Fasten Your Seat Belts: Low Carbon Energy Headed Your Way
When the ice breaks up in a northern river and unleashes the spring melt, it's not just an ice cube in a glass warming from 31-34 degrees—instead, what was a stable, frozen system, becomes a wild, chaotic flood.
The turbulent economics of low carbon energy are similarly poised to ride roughshod over everyone's expectations and transform the conventional dynamics of climate policy. A phase shift is occurring—and like a spring melt, what follows will be wild and unpredictable.
The conventional analysis is that fossil fuels dominate the economy because they are cheaper. At some point in the future, lower carbon energy—solar power, electric cars—will reach grid or pump "parity," becoming economically competitive. At this point, energy markets will shift gradually away from fossils.
This smooth, static model conceals reality. In many energy markets, parity is already in the rear view mirror—but fossil fuels still (temporarily) rule the roost. About 40 percent of the world's coal and oil is burned in spite of the fact that there is, today, a cheaper low carbon substitute.
Asia is still building a huge number of new coal plants, even where the price of their power is over $0.16/kwh. Yet new wind power costs less than $0.08/kwh, solar about $0.12. Leasing and driving a new EV in the U.S. costs less than driving an equivalent gasoline engine—Goldman Sachs estimates the saving at 17 percent. Yet very few EVs are moving into the 2014 fleet. (The auto industry refuses to offer most EV customers leases, for fear that the electric vehicle revolution will strand their existing engine investments before they have been fully amortized).
Today's capital investments are locking in tomorrow's carbon emissions. Lock-in, not price, is Big Carbon's ace in the hole, and the biggest climate threat. Every customer who drives a Jeep Cherokee off the lot has effectively signed a 15-year fuel purchase agreement with the oil industry. New calculations by Robert Socolow suggest that future emissions from coal plants built in 2013 exceed total current global emissions from existing coal plants.
Price is clean energy's disruptive joker. Climate advocates should understand that reducing global emissions of carbon will, unavoidably, lower the cost of energy, not raise it. Wind turbines, solar panels, LED's, heat pumps and lithium batteries are all manufactured products, whose costs fall, some steadily, some (solar panels) precipitously, as more of them are manufactured and sold. As a result, Bloomberg New Energy estimates that two-thirds of future generation capacity will be renewables.
Fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—are commodities. The cheapest sources are drilled or mined first—so as demand goes up, price soars, ever more rapidly with the cost of extracting coal and oil from deeper, more remote or more challenging locations. (Oil and LNG have tripled in price over the last decade, and Asian marine coal doubled).
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Many economists believe that oil price shocks are behind many global recessions. On a smaller scale, unreliable coal supplies have repeatedly disrupted the Indian power sector. Reserves this summer fell into the crisis range. African economies find the sheer costs of importing oil at $100 more than their fragile economies can sustain.
So passing grid or pump parity isn't a smooth glide—it's more like riding a rough rapid. Consumers should back off fossil dependent cars and power plants long before parity. They will make up in the out years incrementally higher prices at the beginning. But market barriers may discourage them.
That's where public policy counts. Government can speed up parity and low carbon market share by providing investors with reliable markets for first generation clean energy, deploying renewable portfolio standards, EV mandates, feed-in tariffs. Here's what RES's and tax credits did for the cost of renewables in the U.S.
Government should simultaneously enable consumers to choose energy technologies based on the lifetime cost, not initial purchase price—by creating financing mechanisms that eliminate the capital barriers to choice. Goldman, for example, suggests that a substantial government EV purchase rebate (paid for by taxes on EVs over their lifetime) would unleash a huge increase in EV market share.
Policy should buffer the turbulence for another reason. Unlike the lower costs of manufactured clean energy technologies, permanent gains, the high prices of fossil fuels are volatile. As demand goes down, so does price. Reducing global demand for oil by only 5 percent would slash price by 25-50 percent. For individual consumers, this makes purchasing a solar panel or an EV less attractive—the cost advantage may go away if the price of coal or oil collapses. But for the economy as a whole, this makes clean energy an even more robust accelerator of growth—not only do you save the cost of the oil replaced by EVs, but the rest of the oil you still use costs less. For the U.S., China, Japan, Europe and India, the spring thaw of breaking fossil fuel monopolies is going to be an enormous economic turbo-charge—but it is also going to be a rough and rocky ride.
We need public policy that manages the coming phase change in energy markets—not imaginary macro-economic models that ignore it and continue to focus on yesterday's problem—fossil fuel price advantage and the need to price carbon.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.