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DAPL Doesn’t Make Economic Sense

By Mark Paul - Dollars and Sense, February 2017

Last week, Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. This should come as no surprise, as Trump continues to fill his administration with climate deniers, ranging from the negligent choice of Rick Perry as energy secretary to Scott Pruitt as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, a man who stated last year that “scientists continue to disagree” on humans role in climate change may very well take the “Protection” out of the EPA, despite a majority of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—wanting the EPA’s power to be maintained or strengthened.

As environmental economists, my colleague Anders Fremstad and I were concerned. We crunched the numbers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The verdict? Annual emissions associated with the oil pumped through the pipeline will impose a $4.6 billion burden on current and future generations.

First and foremost, the debate about DAPL should be about tribal rights and the right to clean water. Under the Obama administration, that seemed to carry some clout. Caving to pressure from protesters and an unprecedented gathering of more than a hundred tribes, Obama did indeed halt the DAPL, if only for a time. Under Trump and his crony capitalism mentality, the fight over the pipeline appears to be about corporate profits over tribal rights. Following Trump’s Executive Order to advance the pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers has been ordered to approve the final easement to allow Energy Transfer Partners to complete the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux have vowed to take legal action against the decision.

While the pipeline was originally scheduled to cross the Missouri River closer to Bismarck, authorities decided there was too much risk associated with locating the pipeline near the capital’s drinking water. They decided instead to follow the same rationale used by Lawrence Summers, then the chief economist of the World Bank, elucidated in an infamous memo stating “the economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” That same logic holds for the low wage counties and towns in the United States. The link between environmental quality and economic inequality is clear—corporations pollute on the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable; in other words, those with the least resources to stand up for their right to a clean and safe environment.

The Great Deceleration

By Alex Jensen - CounterPunch, December 2, 2016

In 2015, a major study of 24 indicators of human activity and environmental decline titled ‘The Great Acceleration’ concluded that, “The last 60 years have without doubt seen the most profound transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of humankind”.[1] We have all seen aspects of these trends, but to look at the study’s 24 graphs together is to apprehend, at a glance, the totality of the monstrous scale and speed of modern economic activity. According to lead author W. Steffen, “It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force.”[2]

Every indicator of intensity and scale of economic activity — from global trade and investment to water and fertilizer use, from pollution of every sort to destruction of environments and biodiversity — has shot up, precipitously, beginning around 1950. The graphs for every such trend point skyward still.

The Great Acceleration is manifest everywhere, including many areas not covered in the study. It is impossible to directly, humanly appreciate the ghastly scale of change. Only statistics can do that. For example:

  • Humans now extract and move more physical material than all natural processes combined. Global material extraction has grown by more than 90 percent over the past 30 years, reaching almost 70 billion tons today.[3]
  • In this century “global economic output expanded roughly 20-fold, resulting in a jump in demand for different resources of anywhere between 600 and 2,000 percent”.[4]
  • For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise.[5] Today, around 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year. “About two thirds of this is for packaging; globally, this translates to 170 million tons of plastic largely created to be disposed of after one use.”[6]
  • The global sale of packaged foods has jumped more than 90 percent over the last decade, with 2012 sales topping $2.2 trillion.[7]
  • “In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares… has been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane. These crops don’t feed people. They are grown to feed the agro-industrial complex.”[8]

Not only are the scale and speed of materials extraction, production, consumption and waste ballooning, but so too the scale and pace of the movement of materials through global trade. For instance, trade volumes in physical terms have increased by a factor of 2.5 over the past 30 years. In 2009, 2.3 billion tons of raw materials and products were traded around the globe.[9] Maritime traffic on the world’s oceans has increased four-fold over the past 20 years, causing more water, air and noise pollution on the open seas.[10]

Post-Growth and Post-Extractivism: Two Sides of the Same Cultural Transformation

By Alberto Acosta; Translated by Dana Brablec - Alternautas, June 4, 2016

Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race travelling in the train applies the emergency brake.

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)

The centrality of externalities to economic understanding

By Brian Davey - Credo, July 31, 2016

What economists call “externalities” are not unusual or a special case, they are ubiquitous. They are rooted in private property and the relationships of market society. The way in which non market societies protect bio-diversity through totem arrangements is described.

Walton Family, Owners of Walmart, Using Their Billions To Attack Rooftop Solar

By Mike Gaworecki - DeSmog Blog, November 16, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A recent trend has seen utilities deciding that since they haven't been able to beat back the rise of rooftop solar companies, they might as well join them (or at least steal their business model). But the Walton Family, owners of Walmart as well as a stake in a manufacturer of solar arrays for utilties, aren't ready to give up the fight.

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, through their Walton Family Foundation, the Waltons have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations. The head of ALEC has even gone so far as to denigrate owners of rooftop solar installations as “freeriders.”

But support for groups seeking to halt the rise of clean energy is only half the story. According to Vice News, the Waltons own a 30% stake in First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for power plants as “an economically attractive alternative or complement to fossil fuel electricity generation,” per its 2013 annual report, which also identifies “competitors who may gain in profitability and financial strength over time by successfully participating in the global rooftop PV solar market” as a threat to First Solar's future profitability.

Climate Crisis, the Deindustrialization Imperative and the Jobs vs. Environment Dilemma

By Richard Smith - TruthOut, November 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Since the 1990s, climate scientists have been telling us that unless we suppress the rise of carbon dioxide emissions, we run the risk of crossing critical tipping points that could unleash runaway global warming, and precipitate the collapse of civilization and perhaps even our own extinction. To suppress those growing emissions, climate scientists and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have called on industrialized nations to slash their carbon dioxide emissions by 80 to 90 percent by 2050. (1)

But instead of falling, carbon dioxide emissions have been soaring, even accelerating, breaking records year after year. In May 2013, carbon dioxide concentrations topped the 400 parts per million mark prompting climate scientists to warn that we're "running out of time," that we face a "climate emergency" and that unless we take "radical measures" to suppress emissions very soon, we're headed for a 4-degree or even 6-degree Celsius rise before the end of the century. And not just climate scientists have made warnings, but also mainstream authorities, including the World Bank, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and others. In 2012, the IEA warned that "no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if we hope to prevent global warming from exceeding more than 2 degrees Centigrade." (2) In September 2014, the global accounting and consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers warned that

For the sixth year running, the global economy has missed the decarbonisation target needed to limit global warming to 2˚C . . . To avoid two degrees of warming, the global economy now needs to decarbonise at 6.2 percent a year, more than five times faster than the current rate, every year from now till 2100. On our current burn rate we blow our carbon budget by 2034, sixty-six years ahead of schedule. This trajectory, based on IPCC data, takes us to four degrees of warming by the end of the century. (3)

Yet despite ever more dire warnings from the most conservative scientific, economic and institutional authorities, and despite record heat and drought, superstorms and floods, and melting ice caps and vanishing glaciers, "business as usual" prevails. Worse, every government on the planet is pulling out all the stops to maximize growth and consumption in the effort to hold on to the fragile recovery. (4)

The Problem Is Capitalism

By Fred Magdoff - NYC Climate Convergence, September 20, 2014

A. The Environmental Crisis

The "environmental crisis" is actually a number of crises, including the following:

Renewables Not Enough: World Needs Democratic, Decentralized Energy, says Report

By Jon Queally - Common Dreams, October 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In order to build an adequate low-carbon 21st century energy system that scientists have said is necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, a new report argues that the world must look beyond large-scale, centralized renewable projects—such as industrial solar and wind farms—and take up efforts to build more democratically-controlled and decentralized power grids.

Contained as a chapter in the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability, the research compiled by professor Sean Sweeney, who co-directs of the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University, says the world's energy systems must be "reclaimed to serve public interests, rather than focus on maximizing sales and profits" for the large corporations who now benefit from the burning of fossil fuels and the centralized grids that distribute most of the world's electricity.

"A timely and equitable energy transition can occur only with greater energy democracy, which requires that workers, communities, and the public at large have a real voice in decision making, and that the anarchy of liberalized energy markets is replaced with a comprehensive and planned approach," writes Sweeney.

According to a 2010 report (pdf) by the Center for Social Inclusion, true "energy democracy" is exemplifed by renewable energy projects that are "small-scale, locally owned or controlled" and  "structured to allow local investment, sweat equity, and a transparent process for setting fair [market] prices."

Can New York Create Affordable Housing That’s Also Environmentally Sustainable?

By Michelle Chen - The Nation, September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At the moment of silence during Sunday’s People’s Climate March, a deep hush washed over Sixth Avenue, symbolizing a growing, worldwide commitment to fighting climate change. Yet the moment also recalled the aftermath of the city’s most recent climate catastrophe, Superstorm Sandy, when Manhattan’s mighty skyline was for several days stunned into an eerie stillness by nature’s ire.

But on Sunday, the city put a more positive spin on the connection between the global environmental struggle and the local disaster of Sandy. Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to make good on his campaign vow to address the underlying climate-change problems Sandy exposed, starting with a retooling of the city’s buildings.

The “One City, Built to Last” plan aims to slash building-based greenhouse gas emissions and boost the economy simultaneously. Overall, the plan promises to bring “$8.5 billion in energy cost-savings over ten years.” The long-term goal is to cut total emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Buildings contribute a large majority of local carbon pollution, and the plan would “cut energy use across all building sectors on average by at least 60 percent from 2005 levels and switch to renewable fuel sources.”

Many of the changes outlined in the 110-page blueprint are basic. In contrast to the sexy tech-driven solutions like electric cars and flashy rooftop photovoltaics, the de Blasio administration and City Council members are focusing on nuts-and-bolts efficiency projects to expand “green collar” job sectors.

The plan would in the immediate term “generate approximately 3,500 new jobs in construction and energy services,” according to Amy Spitalnick, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. Modest numbers, but the main goal is putting the city’s infrastructure on a greener and more equitable development path.

Matt Ryan, executive director of the advocacy group ALIGN-NY, tells The Nation that the plan reflects a “need to think about dealing with climate change in a way that not only addresses the root causes, such as carbon emissions, but also addresses jobs and economic issues that are related.”

Some of the proposed initiatives include a “retrofit accelerator” program for an estimated 20,000 private buildings, about 40 percent of them public housing or rent stabilized. Public school buildings, firehouses, hospitals, police stations and homeless shelters would get energy-saving retrofits and lighting upgrades, and fixed up with clean technologies. The city would install solar panels “on more than 300 city buildings, generating 100MW of energy over the next decade.” The plan would link green building projects to the broader agenda of controlling housing costs: less energy consumption means lower utility bills, which “will make it easier for people to afford to live in New York City” and “invest in other capital upgrades to improve the quality of our housing stock.”

But the plan doesn’t spell out exactly how the city will push the private sector to invest in efficiency and renewables. The report focuses on voluntary programs, and the administration has for now avoided proposing strict mandates for carbon reductions, relying instead on seeding environmental business incentives (though mandates may be “triggered” later if needed). The administration advocates, for example, providing “green grants” that tie affordable-housing goals with eco-friendly construction, “which would fund efficiency upgrades in exchange for regulatory agreements to preserve affordability.”

Nonetheless, progressive groups are wary of leaving too much of the plan to market forces. Though some landlords may respond to green incentives because it makes business sense, Ryan says, given the ambitious emissions targets, “There is no way we’re going to move fast enough through a voluntary system, to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.”

Some progressive labor advocates fear that the workforce initiatives may not be ambitious enough, either. The Center for an Urban Future (CUF), which has pushed the administration to expand jobs programs for disadvantaged youth, warns that although green jobs could benefit struggling young workers, they need more comprehensive job training and placement services.

Read the entire article: here

How To Make Fighting Climate Change Work For Workers

By Andrew Breiner - Think Progress, October 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At first glance, it looks grim.

The EPA indicated Thursday that industry in the U.S. released more carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2013 than 2012, the wrong trend when we need to be making large cuts to get global warming under control. Meanwhile a report from the Center For American Progress and the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) shows that we’re nowhere near cutting CO2 enough to prevent catastrophic global warming. If we continue with business as usual, U.S. emissions in 2030 will actually be slightly higher than they were in 2010, 80 percent higher than they need to be. Even with the “full implementation of the best clean energy policies currently considered achievable,” what the authors call the “aggressive reference case”, we’d still be well above the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) target, by 40 percent.

EIA Reference Case is where the Energy Information Administration expects us to be on our current track. The aggressive case includes current efforts to reduce CO2. And the final case is the study authors' recommendation.

“I kind of fell off my chair,” Robert Pollin, one of the report’s authors, said in a phone interview. “If you look at the institutions that do serious models of our energy future over the next generation or so, they’re saying we’re not going to control climate change. That’s the most likely scenario. That’s shocking.” But this report makes the case that there’s still hope. “The results from our research say that we can achieve the emissions reduction target through very significant action,” Pollin said, but “we can achieve it.”

“As long as we’re committed, it’s not beyond reach.”

In the report, “Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities,” the authors lay out how the government should take action to cut carbon in extensive detail. On energy efficiency, for example, the report describes specific ways of improving efficiency, and how much energy they can be expected to save, from the realm of consumer appliances to industrial practices in the pulp and paper industry. And efficiency is where the authors expect to see a lot of progress.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.06.21 AM “The single biggest opportunity,” Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress said, “is the urgency of retrofitting buildings to use less energy.” That has the benefit of being a very labor-heavy task, as is much of the work needed to cut carbon. “When you invest in clean economy,” Hendricks said, “you’re taking dollars from extractive resources and investing them in high-skill, high wage jobs.”

The report estimates 4.2 million jobs would be created by its recommendations, and 2.7 million after accounting for the loss of fossil fuel jobs. With a labor market of 155 million, that might not seem like so much, Pollin said, “but in an all else equal world, that’s a 1.5 to 2% reduction in the unemployment rate.”

And lower unemployment means more bargaining power for workers. “It directly contradicts the notion that investing in the environment means job losses, that it’s bad for jobs,” Pollin said. The Green Growth plan would also include money to retrain workers who lose their jobs as the economy shifts away from fossil fuels. Since concern for workers is at the forefront of the report, Pollin said, “we’ve taken a lot of pains on transitional policies for workers.”

One million dollars in spending on fossil fuels results in only 5.3 jobs if spent in oil, natural gas, and coal, the report says, compared with 16.7 jobs if spent in clean energy investments. Spending on renewables not only creates high-skill, high wage jobs at a higher rate than spending on fossil fuels, but it also creates a good number of low-wage jobs with opportunity for advancement. “It really creates an opportunity to create career ladders and training opportunities into the middle class,” Hendricks said.

Government spending would be an essential part of making this plan a reality, but not nearly as much as one might think for an effort to contain catastrophic global warming. The total yearly investments, public and private, needed to make the Green Growth plan a reality would be only $200 billion, which is 1.2 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product. The total government expenditure per year would average $55 billion, which is 1.4 percent of the total government budget. “There’s a window to make the investments that need to be done,” Hendricks said, “but it’s a small window and rapidly narrowing.”

While there’s a lot out there saying in the abstract what we need to do to limit climate change, action can sometimes seem impossible and far-off. But this is an actual road map, Hendricks said, “on the investments in technology, infrastructure, and communities,” that will actually solve the problem. And it translates “into a very compelling roadmap on how to rebuild the economy.”

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