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The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part II:  Political Sustainability

by Eric Kramer

The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part II:  Political Sustainability

In a prior post, I argued that carbon taxes are not vulnerable to political subversion by hostile courts and regulators, and that this is an important advantage of carbon taxes over traditional regulation based on mandates, and also an advantage over subsidies.  Once they are passed, carbon taxes can work more or less on auto-pilot to drive a clean energy transition, unless they are affirmatively repealed by Congress.  In this post I consider whether carbon taxes are likely to sustain the support they need to remain in place.  There is certainly no guarantee of this; any ambitious climate policy is likely to remain controversial.  However, there are reasons to be optimistic that a carbon tax will not provoke a self-defeating backlash, and mandates and subsidies will also encounter political headwinds.

When it comes to political viability, it is natural to think that subsidies are the best policy, mandates are second-best, and carbon taxes rate poorly.

Subsidies are politically popular – at least if they are funded through deficit spending – because the benefits to voters are clear and they seem to reward people for virtuous behavior (like buying an electric vehicle), but the costs of deficit spending are indirect and hidden from view.  Subsidies do not force anyone to do something that they would rather not do, like convert from natural gas to electric heat, or purchase an electric vehicle.  They are all carrot, no stick.  (This advantage of subsidies is entirely dependent on deficit financing.  Telling people that we will give them a $10,000 tax credit to use on the purchase of an electric vehicle at some point over the next ten years is not particularly appealing if we also tell them that their taxes will go up $1,000 per year to pay for it.)

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Plastic: Part of the Problem . . . Part of the Solution – Part 4: Efficient Use of Recyclates

The problem of plastic waste seems insurmountable. The good news is plastic recycling is on the rise and that is good for the circular economy. In parts 1, 2 and 3, we delved into the role of the waste management and recycling industry and how material sorting technologies can help. Part 4 is all about the increased use of recyclates as an essential part of properly closing the plastic cycle.

The plastics industry is facing a great many challenges. Harvesting recyclates from waste is only worthwhile if the plastic has been properly sorted and does not contain any metal, and if the products made from the secondary raw material are similar in quality to those made from new plastic.

Manufacturing recyclates from plastic waste is the first step. But in order to fully close the plastic cycle, more recyclates need to be used in the manufacturing of new products. This is a lucrative business for plastics processors, as recyclates are cheaper than new materials.

With material costs in the plastics industry accounting for 40% to 80% of total expense, depending on the segment, using recycled materials can significantly increase profitability. In addition, the secondary raw material in its ultra-pure state has practically the same characteristics as new plastic.

Yet there are still a number reservations in the industry when it comes to recyclates. The quality of the input material is particularly important in this regard. Recyclates must be free from any contamination to protect processes and machines from damage and ensure that the final products meet high standards of quality.

Survey on the Use of Recyclates by Processers on the Leap

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Plastic: Part of the Problem . . . Part of the Solution – Part 3: Sorting Technology

As I mentioned, this 4 part presentation is being done by Sesotec GmbH, a company which manufactures recycling equipment. Even so the information given by Sesotec is to the point on the topic of pollution by man made packaging and products which can be sued again and again and in some cases up to 8 times. Fair warning as the pitch comes with regards to Sesotec’s abilities.

Around 70 years after the first plastic product hit the market, a world without plastic waste now seems like a distant vision. It’s time for a new perspective on this supposed waste. In the third instalment of our series, we focus on how we must all manage how we deal with plastics in future, and the role materials sorting technologies and contaminant detection systems play in recycling.

Each year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste. At a global level, 78 million tonnes of plastic waste is created annually. The world has to respond to this global problem together, as recycling rates everywhere have been at a low level so far: 30% in Europe, 25% in China, and just 9% in the USA (Plastikmüll-Statistik 2017). A large portion of the supposed waste is still incinerated, or ends up in landfills and the environment, which harbors risks for our water, air, and food chain.

To achieve a Circular Economy, it’s important that all players contribute to this task: from product design and manufacture on the part of the plastics industry, along with conscious use and avoidance of plastics as well as waste separation on the part of consumers, followed by proper recycling and sorting by the waste and recycling sector, all the way up to conversion into high-quality secondary raw materials and their use in the manufacture of new products.

Past the leap, how a Circular Economy will work.

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Chaos Theory And Global Climate Change

Chaos Theory And Global Climate Change

I am currently attending the Southern Economic Association meetings in Fort Lauderdale, where the street facing the hotel was underwater during the most recent hurricane to pass through.

Anyway, I saw a talk today that took me back to when I first learned about chaos theory, actuallly in the early 1970s before the word “chaos” was used for it. I learned about it and the butterfly effect, aka sensitive dependence on initial conditions, while working on a combined model of global climate change and food production.  It was called “irregular dynamics” back then, and the model showing it was climatologist Edward Lorenz, published in 1963.  Blew my mind then.  Anyway, it is widely accepted that the global climate system is chaotic, which is why one can only make weather forecasts for fairly short periods of time into the future, although one can forecast longer run average changes of averages such as average global temperature.

Anyway, I saw a talk by Emmanuele Masssetti of Georgia Tech that reminded me of all that, a talk thet explicitly drew on this chaotic effect.  So he has been simulating future climate using different assumptions for the various climate models the UN has been using for its IPCC reports.  What he found was that indeed the overall average temperature change projected did not vary as he varied initial conditions by small amounts. But what the projection for particular regions of the world did vary, indeed very much so as in the butterfly effect. So, for exmple, the Great Plains of the US would warm a lot under one simulation, but then actually cool for a simulation following a slightly changed initial conditions.  This is atunning, but not really surprising given the underlying chaotic nature  of th global climate system.

Another talk was a keynote  by Richard Zeckhauser of Harvard, who was pushing for us to study geoengineering.  He made a strong case for it.

Barkley Rosser

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Methane Fuel Cells

OK so I don’t really have a post to go with the title. I just googled methane fuel cells. As usual, some engineers promise that they have solved the problem.

The claim is that, with a new catalyst, methane (and oxygen of course) can be used to generate electricity at the temperature of an auto engine (500 c). They do not promise that the fuel cell is stable and especially don’t promise that it is stable if the fuel isn’t pure methane but rather contains, to use the technical term, smelly stuff.

The reason I am interested is that lots of shit and garbage and stuff produces methane which is a potent greenhouse gas. If fuel cells converted it to C02 and also paid for themselves by producing electricity, that would be wonderful. The methane from landfills and swine feces lagoons now escapes into the atmosphere. It isn’t worth collecting and purifying it (do you want to buy it ? How much would it cost to make it smell like pure methane (that is not at all)) ? A practical methane fuel cell would be very useful.

I have no understanding of the chemistry and engineering and even less of the economics. But I think that this is an important technology.

To be really impractical, I imagine dealing with the methane in frozen tundra in a way that it is C02 before it gets in the atmosphere.

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Plastic: Part of the Problem . . . Part of the Solution – Part 2: the European Union’s Solution

As you can read for yourself, this is the second part  of the series. This part will introduce the EU’s proposed solution to plastic waste material of which Sesotec is to be a part of the solution. Since I am using Sesotec’s information, I will be stating their name as owner’s of this information from time to time.

Some 70 years after the first plastic products hit the market, a world without plastic waste still appears far off. We need a different approach to dealing with what many consider to be rubbish – and we need it fast. In this multi-part series, we will take a look at the role that the waste management and recycling industry can play in the process. Part I took us to China. Now it is time to take a look at Europe.

China is no longer taking on the world’s plastic waste, and our oceans could soon be home to more pieces of plastic than fish. The time to act is now.

There are many ways to reduce plastic waste. Banning their use is one of them. A great deal of plastic packaging is, in fact, unnecessary. Yet it also offers benefits in certain areas, such a hygiene and shelf life, making a complete ban rather unrealistic.

Another approach is to avoid plastic in many situations and to practise “plastic fasting”. Still, even that will not work everywhere, especially in the industrial sector. It is therefore essential to find an alternative solution – one that is also reflected in the EU’s plastics strategy: a circular economy.

The European Union presented its plastics strategy on 16 January 2018. Under the strategy, all plastic packaging must be either reusable or recyclable at low cost by 2030. One of the EU’s goals in its plastics strategy is to stop marine litter. The long-term goal must be to avoid marine plastic waste entirely. However, creating a circular economy and recognising the value of a material that is widely considered to be refuse will be essential to achieving this aim.

The overall EU strategy is based specifically on four basic tenets:

  • manufacturing recyclable products
  • optimising the separation and collection of plastic waste
  • increasing recycling capacities
  • reusing recyclates in production

Past the leap, the EU’s Commitment

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Italy to make climate change study compulsory in schools

Reuters: Italy will become the first nation to require all schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development.

Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement: “The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model. All state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year or almost one hour per school week to climate change issues from the start of the next academic year in September 2020.

I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti goes on; “The entire education ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model.”

Minister Fioramonti is also behind the popular proposals for taxes on airline tickets, plastics, and sugary foods to help pay for education and are being attacked by critics complaining taxes are too high already.  His progressive positions on the economy and the environment are the antithesis of Matteo Salvini’s hard-right League, which has overtaken 5-Star to become Italy’s most popular party with more than 30% of voter support. Surveys showed 70-80% of Italians backed taxing sugar and airline tickets.

The government has gotten off to a shaky start  with weeks of bickering over the budget. Fioramonti said the new government “will only last if it is brave,” and stops letting Salvini set the news agenda.

Exclusive: Italy to make climate change study compulsory in schools Reuters, November 5, 2019

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Resurrected Protester

This is news: Jane Fonda Arrested While Protesting in D.C.

Not particularly a news outlet (Hollywood Reporter – Ryan Parker reporting) I would read but, they have it out front and center in reporting on Ms. Fonda protesting about “the industries that are destroying our planet for profit.”

“I will be on the Capitol every Friday, rain or shine, inspired and emboldened by the incredible movement our youth have created. I can no longer stand by and let our elected officials ignore – and even worse – empower – the industries that are destroying our planet for profit. We can not continue to stand for this,”

It is not the first time Ms. Fonda has been taken into custody. She did protest the Vietnam war and taken into custody. Today Ms. Fonda was arrested with 15 other people for protesting in front of The White House. The protest focused on the lack of action by this administration, big business, and the overall nation on the overall inaction to climate change. Claiming to be “emboldened by the incredible movement our youth have created,” She has moved to Washington to be near the epicenter of the fight for climate change.

Maybe others will follow . . .

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Birds . . .

Not a Human, but a Dance, Atlantic Daily, Ed Yong, September 19, 2019

I do not know about you when you receive a magazine you subscribe to; but when I get mine, I read it from cover to cover. I also send a copy to one who is incarcerated to read and it makes the rounds amongst the inmates. Since I chased prisoners in the service, it is not unusual for me to look after some of them.

Me: This bird has more rhythm than I do. Not a Human, but a Dancer

Among the video’s 6.2 million viewers was Aniruddh Patel and he was was blown away by what he saw. A neuroscientist, Patel had recently published a paper asking why the near – universal trait among human of dancing was seemingly absent in other animals. Some species will jump excitedly to music; but, they are not in time with the music and lack rhythm.

Me: Recently on the show (my wife was watching) “Dancing With the Stars,” Nancy Wilson was asked if she had rhythm and could dance by her partner Her reply was; “I am Black” or of course I do fool. Some people are more equal than others. This definitely plays against my natural skill set as I must admit I lack rhythm and am also envious.

Some animals can be trained to perform dancelike actions such as in canine freestyle, but they do not do so naturally. Some birds will make fancy courtship “dances;” but “they’re not listening to another bird laying down a complex beat,” says Patel, at Tufts University. True dancing is a spontaneous rhythmic movement to external music. Our closest companions, dogs and cats, can not do such. Neither do our closest relatives, monkeys and other primates.

Patel reasoned dancing requires strong connections between brain regions involved in hearing and movement and such mental hardware would only exist in vocal learners or in animals capable of imitating the sounds they hear. That elite club excludes dogs, cats, and other primates, but includes elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots.

Patel: “When someone sent me a video of Snowball, I was primed to jump on it.”

In 2008, he tested Snowball’s ability to keep time with versions of “Everybody” that had been slowed down or sped up. In almost every case, the parrot successfully banged his head and lifted his feet in time. Much like human children, he often went offbeat, but his performance was consistent enough to satisfy Patel.

Snowball was going through his own dance- dance revolution when another team led by Adena Schulz kept exposing him to new music, and learned that he likes Pink, Lady Gaga, Queen, and Bruno Mars.

Patel: “Dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections which Snowball the parrot exhibits also.

The Quiet Disappearance of Birds in North America, The Atlantic, Science, Ed Yong, September 19, 2019

If the pigeons disappeared from your local park, would you notice? What if the neighborhood finch stopped coming to the feeder? The starling no longer perched on the power line?

According to a new report, birds are disappearing and in large numbers. The total North American avian population has decreased by an approximate 29 percent over the past half century. There are 3 billion fewer birds today than when there were in 1970.

It is not a case of rare birds getting rarer either as the hardest hit species include every day birds such as swallows, sparrows, and starlings. 90 percent of the losses have come from 12 bird families. With the decreased numbers birds, we lose the function they bring to nature such as insect eaters controlling their numbers, plant pollination, those early morning songs, and more.

Researchers plan to investigate what is causing the drop; but, the condition of their habitat such as pollution and the reductions of it due to encroachment of the grasslands and wetlands by humans will probably play a big role. There are also the more mundane (and often preventable) threats, like running into windows and being killed by cats.

I can see the pollution part of it in my own neighborhood where grass clippings and leaves besides fertilizer residue are blown into the subdivision streets and washed down the drains leading to the wetlands surrounding us. And when I explain why they should not do such, they get indignant about it with the old “this is my land.” Except when your actions cause harm to the environment, the water supply, and the people around you; your ownership of the land and your actions are not exempt when you cause harm to others. It is called community.

“It is as if all birds are canaries and the entire world their coal mine.”

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What if we stopped pretending the climate apocalypse can be stopped

David Zetland writes in his news letter for The one-handed economist:

What if we stopped pretending the climate apocalypse can be stopped?”  lines up almost exactly with what I’ve been thinking in recent years, i.e., that we’re not making any serious dent in GHG emissions and that it’s better to focus on local community and resiliency. One ironic manifestation of this thinking is that property values in Amsterdam (a city in a region that will be underwater in 50-500 years — the timing will be difficult) may rise rather than fall, as people crowd into a place that’s well run relative to other places that are physically safer but institutionally dysfunctional. How will your future play out?

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