation in some circles, it dismisses my arguments as not worth heeding.

Yes, I am a tree hugger, but I am a capitalist as well. I firmly believe we do a disservice to the need to protect our environment without fully addressing the cost/ benefit analysis of fossil fuel retrieval processes or chemical use both within and to protect crops. Often, we do not fully measure the cost impact to net against the revenue impact. If we did more of this, then we may forego some measures as not justifiable from a cost/ benefit comparison. This would go on top of other impacts that may not show up directly in costs.

Here are few examples of what I mean.

– The city of Burlington, VT is now 100% powered by renewable energy including bio-mass, hydropower, wind and solar energy. Per the Burlington Electric Department, they have not had a rate increase since 2009 and their future projections said this package of renewable energy sources was the cheapest and most sustainable model. An environmental scientist with the University of Vermont noted that Burlington is not uniquely situated. The wind does not blow any more than elsewhere and the sun certainly does not shine as often as anyone would like, but their model is based on decisions leaders started making ten years ago.

– The state of North Carolina has spent a lot of time paving the way for fracking in our state trying to make an increasingly apparent unsafe process safer. After spending all this time, there may not be any takers as there is not much natural gas to frack in NC, which they knew beforehand. After the rules were finalized, the committee noted we knew it would be a stretch. Then, with so many problems, why did you go down this path wasting everyone’s time, energy and money on a bad process with little promise?

– The President has said he is OK with the pursuit of offshore drilling off the coast of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland. The two Senators from NC support this as well as our Governor. Yet, NC has a huge tourism business that is in the billions of dollars as well as a huge fishing industry. These folks are not too keen on this exploration given the risk and damage the operations bring. Further, just off the coast of North Carolina, wind energy could power the entire eastern seaboard of the US. And, as opposed to the Horizon oil rig collapse, when a wind mill crashes into the sea, it causes only a splash.

– When we speak of doing more fossil fuel development, we consistently hear jobs are one of the reasons. Yet, this is not an either/ or as there are jobs in the renewable energy industries as well. Just in solar energy, the numbers of jobs tally 174,000 in the US at year-end and more than double the number of coal industry jobs. Plus, the growth rate in solar jobs is double-digit the last five or so years, with 2014 seeing 22% growth. Those 25,000 new permanent jobs added in 2014 almost equal in one year the estimated temporary jobs from the Keystone pipeline. Plus, the sun shines in all states, so jobs can be spread around, especially with the even more compelling cost of solar.

The parts of the cost/ benefit equation that do not get factored in enough are the costs of cleaning up the messes and repairing the road and environmental degradation which is usually left for the state, the cost of healthcare when the environment is trashed or chemicals are used inappropriately or in excess, and the opportunity cost of lost water resources, which is one of our two dearest resources and is called the new oil. These latter two factors are reasons the state of New York said no to fracking.

Being totally frank, it makes economic sense to treat our environment well. It is so important, you can even find bible passages where we are compelled to take care of the environment. So, yes I am a tree hugger. My question is why isn’t everyone?

The sun shines in every state and country

I am constantly bemused how leaders will attempt to gain support for an investment in fossil fuel energy with the statement that it will create jobs. In the case of the Keystone pipeline, I have heard 40,000 jobs, which are largely temporary. But, let’s say the jobs are permanent for the sake of argument. Creating 40,000 jobs would be a good thing, yet we still need to look at the cost/ benefit of the investment. In essence, proponents are talking about piping oil derived from a horrible means of extraction across our country with the risk of leakage.

However, on the flip side is the growing elegance and cost effectiveness of the solar energy industry whose costs continue to fall and are on par in some places with other less environmentally friendly energy sources. * By 2018, the costs should be on par across the board. But, sticking with the jobs, there are now about twice as many solar energy jobs as coal industry jobs and the disparity continues to grow with double-digit job growth in solar and retrenchment in coal.

This next statement should be the clincher, in my simple view. The sun shines in every state in the United States and in every country. The Keystone pipeline would cross only a few states. Petroleum and coal are produced in only a few states. And, it should be noted that solar energy does not need to be large-scale to be introduced, which is one reason it scares the energy institutions. People like you and me can install solar energy to reduce or alleviate our energy costs. Companies like Apple, Google, IKEA, etc. have moved ahead and are moving further ahead with solar energy (and wind energy) to power their distribution centers and stores.

And, if that does not clinch the argument, the following should. Solar energy is renewable and does not cause environmental problems like fossil fuel retrieval and use. When the health cost/ benefit analysis is considered, the decision on where to invest becomes much easier, as evidenced by the State of New York banning fracking. So, even with leaders who are obviously heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry and want to do away with renewable tax credits and frack away on and offshore, this movement toward solar energy (and wind energy) is happening and is attracting a lot of capital investors.  Plus, there are jobs being created right and left, if leaders would look at what is happening rather than listen to the people saying to look the other way.

So, George Harrison and Bob Dylan told us the answers to our energy and climate change problems even back in the 1960s. “Here comes the sun,” sang George and “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind,” sang Bob. Remember those songs as they represent key parts of our energy future.

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* Note: Please check out the link below to an article in The Charlotte Business Journal regarding the comparative cost of rooftop solar energy.

http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/energy/2015/01/report-rooftop-solar-already-cheaper-than-utility.html?ana=e_du_wknd&s=article_du&ed=2015-01-10&u=IlwxM+wgoty/35aabEFaDQ092c7352&t=1421075718

 

What are the greater threats to humans?

Watching the news these days can seem like an apocalypse is about to occur. Between ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, EBOLA, the festering conflict in the Ukraine, the ever-present threat of North Korea, and various levels of corruption in far too many countries, it could seem the end is near. Yet, while all of the above are scary, the one that we should be most fearful of is the level of corruption, as it gets in the way of addressing the greater apocalyptic threats to humans. The greater threats to humans are: too many people with too few resources, chemically enhanced food products that are leaving us less able to fight off anti-bacterial resistant strains of bacteria, global poverty and health concerns and the impact of climate change on all of these issues.

I am not saying the first group of issues are not severe, especially EBOLA and those impacted by the terrorists groups, but the issues which would impact humans the most are in the second group, with corruption standing in the way of doing measurable things about problems that will be exacerbated by the overarching problem of climate change which impacts everything.

Population planners have answered the question how many people can the earth support with a carefully couched range. If the average human consumes like the average Rwandan, the earth can support over 15 billion people. If we consume like the average North American, the earth could support less than 3 billion people. We are currently between the two with roughly 7 billion of people. The two keys we must always keep in our mind are air and water. “Water is the new oil” as our dearest resource on the planet and it is showing its need to be nurtured more with the extreme droughts in California, Texas, Australia and other parts of the globe. Plus aquifers are not as robust in many areas as needed. Bad air quality is so harmful that we have only begun to scratch the surface on the impact of toxic air particulates that come from fracking, pesticides and other chemicals that are blown or escape into the air.

The chemicals we use to grow more and better foods to feed our growing population, not only are harmful due to the pesticides that need to be ever stronger (we are spraying Agent Orange on some crops), but there is a nastier and more deadly problem that we are seeing surface in hospitals. Chemically enhanced foods are hindering our ability to fight bacteria that gets in our system, sometimes from these same foods. The super-bacteria is increasingly resistant to current anti-bacterial medicines and more people are dying from formerly highly preventable infections. “PBS Frontline” did a documentary earlier this week on this issue and “60 Minutes” did a similar report in the past year.

EBOLA has exposed the global health and poverty concerns in West Africa which impede our ability to fight disease, any disease. EBOLA will be very hard to harness and may result in a million deaths before it is reined in, which is truly a catastrophe. But what happens if one of these anti-bacterial resistant strains gets into people? What it also shows that people in poverty do not have access to healthcare, clean water and sewage to process waste away from where they live. The inability to separate drinking water from sewage water is a key to reducing exposure to disease. Plus, there is a high correlation between family size and poverty, so it is incumbent upon us to distribute birth control materials and education resources.

However, each of these problems will be made worse by climate change on top of the problems climate change will cause by itself. Dr. Sandra Steingraber, biologist, ecologist and author (“Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah”), notes that we do not talk enough about the impact of climate change on the chemicals in the ground. She notes it is like a chemical crock pot, as the climate gets hotter, the chemicals will become even more detrimental. Author Steven Solomon notes in his book “Water: the Epic Struggle of Wealth, Power and Civilization,” that climate change will impact our water in a huge way through more severe droughts, fighting more forest fires, more unpredictable weather patterns (providing way too much precipitation in some places, with very little in others) and impacting crop irrigation on top of its other concerns.

Plus, those in poverty and without good healthcare tend to get impacted by natural events more than others, so climate change will be more harmful to those who can least afford it. I have written before about the Carteret Islanders whose island is being consumed by the ocean. It has already destroyed their ability to grow crops through the salt water encroachment. The islanders have had to travel to petition leaders of larger islands to move their people there. Ironically, these less educated people have more open dialogue about climate change than we do in our US Congress.

Yet, standing against doing more things to address these issues is corruption and influence, including in the US. We must address these issues now and not wait until they happen. The price tag to fix the impact of climate change or research new drugs, is far cheaper to do it now than after the impact. In the US, we have too many funders of politicians that have a financial stake in perpetuating their interests, which run afoul of planning ahead. It is far worse elsewhere with corrupt politicians keeping money meant for others. For example, Hosni Mubarak has over $80 billion in wealth, yet Egyptians were getting by on $2 a day. Brazil shined up nicely for the World Cup, but not much of the money fell to people in need. The Ukraine president was ousted last fall as he was corrupted by the Russian government, while others suffered in the country.

These are the bigger concerns that could endanger all humans. We need to do our best to address these issues now and plan accordingly than wait until it is too late or too costly.

 

A few interesting tidbits on renewable energy

As the attention nationwide continues for fracking for natural gas, in spite of the mound of evidence of environmental degradation, chemical leakage and vast water usage, we are seemingly ignoring the greener path which has and will continue to bear fruit in our nation. Many do not realize the significant progress that has been made on the renewable energy front. With kudos to my blogging friend Hugh Curtler, at http://www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com who instigated this post with one of his own, a few interesting tidbits on renewable energy that do not get played up enough are as follows:

  • There are more jobs in the US in the solar energy industry than in the coal industry. In 2013, there were over 140,000 solar energy related jobs. This has been reported by several sources and verified as true by Politifacts.
  • The state of California, if measured as a nation, would be the 7th most prolific solar energy country. It is the US leader by far in solar energy development.
  • The state of North Carolina had the second most solar energy development in the US in 2013 and is now the fourth most prolific solar energy state. Two NC companies of several that are gaining national and global notoriety are Semprius, who makes the most elegant solar photovoltaic panel in the world, and Strata Solar, who is a fast growing developer of solar panel installations.
  • In 2013, there were about 75,000 jobs in the wind energy industry. If we play our cards right, there could be over 500,000 wind energy jobs by 2030. Wind energy production has increased from 4 million megawatt hours in 1999 to 141 million megawatt hours in 2012.
  • The state of Texas has a relatively quiet wind energy boon going on which is creating jobs and electricity for its residents. Almost 10% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy and it is the clear leader in wind energy production in the United States.
  • The US Department of the Interior just announced that its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has defined three wind energy areas offshore North Carolina that total approximately 308,000 acres for potential commercial wind energy development. The entire eastern seaboard of the United States could be powered by wind off North Carolina.
  • Finally, one-fifth of the world electric energy production now comes from renewables.

Man influenced climate change is happening and I have seen reports that future models may understate the impact going forward. We need to move in a more aggressive way toward renewable solutions. As a business person and tax paying citizen, I feel that the greener paths will be more monetarily green than spending our dear water and air resources to dig vertical and horizontal holes in the ground to release limited supplies of natural gas.

Finally, it is not an either/ or issues on jobs, as the fossil fuel industry contends. Of course, there are jobs in the fossil fuel industry, but as shown above there are jobs in renewable energy creation. The solar and wind energy progress and positioning for future development is job creating and attractive to new industry.

Let’s stop the ill-fated fracking train and invest in the future.