Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Historian and writer Andrea Wulf has written a prize-winning account of the complex personality, travels and companions of this Prussian naturalist, explorer and geographer. Alexander von Humboldt, though famous in his day, is now all but forgotten.

This is a fascinating book. Here is an excerpt from the epilogue. (more…)

Trump’s climate fantasies

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs (born 1954) writes, optimistically, that Donald Trump will be unable to slow the global move to low-carbon, renewable sources of energy. He is not the only person to make this argument, but few have stated it so eloquently.

Trump is surrounded by cronies … [who] believe that by denying climate change they can restore the wealth and glory of coal, oil, and gas. They are wrong. Greed will not reverse human-caused climate change, and Trump’s executive orders will not stop the global process of phasing out coal, oil, and gas in favor of wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, geothermal, and other low-carbon energy sources.  

In less than 100 days, we have learned that Trump is a man living in a fantasy world. He issues decrees, barks orders, sends out midnight Tweets, but to no avail. The facts – real ones, not his “alternative” variety – keep intervening. There is physics; there is law; there are courts; there are procedures; and there are voters, only 36% of whom approve of Trump’s job performance. There is also China, which wins technologically and diplomatically from every self-defeating move by the incompetent US president. ….

In the end, we can be amazed at the foolishness of America’s president and the corruption of the US Republican Party. But we should not believe that Trump’s climate fantasies will change global reality or alter the implementation of the Paris climate agreement.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, “Donald Trump’s Climate Fantasies“, Project Syndicate, 31 March 2017.

Jeffrey Sachs’ latest book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable (Columbia University Press, 2017).

satire of the day

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Source: <<>>

historical background for the Dakota pipeline protest

Monday, December 26th, 2016

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

The crude oil pipeline that the Dakota Sioux oppose today at Standing Rock is reminiscent of an earlier threat: the railway that crossed their land and brought European immigrants in the late 19th century. The Sioux lost their struggle against the railway. Will they succeed in their effort to re-route a pipeline that threatens them today? Only time will tell.

Below are extracts from a classic history, written by Dee Brown, that helps us understand the protest that is going on at the Standing Rock reservation today. (more…)

continuing Dakota Access pipeline controversy

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Three weeks ago, protestors opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline, on the border of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, declared victory when the US Army decided to delay a crucial permit needed to sink the pipeline below Lake Oahe on the Missouri river. Ed Crooks, US industry and energy editor at Financial Times, reported at the time that the victory was temporary, since “Donald Trump’s team has said he supports the pipeline, and his administration is expected to grant the approvals that have so far been denied.

There has been little coverage of the pipeline controversy during the past three weeks, even though though thousands of protestors remain at the border of the reservation, suffering freezing temperatures in the harsh North Dakota winter. Mr Crooks has written an update for this weekend’s Financial Times.

Three items of Mr Crooks’ report caught my attention. First, all the Dakota Access pipeline has been laid, except for a section that crosses the Missouri river. Second, crude oil is currently transported by rail, which is a more expensive, and presumably environmentally more dangerous than a pipeline. Third, the pollution risks are said to be greater for an alternative crossing of the Missouri river just north of Bismarck. This raises unanswered questions. Is the risk greater for the alternative pipeline crossing because a larger (and more affluent) population is affected? Or is it because the probability of a spill is greater?

[The Dakota Access] pipeline is intended to carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude per day [from the oil fields of North Dakota to southern Illinois] at much lower cost than the rail transport used today.

The $3.8bn project is more than 92 per cent complete, and Energy Transfer Partners, the company leading it, aims to have the final section completed in the new year. ….

For the Standing Rock Sioux, however, the argument is not about the whether the pipeline should exist, but why it has to pass so close to their reservation. …. A recent pipeline leak that spilled about 3,100 barrels of oil in western North Dakota has stoked fears about the potential threat.

A rumour at the [protestors’] camp holds that Dakota Access had originally been intended to pass about 40 miles away, north of the state capital Bismarck, but the city’s residents protested and forced Energy Transfer to divert the route closer to the Sioux.

It is false, but there is a germ of truth behind it: the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has responsibility for awarding permits for pipelines to cross rivers and lakes, did look at an alternative route north of Bismarck, but concluded the pollution risks would be greater.

Brigham McCown, a former chief US pipelines regulator now working for Mr Trump’s transition team, says Dakota Access would be safer than the oil trains, which have suffered several accidents. He describes the attitude of the Standing Rock tribe as “not in my back yard”.

“If everybody had that sort of mentality, we wouldn’t be able to build a road, a bridge, or a prison or an airport,” he says.

“Other routes were rejected, and this one came up because it had the least impact.”

For the Standing Rock Sioux, the call to think of the wider interest rings hollow after centuries of rough deals from white settlers. The Standing Rock reservation is located where it is because the land was seen as all but worthless. Now it turns out to have some value because of its location close to the best route between the Bakken oilfields and refineries in the Midwest. But US businesses are again trying to cross the land and water without paying any compensation. [Emphasis added.]

Ed Crooks, “North Dakota pipeline battle far from over as protesters dig in“, Financial Times, 24 December 2016 (metered paywall).

make America gasp again!

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Here is the beginning of a New York Times op-ed, written tongue-in-cheek by economist Paul Krugman.

Many people voted for Donald Trump because they believed his promises that he would restore what they imagine were the good old days — the days when America had lots of traditional jobs mining coal and producing manufactured goods. They’re going to be deeply disappointed: The shift away from blue-collar work is mainly about technological change, not globalization, and no amount of tweets and tax breaks will bring those jobs back.

But in other ways Mr. Trump can indeed restore the world of the 1970s. He can, for example, bring us back to the days when, all too often, the air wasn’t safe to breathe. And he’s made a good start by selecting Scott Pruitt, a harsh foe of pollution regulation, to head the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]. Make America gasp again!

Paul Krugman, “Trump and Pruitt Will Make America Gasp Again“, New York Times, 9 December 2016 (metered paywall).

The column is self-explanatory. I would add, though, that Mr Pruitt (born 1968) is a Republican politician, currently Attorney General of Oklahoma and wants to abolish the EPA. Should he become head of the EPA, his term in office might be very brief!

resolving the Dakota Access pipeline controversy

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Opponents of the oil pipeline that threatens the water supply of a Sioux Indian reservation in North Dakota are perhaps celebrating too soon their apparent victory. Ed Crooks, US industry and energy editor for the Financial Times, reports “Donald Trump’s team has said he supports the pipeline, and his administration is expected to grant the approvals that have so far been denied.” (more…)

global warming viewed from China and the United States

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

US president-elect Donald Trump has transformed China into a world leader in the struggle against global warming. FT columnist Jamil Anderlini explains.

In mid-2012, Donald Trump fired off this tweet: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

Apart from its sheer absurdity, one of the most striking things about Mr Trump’s assertion is how similar it sounds to the paranoid ravings of Chinese nationalists, who blame almost everything on the CIA and evil, imperialist America. ….

Thanks to the election of Mr Trump, who remains unconvinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change, China is now poised to become the world’s leader in tackling global warming and the environment. Nobody is as surprised by this new responsibility as China itself. Less than a decade ago, the Chinese government still refused to admit that the acrid clouds of choking smog hanging over most of the country had anything to do with industrial development.

Jamil Anderlini, “China’s leaders emerge from the fog of pollution denial“, Financial Times, 30 November 2016 (metered paywall).

global warming: the disconnect between cause and response

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Often, in conversation, friends and colleagues concede that global warming is real, but argue that there is no proof that it is caused by human activity. My reply typically has been that greenhouse gases – hence human activity – no doubt contributes to global warming, even though it is certainly not the only cause. This is a weak response. FT reader John-Paul Marney has a better response: Regardless of what might be causing global warming, we can and should mitigate it, for example by reducing emission of greenhouse gases.

Sir, … John-Paul Marney (Letters, November 3) wheels out the old chestnut that climate change may not be anthropogenic, that is, caused by human activity.

Why exactly does that matter? In most developed countries there are regulations governing building in areas at risk of earthquakes, without us thinking that human activity causes earthquakes; billions have been spent on a tsunami early-warning system across the Pacific, despite no evidence that tsunamis are anthropogenic; we build flood defences without feeling responsible for flooding; and we spend billions to buy insurance precisely to protect us from events that we do not cause.

…. [W]e do know for certain that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are rising, because we can measure them, and we also know for certain that their physical properties are consistent with a warming effect. What is it about greenhouse gases that makes them, uniquely, exempt from action?

Robin Cooke-Hurle, “It should not matter what is causing climate change“, letter to the editor, Financial Times, 4 November 2016 (metered paywall).

The letter of 3 November that Mr Cooke-Hurle refers to was written in  response to a column of Martin Wolf that was published Wednesday in the Financial Times. Here are brief excerpts from the column, along with two of three charts that accompany it.

Nature does not care what we think about it. Indeed, nature does not care about us at all. But we should care about nature. ….

What nature is doing at present is heating the planet. Of this no serious doubt remains. ….

Just as the world is hitting peak temperatures (relative to the 1951-80 average and pre-industrial levels), so is it hitting peak concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. …. Given the well-known physics of the greenhouse effect, the causal relationship between the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and consistently rising temperatures is at the very least overwhelmingly plausible. ….

It is a remarkable fact that, given these simple truths, the question of climate change was barely addressed in the US presidential debates. This is not because it cannot matter. It is not because the candidates do not disagree. It is because few wish to think about the implications of these realities.

Martin Wolf, “Climate change and the risks of denying inconvenient truths“, Financial Times, 2 November 2016 (metered paywall).

the simple economics of carbon taxes

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

I was shocked by a letter to the editor published in today’s Globe and Mail – a well-regarded newspaper based in Toronto and published in six Canadian cities.

Re The Trillion-Dollar Question, editorial (Focus, Oct. 8): The carbon tax is intended to change bad behaviour (carbon emissions) by making it more expensive to engage in that behaviour (Economics 101). If, as suggested in your editorial, the funds raised are then used to lower personal and business income tax rates, that will in effect remove the penalty and therefore behaviour will not change (Human Nature 101).

Bruce Henry, Waterloo, Ont., letter to the editor, The Globe and Mail, 11 October 2016.

I do not know what Human Nature 101 teaches, or if such a course even exists, but I do know that the downward sloping demand curve of Economics 101 teaches that a “revenue-neutral” tax will cause demand for the good that is taxed to fall. This is explained below, in the editorial that Mr Henry criticizes. For details, consult any microeconomics text.

For anyone other than climate-change deniers, significantly reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is a necessity. Unless you think we shouldn’t bother cutting carbon emissions, the most economically logical way of doing so is by putting a price on carbon. That’s Economics 101 – you know, the course conservatives usually accuse folks to their left of having skipped. It’s a solution involving free markets and price signals, rather than top-down meddling in the individual decisions of millions of people and firms. What’s more, higher taxes on carbon can be used to fund things like lower business or personal income tax rates – something conservatives constantly clamour for. ….

Ottawa is creating a national standard and leaving it up to each province to decide how to meet it. Beginning in 2018, carbon will have to be priced at $10 a tonne, with the price rising by $10 a year until it hits $50 in 2022.

What’s all that in plain English? A $10 tax on a tonne of carbon is equivalent to a tax on gasoline of 2 cents per litre. A $50 per tonne price means a gas tax of 11 cents a litre. ….

Yes, any extra tax, no matter how small, is deplorable if the levy is unnecessary, or the money wasted. But in the case of the carbon levy, every cent raised remains within the province. Each province can design its own system and use the money however it likes. Not one red cent has to go to Ottawa. ….

The idea of making a carbon tax “revenue-neutral” was pioneered by B.C. The $1.2-billion a year raised by its $30-a-tonne carbon tax is used to lower the province’s middle-class income tax rate and provide benefits for lower-income British Columbians. Some carbon-tax cash is also used to support the province’s film industry – so, no, it’s not perfectly revenue-neutral. But it’s close. ….

Carbon pricing is the way to go, for the economy and the environment. But what about the politics? That’s the trillion-dollar question.

Why conservatives have it wrong about Trudeau’s carbon tax“, editorial, The Globe and Mail, 8 October 2016.