Climate of Hope

One of the positives of the US President pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is it has galvanized the many who see the need to act to save our planet. Coupling the US exit with the President placing climate change deniers and fossil fuel supporters in key cabinet roles, he has placed the US government at the kids table, while the adults talk about solving the world’s problems.

Fortunately, even the President’s actions cannot stop the momentum as a tipping point on renewable energy and other efforts have been reached. As reported in the book “Climate of Hope,” by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope, cities, businesses and citizens have been leading the way. This is important as cities are significant contributors to climate change and can therefore make a huge dent in ameliorating its effect. And, they are sharing their successes formally and informally.

Some of these efforts include:

– Restoring and renovating older buildings into green buildings. Bloomberg touts the renovation of the 1931 built Empire State as a key example.

– Building new structures with an even greener footprint. In India they deploy white rooftops to reflect away the sun to minimize cooling costs, e.g,

– Building more pedestrian areas which provide safer and eco-friendly access to shops, restaurants and businesses. These car free zones actually are part of a solution to reroute traffic to reduce carbon polluting stoppage.

– Building with buffers to allow nature to do its jobs to absorb the pounding of the ocean, since,  so many large cities are coastal cities with some below sea level. We should use nature to provide defenses that stand the test of time.

– Developing master traffic plans embracing car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, pedestrian pathways, electric vehicles from buses to taxis, and the elegant use of mass transit based on capital needs and restrictions. Bloomberg is big on measuring things, so installing GPS in New York taxis allowed them to measure success and make modifications to their plans as executed.

– Planting more carbon saving trees in cities and other areas, as well as using other plants such as mangroves in coastal areas as they suck carbon out of the air.

– Conserving food and reducing wastage. We waste huge amounts of food, both before and after it is cooked. Imperfect fruits and vegetables go straight to the dumps unless concentrated efforts prevent it and guide distribution to other users. Buying local saves on transportation costs and emissions, as well.

– Challenging manufacturers for efficient production and distribution. For example, a significant amount of wood goes to pallets that are tossed after one use. Look to more durable pallets that can be reused. Plus, the US does an excellent job of distributing products by rail and can do even better, as the rest of the world improves their efforts. These transmodal distribution centers that marry the efforts of ships, planes, trains and trucks provide huge efficiences and enhance trade.

– Dissuading the building of new coal plants. Active efforts have reduced coal from over 53% market share in 1990 to 30% market share of energy in 2016. Market forces are reducing this further as natural gas became cheaper and renewable energy cost fell to become more on par with coal. If new coal plants must be built, do it in concert with retiring older, less efficient plants.

– Making investment funds available to pay for upfront costs for renewable energy in countries that have fewer capital funding sources. India could do even more with available funding, especially as they electrify more of the country.

The great news is these things are happening. And, they are being shared. Please read this book. It is brief and optimistic. Also, watch the soon to be released sequel to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then spread the news about what is happening.

To be frank, these actions are positive and smart irrespective of one’s stance on climate change. And, a final note from Bloomberg is the millennials are paying attention. They want to work in places that are doing their part to fight climate change. Think about that as you plan.

Are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels?

The United Kingdom just announced it will ban sales of combustible engine cars in 2040. Australia announced the same week the planned development of a super highway for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

These announcements come a month after France made a similar decision to the more recent UK one to ban combustible cars and Volvo said they would no longer make combustible cars after 2019. And, not to be outdone, several cities like Paris, Mexico City, Madrid et al, want to ban combustible cars much sooner by 2025.

In fact, as reported in the book “Climate of Hope” by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club ED Carl Pope, cities around the world are leading the way on the climate change fight. They are making huge strides in making buildings more green, improving the time for taxis and cars to move across the city which produces less exhaust, developing more pedestrian and bike areas that improve safety and Eco footprint and migrating to hybrid and electric vehicles among other things. Bloomberg cites large buildings as a huge impact on carbon emissions, so improvements like NYC made with the 1931 built Empire State Building pays dividends.

Lastly, the shareholders of three energy companies – ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and PPL – voted in May to require management to report their climate change impact and plans to reduce such impact to the shareholders. It is not ironic that ExxonMobil is being investigated by three state attorney generals for alleged past misrepresentation to shareholders of the impact of climate change on its business, which would be a securities crime.

So, back to my question in the title which is addressed to the US President, EPA Director and DOE Director, are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels? Or, would you rather acknowledge the significant movement toward renewable energy and conservation in your own country and invest in the true growth industries and our environment?

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind

With a shout out to one of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind,” here are a few tidbits for this Tuesday.

It should not be lost on anyone that two of the biggest players in wind energy are two of the largest manufacturing companies in the world – Siemens and GE. With Iowa at almost 1/3 of its electricity provided by wind and oil rich Texas at 13% and the largest US wind energy state, this is much more than a breeze and just shy of a gale.

What the ranchers and farmers in the Midwest and in other areas have learned, is leasing their land to wind mills earns annual income and let’s them continue to use the land. In North Carolina, for example, one farmer leased his farm for eleven wind mills for annual income of $55,000. With the variability of profit margin associated with working the land, this adds some stability.

Thinking of a different kind of wind, the Senate leader is a particularly blowhard. Now, that the third effort to revise the Senate ACA repeal and replace has fallen apart, he is still reluctant to take the more appropriate path. Rather than working with all members of the Senate following normal procedure for legislation, he now is talking about a full repeal vote, without replacement. Not only is that malfeasance in my view, it runs contrary to the wishes of most Americans. The fact the President suggested it does not improve the veracity of the idea.

Folks, please pay attention to the good and bad things happening. We can no longer assume our elected leaders will act with the necessary diligence and stewardship.

 

 

 

Musings at the start of summer

The longest day in the Northern Hemisphere is upon us. Maybe with this extra daylight we can have more illumination on issues. It seems we have a bad habit in our country of governing off rhetoric rather real information.

Saying it more basically, we believe our own BS. It is puzzling why we would make decisions off stuff we made up. Yet, that gets to the heart of the matter. The authors of change don’t necessarily want to solve the problems. They just want to win the election game of optics.

A good example is the secretive Senate effort to develop a repeal and replacement bill for the ACA. The effort has several of the remaining Republican and all of the Democrat Senators up in arms. What is missing is open and honest debate. What is missing is open acknowledgement of Republican efforts to strangle the imperfect law by withholding money from insurance companies promised them to take on adverse selection (higher risk).

Another good example is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord where America abdicated a global leadership role. While the President and EPA Director tell us there is not consensus on man’s influence on climate change, they fail to tell us that there is an overwhelming consensus from the scientific community. They also fail to heed the recommendations of countless companies, cities and states to remain, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell. The sad part is the job growth and investment in renewable energy is growing rapidly and large companies like Amazon. Google, IKEA, Walmart et al are leading the way.

Let’s hope our myopic leaders will use today’s extra sunshine to see the light.

Interesting contradictions per John Oliver

Our world is filled with interesting contradictions. It is especially apparent when people ignore facts or try to tell you other so-called alternate facts. Here are a few that I find amusing courtesy of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight:”

– The Kentucky Museum on Coal is powered by solar energy. They save $13,000 per annum on energy cost using renewable energy.

– Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA notes that 50,000 coal jobs have been created under this President, when there are only 76,000 jobs to begin with. The correct answer is 1,300 jobs, which is positive, but 48,700 lower than advertised.

– While coal energy CEOs like to blame President Obama, it should be noted coal jobs have been on the decline for decades. And, 50% of more recent job losses have been due to natural gas, 18% due to renewable energy and the rest due to technological improvements. That means 32% of the job losses are on the shoulders of the coal CEOs.

– As one coal company went into bankruptcy to reorganize, the CEO petitioned the court to allow him to cancel a non-union retiree medical and life insurance plan to save $3 million, but permit them to set up a retention bonus plan for management for $11 million.

– While the President has touted his interest in serving the needs of coal miners, his proposed budget eliminated funding for an Appalachian retraining program for displaced coal workers.

As Oliver points out, there is a huge distinction between actions that support the coal industry and actions that help coal workers. The President and others owe these coal miners the truth. Their jobs are going away and we need to work on career redevelopment.

A Tale of Five Cities

I am often bemused by folks that argue against renewable energy citing costs and jobs. Some say the industry is fledgling, but this does a disservice to the huge progress made over the last five years. Renewable energy jobs are growing at double digit rates per annum and the production costs continue to fall and are much closer to fossil fuel costs, and even cheaper when the present value of all costs (environmental degradation, extraction, transportation, maintenance, health care, litigation, et al) are factored in.

Yet, let’s set that aside and consider five cities in the US – Aspen CO, Burlington VT, Greensburg KS, Houston TX and Las Vegas NV. The first three cities are fully powered by renewable energy, where the last two have significant renewable energy portfolios.

Burlington was the first city to claim being 100% powered by renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro-electric. Per a November, 2016 Politico article, the electric utility has not had a rate increase in eight years for its 42,000 residents.

Greensburg came next, unfortunately they had to experience a tornado that leveled the town. As they rebuilt the town, they did so with a green mindset. So, using solar and the heavy wind across the plain states, helped electrify the town with renewable energy. Starting from scratch let them build for the future.

Aspen was the third city. I find this interesting as I read an article a few years back over the concern of climate change on the skiing industry. More often, climate change impact focuses on coastal cities. This city acted and has now pushed the envelope to 100% renewable energy.

Which brings me to Las Vegas. They got press stating they were 100% renewable energy powered, but that was somewhat of a misnomer. Yet, what they did do is still impactful. The 140 municipal buildings and facilities are now 100% powered by renewable energy. That is not the rest of the city, but it is a statement nonetheless.

Finally, let’s visit Houston, deep in the heart of oil rich Texas. Per The Guardian in an article this week, Houston is the leading city in the US in producing renewable energy through wind and solar power with 1.1 billion kWh. 89% of its electricity is renewable energy powered. They are in the top 30 in the EPA’s list of Green Partners leading six Texas cities on this list. As I mentioned recently, Texas gets just under 13% of its electricity from wind energy.

These are powerful stores, pun intended. Please remember them and tell others. We are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and we should highlight those leading the way.

Nicaragua, Syria and the USA

The company you keep matters. Rather than be in the company of other world leaders to help save the planet, the President of the United States decided to be in the company of Nicaragua and Syria. It should be noted Nicaragua wanted the Paris deal to go further. So, we are joined at the hip with Syria.

Going against the wishes of the majority of Americans and even a majority in his own party, the current incumbent in the White House decided to withdraw the United States of America from an agreement it helped forge with China.

Rather than work with others under the Paris Climate Change Accord, the President has decided the children and grandchildren of the world do not matter. He has decided that reneging on a major step forward is better than working with others. His reasons ring hollow, especially when he speaks of his actions to help the environment and trying to save an industry that market forces are diminishing the demand.

I feared this decision from well before the election. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy as costs continue to fall. Fortunately, businesses are telling him they are not changing forward moving plans because that is what their customers want.

What is most interesting about the timing, two days ago, over 62% of Exxon-Mobil shareholders overruled a management recommendation and said they must report to shareholders the impact climate change is having on their business. This follows similar votes at Occidental Petroleum and PPL, a Pennsylvania based utility. So, owners of companies are making a statement as are customers.

It is a pity that this President has cemented his legacy with such a horrible decision for our country and planet. He will not be remembered well and it has already begun. He should have listened to his daughter, whose children will have to hear how their grandfather harmed the planet.