Making Profit Should Not Now Be the Primary Goal of a Business: Being Net-Zero Carbon Should Be

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

The Guardian has reported as part of its Polluters series that:

Companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt, the governor of the Bank of England has warned.

Mark Carney also told the Guardian it was possible that the global transition needed to tackle the climate crisis could result in an abrupt financial collapse. He said the longer action to reverse emissions was delayed, the more the risk of collapse would grow.

The Bank of England has said up to $20tn (£16tn) of assets could be wiped out if the climate emergency is not addressed effectively. But Carney also said great fortunes could be made by those working to end greenhouse gas emissions with a big potential upside for the UK economy in particular.

The warning comes after Mark Carney gave a speech last week in Japan to mark the second anniversary of the launch of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). As Chair of the Financial Stability Board of the Bank for International Settlements Mark Carney is intimately associated with these proposals.

There is, however, a fundamental problem with that initiative. What it proposes is voluntary and light touch reporting that will take place outside the framework of the financial accounts of major companies. In other words, and by definition, the TCFD proposals view climate change is a peripheral issue, external to the companies in question, and of secondary concern to their primary objective of making profit.

I do not agree. That is why I am promoting Sustainable Cost Accountinginstead. Sustainable cost accounting would make every large company account for its cost of becoming a net-zero carbon emitter in its accounts by 2022. I suggest that the plan should be to achieve that goal by 2030. And if the cost of being net-zero carbon was more than the company could afford, or if it could see no way of achieving this goal, then it should be declared ‘carbon insolvent’; and have its affairs wound up in an orderly fashion as it could not be a part of the future world of commercial activity that we need if life is to continue here on earth.

What sustainable cost accounting will do is identify precisely where that £16trn of cost will fall, and name those who have imposed the burden, which is exactly what it will prove to be.

I am aware that the implications are radical, but so too is the issue, and soo too then must be the response. Mark Carney’s TCFD misses the point my treating caron emission as a sideshow to main profit. The reality is that making profit is now secondary to carbon emission targets.

Business has to be radically transformed to deliver zero net carbon. Sustainable Cost Accounting is a route to delivering that radical transformation.

I should add that I have already written to Mark Carney on this issue.

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  1. vlade

    “And if the cost of being net-zero carbon was more than the company could afford, or if it could see no way of achieving this goal, then it should be declared ‘carbon insolvent’; and have its affairs wound up in an orderly fashion as it could not be a part of the future world of commercial activity that we need if life is to continue here on earth.”

    Cart before horse.

    A single activiy produces > 2.8bln tonnes of CO2/year. Industrial and automotive globally produces about 24bln/year. This single activity’s CO2 contribution has tripled from 1950s.

    The activity’s called “living and breathing”.

    Should we go and commit a mass suicide then, because we’re all carbon-insolvent, and by population growth are making it worse?

    CO2 did not suddenly become a total poison that kills everything it touches.

    The point is that any and all ecosystems work in some state of (sometime stable, sometime not so stable) balance. So we, as a WHOLE have to work towars it too.

    Declaring companies “carbon insolvent” in the UK will only lead to companies to move carbon-negative stuff into the UK, and the polluting etc. elsewhere. So unless you start tracking ALL of their supply chain (and that would be extremely complex), it’s just all talk. Like the accounting stopped the financial standards, and the CO2 stuff would not be cooked in new and innovative ways.

    Hell, we can’t even agree on how much CO2 some actions generate (cf dieselgate – do we really think that cheating in how much CO2 is generated somethign was limited to that?)

    That’s not to say we should do nothing. But the solutions need to be realistic.

    IMO the realistic solution is to figure the major (industrial and transport) contributors, and action on them.

    Chasing a mom-and-pop trucker to get him to buy an electric vehicle is IMO not realistic, and will alienate people.

    1. Ignacio

      Put an annual limit on fossil fuel consumptiom that has to shrink year after year. Reward those companies that contribute positively to it and punish those that don’t. There is not only the ‘living thing’, there are companies that naturaly increase their consumptiom and/or sell things that increase user consumptiom like those TVs that double or triple stanby consumption, simply because they can, because there are no limits, because current law allows for it. First and foremost proper and exhaustive public accounting of energy has to be set. Some energy spending will almost certainly have to be sacrificed, cirteria are needed to do that.

      1. vlade

        That is way better than the above, but it still doesn’t deal with the need to do this on a global basis.

        CO2 emitted in China and over the seas transporting the newest iPhone to the US is still CO2 emitted, even if Apple in the US didn’t do it.

        It’s not a simple problem, unfortunately. The closest you can get to is really carbon tax on all bought and sold fossil fuels, but that doesn’t stop say Saudis ignoring it and sellign carbon-tax free oil to China or India.

        1. vlade

          In theory, what you could do, but it would be horrendously complicated so a lots of gaming, fraud etc. – tax any energy, and any imported bit would have to have “energy certificate” which says how much energy is needed to create a single item (including packgaging and transport), and pay tax on that.

          It could encourage energy savings, simpler items would be cheaper, all of sudden it could even be cheaper to manufacture locally (rather than rely on the certificates which might be dodgy, assuming you’d have significant penalties there).

          If you wanted to make it yet more complicated, make it a tax and a tarrif. The tax is based on your national energy mix – the more carbon it produces, the higher the tax. The tarriff is based on global energy mix ex your nation. Again, the more carbon, the higher the tarriff (I’d not want to make it country-specific tarriff, as it’s too gameable).

        2. Ignacio

          As you say there is yet the problem of how to account for energy embedded on imports. In this case you cannot be that exhaustive if the country of origin doesn’t publish such detailed information but you can do it through overall fossil fuel spending for each country of origin. Assign each country at least the same rate of fossil fuel usage shrinking (for products different than energy imports). Trade treaties should probably be amended. Trade experts migth address this much better.

    2. xkeyscored

      I think vlade’s comment and the replies are a bit overharsh toward Richard Murphy.
      His scheme seems a good deal better than Mark Carney’s, and it’s surely good that even the Bank of England is beginning to realize the enormity of this crisis. “I should add that I have already written to Mark Carney on this issue” means Carney may get exposed to the idea that some things are more important than profit.
      Sustainable Cost Accounting is no more perfect than the Green New Deal, but the discussion is at least moving on. Measures previously considered lunatic fringe are entering mainstream discourse. There’s a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction, even if it’s flawed or unworkable.

      1. Titus

        Vlade, you being one of the most articulate people @NC, I’m not looking for a fight. I’m just guessing but if I get you right you seem a little, not a lot, annoyed. Which many are on this issue. Lambert’s expression is keeping in all in the ground. Another common view is that as humans were just not going to get our act together to do anything, i.e., so we ‘win’ the ‘Jackpot’. When you speak of realistic solutions, is it fair to say that definition would include something that actually deals with the problem, not simply just hand waving? I agree with completely that this isn’t something that can dealt with by ‘being a better person approach’. So what do we do? Or what is necessary to get anything done (assume the problem and timeline is real)?

        1. vlade

          I am annoyed, because this smells a lot like the “corporate social responsibility” crap a decade or so ago, except with dramatic penalties attached.

          The proposal entirely ignores whether it’s implementable, and how to make sure it would not turn into yet another moneyspinner for “carbon consultant”, and game/fake the numbers. I do not believe there’s a real larger company that would consistently produce real accounting numbers (becasue sometime’s it’s just not even possible, but in lot of cases, the incentives are not to produce good numbers – and auditors sign off just about anything as we saw). Why should this be any different (and, because it’s way harder to measure, not easier to game?).

          In doing so, the propsal gives some feel good factor, but does not really solve it. It ignores how a company can become carbon neutral for example, and assumes all of them somehow will – by buying government issued carbon credits? How’s that different from a carbon tax on energy (in principle)?

          TBH, I have a similar (albeit a bit smaller) problem with Greta. How about she takes a train to China, India etc. and tries to stage protests there, and persuade those countries? China emits twice as much CO2 as the US, and is growing the emissions five times faster – so on the current trajectory it will reach per-capita emissions of the US in a couple of years. India has lower base (per capita), but again, is growing at a staggering pace. Stagin student sit-ins in US states will not change that.

          As for the last questions – I don’t know. But I know that any solutions implemented needs to be reasonably global – even say if the US reduces its carbon footprint, but Africa/India/China continues towards US-like energy use, the world is done for.

          Realistically, I believe the Jackpot almost inevitable (well, in fact, I believe we’re already there in parts of the world) – the only question is when we’ll realise it at a global scale. If early enough, then maybe, just maybe, we can do something about it. But in the human history, the response to catastrophies and resource scarcity was IMO more often fight than cooperate.

          And in IMO any realistic response to this means less consumption = at least on surface “worse life”, which is not something you can really sell, until it’s inevitable.

          1. Susan the other`

            The best way to bring China/India/Africa under control is to act now. Rich western countries must stop buying goods from these countries unless they too can maintain net-zero in their manufacturing. They will not be allowed to be “on their honor” and do their own “disclosures”. That’s banker speak for keeping the old system from crashing. The old system has no other choice. It can crash in a controlled manner as RM has outlined above or it can just implode is a huge cloud of pollution and misery. The “cascading effects” of net-zero were outlined nicely in yesterday’s post from the Wirtschafts Uni, Vienna. The slowdown will be substantial and steady as it permeates the entire manufacturing/business segment of the EU. This can be projected globally. But we have to start somewhere. As Gail Tverberg has been telling us, if the price of oil/gas falls too low nobody can afford to pump. Except our looney frackers. God only knows what their business plan is. It might well have been to crash OPEC because we (US gov) have subsidized it completely. The beauty of RM’s proposal is at an even higher level than manufacturing – it is questioning the value of money/profit. Compared to the value of oxygen, water, food and shelter (aka real things), the value of money is just nonsense. So accounting principles that expose this truth are a timely step. Making a profit in money is no longer a goal because it is a total oxymoron. And disclosure about costly pollution is essential to stop the trend and turn it around. It’s not an immediate cure all. But the cascading effects will be profound if we just take this one very clear stand. The rest will follow. If we don’t it will be business and misery as usual.

            1. vlade

              Any accounting can and will be gamed. The costs of keeping the system honest, given the inherent complexity, are just way too high. We can’t keep even normal accounting honest and that has real trails of real money.

              The incentives to shift CO2 elsewhere are high too (and would be entirely legal).

              What you describe has more to do with my suggestion on carbon-based tarrifs than accounting.

              “Stop buying goods overnight” is something that would create massive social upheavals on both ends. Be careful what you wish for, lest you get it (cf Brexit).

              1. Susan the other`

                Well, maybe not overnight, but within a certain grace period, long enough to do some emergency adjustments.

                1. Susan the other`

                  Yes, carbon based tariffs would work. And they would show up immediately in the bottom line as the cost of controlling carbon. If the cost of controlling carbon, net-zero carbon, is too high for a company then they can declare carbon insolvency and be wound down. So it would be 6s. A long decline due to the higher cost of carbon energy. The difference between carbon-bankruptcy and money-bankruptcy is a change in the current mindset of doing business. If it is carbon bankruptcy and a business is resolved, maybe put back on its feet it would be with the understanding that no profit can be squeezed due to the cost of carbon and the business would not get to reorganize unless it had it carbon costs under control. Non-profits would pop up everywhere and be rid of the mandate to make an excessive profit to survive, by using cheap fossil fuels. Kind of a small difference. But accounting regulations and enforcements would certainly help.

                  1. Oregoncharles

                    Carbon-based tariffs are illegal under the trade agreements – most of them, I think. They’re one of the things Free Trade! was meant to prevent.

                    Bill Clinton has a lot to answer for.

                    The solution would be to withdraw from the agreements – or just ignore them, as Trump has been doing.

          2. xkeyscored

            How about she [Greta Thunberg] takes a train to China, India etc. and tries to stage protests there, and persuade those countries?
            The school climate strikes are happening in India – I think the strikers would welcome her warmly, even if India’s emissions continue to grow.
            As for China, you might as well suggest she set fire to herself outside a Chinese embassy to prove her commitment. Strikes are not encouraged in that bastion of proletarian revolution.
            As you say, “if the US reduces its carbon footprint, but Africa/India/China continues towards US-like energy use, the world is done for.” But if the US and EU don’t stop their emissions, why expect Africa/China/India to do so? We need to get our own house in order first. That said, I too doubt we’ll make a serious attempt until it’s too late.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          What we do is collectively have fewer offspring.

          As vlade mentioned, CO2 didn’t suddenly become poisonous and it isn’t people driving cars per se that’s the problem – it’s 7+ billion people all doing it.

          Same goes for other huge issues such as the shortage of water we keep hearing about. There isn’t less water on the planet all of a sudden, it’s just that the number of people trying to get access to the fixed supply of it is drastically increasing.

          If every couple had only two children, the population would start to go down. If you cut that to one (for argument’s sake – it’s fairly harsh and won’t happen voluntarily) you could reduce the population of the planet by around half in two generations. There are many people alive today who have seen global population double or more in their lifetimes. If there were a will to do so, we could reverse that trend within the lifetimes of many people alive today too.

      2. vlade

        Hurdle of being better than Carney’s or BoE is extremely low.

        A basic hurdle for any plan here is: How, specificaly, will it make the world’s emissions noticeably lower.

        UK makes 1% of the world’s CO2 contribution, and is actually shrinking (it shrunk fom about 560mt to about 380mt between 2005 and 2017). It’s less than 4% of China’s CO2 emissions. If you assume that this removes all UK’s CO2 emissions, and transfers none of them to other countries (and do you wish to buy a bridge?), then China alone will more than “compensate” for it in a a year or two.

        So, you caused a massive shock to the UK’s economy (because “CO2 insolvent” companies also have employees…), for no discernible result. FAIL.

      3. Richard Ingle

        There are resources that offer practical solutions to catastrophic climate disruption. One is a book edited by Scott Hawken titled “Drawdown”. It gives 100 programs not only to mitigate, but to lower CO2. Simple stuff like educating women and girls in addition to the many technical programs usually put forward. In addition, costs for each program are estimated along with saving if implemented. Another great resource is David Montgomery‘s recent book, “Growing a Revolution” that addresses agricultural policies to sequester CO2 and greatly improve food quality and quantity. This is doable! What is lacking is political will and education. See also David Freeman‘s book ”All Electric America.” He is an engineer and ran several large utility companies including the Tennessee Valley Authority.

    3. Titus.Andronicus

      Vlade, you being one of the most articulate people @NC, I’m not looking for a fight. I’m just guessing but if I get you right you seem a little not a lot, annoyed. Which many are on this issue. Lambert’s expression is keeping in all in the ground. Another common view is that as humans were just not going to get our act together to do anything, i.e., so we ‘win’ the ‘Jackpot’. When you speak of realistic solutions, is it fair to say that definition would include something that actually deals with the problem, not simply just hand waving? I agree with completely that this isn’t something that can dealt with by ‘being a better person approach’. So what do we do? Or what is necessary to get anything done (assume the problem and timeline is real)?

    4. Richard Murphy

      This is meant to be an international standard

      It does cover the supply chain

      And it would be on a country-bycountry basis

      1. vlade

        How do you get them to sign up? In any reasonable timeframe?
        How do you stop people from gaming it/fraud? (again, the incentives to game/fraud are high in normal accounting).

        Sorry, but this is really wishful thinking at best, at worst it would be taking resources from elsewhere.

  2. kimyo

    replacing fossil fuels is an engineering problem. so far, no viable path to a future fossil-fuel-free civilization exists.

    shouldn’t those who pretend that carbon taxes/offsets will get us there get called out here? if, of all places, here at nc, no real conversation can take place, then there is simply no hope for a solution. the engineers have to be allowed to speak, otherwise, it’s boeing or vw or pg&e.

    the engineers don’t have a solution. this is the real problem. those who argue for carbon taxes/offsets do not understand the nature of the problem we face.

    1. inode_buddha

      Solutions have existed for decades, with working models, on file at the US patent office. They work, I’ve seen them. Engineers know this and they know about them. The reason why they are not implemented is simple corruption.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Um, what solutions are these? Could you provide some patent numbers?

        Because as far as I’ve seen, we have no viable path to be 100% fossil-fuel-free. Even if we were to fully embrace nuclear to energize a larger grid that would charge batteries in our all-electric vehicle fleet and run heat pumps in place of every existing oil- and gas-fired furnace, we’d still have numerous activities that would release CO2. Like metal refining and cement production, where carbon is used to strip unwanted atoms out of raw ores. Or air and sea transport, where electricity lines can’t deliver power.

        Heck, even building those nuclear power stations and mining/refining the uranium/thorium fuel would release lots of carbon. It would be less than we’d see with other forms of energy production (renewables included), but certainly not zero.

          1. xkeyscored

            You what? These will stop fossil fuel consumption?
            I’ve just done a quick Google search on the first two, and they’re ways of making internal combustion engines more fuel efficient, not replacing fossil fuels.

            US4338906 – Fuel charge preheater – Google Patents
   › patents › US4338906
            US 4338906 A. Abstract. A fuel preheater for an internal combustion engine directs incoming fuel from inlet manifold (40) against an end wall (22) heated by …

            US 4503833 A – Apparatus And Operating Method For … – Patent Lens
   › lens › patent › US_4503833_A
            A method and apparatus for operating an electric ignition, internal combustion engine that substantially improves the fuel efficiency by utilizing heat normally …

            1. TheCatSaid

              You could look at Michael Water’s website. He has talks which mention several such technologies. He also mentions technologies that could have a valuable role to play as better transition energy sources.

              This is a good presentation he gave at the 2016 Breakthrough Energy Movement conference.

        1. Dan

          ..”building those nuclear power stations and mining/refining the uranium/thorium fuel would release lots of carbon.It would be less than we’d see with other forms of energy production (renewables included)”

          Grumpy Engineer, that’s a big pro-nuclear claim you’re slipping in there. Could you provide a few links to peer reviewed studies backing up that statement?

          Anybody want to discuss insurance and liability for nuclear? Just look at the PG&E’s corporate board room affect on California–and they can buy insurance. Nuclear power cannot.

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            @Dan: See

            If you look at the list, nuclear does the best. Only wind is comparable. But note that the numbers for wind don’t include the emissions associated with manufacture and deployment of energy storage systems that must accompany it at high penetration levels. Once you add the CO2 emissions associated with all of the lithium mining and refining (for batteries) or earth-moving and concrete manufacturing (for pumped storage), it’s not even close.

            1. Dan

              Fair enough, but why does everything have to be centralized and massive?
              Other than keeping engineers working :-)

              Solar rooftop panels and hot water panels don’t require that. Solar recharged car batteries can power 12volt lighting systems in homes.

              First example to show on DuckDuckGo:

              Can’t imagine ‘terrorists’ attacking anyone’s rooftop solar s systems like they could nukes.

              1. Grumpy Engineer

                Rooftop solar and hot water panels don’t do anything at 7AM in the dead of winter, which is when our country’s CO2 emissions are (by far) the highest.

                Solar and a small amount of battery storage can work pretty nicely in places with lots of sunshine and moderate temperatures. If all you’re looking to do is run a few lights at nighttime, then hey… go for it. But there are lots of places where the phrase “sunny and temperate” doesn’t apply. Some people need 3kW of power fed into their heat pumps continuously. Or 15kW if it’s cold enough for the emergency heat to kick in.

                Read the following blog post by Gail Tverberg to see why renewables won’t cut it:

      2. vlade

        Do share.

        Otherwise you’re just accusing of engineers – which there’s a fair few amongst the comenters – of being complicit in climate change.

        1. inode_buddha

          I’m not accusing anyone — I work in mech engineering for the last 35 years, and I know how they are strong-armed by the bosses.

          Back in the early 80’s a few guys were working on what we now call “syn-gas” engines. Henry “Smokey” Yunick and (IIRC) a fellow named Cox developed and had working, driving models patented. I recall the literature at the time — emissions were too low to measure, they burned regular gas and got near 90% efficiency, basically quadrupling mileage and horsepower.

          It irritates me that your comment almost feels like you’re giving me an assignment, but I’ll go to the patent office and dig out the relevant patent numbers and literature. I used to have them on disk somewhere around here.

          The reason why they were never used is because the inventors fell ill and sold the rights to GM for 20 mil. GM happened to share interlocking directorships with Exxon Mobil. The patents were buried and never saw the light of day again except for a few who remembered them at the time.

          1. Synoia

            The limit of efficiency in engines is settled science, and accepted by all engineers and scientists.

            It is the second law of thermodynamics, which sets the highest possible theoretical efficiency of any energy transfer system at 50%. In practice we are excellent if we achieve 35%, because there are always losses.

            There is no magic invention ,because if there were the VCs, or large car companies, or airplane manufacturers, would be all over it and it would dominate the transportation market.

            The basic problem is humans. Too many, too inefficient (we don’t even grow our own coats,) too hungry and too greedy) The same factors which drove us to succeed as a species are also our weakness.

            The best could be some reversion to the 17th Century, but for that to succeed we’d have to have no megalopolis.

            What is more probable, especially with the densely populated coastal areas being lost to sea level increase, is a mass die off.

            Civilizations fail, and it is becoming clear why they fail, and that our civilization is following that path. It is a combination of venal leadership and aristocracy, coupled with impossible to maintain infrastructure (for example PG&E).

            1. inode_buddha

              No, it isn’t settled. See the following patents.


              Notice they use heat that is otherwise wasted in the exhaust and radiator. Similar to a rocket using its own fuel to cool it.

              No business types would not be all over it. See above.

                1. Oregoncharles

                  IC engines throw away a LOT of heat. It’s a freebie if you can retrieve it. One example – I’m not an engineer – would be to strap a Stirling engine generator to either exhaust or radiator (it would function as a radiator), use it to charge your batteries or run anything electrical. It doesn’t make the engine any more efficient, but it does the car. That might be the secret.

                  Patent suppression, such as Inode is describing, is a long-standing charge; I’ve never figured out how valid it is. The logical solution would be to have forced licensing built into patents: if you’re not using it, someone else can, but they still have to pay you. But patent law needs all sorts of fixing.

                  1. vlade

                    That gives you extra efficiency, and yes, that would be a plus.

                    But Stirling engines tend to weight a lot, so strapping another one to an IC would mean a lot of efficiency savings would have to be compensated by a stronger engine to move the whole lot around.

                    I’m pretty sure we can make more efficient engines. But it’s “more efficient”. More efficient can slow the buildup of CO2 but will not reduce it. Practice shows that making something more efficient rarely reduces consumption.

            2. vlade

              “The same factors which drove us to succeed as a species are also our weakness.”

              So true. In a lot of cases the traits that bring you to a sucess are exactly the traits that make sure your sucess is temporary, as succeeding needs a different skillset from staying there. Few master that, hence my cynicism about the human race.

            3. xkeyscored

              the second law of thermodynamics, which sets the highest possible theoretical efficiency of any energy transfer system at 50%
              50%. Is that number valid?

              1. Grumpy Engineer

                No, it’s not. There are combined-cycle gas turbines out there that achieve nearly 65% thermal efficiency. And there are some large diesel engines out there that have hit 55%.

                But I’ve never heard of anybody getting to the 90% thermal efficiency that inode_buddha mentions.

                1. Synoia

                  Since the second law of thermodynamics states that not all supplied heat in a heat engine can be used to do work the Carnot efficiency limits the fraction of heat that can be used.

                  The Carnot efficiency can be expressed as

                  μC = (Ti – To) / Ti (1)


                  μC = efficiency of the Carnot cycle

                  Ti = temperature at the engine inlet (K)

                  To = temperature at engine exhaust (K)

                  The wider the range of temperature, the more efficient becomes the cycle. The lowest temperature is limited by the temperature of the sink of heat – if it is the atmosphere or the ocean, river or whatever available. Normally the lowest temperature available is in the range 10 – 20 oC. The maximum temperature is limited by the metallurgical strength of the available materials.

                  In that example the lowest temperature possible is generally the exhaust temperature of the working fluid, and is much hotter than 20 deg C.

                2. Synoia

                  Those combined cycle gas turbines are a combination of gas turbine and exhaust heat recovery to boil water for a steam turbine generally in a power station.

                  One has a gas turbine which provide both steam and turns generators, coupled with a steam turbine which uses the heat from the gas turbine exhaust to generate steam to drive the steam turbine.

                  Power station overall energy to electricity deliver is somewhere about 39%, with losses, not including the minimum 50% loss of energy in the electrical distribution system (maximum power therom).

                  Large Scale Power station are considered the most efficient heat to distributed energy system available.

                  Overall efficiency at the outlet plug is less than 20%.

                  1. Grumpy Engineer

                    You misunderstand the maximum power theorem. That’s the efficiency you get when operating a battery at its peak power output capability point. If you pull less than current than that, the losses inside the battery (or generator or transformer) go down and the overall efficiency goes up. To quote the Wikipedia article:

                    The theorem results in maximum power transfer across the circuit, and not maximum efficiency. If the resistance of the load is made larger than the resistance of the source, then efficiency is higher, since a higher percentage of the source power is transferred to the load, but the magnitude of the load power is lower since the total circuit resistance goes up.

                    And that’s how we operate the grid, with load resistance higher than the source resistance. Accordingly, distribution losses in the US average about 5%, per To quote:

                    The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity transmission and distribution (T&D) losses average about 5% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed annually in the United States.

          2. vlade

            I looked up syngas, and the “clean” part comes from the possible use CO2 as feeder stock (althought there was no great sucess with that so far). For either of those, it needs external energy source. Right now syngas is produced as byproduct (not using CO2), so it can’t be really called “clean” (yes, it improves efficiency. lots of other things do), the closest to real “recycled” energy is when the reaction uses solar energy to drive it. I have no idea how efficient that is though.

            So at the very very best, syngas could be a carbon-neutral replacement for vehicle fuel. Which would be a great thing, as transport is almost a quarter of the CO2 emissions worldwide. But that would very much depend on where would the energy to create syngas come from.

            The reality is, you can’t cheat physics. Humanity’s energy budget has to, ultimately, come from somewhere. We do not have any ways of create energy from nothing, so we ultimately resort to one of the three items:
            – mechanical (wind, tides etc.)
            – heat (which is most often turned into mechanical really, ex things like heating and cooking)
            – photonic (solar).

            Photonic is the only one where we’re breaking the “closed system” Earth, and where the source is, for all current terms and purposes, inexhaustible. But we don’t know how to really use it efficiently and scalable. That said, even that could work if we had efficient and scalable way to store the power. Which we don’t.

            So any breakthrough (if any) will be more likely IMO in the storage than generation/usage (as these are very much constrained and we can’t eke much more in a lot of them).

            1. TheCatSaid

              “you can’t cheat physics” assumes we know everything to know about physics. Check out the SAFIRE Project updates, for example. We’re only beginning to understand more about the role of plasma and the role it plays, and the indications that SAFIRE Project points towards a better understanding of the Sun.

              You make the point about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and assert that only solar power is not a closed system. Recent space missions and other scientific observations support the perspective that Earth is not a closed system in many respects. The possibility of tapping into the electromagnetic flows that surround our planet, and the Earth’s role as a capacitor, are just a couple of aspects being explored these days.

              1. vlade

                Yes, next year someone can finally do fission reactor.

                Seriously, we have a window of maybe 10, 20 years at best. For nuclear, it took decades from theorethical physics to a working _test_ reactor, and yet longer to a commercial one. Physics which is a gleam in someone’s eye is unlikely to help us short term.

                1. TheCatSaid

                  Things are more advanced than that.
                  Many efforts underway from various directions.
                  There are people putting their own time & money into various things. Flying under the radar can be the best strategy–it seems that going the conventional patent-filing route just guarantees you’ll be bought out, secrets stolen (US patent office has been sending all the patent info to servers in Pakistan for many years! And Serco in UK is subcontracted to process all US patent filings since several years) or shut down in other ways.

                  New transitional technologies will have a role to play. (E.g., family friend has a new technology that burns coal at 100%, no residue or pollutants. Might not be the best long-term solution, but it could be useful as an interim measure.)

            2. Oregoncharles

              This might be the place to revive my vision of using the Yellowstone supervolcano (which will kill us all one of these days) as a heat source. You wouldn’t use the existing hot water, but pump water down near the magma chamber and recycle the steam. On a large enough scale, it might delay the next eruption. This is geothermal energy, independent of solar, in immense amounts. A group at NASA though of it, too.

              If you’re worried about industrializing Yellowstone (I would be), there’s another one at Long Valley in California.

          3. Grumpy Engineer

            Patents are listed here:

            All of the patents have expired. Even if GM doesn’t want to use them, other auto manufacturers (Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, etc.) could do so if they wished. And yet they haven’t. This is almost certainly due to durability issues at the elevated temperatures required, as noted in this article and accompanying comments:


            But even if it did work, it wouldn’t be good enough. Raising car engine efficiency from 36% to 90% would only reduce fuel consumption by 60%. The IPCC says we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 80%. It’s short of the goal by a factor of two. And it’s definitely not “fossil-fuel-free”.

            1. Oregoncharles

              I grew up with Cummins Engine Co. An in-law of mine was a chief engineer on the adiabatic engines. He was working with ceramic engines – one way to minimize the heat problem.

              Cummins funded work on Stirling engines, too, but I never heard that anything came of it.

          4. xkeyscored

            they burned regular gas
            Exactly what we need to stop doing. Burning it ‘more efficiently’ just means it’s cheaper to drive, so people will probably just drive more. (Assuming the ideas actually work.)

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      @kimyo: You said, “the real problem. those who argue for carbon taxes/offsets do not understand the nature of the problem we face.

      Aye. That is VERY true. Taxes and offsets only work if we have reasonable alternatives in place. We had alternatives back in the days of acid rain. Scrubbers could be installed to soak up 95% of the sulfur emissions. Better combustion management could greatly reduce CO and NOx formation. But for CO2, the alternatives are lacking. It’s a primary product of combustion, and scrubbers won’t touch it.

      The only way to eliminate the CO2 emissions is to stop the combustion in the first place. But if you’re relying on that combustion inside your car engine to get to work, you can’t just stop. If you’re relying on that combustion inside your furnace to heat your home during cold winter nights, you can’t just stop. You need viable alternatives. And we don’t have them. People still need to get to work and still need to heat their homes. Imposing a carbon tax in the absence of readily-available and cost-effective alternatives is simply punitive. Just ask the “yellow vest” protestors in France.

      1. vlade

        Offsets I agree, taxes I don’t – because IMO the point of carbon taxes is not to produce the same with less carbon, it’s to produce less, full stop (if the former happens, that’s a possible plus).

        Yes, it’s punitive. But the alternative may be some sacrifices now (call it “2nd prize”) vs a proper Jackpot (blinking and screaming) few decades later. Not that I expect any pols being able to sell it, at least not w/o a massive change in the society.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          @vlade: I used to be an advocate for carbon taxes, but after further study, I’ve concluded they have two fundamental flaws:

          [1] Carbon taxes reduce the ability of poorer people to make investments that could reduce their CO2 footprint. For example, buying a plug-in hybrid car and adding insulation to the attic might reduce a family’s CO2 footprint by 25%, but if they’ve been impoverished by carbon taxes, they won’t be able to afford these improvements.

          [2] Carbon taxes won’t reduce CO2 emissions enough. Even when people are trying really hard, most cannot reduce their CO2 emissions by more than 15% or so. Particularly in the short term. With significant investments (like new cars and insulation), you might see a 30% reduction. But to get to the 80% reduction that the IPCC says is necessary, people would have to make major life changes. Like abandoning a large suburban house in a cold region and moving to a small city-based condo in a temperate region. [And they must not sell their old energy-pig of a house to anybody either, as that would cause the CO2 emissions associated with it to continue.]

          I don’t see carbon taxes getting us there.

          1. Oregoncharles

            The usual proposal is tto return the carbon taxes as a partial Basic income. The effect is to transfer funds from those who emit a lot to those who use little – and make the program very popular.

            At best, carbon taxes are just one tool in the box.

          2. vlade

            I see where you’re comming from here, but:
            [1] – can be funded, in part at least, by the society. TBH, I’d think that stuff like insulation
            [2] – well, yes. But that’s the problem that we, as global human society, that we’re living unsustainably. We do have to change – either by being fewer of us, or by making major reductions as you describe. I do not believe we can go as we are (short of some major physics breakthrough). The sooner we recognise it, the more gradual the change can be.

    3. vlade

      Carbon taxes could reduce consumption, which could reduce CO2. Overconsumption together with overpopulation is a very large part of the problem.
      If we had the population of 1950s (cca 2.5bln people), I’m reasonably sure we could afford to have not massively worse lifestyle than we have now even emitting CO2 as we do now.

      Given that we don’t, and we can’t get there overnight short of a major catastrophe (which would cause different problems too), reducing consumption a lot is where we likely will have to start. That will not happen voluntarily.

  3. Prabhar

    It has long been known in science that the predominant source of carbon is the helium-burning process producing the carbon-payload delivered by stellar explosions.

    The 1974 paper “Thermal instability of helium-burning shell in stars evolving toward carbon-detonation supernovae“, by Sugimoto & Nomoto, describes the process in some detail.

    The carbon taxes levied on exploding stars would pay for remediation efforts and would prevent global economic collapse.

    More important, stellar carbon tax programs are just, in the sense that they target the actual source of carbon pollution. Other proposals merely target the recyclers of existing carbons.

    1. JCC

      I’m not sure what you’re saying here…

      Are you saying local (this earth) carbon reduction is a waste of time?

      Or are you inferring that the Sugimoto & Nomoto paper is BS and that there were no carbon producing Supernovae during the Pleistocene Epoch , the Ice Age that lasted about 2.6 million years?

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Prabhar’s comment is a bit of a troll, and a rather hilarious one at that.

        He’s (quite correctly) noting that all carbon atoms on the planet ultimately came from the debris of earlier stars that exploded in supernovae. And when we talk about “reducing carbon”, we actually don’t eliminate any carbon atoms. All we really do it talk about where they will reside: underground, in the form of trapped methane, liquid hydrocarbons, or coal; or in the atmosphere, as part of CO2 or CH4 molecules.

        As for taxing supernova events… Well, what can I say? It tickled my funny bone.

        1. notabanktoadie

          What’s interesting to me is that government-privileged usury cartels can make even carbon, previously know as the Element of Life, a source of global harm.

          Hence Deuteronomy 23:19-20 +1
          Progressive disbelief and mere pragmatism 0.

          1. Nakheed Khapit Al Ismam

            Deuteronomy 23:20 often is mistranslated. We have:

             תַשִּׁ֔יךְ לַנָּכְרִ֣י

            which is to be read as “to-foreigner you-[may-give]-bite”, in contradistinction to the prohibition (Deut 23:19) against giving-bite to:


            “your kinfolk.” Biting one’s own kinfolk was a ritual practiced by many tribes as a form of acceptance and welcome, much like a kiss. Reserving this courtesy for outsiders was a significant advance in civility.


        2. xkeyscored

          Oh. I thought Prabhar was worried at the prospect of the likes of Ed Sheeran and Robert De Niro going supernova.

    2. TheCatSaid

      The words “It has long been known in science that . . . ” trigger a red flag.
      What is “known” is sometimes (often?) mistaken, or at least benefits from reinterpretation from a different perspective.

      To speak to your example of “helium-burning process producing the carbon-payload delivered by stellar explosions”–yes, this is current consensus belief / “known”.
      There are other interpretations of observed data, supported by theory and laboratory experiments. Guess what, it doesn’t have anything to do with internal thermonuclear processes!

      As with comets, our “knowledge” about the Sun has been contradicted by many observations/data/space missions, yet the conventional hypotheses continue to be promulgated.

      There is a large body of data–supported by satellite observations in various wavelengths and new plasma lab research on Earth–to support an Electric Sun model. In particular, those interested in the science might look into the data acquired by the SAFIRE Project. Useful links: HERE and HERE

      Plasma science and electric currents in space are slowly changing our fundamental understanding about how the Sun and stars work. The universe is connected by coherent plasma filaments and electric currents, and we can increasingly see those connections (e.g., Birkeland currents) connecting the Sun, planets, moons, galaxies. Awareness of this new perspective–that charge separation, electric currents and plasma play key roles in star, planet and galaxy formation and interactions–will slowly penetrate mainstream astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology.

  4. TheCatSaid

    If one’s goal is to contribute to planetary balance, is “net carbon” the most helpful goal? Really?

    Finding cleaner, safer, more efficient energy sources than burning stuff could be a better idea, and not wasting energy. There are other policies that might improve both our environment and lifestyles, and faster.

    For example, requiring that all/most things be manufactured in a way that they are easily reusable, repairable or upgradable, or something in that direction.

  5. rc

    Recent research supports that solar cycles and galactic cosmic radiation effects on cloud formation have much bigger impacts on weather than humans. Btw, warming cycles have historically been better for humanity, if indeed we are in a warming cycle.

    Perhaps we should be taxing real pollutants that we know harm and potentially prematurely kill humans and ecosystems. Improperly disposed of heavy metals, harmful chemicals, pharmaceuticals, … fine particulates, fertilizer run-off, plastics, trash in the ocean… We should be conserving habitats and looking at energy independence and distributed generation as national security and safety issues.

    Human caused climate change seems more like religion than science. This former scientist views these policy hysterics as another reason for governments to tax and control everything without any proof that these taxes and regulations are beneficial.

    1. Darius

      CO2 levels nearly doubling in the industrial era. This is the elephant in the room that is 90 percent of the issue. Humans by their nature alter their environment. Now our power to do so far exceeds our collective judgment.

      Murphy’s proposal is worth further discussion or refinement at least.

    2. xkeyscored

      Recent research supports that solar cycles and galactic cosmic radiation effects on cloud formation have much bigger impacts on weather than humans.
      What, pray, might this research be, and where can we find it?

      1. rc

        This is recent research that is supported by other work:

        New evidence suggests that high-energy particles from space known as galactic cosmic rays affect the Earth’s climate by increasing cloud cover, causing an “umbrella effect.” –Kobe University, Japan, 3 July 2019

        Intensified East Asian winter monsoon during the last geomagnetic reversal transition
        Yusuke Ueno, Masayuki Hyodo, Tianshui Yang & Shigehiro Katoh
        Scientific Reportsvolume 9, Article number: 9389 (2019) | Download Citation


        The strength of Earth’s magnetic dipole field controls galactic cosmic ray (GCR) flux, and GCR-induced cloud formation can affect climate. Here, we provide the first evidence of the GCR-induced cloud effect on the East-Asian monsoon during the last geomagnetic reversal transition. Bicentennial-resolution monsoon records from the Chinese Loess Plateau revealed that the summer monsoon (SM) was affected by millennial-scale climate events that occurred before and after the reversal, and that the winter monsoon (WM) intensified independently of SM variations; dust accumulation rates increased, coinciding with a cooling event in Osaka Bay. The WM intensification event lasted about 5000 years across an SM peak, during which the Earth’s magnetic dipole field weakened to <25% of its present strength and the GCR flux increased by more than 50%. Thus, the WM intensification likely resulted from the increased land–ocean temperature gradient originating with the strong Siberian High that resulted from the umbrella effect of increased low-cloud cover through an increase in GCR flux.

    3. TheCatSaid

      Recent research supports that solar cycles and galactic cosmic radiation effects on cloud formation have much bigger impacts on weather than humans.

      There is a lot of great recent research about electromagnetic impact on planetary geology, weather and storms by Andrew Hall on the Thunderbolts YouTube site. It has changed my understanding of all things weather-related, as I gain appreciation for the role of charge separation and electric currents. E.g., there is a series of several videos called “Eye of the Storm” and another series about “The Arc-Blasted Earth”.

      Since watching many of these short videos I cannot see mountains, tornadoes, or striated rock formations the same. Not to mention triangular buttresses in harmonic series on mountain formations found all over the world! Once I see the pattern, I cannot “unsee” it. It becomes obvious that the explanations for many things I thought I understood aren’t correct.

      1. xkeyscored

        I’ve just whizzed through Eye & Arc-Blasted at double speed, and noticed nothing about weather or climate change.
        While electromagnetic phenomena may have had more influence on geologic formations than formerly acknowledged, I note, looking at the titles on the Youtube Thunderbolts channel, that several appear to take ancient mythology as evidence for Hall’s ideas.

        1. TheCatSaid

          You’ll need to take a little more time than a “whiz through”.

          No, ancient mythology is not used as “evidence” for Hall’s ideas. That’s just the icing on the cake, mentioned in some videos but not at all in many or most.

          Hall has an academic background in geology and aerospace engineering. He understands wind tunnels and shock waves. He was also a park ranger for many years. He has a professional background in power engineering. He seems to know the southwest like the back of his hand–or much of it.

          Hall’s videos mention lots of recent research (e.g., ion flows in tornados and hurricanes). He also shows how the weather phenomena we can easily see now on Mars are the same as what has been left behind on Earth, but misunderstood. IOW, he has extensive expertise in multiple scientific and professional disciplines.

          It becomes obvious–if you spend the time to listen/watch or read the detailed articles on his blog, that the limited range of usual explanations (weathering over geological time scales, subduction, water erosion, volcanos) cannot possibly explain the formations we actually see in real life. (E.g., the sharp triangular buttresses in Iran, or here’s an example I found in Namibia when researching something unrelated. Scroll to pic nos. 2, 8, 10 and 12 and look at the triangular buttresses in the background. 12 is the most obvious.)

          The first time I came across the concepts I had to watch several times, or pause the video to digest the diagrams. (I am not used to looking at wind tunnel diagrams and the standing waves caused by supersonic shock waves.) Maybe a better starting point would be this one.

          This is in-depth work, well explained and documented, but it does take a personal investment of time. As with some of the financial, economic or other topics discussed on NC in depth, if it is unfamiliar territory it can take a little while to familiarize oneself with the “landscape” of ideas and examples.

        2. TheCatSaid

          The climate change aspect becomes apparent
          1) by inference once one understands that changes and effects normally assumed to occur over millions of years or more can occur in hours or days in the presence of strong electrical currents, and that there is ample physical evidence for this having taken place;
          2) by becoming aware that electricity, plasma and electromagnetic inflows and outflows play a crucial role in weather and climate, to an extent not yet generally understood in the climate science discipline.

          For example, Lichtenberg patterns quickly become obvious, and that these are quite distinct from being “dried up river beds”.

        3. TheCatSaid

          Each of these is a SERIES of 4-5 videos. If you look at the notes for each one you will find links to the others in the relevant series.

          Eye of the Storm (series) is all about weather!

          Arc-Blasted series is all about Earth and geological formations, with indications that they were formed by powerful electrical currents. The same principles are regularly applied in aeronautical engineering, electrical discharge machining of chips, etc. The problem is that geologists, astronomers, etc. are not familiar with recognizing the visible signatures of plasma, supersonic shock waves, and charge separation phenomena caused by strong, focused plasma and electrical currents. It’s like arc welding–but most geologists are not arc welders!

          The electrical currents that create weather and planetary surfaces also play a role in climate. (Weather over time ==> climate.)

  6. coboarts

    “Perhaps we should be taxing real pollutants…” but that’s not what gets the attention, is it? Although, for those fetishizing the fully administered life, the utopia of the global technocracy (see above), the gaming is all that’s required.

  7. Darius

    CO2 is a real pollutant. Like with everything else, dosage is the critical factor. CO2 at 180 ppm yields relative stability. 400 ppm results eventually in mass extinction, drowned coasts, and a host of other effects.

  8. Dan

    Cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Add to that the diesel used in gravel and sand sorting, trucking, mixing, the water for concrete and the carbon needed for the steel reinforcing and concrete becomes a huge source of carbon.

    Therefore any attempt to build “our” way out of climate change by more building is counterproductive. New high rises built next to newly poured concrete rail transit stations, to be theoretically occupied by people riding transit to work is a nice sop to land developers and builders, but solves nothing. California state law now overrides local zoning and forces this on communities. The developer’s donations flow in.

    The houses abandoned by the people that move into transit oriented development are not bulldozed but often become overcrowded hives for multiple families with lots of old cars.

    Nice charts and numbers here:

  9. Chauncey Gardiner

    Richard Murphy has made a creative and constructive proposal, although it would likely face both resistance from entrenched interests and practical challenges in developing accounting standards and auditing compliance. Major changes to the current paradigm and “dramatic penalties” for noncompliance are necessary given the short time window for effective action and the deadly seriousness of the problem. We cannot dictate other nations adopt such practices. However, given the pervasive nature of the problem globally, and past receptivity of many other countries to both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, I expect many are receptive to taking measures to reduce carbon emissions consistent with their economic structure and technological development. China, for example, has become a global leader in development of renewable energy technologies. Too, we can levy punitive tariffs and taxes on imported products that entail a high level of carbon emissions in their production, transport and disposition. The challenge we collectively face is enormous; and the economic and social costs and effects of both inaction and the actions necessary to solve the problem should not minimized. But the costs of inaction in the name of complexity or simply resistance to change — whether technological, engineering, accounting, energy conservation, or reducing product waste and obsolescence demand — are simply too high.

    1. xkeyscored

      I agree. Skimming these comments again, I wonder how many read Richard Murphy’s piece through to the end.
      “I am aware that the implications are radical, but so too is the issue, and so too then must be the response. Mark Carney’s TCFD misses the point my treating carbon emission as a sideshow to main profit. The reality is that making profit is now secondary to carbon emission targets. Business has to be radically transformed to deliver zero net carbon. Sustainable Cost Accounting is a route to delivering that radical transformation.”
      Not claiming that Sustainable Accounting is the route, or that it will cure everything, and not claiming we’ll all be able to happily pursue our high consumption lifestyles. As you put it, Richard Murphy has made a creative and constructive proposal.

    2. meeps

      I agree that Mr. Murphy’s proposal deserves a closer look, including the additional linked paper, Sustainable Cost Accounting, which I’ve not yet had time to read.

      I have a sneaking suspicion that the proposed accounting standard would quickly bring into harsh focus just how much business activity would need to cease, of necessity, under the new paradigm. Radical as that might be, it could be useful to sort out issues of necessity.

      To use an example I’m familiar with (I imagine everyone has their own issue to substitute here), I’m a type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump, and I wonder how I’ll survive in a future where my insulin delivery equipment can’t be made or distributed absent the fracking and petrol industries. Perhaps one day someone will invent a pump made from carrots, at which time said system would still not be viable unless petrol-soaked monocultures and dirty transport could also be overcome. Until then, could Sustainable Cost Accounting help to prioritize which businesses could fall by the wayside (fluorescent, plastic, skull-keychain dangle makers, maybe?) in order that priority be given to businesses that perform life-sustaining or otherwise critical functions? An alternative would be to let diabetics die, which I don’t advocate, but that’s another way these things will be “prioritized” if we fail to look directly in depth at these problems.

      When I encounter the language of ‘Corporate Accountability’ I tend to chafe since corporations are, at present, anything but accountable for the damage they’re doing, but Richard Murphy is no dolt and his work at the Tax Justice Network has been good, piquing my interest.


  10. Titus

    Vlad, thank you. Again much that you say I agree with. In fact you raise issues I haven’t thought about or thought about in the way you do which is of great value to me. You are quite brave to take on all comers, I find it very hard to do, my complements. One issue you raise is if I may paraphrase is ‘declining standard of living’ (I suppose ‘lifestyle is a word’, but it strikes me as a odd word, a life having a style… – my problem). So, today @NC we have discussion on the quality of ‘poop’ of the less well off v. the 1%, I’m sure that has some correlation to standard of living we now have. So I grew up in house built in 1750, and have been a engineer all my life so with all the stuff laying around, I could live reasonably well, if there were no carbon fuels starting tomorrow. However, I don’t see anyway for NYC to get from here to there. The question is what is 1. A decent standard of living? 2. A standard that is acceptable, or is there one? Does it come down to having something forced on you?

  11. TheCatSaid

    At the heart of this discussion is the question of quality vs quantity, and who or how is this to be adjudicated or regulated, if at all?

    In an ideal world better products and technologies would rise to the surface, but that’s not the way Intellectual Property or markets actually work. Governments steal or buy out patents for many reasons. Excellent new technology could easily be understood to be important for national security, and thus commercialization does not occur. One of the advantages is maintaining control of the existing power/energy systems.

    For example, there was a guy who famously built several water-fueled cars; the government bought him out eventually for a large sum–but never used it, at least not openly.

  12. anon y'mouse

    “the houses abandoned by the people that move into transit oriented development….”

    do you mean poor people who have been pushed out by the costs of rents/mortgages from the areas that have “transit oriented development” to places further and further away from their crap jobs that still need their crap cars to get to said crap jobs?

    multi-family living is, or can be, efficient in various ways. how else to increase housing density?

    “hives”….someone’s slip is showing.


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