By Michael Hoexter, a policy analyst and marketing consultant on green issues, climate change, clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives. This is the third of three parts. Part two is here.
Market Transformation Policies: Harnessing Self-Interest for the General Interest
With the assumption that government has the right to intervene and shape markets for the public good, the below policies will drive consumers and private investors to help shape the zero-carbon energy system. The motivational forces harnessed by these policy instruments are narrow individual and business self-interest (i.e. increasing monetary income, decreasing monetary costs).
A) Escalating Carbon Tax and Carbon Tariffs – The point of the carbon tax is not to alone drive the transformation of society but to dampen and eventually eliminate demand for high emitting activities and for fossil fuels. While for local governments, a carbon tax can be viewed as a source of “revenue”, the more efficient design of carbon pricing is for the national governments to tax carbon and impose equivalent tariffs on imported goods to prevent “leakage” and to not disadvantage local producers. Local carbon taxation will encourage individuals and businesses to practice arbitrage among carbon tax levels and cause localities to attempt to undercut each other in terms of tax incentives. Starting at a value of $30 per metric tonne of carbon emitted, the tax would go up $5/tonne/year. In those applications that involve natural gas, fugitive methane would also be counted and eventually charged at 105 times the rate of carbon dioxide emissions; other greenhouse gas emissions will also be counted accordingly. To prevent a huge whipsaw in our economy, due to the current campaign of misinformation about natural gas’s effect on warming and the rush to natural gas that has occurred, methane emissions would be charged at a smaller multiple in the first years of the carbon tax.
B) Fixed Individual Carbon Tax Credits – A carbon tax in its pure form would be regressive and there are proposals that amount to a fixed carbon emissions allowance per person reflected in a refundable individual carbon tax credit (sometimes called a dividend) that would be due to individuals the following year no matter their total tax liability. The tax credit would enable those who lead a less carbon-intensive lifestyle to make a small profit from the tax regime or at least defray a large portion of the carbon tax they pay during the year. These credits should be weighted, at first, by postal code, depending on the availability of alternatives to a high emissions lifestyle in that area. For instance, a New Yorker living in a high density region with superior public transportation has an immediate advantage as compared to a Wyoming or Alaska resident, which should be reflected in the carbon tax credit system. The carbon tax, should at first not be an instrument of re-settlement of the population, though eventually more energy efficient ways of living should be encouraged by the tax policy as it proceeds.
C) Carbon Tax Exemptions – Carbon tax advocates have tended to believe that the carbon tax should be applied across the board on all activities that emit carbon. But if the tax then makes investment in a wind turbine or building a ultra-high efficiency building substantially more expensive (because of the embedded carbon in their materials), it defeats the purpose of the carbon tax in the first place; it would function then simply as a damper on investment overall by every entity except monetarily sovereign governments. In the first decades of a carbon tax, carbon will be embedded in all manner of objects, some of which will then emit nothing or potentially emit nothing during their period of operation. Therefore it makes sense to exempt fully the building of these zero- or negative-carbon replacements for high emissions technologies from the carbon tax at least within the first 10 years of the tax. This opens the door for complexity in carbon taxation laws and also for corruption but this would be the case in any carbon tax law.
D) Removal of Fossil Fuel Subsidies – Follows from a program of discouraging fossil fuel extraction and use.
E) Renewable Electricity Feed in Tariffs – By far the most successful policy in implementing renewable electricity generators have been fixed premium wholesale rates for the production of renewable electric generators of various types, guaranteed during the time in which the capital investment is paid off. These rates guarantee a reasonable profit for the owner of the generator. The surplus payments to the generator owners are paid by a supplement to electricity prices, which adds over time a percentage to electricity rates. Rising electricity rates help also to inspire conservation of energy and energy efficiency. Feed in tariffs are, like carbon taxation, somewhat regressive in terms of their redistributive effects and their regressivity needs to be countered in policy by support programs for those who are financially unable to invest in their own generators or in cooperatively funded renewable generators. Among these programs would include, government-funded home retrofits that reduce the energy bills of those below a certain income level.
F) Ultra-high-efficiency Building and Building Retrofit Investment Tax Credits – The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan would require in three and half decades the entire building stock to be either retrofitted or replaced with buildings which perform at the level of Passivhaeuser (passive houses) in terms of their use of energy. Investment tax credits would attract capital into retrofitting or building new buildings that use anywhere from 60 to 85% less energy to deliver the same level of services and comfort as today. Credits should make projects lucrative enough to attract private capital from non-real estate investment sectors but also not so lucrative as to encourage construction of non-useful buildings. As there are several components to these high efficiency buildings, the credits might be divided in the following manner:
i. Credit for Airtightness (graded) with 90%+ efficient heat or energy recovery ventilation system to maintain fresh air.
ii. Credit for Low Thermal Conductivity Building Enclosure (high insulation and low “thermal bridging”)
iii. Credit for monitored Energy Use per square foot (graded), Year 1 and Year 3.
G) Carbon Negative Materials Tax Credit – Additional tax credits that reduce the use of concrete and steel in buildings and incentivize the use of wood.
H) Industrial Electrification and Energy Efficiency Investment Tax Credits – Similarly corporations would gain tax advantages by implementing zero- and low-carbon alternative methods of producing goods and services. In certain industries that are premised on fossil fuel use (metal smelting), investment in energy efficiency may come before the implementation of zero-emissions technologies.
I) Nationally-Mandated Utility Rate Decoupling – Investor-owned utilities in certain US states have been incentivized to participate in state-mandated energy efficiency programs by the allowance by regulators that the utility will get a rate increase if they work with their customers to save a certain amount of energy during the course of a year. Thus the revenues of the utility are “decoupled” from the amount of energy they sell. As with feed in tariffs, this raises rates per unit of power, creating a virtuous circle where energy users are incentivized to save more energy by periodic increases in electricity rates.
Regulations and Mandates
The combination of massive public investment and market restructuring policies will provide a massive push towards the new energy economy but there are also additional regulations of the energy industry that would be part of any transformation of the energy system to one that does not rely on fossil fuels. It is assumed that the above policies would already reduce demand for fossil fuels radically while raising their price; the rules below would also have a similar effect and the combined effect of these two approaches would need to be monitored for their impacts on an economy still partially or largely dependent on fossil fuels. Some of these are intended to rein in the destructive tendencies of the fossil fuel companies as we reach the fossil fuel endgame.
A) Unconventional Fossil Fuel Extraction Techniques Bans:
- Fracking Ban – As fracking can destroy the regenerative capacity of local watersheds and landscapes and contributes fugitive methane emissions to warming, it would be banned
- Acidization Ban – An extraction technique that uses hydrofluoric acid to dissolve rock in oil and gas drilling/fracking.
- Tar Sands Extraction & Importation Ban – Another destructive fossil fuel extraction technology
- Mountain-top Removal Mining Ban –
- Deepwater Drilling Ban
B) Public Divestment from Investor-Owned Fossil Fuel Companies
C) Ban on new Fossil Fuel Power Plants
The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan will have very significant effects on the economy as a whole and also will require policies that support the success of the plan as well as stabilize sectors of the economy that are not immediately in the purview of the plan. The following policies are likely to be implemented in addition to the above, more energy focused policies:
A) Public Funding of Elections/Banning Large Contributions to Political Campaigns – With government playing a more critical than usual role in economic and social life during the course of the plan, it will be necessary to remove the legal corruption of government by large campaign contributions by the wealthy and corporations. A central policy in this effort is to either eliminate entirely private contributions to electoral campaigns or limit them to the equivalent of $100 per person.
B) Strengthen Conflict of Interest Laws – Political representatives will need to be excluded from deciding on policies in which they have a financial stake.
C) Raise Legislator’s salaries by 30%/Increase Legislative Research Budgets by 100% — Politicians in the US in particular treat their time in office as a stepping stone to a more lucrative post-office career. While the salary of a legislator can never keep pace with the expectations of the truly greedy, a higher salary would make post-office appointments seem less glamorous. Additionally, significantly more money for legislative aides to be able to assemble laws based on research independent of lobby groups opens the possibility though does not guarantee independence from groups that present ready-made legislation that favors moneyed interests.
D) Higher income and capital gains tax rates on high earners – The plan relies on both public investment and tax equity investment; to drive the latter category higher tax rates on the wealthy (besides the potential for more egalitarian income distribution) will also encourage investment in climate and energy related projects, to reduce effective tax levels. With higher tax rates on the wealthy, the demand for tax equity investment will go up.
E) Financial transactions tax – To reduce the financialization of the economy as a whole and orient capital towards investment in the real economy, a tax on financial transactions is advisable. Set at a level of approximately 1% per transaction, the tax is to reduce speculative and high volume financial instrument trading.
F) Steel, Copper, and Concrete Tax with Exemptions – the Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan will increase demand for steel and concrete enormously, despite the built-in incentives to use lower carbon alternatives for certain applications. To dampen demand further for these materials, a tax of perhaps 15% will be added to non-exempt applications of steel, copper and concrete, which in addition to the carbon tax will lower demand for these materials from non-exempt (non-zero net carbon) applications.
G) Skills Training and Apprenticeship Programs/Continuing Education in Engineering and Architecture – To achieve actual, durable emissions reductions, workers will need to develop their skills in a number of areas related to renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification. Furthermore engineers and architects will need to develop expertise in climate-related design. A massive training and continuing education effort will be part of the initial stages and ongoing throughout the Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan’s period of operation.
H) Higher Wage Floor – The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan will increase employment and probably will generate full employment as did the War World II mobilization the US. However the Plan does favor the sectors of construction, manufacturing, and engineering, and will be particularly favorable to those with medium and higher-levels of skills in these areas, some of which will be newly acquired or retooled. In order for the benefits of the Plan to be more equitably distributed throughout more economic sectors and within each sector, the minimum wage should be increased to close to double its current 2013 levels. The Plan, could also be supplemented to include government hiring or funding more entry level and lower skilled positions from a diversity of sectors, and could be turned into a Works Progress Administration-style employment program, that would in effect pay the new higher minimum wage. This latter approach is the Employer of Last Resort approach that would guarantee durable full employment.
I) Voluntary Emissions Cuts/Energy Conservation – The large-scale building of infrastructure containing steel and concrete, employing machines using oil and other fossil fuels will represent a sharp increase in carbon emissions during at least the first decade of the plan. While a carbon tax will eventually reduce emissions by the adoption of energy conservation and energy efficiency in its early years the carbon price will be too low to counteract the sudden rise in emissions from the enormous building projects underway. A more rapid way to counteract these large increases in emissions would be to call on individuals and businesses to engage in voluntary cuts in emissions, such as telecommuting, ride sharing services and shared bus and van rental instead of the use of petroleum-fueled private cars. The government should compile a list of voluntary measures which calls upon people’s patriotic sense or sense of responsibility to others. These measures call upon individuals’ and organizations’ sense of belonging and “higher purpose” above and beyond narrow economic self-interest.
Scope and Limits of the Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan
The Pedal-to-the-Metal (PTM) plan will transform in a targeted way the fossil fuel dependence of contemporary industrial and post-industrial society but it will not in itself be a complete climate policy. One area upon which the PTM Plan does not focus is on land use changes and carbon sequestration via re-foresting or other land use changes. It also doesn’t directly address ocean acidification, though reducing carbon emissions eventually will reduce the rate at which carbonic acid will be formed.
The PTM plan is also focused on individual nations, centered as it is on the economy and fiscal policy of a nation such as the US or other monetarily sovereign governments. The design of the plan is in part a reaction to the unwieldy nature of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol which besides their endorsement of the faulty cap and trade instrument, create a collective action problem where the most intransigent nations (the US and China) have the greatest effect on global climate policy.
A nation by nation approach with the inclusion of carbon tariffs, opens the possibility that nations can start to impose on themselves and via tariffs on other nations more stringent carbon limits than otherwise would be imposed via an initial international multilateral treaty or convention. A virtuous carbon “trade war” is a possibility, where nations committed to global sustainability impose higher carbon taxes internally and matching carbon tariffs on imported goods, leading eventually via global trade negotiations to a real global carbon price or price range, rather than the musical chairs of carbon trading.
Another area that the PTM plan in its current form doesn’t address is adaptation to the inevitable changes in the climate that will occur no matter what we do. The building, for instance, of seawalls or moveable sea barriers in some coastal areas, would be a meaningful addition to the plan and would increase the already massive scale of the undertaking. With climate change there is no need for workers to engage in Keynes’s thought experiment of burying bottles of cash in coal mines and then digging them back up, as a means to generate employment; there are already so many tasks available that need doing.
As many of the amusements that people have become used to in the developed world will become significantly more expensive, it may also be necessary for government to fund participatory cultural programs on the community level, to enable “staycations” to be more attractive for people. As during World War II and other times of crisis, in a virtual war economy the range of colorful consumer options to divert oneself and one’s family will become limited or will shift in emphasis.
General Social, Political and Economic Benefits of the Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan
Many people are not yet so concerned about climate change that they are willing to make changes to their way of life or change the economy at large to address climate change. To work towards and implement the Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan, a broad swath of the population as well as political leaders, would need to see that it is in fact “the only way forward”, and offers benefits beyond climate, addressing concerns that are dear to them. If we exclude those who actively deny climate change from consideration, the Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan offers significant benefits to many of those not concerned about climate as much as climate activists.
1) Energy Security and Price Stability– Though currently we are experiencing a wash of propaganda from the oil and gas industry about the plentiful supply of oil and gas available, these are, everybody acknowledges, exhaustible resources. The price of oil and gas will go up substantially whether or not an effective climate plan is put in place. Furthermore that price will have a high volatility which will make budgeting for energy expenditures very difficult. The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan diversifies energy sources and bases them on free flows of energy: the major costs of renewable energy are baked into the installation of the renewable electricity generators not in the fuel.
2) Increase in Employment/Job Creation – The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan creates millions of jobs, increasing the domestic demand for labor very much above current levels. The additional spending by government will add more jobs to the existing economy than increases in taxation and increases in the price of fossil energy will remove. The plan can easily be and should be adjusted to have exactly this effect to achieve full employment. There will also be increases in mechanized work as some of the processes will require automated work but in addition there will be many jobs that require human attention and work, some of it highly skilled, some of it requiring moderate skill levels and some requiring very little skills. To have the necessary employment effects, a massive job skills training effort will be required, especially in the first years of the plan. If multiple nations undertake pedal-to-the-metal plans, there may in fact be labor shortages which will drive increased automation of tasks.
3) Increases in Real-Economy Household Incomes and Business Profits – The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan represents a massive net injection of money into the economy by government spending. If government spending increases exceed taxation increases, which is part of the design of the program, this will enable the private sector (households and businesses) to achieve net savings, which on the business side represent gross profits. Contrary to smears and misinformation on the part of neoliberals, libertarian fantasists, and neoclassical economists about how economic growth actually occurs, one of the only ways that the private sector can experience net growth is by fiat-currency issuing governments spending more than they tax. The other way, a net trade surplus, is only possible for some nations and not others, by definition.
4) Orienting Businesses towards Delivering Real Goods and Services – In the increasingly financialized economy of the last three decades, the proportion of total income of sectors of the economy that are focused on trading paper and existing real assets has grown while proportion of business incomes related to delivering a real good or service have shrunk. The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan reorients business towards delivering real goods and services, though increasingly in a manner that reduces carbon emissions. Also it creates or radically enlarges new classes of real assets that continue to deliver a common good, i.e. lowered carbon emissions.
5) Reductions in Income Inequality – Major leaps in income inequality have been correlated with the increasingly concentrated ownership of and income generated by the ownership of real and paper assets. With an orientation towards the delivery of real goods and services, labor will receive an increase in the total share of income as in the current economy, labor has been either replaced by mechanization or income from asset trading generates income increasingly independent of labor. There is a wide range of outcomes with regard to how much the Plan can reduce income inequality some of which will have to do with implementation of the plan and pressure by social movements for greater equality.
6) Orientation towards “Larger than Self” Concerns – While in individual cases, heroes are still praised in our times, the current plutocratic neoliberal order generally encourages people to compete with one another and to focus on their own private concerns. The “Age of Narcissism” or the “Me Decade” have continued on for multiple decades. The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan creates an occasion for almost everyone within society to find themselves in a “larger than self” project and focus on what they “can do for their country” and for the world.
7) Defining the “Public Purpose” for Our Time – The great heterodox economist John Kenneth Galbraith formulated the notion of “the Public Purpose” to describe shared goals and activities that span individual concerns. Modern Money Theorists have adopted Galbraith’s idea to describe what drives the goals of government economic policy. Neoclassical economists and neoliberal political leaders tend to deny that there exists something like a public purpose but instead treat society as a collection of private interests and private purposes (e.g. Thatcher: “there is no society”). The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan creates a real, geophysically grounded instantiation of the public purpose that addresses many of the social and economic concerns of our times.
8) Stepping Back from a Largely Predatory/Parasitic Economic Model – In keeping with the orientation towards real goods and service delivery, the PTM Plan reverses 30 years of belief in a finance-led private capitalist economy that can function independently of government’s direction and government’s provision of net increases in the monetary “size” of the economy by spending more than it taxes. With government’s partial withdrawal from these activities or rather, the predominance of government help on the side of real and virtual asset price inflation, activity in markets became increasingly predatory, as economic success became defined more and more as the ability to siphon off streams of income from existing goods, services and assets. The PTM plan creates incentives for creation of real value, while systematically reducing via targeted taxation some of the more predatory/parasitic aspects of our economy. It also increases the net size of the real economic “pie” over which private economic actors will compete, reducing the “demand” for predatory/parasitic activity.
9) Demilitarization of Economies – A switch away from fossil fuels reduces the rationale for the large industrial economies to project military force into regions of the world where fossil fuels are sourced. Furthermore, as a major emitter, the military itself will need to rethink its own operations, as they depend upon the use of fossil fuels and therefore of high levels of emissions. On more subtle level, the orientation towards a cooperative venture like stopping global warming will decrease the social emphasis on competition, especially competition between nations for scarce fossil resources.
The Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan addresses the climate crisis at a rate that is commensurate with the urgency of our situation and that grapples with the real technological challenges facing societies at the cusp of self-destruction. Next steps should be a broad public discussion of the plan, modifications of the plan based on substantive criticism, or the formulation of competing concepts, which could then be subjected to the same process. Ultimately, a Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan of this description or even the notion of such a rapid, decisive policy shift, can immediately become the nucleus for political organizing and the activation of a larger social movement pressing for decisive action on climate and for government action on an economy that increasingly does not serve the interests of the majority of the population, as well as, of course, the interests of following generations.
There are ways to “nibble” at the issue, to make cosmetic efforts to appear concerned about climate but why choose these options if so much speaks for a fundamental shift in the orientation of our society towards energy and the environment? Even if the climate were not rapidly changing, after 30 years of neoliberalism, the developed economies are caught in a loop of insufficient demand and widening inequality. Political corruption is practiced openly and is rampant. Fundamental change is required to maintain and develop social and material wealth. The ruling plutocrats and their political representatives are not even defending the interests of their own children. This IS the way forward.
centralization led us into the predicament we’re in.
if there was no centralization of finance, there’d be no mbs, no interest rate swaps, no aig.
absent centralization of energy, no fukushima, no bp gulf oil disaster, no corn-based ethanol, no fracking.
no centralization of food production would mean no monocrops, no soil/aquifer depletion, no bee die-off.
centralized healthcare may not be responsible for our epidemic of diabetes, obesity and cancer. but, it’s clearly responsible for an onslaught of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 10% of children on prescription meds.
your answer to our centralization-caused disaster: centralization on a scale never before attempted in human history. the most massive centralization experiment imaginable.
Let me repost on the corn ethanol thing.
I see the ice caps in the ocean melting away so sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me as with my part one comment. But sometimes I get tired of the oil company lies that even so called environmentalists spread.
I will try to give detail with out being to long. When it comes to corn ethanol there is a right way to do it as some small local farmers in areas are doing.
The first step is the wet milling process http://www.ethanolrfa.org/pages/how-ethanol-is-made (near the bottom of the page) which produces corn oil that can be used to power the tractor and a generator at the plant for electricity while using the exhaust heat to power the vacuum distillation process and also makes animal feed besides ethanol.
Then the distillers grains are feed to the animals which make manure which is feed into a biogas plant as well as leftover distillers grains http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogas to make biogas which can be burned in the generator to power the ethanol plant and fertilizer for the field.
So all I can say is don’t take the oil companies word for it and do a little research because a lot of small and medium farms are closing down anyway and the land sits there unused like in southern California because people don’t want to pay a lot for food yet there is so much land that can be used.
I myself prefer oil from algae or ethanol from Jerusalem artichoke as they grow anywhere and need almost nothing while making over 1000 gallons per acre but as far as animal feed corn ethanol does mix in with the food cycle more than the oil companies want you to know.
wouldn’t you need your animal manure to take the place of mined fertilizer-phosphates and so on?
The biogas plant sludge is fertilizer.
and it may not be in order but it works out in the end.
I tried to keep it as short as possible but there are other details such as there is more protein in the distillers grains than is in raw corn because of what yeast does during fermentation.
And yeast is ok to eat since it is in bread anyway.
When this whole corn ethanol thing got started years ago I was reading that Cellulosic Biomass was the Holy Grail that this could all lead to. The cool part being that you could process the entire corn plant instead of just the starchy kernels, i.e. corn cob power.
Some companies were working on enzymes capable of breaking the cellulose down into something usable like starch which can be converted to sugar via the natural enzymes found in malted grains, and this could then be a pre-processing step to the usual fermentation process.
Do you know if anyone is doing this as a commercial process yet?
This is the firm I have some familiarity with and there are several working the bio-enzyme strategy to convert cellulosic waste (like Bagasse) to sugar for fermentation. This is a very active area for commercialization.
Most probably don’t realize that refiners currently pay a fine for refined gasoline that does not have the mandated amount of supplemental ethanol, and there is a deficit in the market place. Not enough is currently produced to fulfill the mandate, so it is a captured market.
I only scanned the article, I plan on reading all thee pieces, a lot of work on the part of the writer. The one that jumps out at me that is obvious is killing all fossil fuel supplements and tax advantages (depleting resource tax rebates etc etc. I did spend quite some time in the equipment supply side of the waste gasification/liquification and a few years back the break even point for a number of the technologies was the equivalent of $80/bbl.
My GENREAL perspective is that it would be a HUGE step if ALL petroleum derived fuel direct/indirect subsidization of was unwound, alternatives would commercialize organically (pun intended).
Combining massive government regulatory oversight, w/ it’s ever present special interests complexity and the Energy Market is fraught with the unintended consequences. I think a good test case is to see if the government is capable of unwinding present legislation favoring fossil fuels.
Certainly fossil fuel cost and ROEI will become progressively less viable for the average global inhabitant, the big strategic key, in this country at least, is that a viable public transportation option that, electrified and ubiquitous needs to installed.
EVEN if the bulk of the electricity generated is via Coal Fired PPlnts, it will at least be emissions from large scale sources that are more economical to treat. Alternative energy strategies to produce electricity would have the opportunity to develop as this huge infrastructure conversion to electrification occurs. I think many don’t realize the scope of just tackling this transportation transformation.
Bottom line (and I think Mr. Hoexter may allude to this notion as well) is a perspective that I first heard frame by the outgoing CEO of Exxon. In a competitive global market, all value added renders to a unit cost of energy. The society that is MOST efficient at converting energy into a valuable product or service, that is to say achieves the least energy content/per unit of value, will be the preeminent society in the next century.
Yup, our current “energy policy”, if you could call it that, is sooo twisted beyond belief we would certainly need to start there before inventing Neo-Capitalism. We subsidize fossil fuel, then subsidize marginal corn ethanol, and then The Great Hope is for science and technology to throw a Hail Mary pass and invent something that works AND is competitive with the subsidized prices. Then our agency currently in the central planner role is the DOE, but they think their main role is to be a spook monitoring nuclear power development in the emerging world. (so something dangerous doesn’t happen. I must suppress the urge to laugh here. it really isn’t funny).
I’m not all that optimistic on the chances of going to an all electric world any time within a few decades either. Electric motors are great, but power generation and storage tech and existing infrastructure is not. Converting existing coal plants to low emission CO2 plants is conceivable, but we haven’t yet seriously started with the how part. The other is financial, about 300 of our 600 coal plants are due to be de-commissioned. Then many of the rest still wouldn’t be economical to retrofit because they don’t have enough operating life left to amortize the cost well.
If we think we are going to replace all our oil joules with electric joules for transportation – that’s alot.
So we could build new coal plants with CO2 sequestering – but we don’t have a sequestering place. NG plants are better and much cheaper, but now with the fracking miracle being exposed, I doubt any Utility industry exec is confident he will have a 40 year supply of NG for his new NG plant.
But you gotta start somewhere and get moving on this, so I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for the Hail Mary and our new and enlightened USG – The Very, Very Wise and Benevolent Dictators.
We’re due, aren’t we?
Can Solar Fuels Avert an Imminent Petroleum Fuels Crisis?
This is a lengthy article, which will be published in the next issue of the journal “Science Progress”. A quick summary can be found in the article immediately following this one.
The Problem of Energy.
The world population of 7 billion humans uses energy at a mean rate of 16 TW (16 terawatts). This amounts to an annual 504 EJ (504 exajoules = 5.04 x 1020 J), and is provided from fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), plus nuclear and hydro (hydroelectric) power along with all other forms of renewable energy1. The breakdown of these various contributions is given in Table 1. Around one third of the total energy used by humans on Earth is provided by crude oil, and close to one quarter each by natural gas and coal, although the amount of coal being burned is rising, particularly in China. Nuclear and hydro-power each contribute around 6% of the total energy mix, while the combination of renewable energy from all sources, wind, wave, geothermal, wood, solar etc. amounts to just a little above 1%. In 2004, humanity used 471 EJ of energy2, and while the relative proportion of each contributing energy source has remained modestly constant, it is clear that at a rise to 504 EJ in 2010, the demand placed upon these energy sources is rising relentlessly. This follows not merely a growing human population per se, but an increasingly affluent industrialised consumer society. We need to consider two aspects: firstly, that the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels is believed to contribute to global-warming and this may lead to unwelcome or even catastrophic changes to the global climate3. Secondly, and more immediately, the fossil fuels and uranium too (for nuclear power) are in finite supply, and there is compelling evidence that each source will meet its own production peak within the next two decades. Most vulnerable appears to be crude oil (petroleum), world supplies of which are predicted to peak (“peak oil”) probably during the next 5 years4. Irrespective of the exact timing of peak oil, there are salient predictions (see below) that a gap will emerge in the supply of oil against demand for it, from the end of this year (2012), rising to a shortfall of 10 million barrels a day by 20155. This situation has been termed “gap oil”6, and can only be exacerbated by peak oil, when supply must draw-down against rising demand, thus enlarging the gap from both sides. Thus, in order to curb carbon-emissions and to extend limited resources, alternative and ideally renewable sources of energy are needed.
Liquid Fuels and Transportation.
A simple comparison of the energy content delivered from different energy sources, as is made in Table 1, is somewhat misleading, since it seems to imply that if the production of one of them begins to fail, it can be readily substituted by another. The issue of transportation is a singular example where this is not the case, since practically all the vehicles used in the world – cars, lorries, buses, trains, ships and planes – have been engineered to run on liquid fuels that are refined from crude oil. Therefore the likely consequences of “peak oil”, with dwindling supplies and escalating costs of liquid fuels, are very serious. Ward’s, the U.S. based publisher, estimated that as of 2010 there were 1.015 billion motor vehicles in use in the world7. This figure represents the number of cars, light, medium and heavy duty trucks, and buses, but does not include off-road vehicles or heavy construction equipment. Between 1950 and 1970, the world vehicle population doubled roughly every 10 years, passing the 250 million mark in 1970, and exceeding 500 million in 1986. It has been estimated that the world’s road transportation fleet will reach 2 billion by 2020, of which at least 50% will be cars. China’s and India’s automobile fleets are expected to grow at an annual rate of around 7 or 8%, while in the United States, it will be under 1% a year, and around 1 to 2% in Western Europe, but this depends tacitly on finding an expanding liquid fuel supply, and it is this which is at issue. Indeed, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has issued a report8 to the effect that a shortfall in oil production of 64 million barrels a day (mbd) can be expected by 2030, which represents a loss of 62% of the world supply of conventional crude oil, currently 84 mbd, assuming a demand by 2030 of 96 mbd, a figure significantly downgraded from prior estimates by the IEA of 120 – 130 mbd. At a mean decline rate of 2.9 mbd/year (-3.4%/year) this value accords closely with the prediction in a recent U.S. Army report5 that there will be a deficiency of 10 mbd by 2015, following a loss of any spare capacity for crude oil against demand for it by the end of this year (2012).
While it is possible to run cars and other road vehicles on electricity, provided either from batteries or hydrogen/fuel cells, actually converting their number substantially to these alternative energy carriers (neither electrons nor hydrogen being primary fuels, i.e. they must be created from primary sources) would be such a considerable undertaking that the scheme is not feasible. Vehicles can be adapted to run on gas but a peak in natural gas production is expected within twenty years, following oil, and converting them all would take many decades, so this is no solution either. It is, therefore, a new source of liquid fuels that must be sought, since they would be far more compatible with a transportation fleet and distribution infrastructure designed for liquid petroleum fuels. These, ideally, should be “carbon-neutral” in order to reduce carbon emissions, a condition which certainly does not apply4 to coal-to-liquids processing (with probably twice the carbon emissions overall that are incurred in the production and burning of diesel or petrol derived from petroleum), nor gas-to-liquids either, unless the CO2 is captured and stored in some way that prevents it escaping into the atmosphere. Biofuels are attended by a number of vexed issues6: the competition for arable land between growing crops for fuel or crops for food, the increased amount of freshwater required to grow fuel crops above that already needed for agriculture, the clearing of rainforest to produce high-energy fuel-crops, e.g. palm-oil, and the fundamental EROEI which for bioethanol may only marginally exceed the overall energy costs of its production, or in some cases not quite break-even. Clearly, some other strategy is necessary.
Table 1. Fuel type: Average power in TW (1012 W) Energy/year in EJ (1018 J) (2010 figures), (Data from reference 1).
Oil: 5.4 TW (169 EJ)
Gas: 3.8 TW (120 EJ)
Coal: 4.7 TW (149 EJ)
Hydroelectric: 0.8 TW (26 EJ)
Nuclear: 1.0 TW (33 EJ)
Geothermal, wind, solar, wood: 0.2 TW (7 EJ).
Total: 16.0 TW (504 EJ) (2010).
Figure 1 summarises the quantity and fate of solar radiation striking the top of the earth’s atmosphere2. We see that 52 PW (1015 W) is reflected back into space (i.e. 30% of the total). Thus, in outer space, there is more solar energy available to be collected, which has prompted potential schemes to launch photovoltaic arrays into space on satellites2, with which to capture the sun’s energy and then beam it back to earth in the form of microwaves for terrestrial applications. At the top of the atmosphere, with the sun directly overhead, the radiation flux provides around 1.4 kW/m2 of energy, the “solar constant”2. Since the total amount of energy1 (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, everything) used on earth by humans amounts to a power of 16 TW, at 174 PW, the amount of radiation striking the exposed hemisphere of the earth is well over 10,000 times that. So if we could capture even a small amount of this bounty, and convert it into useable energy, the imminent energy crisis could be averted. Since the production of solar energy (and renewable energy generally, other than hydropower) has an intermittent quality – the sun doesn’t always shine, or not to the same extent throughout the day, and not at all at night – some method of storing it is essential to its use as a serious energy source, to supplant fossil fuels, and the creation by its means of a chemical fuel (solar fuel) would be the best means to achieve this. Furthermore, and as noted earlier, if liquid fuels could be produced in quantity, they would be entirely compatible with the present world transportation fleet based on liquid petroleum fuels, and a distribution network designed to supply the latter.
Means for capturing solar energy
2.Solar energy can be captured by various means, which boil-down to either collecting heat directly from the sun’s rays, or using the wavelengths of the solar spectrum to grow biomass through photosynthesis, or to excite electrons in photovoltaic materials to produce electricity.
(1) Direct heating systems2 à on-roof water heating systems; solar furnaces; concentrating solar thermal power (CSTP) plants etc.
(2) Photosynthesis9 (PS) à creates biomass, and a total of 200 EJ of fuel (Shell estimate) could be produced by hydrothermal conversion. PS is 12% efficient as a theoretical maximum, but most plants give 0.1 – 6%. Growing biofuel crops also suffers from competition with food crops for fertile land, hence if we turned all the available arable land in the U.K. over to biofuel crops (i.e. grew no food at all) we could only match ca 17% of our fuel from rapeseed/biodiesel or ca 50% from sugar beet/ethanol as is currently made from crude oil. These estimates assume that all vehicles are first converted to diesel engines, which are more efficient in terms of tank-to-wheel miles than spark-ignition engines, which burn petrol, by about 40%….
I’m not going to push the rock up the hill trying to post the link/article, the blog filter has an issue with it. Search the title word string, good reading.
And very much on point relative to the GLOBAL SCALE (16 TW) of energy we are really talking about here..
Cris Rhodes does excellent analytical framing on energy issues.
I’ll look for the rest of the article, but ya, on this part of the article photosynthesis is 6% efficient, which is less than half as good as photovoltaic solar cells, from the standpoint of collecting diffuse sunlight and converting it into useful energy.
But the fact that you can get liquid fuel from it is an advantage since we have all these vehicles already. Then burning it is a carbon neutral closed cycle. Plus we can still have airplanes, if nothing else. Then if the process is low cost, efficiency takes a back seat.
“…fuel, then subsidize marginal corn ethanol, and then The Great Hope is for science and technology to throw a Hail Mary pass and invent something that works AND is competitive with the subsidized prices. Then our agency currently in the central planner role is the DOE, but they think their main role is to be a spook monitoring nuclear power development in the emerging world. (so something dangerous doesn’t happen. I must suppress the urge to laugh here. it really isn’t funny).
I’m not all that optimistic on the chances of going to an all electric world any time within a few decades either. Electric motors are great, but power generation and storage tech and existing infrastructure is not…”
Yes, yes and yes
Decades is a very optimistic perspective when you look at the resource requirements for any of the alt energy strategies.
Just considering solar/wind: think Peak Rare Earths.. Battery storage, (just for electrified transportation): Think Peak Lithium.
AT LEAST Thorium is a now considered a waste burden mat’l when mining REE. It is ironically an excellent candidate fuel choice to burn…
So, do you think there is too much centralization?
i think you’ll find the next orville and wilbur working on electric bicycles in their bicycle shop.
i don’t think you’ll find them working for apple or microsoft. nor will they be a product of harvard or yale.
i think you get more orvilles and wilburs in a de-centralized society.
There are myriad problems with biofuels which the biofuels Utopians just want to just gloss over, as if they didn’t even exist, including:
DOE challenge met—research advances cut costs to produce fuel from non-food plant sources.
A photo showing a silhouette of a man wearing glass in a dark room lit only by a band of light consisting or red, blue, and white dots (26186). Enlarge image
In NREL’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility, the Insight Collaboration Laboratory shows a 3D model of cellulose microfibrils.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL
Imagine a near perfect transportation fuel—it’s clean, domestic, abundant, and renewable. Now imagine that it’s also affordable.
Bringing this vision closer to reality was the challenge the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Energy Initiative presented to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2006. NREL met this challenge in 2012 by demonstrating that it is possible to produce cellulosic ethanol—ethanol from non-food plant sources—in a way that is cost competitive with other transportation fuels.
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Bioenergy Technologies Office selected NREL to work toward the cost target because of the laboratory’s strong reputation in biofuels technology.
“NREL is the world’s leading institution in biofuels research, analysis, and development,” said National Bioenergy Center Director Tom Foust. “I don’t think there is another organization that would have been as capable of pulling this off. We have exceptional staff and state-of-the-art facilities.”
A photo of six glass bottles with black caps laying on a white mesh background. The left, largest bottle is filled with yellow granules; the second from left filled with white crystals; third from left filled with brown particles; fourth from left filled with beige, shredded plant material; fifth from left filled with copper fragments; sixth from left filled with black particles (20399). Enlarge image
Samples of biomass catalysts are prepared for characterization in one of NREL’s thermochemical laboratories.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL
After several years of modeling, performing biomass-to-fuels conversion test runs, and compiling and analyzing market data, NREL has been able to demonstrate actual scenarios that meet the $2.15/gallon by 2012 cost goal—the goal the Advanced Energy Initiative set to demonstrate that cellulosic ethanol could be competitive with corn ethanol and conventional fuels.
“It was a concerted effort,” Foust said, when explaining the focus required to carry out the six-year run. “It was an unprecedented commitment to a goal by the lab, and to the lab by EERE.”…… rest of article http://www.nrel.gov/continuum/sustainable_transportation/cellulosic_ethanol.cfm
I would like to premise this by indicating that I haven’t read all of your posts on the subject.
1) Something struck me at the beginning when you spoke of climate change. I would suggest that the dilemma for humanity is as follows: the moral / environmental / political / economic crisis we face is that of unbridled consumption / consumerism and its results. The detrimental impacts of consumption/consumerism go far beyond the climate crisis, reflecting in social inequalities, slave-like production systems, factory farming, into psychological disease, environmental destruction, war, and gender imbalances. We don’t simply face a climate crisis, but also a health crisis (under/over nutrition, cancer, etc), embodied toxicity (endocrine disruption), fossil, metals, and other resource depletion, fisheries decline, ecological destruction (rainforests), etc. All these things relate to consumption / consumerism. Although I may be wrong, I fundamentally believe that what is at the heart of the issue is that humans demonstrate or use as a proxy for fitness by their ability to accumulate and conspicuously consume. While on the individual level that accumulation and conspicuous consumption may lead to reproduction. However, on the aggregate it leads to a depletion of the global commons. The consumer trend is growing across the world at a breakneck speed, as will the concomittant environmental / social / political / and economic destruction.
2) As some others have mentioned I believe you put the cart before the horse. You have to deal with systematic political problems that delay and distort the process before you can legitimate policy frameworks that will result in effectual change. You mentioned them at the end but they need to go straight to the beginning.
3) I would also like to know of you are familiar with Jevon’s paradox. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox
In a consumer economy if all those efficiencies result in increased money for companies, consumers, or other actors they are likely to utilize it to consume more. Even worse if that money finds its way into the financial system through savings you will have a multiplier on its tail that could go overseas into building god knows what (coal energy plants). Systematically making everything more efficient will not necessarily reduce our environmental impact, it may give people and companies more money to consume goods and materials.
That means you would definitely need some sort of green multiplier to counteract all of the potential savings from gains in efficiency. I would suggest that the financial must be in order before the programs so that there is money to be spent and funding must be dedicated. Therein a carbon tax would be considerably more effective if the revenues were recycled into green program subsidies, tax credits, etc.
4) I think the planning is too much and it is enough to derail all of it. For all of the successes of the Obama green jobs program, the biggest liabilities are the minor failures. If a carbon and or transaction tax can be put in place, subsidies to traditional energy companies dropped, efficiency and renewable energy standards set, it should be sufficient to provide a net green energy and efficiency subsidy for actors to suggest a wide variety of programs. You make the bulk of the programs ones where there is clear returns and provide subsidized loans or fee based guarantees. You recycle the returns from these project back into the funding pool. Use a percentage to invest in new technology, demonstration projects, research & development, etc. Individuals and companies will be able to propose how they achieve the goals that need to be set. They will create populations of solutions that will create viable options.
The point is the most important thing to think about is multipliers and feedback loops. One of the most successful programs in America was the interest rate deduction in home loans, just consider how that transformed the American landscape. Similarly, generous tax breaks, subsidized renewable energy and efficiency loans for small and large scale projects, recycled carbon/transaction taxes will do everything you need to do for you without the centralized planning as long as they are structured properly and transparently.
the ‘correct’ ordering of your pieces is either 2-1-3 or even 2-3-1.
why would that be the more ideal building material?
I can see it over concrete, but why vs. other materials?
is there enough wood for such plan without deforestation of the world, or at least the country? yes, I know you can replant and so on, but it still takes years to grow back.
i spend the first night in my cozy, self-built, haybale house.
the next morning, an officious-looking type sporting a ‘hoexter commission’ badge shows up with a bulldozer.
‘sir, as this structure has not been demonstrated to meet the hoexter commission’s guidelines for R-factor it is hereby condemned. the cost to bulldoze it into the ground has been automatically debited from your account. sign here, confirming your understanding that our bulldozers are powered by safe, natural, sustainable bio-fuels.’
Note that the building portion of this plan is based on incentives and not regulations, though the latter can definitely help once a practice is easily implemented by builders. Good building codes make better buildings, in terms of comfort, efficiency and the safety of materials.
Your distortion of the text and intent of the plan as well as in most cases what would be its practical implementation is an indication perhaps that you do not take the subject matter seriously.
Also, haybale housing is fixing carbon, so if someone at some point made a regulation about building materials and carbon negativity, haybale would qualify as much as wood as a potentially carbon negative material. It also has a decent R value.
your words from part 2:
some of your goals from part 1:
you see the CCPA as some kind of benevolent entity, saving mankind. i see it as the TSA on steroids in the ‘war on carbon’.
will the CCPA will have the power to implement and enforce new building standards in this war-time effort? what does the CCPA mean when it says ‘appropriate street design’?
it’s not at all an obvious conclusion that a new yorker has a smaller carbon footprint than a resident of wyoming. shades of obamacare abound throughout your plan. we have to vote for it to see what’s in it. random/arbitrary groups of people become second class citizens. it’s got a mandate. it adds hundreds of billions to the deficit.
I think you can choose to feed your paranoia about government and authority any number of ways. But ultimately building codes, etc, are a good invention…unless you have a better plan.
in terms of annual expenditures, (say, averaged over the first 10 years), where would the CCPA rank as compared to the fda, epa, doe, irs?
please point me to an american city with ‘appropriate street design’.
one could feel a lot better about your plan if you backed it up by saying, ‘here, look, my organization has already taken (some small american city) and made it sustainably carbon neutral’.
you throw around words like ‘paranoid’, ‘pessimist’ or ‘denialist’ when criticized. perhaps the true issue is your failure to communicate. your plan may be ‘compelling’ to fans of steve jobs and elon musk. those of us who consider jobs to be a pimple on the nose of dennis ritchie require evidence of your so-called ‘skills’.
It is all one long piece, divided up for easier posting. Rather than this being the “correct” ordering, it could be that you jumped the gun in your reaction to part one and are having trouble admitting it to me and/or to yourself.
these other points lay out the philosophical or ethical or whatever you’d like to call it, base ground for establishing the space to enact the plan. in my weird bran, they should come first.
I still think the plan is what we’ll get, or close enough. I still think there are MANY flaws, and have listed my concerns.
your attitude is petty in the extreme.
“brain” that is. if I have one.
which doesn’t seem to be communicating all that well with its eyeballs.
Livestock alone contributed between 18% (2006 UN FAO report) and 51% (2009 World Watch Institute report) of GHGs. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between. In any case, last month, I ran across a fairly recent series of 3 blog posts at Weather Underground from Dr. Ricky Rood, who did a fair amount of digging into this issue. Here is to the last of his 3 blog posts (from there you can get to the 1st two – numbers 262 and 263):
One interesting excerpt from this last one:
“Phil Robertson in an article to appear in the Encyclopedia of Agriculture estimates the total greenhouse gas footprint of agriculture is between 26 and 36 percent (thank you Professor Robertson). This range seems soundly based in the synthesis of research, and the number I would quote based on the current state of knowledge.”
Note that this estimate is ALL agriculture – not just livestock.
I presume the correct estimate is probably between 20 and 25 percent current GHGs is due to livestock. If worldwide livestock production doubles over the next 40 years, as many expect, even if we dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels over the next 40 years, it seems that we would still be on a path to a 4ºC world by 2100.
Thus, in this context, I wonder why so much of the climate change publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and conferences fail to bring attention to the importance of agricultural practices and our food choices. Any opinions on this, and also why the lack of attention, in your 3 part article?
Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
Yes, this plan is not in its current form a comprehensive climate policy…land use changes are not fully analyzed and then specific policies described for agriculture and forestry.
That being said, a carbon tax can be applied to fossil carbon and methane emissions in agriculture, though the assessment of how much methane a given group of livestock emits is going to be a matter of constant debate and negotiation both on a macro-level and in the instance of assessing a carbon tax on a given herd.
As to why people avoid it here is one idea: food is definitely a matter of taste and there are many emotional attachments people have to the tastes of different foods. It would take a still higher level of concern about climate and future generations, than that required to implement the plan as laid out here, for people to radically alter their diets.
I think there is also a large area for research and innovation in making agricultural practices more climate friendly, and one of the principles of this plan is: no revolutionary innovations required. I should probably revise the plan and include a “pedal-to-the-metal” research program into how agriculture can be made simultaneously productive, climate friendly and sustainable.
“…Back to the Basics: Bison, Grass, and Healthy SoilWhen the first plows turned the rich soils of the Midwest grasslands, some soils were 20% carbon. Now, after years of chemical farming and cultivation, many soils are 5% carbon or even less-some as low as 1%. As a result, that “lost” carbon now lives in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2). Furthermore, the loss of soil carbon can deplete the soil’s ability to manage water.
Prior to our cultivation of the Midwest, ruminants played an important role in healthy soil ecology. These former grasslands were historically populated by the American bison, which numbered at about 60 million. In contrast, there are about 96 million beef and dairy cattle in the US alone. As a ruminant, the bison grazed the plains for thousands of years. Moving in expansive herds, the bison ate the grasses down as they traveled in search of greener pastures. While migrating to new grazing areas, each ruminant would leave natural fertilizer: animal waste and plant litter. This natural process helped to build the rich and fertile soils of the Midwest.
Grass Grazers: More Than Your Average HamburgerSimilarly, well-managed cattle can greatly enhance the growth and propagation of grasses. These grasses can sequester huge amounts of carbon annually, especially when grazing practices include high density, short-term exposure efforts with the cattle eating the grasses down and moving on to let the grasses grow back. This sustainable grazing technique causes some root shedding below the soil line, leaving lots of organic matter, and thus, carbon. On just one acre of biologically healthy grassland soil, there can be between 0.5 – 1.5 tons of carbon deposited in the soil annually. This is equivalent to taking up to 5.5 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere and sinking it into an acre of soil…”
I just wanted to thank Michael Hoexter for righting this as im sure a lot of silent readers are.
Im just tired of the fossil fuel corporate monopoly and there god damn oil spills they always have. They need to FK off.
If it were my choice I would rather have an ethanol or corn oil spill.
What is the truth that corn ethanol pollutes ground water?
This was very sensible. Incentivizing us all to go zero carbon. But I still think a little triage is in order. Let’s do long term incentivizing like above but let’s start out focusing on the worst situations. Like the oceans. Let’s use the military to start to clean them up and recycle all the plastics and trash. And dredge the worst toxics out and store them on land where they can be detoxed, including all that stinking oil sludge that washed over Louisiana. Dig it up, haul it off and after it is detoxed maybe it will make good topsoil for fast growing trees. In all of our reclamation projects we should think of the natural energy cycle. And I can’t leave this post without, once again, saying we need to ban automobiles. Do a cars-to-trains campaign, recycle every car on the road today, replace them with clean public transportation. Plenty of steel can be salvaged. Talk about dis-incentivizing too. Who’s gonna drill for oil without a car industry?
Michael’s three posts contain much we should be talking about and focusing on doing. No doubt he’s wrong in parts, but anyone would be.
I’d like a better understanding of the points of resistance to the obvious sense of creating a green, sustainable, more communicable world. In the UK, our Chancellor, an idiot Anglo-Irish aristo, is telling us our economy has recovered thanks to his prudent spending cuts. This is probably a lie in its own terms, but is the state of what passes for politics here. There is no sign of the kind of politics we’d need to bring big change about. I am not sure we can just elide such buffoons through different economic rules.
Well, let me pose a question. Do you really think that Hoexter has presented an environmental plan or has he presented a re-industrialization plan, under the sign of “environmentalism,” out which he has attempted to construct a moral rationale, if not an imperative– leading to our certain death if we don’t obey him?
How genuine that moral rationale and imperative is, depends on how beneficial to the environment that plan is– which is exactly where the argument started on Day 1.
On Day 1, the argument was essentially that between perpetual growth economists and those who suggest that we need some fair measure of de-industrialization in low growth or steady state economies to really benefit the environment.
These are the people Hoexter chose to demonize as “neo-primitivists.” I’m sure some of them are extreme, nut that doesn’t negate points about world-wide perpetual growth.
With your UK example, the paper wealth creation in the UK and the US is almost certainly dependent on pro-growth capitalism globally, so no desire to change there.
Pitting that status quo against Hoexter’s pro-growth variant, I think all we have here is the usual competing economic plans, one based on paper wealth creation and one based on a Keynesian inspired resurrection of the industrialized economy of the 1950s that was economically beneficial to some part of the population in the developed world, but which destroyed the environment.
Doing it again, only cleaner this time, may or may not be okay for the environment. I can’t fully evaluate that, but clearly there are people who doubt this.
As far as the economic benefit of 1950s style industrial mass employment is concerned, most of that benefit was due to trade unions, not the central planning of conservative capitalist governments.
Needless to say, we don’t currently have a vibrant trade unionism. We do have deeply conservative capitalist governments.
In light of this, Hoexter’s re-industrialization plan looks more like the forced labor wage slave economy of Britain’s original industrial revolution than a new “New Deal” at this point.
In terms of economic plans, I also somewhat doubt the wisdom of perpetuating a near total economic dependence on mass employment in mega corporations amongst the population in the developed world. De-Walmartizing ourselves and recreating a more diverse economy seems to be a priority more compatible with the ideas of the “neo-primitvists” than the centralized plans of a corporatist government that has systematically cultivated this kind of wage labor dependency and then systematically disenfranchised it throughout the 20th century.
It also seems to suggest a social welfare state that supports the citizenry directly, not a reindustrialization plan that makes all social welfare benefits (universal healthcare, pensions, etc) dependent on participation in wage employment in mega-corporations. That’s assuming labor has the power to recapture this, which I doubt. Universal healthcare, etc at least has some appeal to the relatively better positioned creative classes.
Thus, the tires of this pedal to the metal plan, just loses more and more air for me all the time.
Yet, for some reason, Hoexter seems to expect everyone to just fall over for him like the virtue of his plan above all other ideas is obvious. It’s not at all obvious.
“Needless to say, we don’t currently have a vibrant trade unionism. We do have deeply conservative capitalist governments.
In light of this, Hoexter’s re-industrialization plan looks more like the forced labor wage slave economy of Britain’s original industrial revolution than a new “New Deal” at this point.”
Needless to say, I’m not saying Hoexter– as per his written plan– would chain teenagers together in the mines until they collapse. What I am saying is that’s how it comes out in the wash.
This is why I am uncomfortable with his assertion of a moral imperative before which the rights of all must fall away.
This is particularly true if Hoexter is actually bullsh*tting us on the benefits to the environment of his “must do” plan.
That’s why I consider the argument from Day 1 as yet unresolved.
Do we view any industrial culture as inherently undesirable? Even a sustainable one? I like the benefits of industrial culture, if it can be done sustainably and in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
The technology of sustainable energy is for the most part ideologically neutral, an open liberal culture has much the same use for it as does a corrupt oligarchy or police state. Fixing the social and cultural milieu we inhabit doesn’t require we don’t transition to sustainable energy, why not push for both?
As for large highly centralized infrastructure, that can be fine as long as it is publicly owned, I’ve got no huge problem with the huge public centralized hydro projects built for the TVA and BPA or Rural Electrification Administration for instance aside from their ecological impacts. There’s a successful proven model of how enormous infrastructure investments can unambiguously provide wide and significant societal benefits.
If highly distributed smaller scale generation makes better engineering and economic sense for a given situation then look at that. We can do both at the same time.
technology isn’t neutral.
its development and application and kind depend upon certain social arrangements holding true.
people who think that technology is useful are, I think making the mistake because it seems that tools are neutral. I can use my tools to build a house, or a coffin, or to cut neighbor to pieces and then put them in the coffin. it’s my choice about which to use them for.
technology is something more than just tools. the way they are developed presumes certain worldviews (values, ethics) and their adoption requires certain levels of specialization, both of which resolve into some kind of hierarchy based around knowledge, power and money. ((I guess this is not necessarily so, but I have yet to see an example of mass specialization that does not also have hierarchy)).
most of us “go along” because we personally benefit. that doesn’t mean that there aren’t losers within and outside the system. the biggest loser to our current level of technology is the natural world. I guess you’d have to take a very long view and think that the ends (eventual sustainability…perhaps) have been worth the means.
I find it difficult to find ANY condition under which the technology of the gun is morally neutral. they were made to kill. some killing is just more ethically justifiable to some of us, under some conditions, than others. same with chemical and biological weapons. just because we cast the opponents and evil and subhuman, and therefore worthy of their fate somehow, doesn’t make the technology used to develop those morally neutral. conceivably, if the same technology was instead used to save lives through better vaccinations, it wouldn’t be neutral.
And moving on from technology to politics, I think there are far more losers to Hoexter’s plan than he imagines, which complicates “Harnessing Self-Interest for the General Interest.”
Take carbon taxes, for instance. Who will be the losers?
Poor people for one. Carbon taxes “are potentially regressive, with the impact of a flat carbon tax potentially highest on the lowest income households.”
“CBO says a carbon tax would hit low-income households harder by raising their energy bills.”
This phenomenon is exacerbated by the fact that, in practice as opposed to in theory, where “such taxes have been implemented (mainly in Europe) lobby groups have been successful in gaining exemptions for highly affected industries.”
The overall economy might also be a loser. “In order to effectively reduce demand for carbon-based fuels, the tax itself may have to be excessive, hurting the entire economic system because businesses would not be able to produce and consumers would not be able to consume.”
The CBO report says the tax would raise the cost of fossil fuels, which “would tend to increase the cost of producing goods and services—especially things…that involve relatively large amounts of carbon emissions.”
The American people would certainly pay. A carbon tax that would be high enough to change behavior, like the $105 per ton Sweden has, would yield the US treasury $6.3 trillion over the next decade, according to a CBO report. (Of course the politically well-conncected in Sweden have been given sweetheart deals. Industry, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries pay only about 21 per cent of the tax. http://blogs.ubc.ca/realmelo/2013/03/06/a-quick-look-at-swedens-carbon-tax/ )
Those who happen to live in an area served by an electric utility which uses hydrocarbons to generate its electricity would lose.
Then there are the people in the industries which produce hydrocarbons, they would most definitely lose.
So if one buys into the self-interest axiom of classical and neoclassical economics that people make decisions based on their self-interest, then there are potentially a lot of losers to Hoexter’s plan who would pose a significant political obstacle to its adoption.
Hoexter comes across to me as having a strong bias for nuclear and biofuels. The rub, however, is this: nuclear and biofuels come with their own set of problems, and it’s not at all clear in an evenhanded comparison that they are any friendlier to human flourishing — a subjective concept if there ever was one — than hydrocarbons. But even if we buy into the moral imperatives of the industrial capitalist, will Hoexter’s plan fulfill those imperatives?
A more pessimistic argument to Hoexter’s is the following by Tom Philpott:
Folks like Philpott get branded as “neo-primitivists” or “doomers” and are summarily dismissed by the techno-optimists, as if they were a dreaded invasion of the Luddites.
Also, there’s an entirely different dimension to this debate that is missing, and that is that there’s a lot more than just energy that comes from a barrel of oil. There are many other products which we have come to rely upon, as is explained here:
So from a technical, empirical and objective point of view, things are far from settled. And from there we jump into moral and political considerations, where the search for truth becomes even more elusive.
Reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit, is it? The principles of this plan are based largely on direct use of renewable electricity or storing it in some form of battery for later use. Google “Renewable Electron Economy” and start reading…
As ever, Progressives are distracted from a root of evil to some mere branch of it.
Scared of CO2? You should fear God instead. Then you might take “Thou shall not steal” seriously – even if done subtly by a banking cartel.
What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted. Proverbs 10:24
Thanks, I’m glad you asked!
BTW: any ‘grand plan’ that does not include getting rid of the cars — all of them, at once — is a worthless waste of time. We are in a war, humans vs. cars, them or us, right now the mindless metal boxes are winning.
As far as I can tell – no plan – will ever be actualized unless it is pro credit growth (strip mining the future) as it is intrinsic to currant market function. All other considerations are secondary.
The IMF’s Financial System Stability Assessment report for Australia, Nov 2012 (page 10-11):
“Pressure on the net interest margin, which accounts for almost two-thirds of operating income, has the potential to encourage more risk-taking by banks in order to preserve profitability.” – Hat tip O’red8
“net interest income” is at the apex of the financial system, no wonder derivatives (hyper credit leverage engines) have been made lawfully senior.
This is why the answer always has to be ***MORE*** as every resource is a subset (cough… oil), rather than steady state or less. It is not a case of scientific observation or any other rational metric save the incessant need for credit creation to keep the system imploding like a dying red sun.
skippy… in summation, as far as myself can observe, only credit growth positive solutions will receive consideration, regardless of other plans merits, including superior long term solutions. This state is complicated by ideological templates trying to assert them selves in acts of survival, holding ground, gaining ground or exerting superiority over others.
PS. Ex nihilo got us in this mess… with a track record like that… what makes anyone think it will get us out? At least one tool understands the differences in nothing, like the nothing between -electrons and nucleus and the nothing at the edge of the Universe…. sigh.
PSS. Can credit be consider Pavlovian these days??? – FFS
@skippy: “only credit growth positive solutions will receive consideration”
I wish you would continue to expand on this idea. And its consequences. Thank you!