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Local Climate Policy Run Amok, Bellingham Edition

Local Climate Policy Run Amok, Bellingham Edition

Earlier this month the New York Times ran a story about Bellingham, Washington, a picturesque town that looks out across Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands. Bellingham is home to Western Washington University, but rational thought is in short supply when it comes to climate activism.

What got the country’s attention is a proposal before the city council to require all homeowners to switch from natural gas to electric heating by 2040. A number of cities already require new construction to use electric heat, but Bellingham would be the first to mandate a complete phaseout for everyone.

The opposition is spearheaded by, surprise, the privately owned gas and electric utilities, which plan a PR campaign talking up the wonders of CH4. Real estate interests are unhappy too. They will face off against the enviros, who all seem to see this as a big step toward municipal carbon neutrality.

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Two Can’t Miss Sessions in San Diego Next Week

Two Can’t Miss Sessions in San Diego Next Week

Well, I can’t miss them because I’m in them.  You can, but why would you?

Climate Crisis Mitigation: Implementing a Green New Deal and More
Union for Radical Political Economics: Paper Session
Friday, Jan. 3, 10:15am–12:15pm
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego – La Jolla B

“Financial Bailout Spending Would Have Paid for Thirty Years of Climate Crisis Mitigation: Implementing a Global Green New Deal and Marshall Plan” – Ron Baiman, Benedictine University

“Green New Deal: Interdisciplinary Heterodox Approaches” – Mathew Forstater, University of Missouri–Kansas City; Fadhel Kaboub, Denison University; Michael Murray, Bemidji State University

“The Climate Crisis and the Green New Deal: The Issue Is the Issue, After All” – Peter Dorman, Evergreen State College (emeritus)

Chair: Ron Baiman

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Do we need a World War II style mobilization to decarbonize the United States Economy?

The American Prospect has a new issue out on climate change, and I highly recommend the article by Jeffrey Sachs.

Sachs does an excellent job explaining why we do not need a World War II style mobilization to decarbonize the United States economy.  We can achieve a high level of decarbonization by 2050 at a modest aggregate cost (Sachs guesses 1 to 2% of output) by replacing existing power plants, vehicles, furnaces, etc. with green technologies at the end of their useful lives, using the resources that would have been used for this purpose anyway.

Sachs also explains very clearly how accelerating the timetable for a clean energy transition will greatly increase the cost and economic disruption for small gains and is probably not justifiable.  This point does not seem to be widely understood.  Here is Sachs:

Consider, for example, the challenge of decarbonizing the U.S. fleet of some 200 million light-duty vehicles. Suppose, as an illustration, that cars last for 20 years, and that ten million vehicles are currently retired each year and replaced with ten million newly produced vehicles. The industry’s production capacity is geared to ten million sales per year. In order to shift the U.S. automobile fleet to electric vehicles, the industry must be retooled.

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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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