Tag Archives: pollution

First Order Effects are Only the Beginning

Do you want to spot someone who has zero understanding of an issue?  Ask them about second order effects.

What are second order effects?  These are the impacts of an action that occur because of the aforementioned action but are not the direct intent of the aforementioned action.

What is a good example of a second order effect?  Suppose for a minute that you decide to commute to work via bicycle several days a week.  The first order effect is that you have replaced a certain amount of miles driven with a similar amount of miles ridden.  Attendant to this first order effect is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, less income directed toward fueling an automobile, increase in physical activity, and just a general sense of doing good.

A second order effect, if the number of people replacing car trips with bicycle trips reaches a critical mass, is the reduced need for infrastructure maintenance, repair, or construction.  Another second order effect, again dependent upon the number of people making the switch, is a reduced need for outlets dispensing gasoline so perhaps the number of gas stations decline.  A further second order effect is that workplaces and housing would not need to devote so much space to the transient storage of automobiles.  This would open up a more diverse array of development opportunities since less space would be covered in striped concrete. And so on down the line…

The thing with moving beyond first order effects is that it widens the potential impact of any decision.

Take organic produce as an example.  Most arguments about organic produce fall into a cost benefit analysis vis a vis its potentially greater health benefits, whether from reduced pesticide exposure on the part of the consumer or increased nutrition.  However, there are a myriad of second order effects that may impact the decision to choose organic produce.  By buying organic produce you reduce the potential for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to pollute the ground, water, and air.  By buying organic produce you reduce the chance that farmworkers are exposed to the same synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  All of a sudden the argument that organic produce is “just not worth it” takes on a whole new dimension.

There is an element of nuance to this approach and nuance is somewhat out of favor in a world dominated by people like Donald Trump and Fox News.  It falls into the same category as externalities, which are economic costs borne by society at large as opposed to the entity that is directly responsible for them.  Think about carbon pollution.  Coal fired power plants do not pay anything for the cost of carbon pollution yet we all bear the costs.  It’s another concept that makes most dotards heads explode.

We need to move the discussion of most issues past just the first order effects.  If we capable of enumerating all of the ways a choice can be beneficial down the line through even the most minor of second order effects the impact might be transformative.

So, the next time your Uncle Carl has one too many wine coolers at Thanksgiving dinner and wants to debate the merits of bicycle commuting, organic food, solar panels, or whatever is on his Fox News hit list spend a minute to explain first and second order effects.

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The Last (Hopefully) Scott Pruitt Linkage 4/12/2018

Now that Trump is on to firing missiles at Syria after he fired his mouth off on Twitter—because nothing says surprise like broadcasting military action on a social media platform—we are probably stuck with Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA through the weekend.

On the other hand, the great cheese puff may decide to alleviate some of the pressure in Washington D.C. by jettisoning Pruitt.  When everything is a dumpster fire I am not sure that firing the most corrupt official in your administration qualifies as progress, but I digress.

On to the Scott Pruitt themed links…

Why Trump Has Scott Pruitt’s Back—Trump likes Pruitt because he is like mini-me at the EPA.  Once Pruitt begins to take any spotlight from the head cantaloupe than heads will roll.

Scott Pruitt is the Face of America’s Big Problem—The uber rich have corrupted our government by buying and paying for soulless toadies like Scott Pruitt to plunder America for the gain of a few.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Has Met With Dozens Of Campaign Donors—Do you need proof about who “owns” Scott Pruitt?  Just peruse the list of campaign donors he has met with and tie that to specific actions taken by the prince of payola.

Did Scott Pruitt’s EPA Lie About Death Threats Against Him?—The justification for the first class travel, bulletproof desks, and around the clock security detail was that Scott Pruitt received death threats.  Was that a lie all along?  Sure looks like it.

Scott Pruitt’s Lie about Pay Raises Unravels, Emails Reveal he was Behind Scheme All Along—Is anyone really surprised that Scott Pruitt lied about the pay raises for his cronies?

EPA Chief Of Staff Takes Fall For Raises, Claims Pruitt Unaware Despite Emails—There is always a fall guy or gal if you are powerful enough to have top cover.  Too bad the scandals are deeper than just pay raises.

Even the EPA Can’t Defend Scott Pruitt’s Expensive Travel and Security—You know it’s bad when staffers just sort of shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know, reasons?”

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s Sleaze is Pitiful and Disgusting, but his Lies on Climate Change are Lethal—There are real consequences of just the past year or so of Scott Pruitt’s reign as America’s fossil fuel toady in chief.  Pruitt lied and people will die.

Administrator Pruitt Opened the Door to Making Houston’s Air Toxics Problem Worse—If you pollute the air and water you have no better friend in the world right now than Scott Pruitt.  He does not even care about making it appear like he is trying to protect anything other than his paymasters’ pocketbooks.

Scott Pruitt’s Guiding Philosophy is ‘Cooperative Corporatism,’ Per Senator—The idea here is simple.  Push enforcement down to the state level because states like Oklahoma and Louisiana will do little to actually police industry.  Unless, of course, the state might have an adversarial relationship with industry, like say California—which in that case calls for federal primacy of enforcement.

If Scott Pruitt Gets Fired From the EPA, This Coal Lobbyist Will Take His Place—Could Andrew Wheeler be worse than Scott Pruitt?  Sure, but he probably does not have the lifelong boner to gut the EPA quite like the corrupt Pruitt does.  On the other hand, what are the odds that he is more incompetent and/or corrupt than Pruitt?  This is the Trump administration after all.

Right back at ya’ buddy!

Buddy Pruitt.jpg

Friday Linkage 3/10/2017

There will be no Friday Linkage next week since I will be in Colorado enjoying all that Beaver Creek has to offer a low-rent skier like myself.

On to the links…

Iowa Sees Second Warmest February in 145 Years—Nothing to see here, right?

These Photos Show How the EPA Transformed America—Now that the fox is in charge of the hen house it is important to remember what America was like before the EPA and other agencies focused on cleaning our air and water.  No one wants to bring disco back and no one wants to bring 1960s style pollution back either.

Scientists Are Standing Up to Trump Because They’ve Always Stood Up to Bullshit—The right wing loves people to be active in politics as long as they agree with their narrow world view and, generally, assume positions that are free from a factual basis.  “But, Jesus said so in the Bible!”  Scientists and scholars are duty bound to resist this shit.

Yet Another Energy Company Bails On Canadian Tar Sands Oil — Is Koch Next?—Tar sands are too expensive to extract under the current market conditions, too dirty for most people to accept as a fuel source, and stuck in Canada.  So why exactly are people in the fossil fuel industry and the White House so hell bent on the Keystone XL pipeline?

California Just Hit an Incredible Solar Power Milestone—It was for just a moment, but California was producing some serious solar power in the middle of the day.

Colorado’s Solar Power Capacity Jumped 70 Percent in 2016—The best part for me is that even though Colorado added 70% more capacity its relative ranking compared to other states feel because it did not add enough capacity.  When you add 70% more capacity in one year and lose ground you know that something is happening that is going to be hard to stop.

Solar Now Cheapest Electricity Option On Average In 58 Emerging Economies—The new guard of electricity is here and it is based on the sun.  These countries have no incentive to build out a fossil fuel based grid because they have no capital investment tied to legacy systems.

Chinese Coal Draw-Down Gathers Pace—China is always the savior of some down-on-its-luck industry.  Guess what?  China does not want our coal anymore.

Coder Creates Ultimate Tesla Model S + Home Solar Data Visualization Tool—I cannot create the fuel for my truck at home, but I could create the fuel for a Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt at home.  The future seems to be happening right now.

America’s Television Graveyards—When the apocalypse comes in the next couple of years I imagine people will roam the shattered United States and happen upon one of these warehouses full of old CRTs.  It will be a gigantic metaphor for how we got into this mess.

General Mills Boosts Eco-Friendly Grain Kernza—What if we could replace a portion of destructive annual wheat production with perennial Kernza?  What is wide strips of Kernza were planted along streams to slow runoff and deter erosion?  Imagine the potential.

Climate Ecoforestry—Let’s look to restorative ecology to rebuild our planet’s lost resilience.

This Man is Cloning Old-Growth Redwoods and Planting them in Safe Places—Imagine efforts like this replicated on a larger, dare I say nationally mobilized scale, and imagine what we could achieve in a short period of time.  This requires no new technology or process.  It would simply require political will and capital.

You’re Using Recipes Wrong—I have this complaint with cookbooks and recipes because I feel like I am buying bespoke ingredients only to repeat effort time and time again.  Ugh.  An efficient kitchen in terms of time and money should be one of my 2017 goals.

Friday Linkage 6/26/2015

So much rain and a lot of miles. Rain and miles occupy much of my thoughts lately. To get to my seasonal mileage goal on my bike I have to time a lot of rides around when it is going to rain. When an area sees storms drop multiple inches of rain in an hour or throw hailstones the size of golf balls and larger this is a harder task than it seems at first blush. First world problems, I guess.

On to the links…

The Economic Limitations of Wind and Solar Power—Most of the time we get focused on the technical limitations of renewable energy without really thinking about the broad economic limits. This piece is a well-reasoned look at those limitations.

Europe’s Emissions Decreased Another 5% in 2014—Some of this is a function of a mild winter, which reduces the demand for natural gas and heating oil, but there is something to this trend. If only the U.S. could actually follow suit and find a way to reduce its emissions.

Texas Enjoys Record-Breaking Quarter As New Solar Capacity Soars—Texas now has ~379 MW of installed solar—adding up utility, residential, and commercial—with 2015 looking like a big year in terms of cumulative additions to this total. Remember, every solar panel is less fossil fuel that needs to be burned. It’s demand destruction lone star state style.

India Expects 52% Jump In Annual Wind Energy Capacity Addition—India is looking to have 60 GW or more of wind energy installed by 2022. Now, if we could just retire some of those old coal fired power plants.

Pakistan Solar Park Plugs In 100 MW To Grid—I probably should not follow a story on India about one on Pakistan, but it looks like these two blood rivals are in the renewables news.

Renewables will Supply Majority of Australia’s Electricity by 2040—Now that there is a study showing a roadmap of getting to majority by 2040 how does Straya accelerate that into 2030 or sooner? These are the questions we need to be asking. Stretch goals.

50% Renewable Electricity Passed By California Senate—50% is great, but why stop there?

For Automakers, Fuel Economy Targets May Be Less of a Stretch—When the new mileage targets came out a few years ago all the commentators howled that it was impossible to meet these targets without every vehicle becoming some sort of punishing econobox. Guess what? Innovation happened.

One Container Ship may Cause as Much Cancer as 50M Cars—Shipping is a dirty business because these massive container ships use bunker oil. Just think of it as the sludge that is left over when everything else of value has been extracted from oil. You are left with the shit. It’s cheap, plentiful, and really dirty. If there is a low hanging fruit, in terms of emissions and pollution reduction, it has to be switching ships off bunker oil.

Recycling is Stalling in U.S., and Big Blue Bins are One Reason—Recycling bins have just become trash bins we do not feel guilty about. It’s recycled, we say, throwing packaging and what not into one big bin. Guess what? It’s likely to become trash.

Once And Future Nut: How Genetic Engineering May Bring Back Chestnuts—Chestnuts are an acquired taste. Roasted chestnuts may be sung about every holiday season, but how many people actually know what those taste like? I remember getting a bag every year after Thanksgiving when I would take a trip into Chicago with my parents. It’s but a memory now that chestnut trees have been obliterated by blight.

General Mills to Remove Artificial Colors, Flavors from Cereals—While I applaud this move, did anyone ever really buy a box of Trix and think, “These are natural, right?”

Why did this businessman buy 53,000 acres in Florida?—Usually when you read about someone buying a bunch of land in Florida it is about subdividing that land and turning it into a retirement community. Apparently someone has a different idea about how Florida should look.

Corona Is Expanding Its Breweries to Keep up with Demand—Dear god why? How much of this stank beer can bros drink? Seriously, is there a worse beer that people think is premium and drink with such vigor? Why?

Friday Linkage 5/15/2015

Where did May go? I know that I have a similar sentiment a lot of months, but May really got to the halfway mark pretty fast without me noticing. Here is to hoping that summer can be a slower and lazier season than spring has been thus far.

On to the links…

Iowa Landowner Claims he was Offered Prostitute by Oil Pipeline Rep—This story is getting a lot of play here in eastern Iowa as the debate over a proposed Bakken oil pipeline is really heating up. If anyone is surprised that an oil company would act like this does not know oil companies. Seriously, read about oil company hospitality suites in the 1980s.

Renewables = 84% of New Electricity Generation Capacity in 1st Quarter of 2015—Yes, 84% of the electrical generation capability added in the first quarter of 2015 in the United States came from renewables. For the first time utility scale solar tipped over 1% of the total U.S. generation capacity. Dig it.

Tesla’s Powerwall Home Battery is already Sold Out through 2016—If you wanted to get a Powerwall home battery you are out of luck until sometime after we choose a new president.

MIT Report: Today’s Solar Panels Fine For Tomorrow’s Needs—We have the technical tools right now to supply the world with clean and green power from the sun. Any further efficiencies will only make the economics better in the long term.

Coal Investments are Increasingly Risky, says Bank of America—The real war on coal is occurring between coal companies and the investment community, which sees the industry as an increasingly riskier place to put their money to use. This is truly the death knell because modern corporations run on debt and financing. It is the lifeblood of large scale economic activity.

Oil And Gas Wells Are Leaking Huge Amounts Of Methane, And It’s Costing Taxpayers Millions—Basically, oil and gas exploration companies are allowing a lot of methane to leak out of wells drilled on public lands. Remember that these are the same oil and gas companies that pay lower than market rates for the right to drill on public lands. What a scam.

In Wyoming, Taking A Photo Of A Polluted Stream Could Land You In Jail—Like “ag gag” laws this law is just waiting for court case to blow open the cozy relationship between lawmakers, polluters, and the chilling effect such a relationships have on free speech. Isn’t it amazing how right wingers love the second amendment, talk about freedom constantly, and are the first in line to trample any freedom that does not involve a firearm?

Is Corn Ethanol Breaking The Law?—Uh oh. Inevitably, farm state lawmakers will pass a correction to this little piece of legislation that will remove the illegality.

Buh-Bye, Corn Ethanol: Joule Makes The Same Thing From Recycled CO2—I would love to fill my truck on ethanol derived in this manner.

First Large-Scale Hemp Processing Plant begins in Colorado—One of the overlooked part of the marijuana legalization in Colorado was the concurrent legalization of industrial hemp. Hemp will not be an instant agricultural miracle, but it could become part of a broader portfolio of options for farmers.

Who Controls California’s Water?—The story is a little more complex than Chinatown makes it out to be, but the problems can be traced to policies that can be changed. Maybe.

Monsanto Bets $45 Billion on a Pesticide-Soaked Future—You can buy organic all day long, but the big companies pushing pesticides and herbicides are betting big on a future where we continue to soak our fields in their deadly chemicals. Who do you think will win?

Sri Lanka First Nation to Protect all Mangrove Forests—Mangrove forests are those great unsung ecosystems. Threatened, like swamps, because they seem like a hindrance to development but the value is not realized until the ecosystem is gone.

M&Ms Candy Maker says, “Don’t eat too many”—Sugar is the equivalent of a drug. It’s addictive and it causes health problems. Now, the pushers are telling consumers that it is a bad idea to eat too much of their own product.

The Brutal Reality of Life in China’s Most Polluted Cities—You do not need to spend $10 and see the new Mad Max movie to witness what a scarred hellscape would be like in the future because China has done all the work for you without the explosions or insane cars.

Friday Linkage 4/10/2015

Do you ever have those weeks at work where you look up and it’s Friday morning? The problem with those weeks is a lot of time is spent not actually doing you “day” job, but instead focused on some parallel project. Whoever told me that mergers and acquisitions was an exciting field of work during b-school was not telling the whole truth.

On to the links…

California’s Worst Drought in 1,200 Years in Pictures—I have not been to California since the current drought cycle began, so it is shocking to see these pictures. Remember, this is a mega-drought cycle that could last decades.

Barclays Ends Financing of Controversial Mountaintop Removal Mining—In 2013, Barclays was the biggest financier of mountaintop removal mining in the world. Imagine you worked in an industry where the single biggest source of private capital ceased operation. Ouch.

U.S. Power Sector In 2015: More Renewable Energy, Less Carbon Emissions—The price of a portfolio of renewables is low enough that it competes on its merits against fossil fuels. One of those merits is that once installed renewables do not require constant refueling. Sure, oil is at a low price right now but who believes that will be true in five years?

How to Maximize Renewable Energy Options for New Mexico—Renewables is all about location. In Iowa, it makes more sense to deploy wind power because of our wind energy infrastructure and constant wind speeds. In the American southwest the portfolio looks quite different. Even between Arizona and New Mexico the portfolio may look different.

Rethinking the Grid: Personal Power Stations in Your Garage—In some ways, traditional utilities are pushing this model to the forefront by adjusting their pricing schemes to harm solar power producers at a rooftop scale. What happens when more and more customers disembark from the grid?

Spain Got 47 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewables In March—Granted, Spain’s economy is still in the proverbial toilet but including nuclear the country got approximately 70% of its power from non-carbon sources. Amazing.

Indian State Plans 25 GW of Solar, Gets 40GW—Rajasthan blew past its solar target of 25GW in the next few weeks as businesses have signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) for over 40GW of solar. Imagine exceeding your targets by 60%. Wow.

Detailed Projections of Coral Bleaching—Coral bleaching, which is equivalent to a coral reef dying, will impact different reef ecosystems at different rates and spreads. It is still a damn shame that it is happening at all.

Scientists Have Found A New Way To Save The World’s Coral Reefs, And It’s Pretty Fishy—Coral reefs are an ecosystem. We have forgotten the impact that fish have on this ecosystem as fishing and aquarium collection have devastated fish populations.

Microbeads: Solving a Big Problem of Little Bits—Plastic microbeads should be outlawed. It’s pollution that we can only control at the source.

China’s Environment is Screwed and so is its Economy

China’s economy may be a growth miracle, but the externalities associated with that growth are certainly coming home to roost.

The infamous smog, that wonderful concoction of airborne pollutants and atmospheric conditions, made well-known during the run-up to the Olympics in 2008 has not gotten better. It’s gotten worse.

Recently, the U.S. embassy in Beijing—which has become a trusted source on the quality of the air in China—reported that its air quality index measuring so-called PM2.5 particles hit 545. A number greater than 300 is considered immediately hazardous to one’s health. The visibility in the city is expected to be reduced to less than 500 meters.

What does that look like? Here you go:

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Granted, the smog gets worse in the winter as atmospheric conditions and increased heating burden mix to create this lovely toxic stew.

However, the long term trend is that China’s air is so messed up that it will inhibit long term economic security. Why? People will not want to live there.

Businesses will not be able to locate themselves in China because no one will want to work there or will demand what amounts to hazard pay in order to relocate. Don’t believe it? Coca-Cola is offering its employees a so-called “environmental hardship allowance” for expatriate employees.

Panasonic is doing the same thing.

For Republicans or anyone who believes that air quality is a luxury remember that people like to breathe clean air. The lack of clean air will impact the economic viability of companies and countries. It looks like China is going to be the laboratory for this particular experiment in free market thinking. Here is to hoping the invisible hand of the market slaps the libertarians in the house.