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The Steady Stater Stance on Renewable Energy: A Clarification

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/06/2020 - 2:14am in

By Brian Czech

Ever since my review of Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans, some misunderstandings have come to light about the stance of myself, and by extension CASSE, on renewable energy. One such misunderstanding—spread far and wide—is that we are “against renewables.” A clarification is definitely in order.

CASSE and steady staters at large are all for renewable energy. Of course! Along with the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth, renewable energy is the sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. What we oppose is the fallacious notion of “green growth” that has come to dominate pro-renewable political discourse. We also oppose the wholesale, automatic acceptance of any and every wind and solar project; not everything touted as “green” turns out to be ecologically economic. Along those lines, we certainly don’t support the liquidation of biomass stocks that otherwise provided crucial ecosystem services.

We also suggest putting the political horse before the technological cart. As I, Herman Daly, and Bill Rees have each pointed out independently, a sustainable shift to renewables must follow a conscious, intentional adoption of the steady state economy (entailing a phase of de-growth) as a policy goal. Otherwise, with the goal of economic growth ruling the policy arena, renewables and nuclear plants will be used to supplement rather than replace fossil fuels, and the resulting amount of destructive economic activity will only increase. Adding insult to injury, not only will the destruction on the ground increase, but greenhouse gas emissions as well!

renewable energy and nuclear power plant

As long as GDP growth is the goal, renewable energy will add to—not replace—fossil and nuclear plants. (Image: CC0, Source)

That said, a certain amount of respect is due those who are so passionate to save the planet that they’ll do just about anything, as soon as possible, for a transition to renewables. As with passionate people in other walks of life, they can be obsessive and zealous. It’s hard to blame them, because climate change is a current psychological threat as well as a mounting existential one. They lose sleep at night (well-documented especially in children) and develop ulcers over the relentless forcing of greenhouse gases into the precious atmosphere of our common home. They are ready to go to verbal war (and maybe more) with anyone who detracts—or who they think detracts—from the transition to renewable energy. They are in some ways heroic and tragic figures, as haunted by the fossil-fueled world as steady staters are by the pro-growth world.

Furthermore, some are doubly haunted. That is, they fully acknowledge the need for a steady state economy as well as renewable energy. Yet, not abiding the wisdom of Daly that “sequence matters,” their days are spent not in advancing the steady state economy but rather in developing renewable energy technology, designing renewable energy projects, or pushing politically for renewable energy. Maybe they hope that others will prevail in advancing the steady state economy, such that solar and wind actually replace rather than supplement fossil fuels.

The decision for any one person or organization about what to prioritize—advancing the steady state economy or advancing renewables—entails a number of factors. One such factor is the technical background of the individual. All else equal, someone whose expertise is primarily in renewable energy is better suited to advancing renewables. If the background is in ecological economics, then advancing the steady state economy is a better fit.

Another factor is age. A young renewable energy scholar who concludes that advancing the steady state economy is the first order of business may find it feasible to steer further academic and professional development toward advancing the steady state economy. An elder statesman of renewable energy may not.

As other factors come into play, almost all steady staters conduct a mix of advancing the steady state economy and renewable energy, but with a decided emphasis on the former. Indeed, it would seem to be the emphasis on advancing the steady state economy that makes one a “steady stater.”

Aside from one’s expertise and age, two other prioritization factors warrant a closer look. One is the marginal benefit of “steady statesmanship” vs. renewable energy action. Which offers the biggest bang for the buck? Another is an overlooked ecological footprint; we’ll follow it among the technological trees while remaining cognizant of the sustainability forest.

Biggest Bang for the Buck

How many people and organizations support renewable energy? Could we even stop counting? We could go on and on, starting with steady staters and moving into ever-widening circles of sustainability scholars, environmental activists, professional scientific societies, little environmental NGOs, big NGOs, and even many corporations, utilities, and politicians. Most importantly, it includes a substantial share of the general public, and even most nations!

Now, how many people and organizations support the steady state economy? Again we can start with the steady staters. Next, we can include a fair number of sustainability scholars and environmental activists, plus a tiny number of environmental NGOs and a handful of professional scientific societies. That’s about where it stops. So far we haven’t been able to get a Pew researcher, much less a Roper poll-taker, even interested in the steady state economy, so we have only a vague idea what the general public thinks. This is one of the main reasons we strive to obtain signatures on the CASSE position on economic growth; to demonstrate public support for the steady state economy, empowering NGOs to tell it like it is about limits to growth, and empowering politicians to support steady-state policies such as the Full Seas Act. While the current number of almost 15,000 signatories is nothing to sneeze at (especially given such notable signatories) it must be millions if not billions less than the number of people who support renewable energy.

So, if you are a student, scholar, activist, or philanthropist wondering which activity—advancing the steady state economy or promoting renewable energy—needs more help and offers a higher marginal benefit from your studies, scholarship, action, or philanthropy, consider the proportions above. Unless you believe in “green growth,” it should be more obvious by the GDP-bloated day that the bigger bang for the sustainability buck comes from advancing the steady state economy.

Technological Progress: The Forgotten Footprint

There is room for disagreement about how much additional, destructive GDP will transpire as renewable energy is added to the mix of fossil, nuclear, and (semi-renewable) hydrological sources. Clearly there will be additional destruction as long as GDP growth is the overriding domestic policy goal, but the destruction can be lessened to the extent that steady statesmanship prevails. Moderate success in steady statesmanship reduces the GDP growth rate. Full success is when the steady state economy is recognized as an a priori goal and deliberately accomplished with effective policies. With fully successful steady statesmanship, the ecological footprint from renewable energy may be offset by a reduced footprint from non-renewable energy. How will this happen, though, if advancing the steady state economy is the exercise of such a small minority?

Meanwhile, arriving at ever-higher proportions of renewable (as opposed to fossil) energy entails its own ecological footprint. This is an ecological footprint quite beyond that of the activities fueled by renewable energy. For starters, we have the obvious ecological and economic costs of retrofitting the fossil-fueled grid and the energy system at large. These costs includes the surveying, excavation, construction, and circuitry entailed in the development of wind and solar harvesting and delivery facilities. It also refers to the demolition of fossil-fueled plant and infrastructure, plus the disposal and replacement of fossil-fueled implements and appliances en masse. For example, approximately 40% of American homes have gas stoves, which means about 50 million stoves must be replaced or retrofitted in the USA alone to convert (on a one-to-one service basis) from fossil-fueled power to renewables.

Now let’s dig a level deeper. What about all the analyses, presentations, meetings, conferences, slideshows, websites, videos, magazines, community relations campaigns, planning, lobbying, negotiations, settlements, legislation, subsidies, loan assistance, bureaucratic reorganization, personnel management, tax reforms, and regulations that have been and must be devised and performed for purposes of moving the energy system toward renewables? These were, are, and by no means will be cheap. We might loosely call these “transaction costs.” Don’t take the wrong point from this; the transaction costs might be worth it, especially if the transactions are actually effective. The point, however, is that resources are required—energy and other natural resources—to fund all the transactive activity, because in our triangular economy money originates as a function of the agricultural and extractive surplus that frees the hands for the division of labor, all the way to presenting, meeting, conferencing, etc.

Every single expenditure, in other words, takes an ecological footprint. No such footprint can be overlooked if we want a thorough understanding of sustainability. This is why we consistently point out at CASSE that GDP is the single best indicator of environmental impact in the aggregate. Expenditure entails environmental impact. That’s Ecological Macroeconomics 101, trophic levels and all.

So, let’s go to a deeper level still. No one woke up one morning decades ago and said, “Let’s replace the fossil-fueled system with solar and wind. We already have all the technology to do it.” Instead—and as part of a bloating GDP—vast amounts of research and development had to be conducted in order to arrive at a point whereby wind and solar technology was capable of significant coverage of our energy needs, such as in oft-cited Germany. Vast amounts more are required to accomplish full powering of national and global economies, assuming that is even possible. “Full powering” means not just the electricity grid but transportation (including the manufacturing of the fleet), off-grid building management, and what Jeffrey Sachs calls the “hard sectors” such as aviation, ocean shipping, steelmaking, cement, and petrochemicals.

For almost a decade now, global investment in renewable energy has exceeded $200 billion annually; it now approaches $300 billion! This is higher than the GDPs of Greece, Iraq, or most African countries combined. In fact, less than a quarter of all nations on the planet have the dubious distinction of “achieving” the $300 billion level—and many will drop below it post-COVID.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory.jpg

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO. Excavation of the site is an obvious footprint. But what about the forgotten footprint? That is, how much agricultural and extractive surplus was required at the trophic base of the economy to generate the money required for planning, excavation, and construction? How much more agricultural and extractive activity is required on an ongoing basis to generate the money for conducting the research programs managed therein? (Credit: CC0, Image: Dennis Schroeder)

Now, much of the renewable energy technology availed to us via already-conducted R&D should of course be employed, especially if replacing fossil fuel plant and infrastructure. The ecological footprint of the R&D expenditure has already transpired. Why let it go to waste, assuming the transaction costs are not prohibitively destructive. But does anyone think that moving from, say, 40 percent renewable energy to 80 percent will be as easy as the original 40 percent? Not me. I expect diminishing returns to scale as the lowest-hanging thermodynamic fruits (such as Sonoran Desert sunlight) are picked and siting becomes ever more competitive—and ever more biodiversity-busting—in a bloated global economy. Therefore, I expect the R&D needs to increase substantially, and I’m not alone in this opinion. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) says we need “accelerating research for a low-carbon future.”

On several major fronts, we’re nowhere near any kind of renewable solution. As the IREA describes, “For one-third of the world’s anticipated energy use in the coming 20-25 years, no practical decarbonisation solutions exist today. Nearly all of this relates to energy demand for end uses, such as buildings, heat and transport.” They conclude that R&D “needs to happen faster to make renewable solutions viable in these areas.” Not that they think we are out of the woods already with wind and solar technology for the grid, either. “The share of wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) in power systems can increase significantly to cover half of all generation by 2050. Effective integration of these variable sources will depend on accelerated innovation.” For additional insights on the extent, complexity, and expense of renewable energy R&D, check out what the US Department of Energy is up to, including a coupling of nuclear power to wind and solar in the name of “clean energy.”

I also expect the transaction costs to mount as the efforts required for full transition become more apparent to consumers, rate payers, utilities, and politicians. While I find it hard to appreciate pro-growth analyses that fail to acknowledge the profound perils of climate change, some are proficient at pointing out the conventional costs, at least, of transition to renewable energy. Note that they’re not even addressing the ecological costs of generating and expending money on R&D and transactive struggles.

So, when we recognize the ecological footprint of expenditure, we see renewable energy transition in a whole new light. It’s as if we were tracking in the forest, looking for “unsustainability varmints.” While we saw the typical tracks of well-known varmints such as fossil fuels, plastics, and Roundup, one ecological footprint was hard to spot; that is, the footprint of renewable energy transition. Now that we see it in light of the environmental impact of generating money to invest or in any way expend, the ecological footprint seems quite big! In fact, it’s been a bit like running into a dinosaur track. We didn’t see it because we weren’t looking for an outline so large, but there it is for the tracking.

What’s Next?

At the end of the day, those who are passionate about promoting renewable energy—especially those with expertise in the subject and a little late in the game for re-tooling a career—will continue emphasizing renewable energy. Hopefully more of them will start explicitly acknowledging the need for a steady state economy as well.

Degrowth protest

Renewable energy is an important alternative to fossil fuels. But if we are to establish renewable energy as a solution, then we must also pursue a steady state economy through degrowth. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig)

That leaves a large number of younger students, scholars, professionals and activists to reconsider, if not their career path, then at least the emphasis of their activism. With a recognition of the prohibitive costs and heavy ecological footprint of a full-fledged transition to renewables, plus the coupling of renewable energy interests with the “green growth” paradigm, they may decide their time is better spent in advancing the steady state economy. Hopefully this personal decision-making is also reflected at the organizational level, starting with the emphases of environmental NGOs and foundations.

Coming full circle, yes, steady staters support renewable energy as the sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Yet we cannot support the notion of “green growth,” and we’re not even convinced that a full-fledged transition to renewables at the currently sized global economy can be ecologically economic, all ecological footprints considered. On the other hand, we do realize that the fossil-fueled economy at the current level is an existential threat. The common theme here is the “current level” of the economy. The current level just doesn’t allow for sustainable options. Therefore, we conclude that the most salient emphasis to have at this time is the transition from the paradigm of economic growth to that of the steady state economy, via a phase of de-growth.

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post The Steady Stater Stance on Renewable Energy: A Clarification appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Fossil Gas Is Explosive, Leaky and Increasingly Dirty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/06/2020 - 5:00am in

In order to limit global warming by 2050 to 1.5 degrees Celsius, IPCC scientists in their consensus report set out four scenarios; in the most ambitious, global use of fossil fuels must fall for coal by 97 per cent, for oil by 87 per cent, and for gas by 74 per cent. The climate crisis demands that emergency plans incorporate rapid reduction in fossil fuels. It is simply mind-boggling that over half the emissions since the Industrial Revolution have been released in the twenty-eight years to 2015.

The world is now awash with fossil gas, commonly known as natural gas. The volume of exports from Australia dwarfs the amount of gas used domestically. Yet our gas industry is premised on growth and continues to explore and open up new gas fields. The major energy corporations, industry associations and some scientists campaign for the use of fossil gas as a green solution until at least 2050. The Morrison government is relentlessly pushing the case, with cavalier disregard for the future of humanity and the planetary systems that we depend on, and is now offering more subsidies to the industry. State governments are reluctant to limit the industry’s expansion, except when under intense political pressure.

Fossil gas is predominantly composed of methane (CH4). Burning it creates carbon dioxide (CO2), resulting in significant emissions at least of half those associated with the burning of black coal. The impact of drilling for fossil gas is however magnified when methane leaks are accounted for. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas with a global-warming potential eighty-four times higher than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period. This methane escapes very easily into the atmosphere, especially where gas fields are tapped by many wells, as on the Darling Downs in Queensland. Research shows that methane leaks are far more significant than previously claimed by the industry.

Like coal and petroleum, fossil gas was formed deep underground in ancient times when plant and animal matter was subject to great forces of heat and pressure. The fossil gas is now spread out through porous rock, where it stores the energy once given by the sun. Lower-quality reserves of fossil gas are ‘dirtier’ in that they have significant quantities of carbon dioxide in the mix as well as methane. Bass Strait has been the main source of gas in south-eastern Australia; its main reserves are running out, but its lower-quality gas will be processed into the 2030s at a new plant at Longford in Gippsland, and the carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere.

The gas industry has a 2050 vision developed by or for five of the seven associations covering different aspects of the industry. According to this vision, gas is essential to keep energy costs low; gas is needed to balance peak demand and supply of electricity; and gas provides the only pathway to a renewable future.

These arguments are patently weak. Firstly, gas prices aren’t driven by supply; they went ballistic once the international market opened up and set the benchmark price. In 2018, analyst Bruce Robertson explained the role of corporations in the gas industry’s problems:

Australia’s high gas prices are the result of high oil prices and price fixing by a group of producers on the east coast of Australia—Shell, Origin, Santos, BHP and Exxon—which we have no hesitation in calling a cartel. These producers sold out Australia’s domestic supply in 2012 when they locked in 15-year export contracts tying the price of Australian gas to the price of oil. At the time, the price of oil was over US$100 a barrel. But oil prices subsequently fell below US$50 a barrel, and suddenly these gas companies were in a lot of financial trouble.

Secondly, demand is taken as a given, when there are many opportunities for businesses and households to greatly reduce their usage, as Tim Forcey and others argue. The shortages argument is endorsed by the influential Rod Sims, head of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), who is trapped in the neoliberal logic of setting rules within which the market operates freely. The market might operate relatively freely when retailers compete to sell gas to the 130,000 businesses and six million households that use it, or when households call around for a plumber to replace a gas hot-water service. The ACCC and the four other ‘managers’ of the electricity and gas systems in Australia struggle to introduce, implement and enforce regulations that limit the power of the big gas companies and monopoly pipeline operators to control supply and prices.

As renewables supply an increasing proportion of electricity, some fossil gas will be needed for some time to help manage peak periods of demand, along with large batteries, ‘spinning machines’ and pumped hydro. But new supplies of gas are not needed. Based on official figures, gas generation of electricity used about 10 per cent of all gas produced in 2017, and even less in 2018. Just 15 per cent of the gas that is currently exported is enough to supply this. Demand management can deal with winter shortages, which are now expected within a few years in Victoria.

Gas-industry players are actively working in every possible way to secure their own commercial advantage as well as the industry’s future. The seven industry associations lobby hard, even on seemingly peripheral issues such as standards for domestic hot-water appliances—they recently ensured that the standards treat gas and electricity neutrally. Many have a foot in the renewables camp, especially in relation to hydrogen as a fuel source. Trials in which small amounts of hydrogen are added to gas mains are under way. Supposedly to help overcome shortages, AGL is proceeding with plans to import gas via a new port and liquification plant in Western Port Bay. Winning the PR war is crucial, hence the sponsorship of sporting clubs, and the funding of buildings and research hubs at Monash University and elsewhere. Not least, of course, the industry’s many lobbyists are skilled at spruiking fossil gas as a transition fuel to politicians, advisers and officials.

Fortunately, the environmental movement is increasingly focused on gas. We won’t win unless the peak groups lead a war of position in the same way as the gas industry is prepared to do—on every conceivable front. The industry’s social license to operate can be challenged if we find collective approaches to ending the continued daily use of gas by millions of households, cafes and other businesses. Surely we can design institutions to help anxious families with a broken gas hot-water service to replace it with an electric one, and go further by installing electric stoves and reverse-cycle heating? Without this, millions of new gas-run hot-water services will be installed across Australia in the next fifteen years as most old ones break down. How about retraining gas-industry workers as green plumbers and electricians to do this work as part of a just transition? We could make great headway by identifying and challenging all the nodes within state institutions and civil society that are geared to supporting the gas industry. Too often the peak environmental groups have only a single focus—for a long time it was the Adani coal mine—perhaps because they are reluctant to embrace the system-wide change we need to stop runaway economic growth. We could link climate action to system change, as in the more radical versions of the Green New Deal that are focused on social rather than technological answers. Such an approach would create openings for the environmental movement to forge stronger connections with the majority of Australians who are deeply concerned for the future of the planet.

Crossroads for Planet of the Humans

By William Rees


[Editor’s Note: The Steady State Herald first published a review of Planet of the Humans on May 1. The following review adds valuable information to the dialog.]

“It stands to reason…”

Who hasn’t heard this expression in everyday conversation? Humans tend to think of themselves as rational beings, and many people sincerely believe they are being reasonable all the time.

However, human reason invariably operates in a straitjacket. Even the most elevated of human thought is constrained by life experience and the unquantifiable set of beliefs and values, as well as facts and assumptions, that every individual acquires by growing up in a particular cultural environment. Life experience determines a person’s perception of reality. Unsurprisingly, people are most comfortable when the universe unfolds in harmony with their culturally preset notion of how things ought to be.

Of course, in complex societies there are many potential versions of “truth” on any particular subject. “Reality”—or rather, our socially-constructed perception of reality—comes in many guises.

Herein lies potential chaos. It starts when a line of thought taken for granted by a group of people who share the same cultural narrative is disputed by another group who observe a different set of beliefs, values, and assumptions.

Renewable energy

Politicians, corporations, and big environmental NGOs claim that renewable energy can support the economy. Really? At what level and at what cost? (Image: CC0, Credit: Kenueone)

Consider the dilemma of modernity. Propelled by fossil fuels, our increasingly global techno-industrial (mainly capitalist) society has generated unprecedented material prosperity for hundreds of millions of people. This extraordinary progress leads us to believe an endless energy bounty will support the ten billion humans expected on the planet by mid- to late century. The catch is that this same success is already well on the way to depleting and polluting the seas, denuding the continents of forests, displacing the world’s wildlife, and triggering climate change.

This is not a problem according to the cultural mainstream. Radiating self-confidence and buoyed by unquestioned past material success, the political and corporate leadership seem confident that human ingenuity (our greatest resource) will prevail. They argue that we have already found economically viable renewable substitutes for fossil fuels such as biomass, wind turbines, and solar photo-voltaic arrays. These alternatives should enable economic growth to continue indefinitely, bringing the affluence needed to “fix” the ecosphere. The big environmental NGOs have climbed on board for pushing the techno-fix narrative, and most citizens are only too happy to go along for the business-as-usual ride.

Not everyone is jumping on the pro-growth bandwagon, however. A surge of scientists and citizens has written a competing narrative. This renegade group reasons that wind and solar technologies are quantitatively insufficient to power modern society, contribute to ecological destruction, and are heavily subsidized by fossil fuels and not really renewable. To them, the only reasonable “solution” to the ongoing climate and eco-catastrophe, difficult as it may be to achieve, is adapting to much lower levels of energy and material consumption, sharing existing income/wealth, and learning to live within the biophysical means of nature.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs challenge the notion of “green growth.” (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Nicolas Genin)

This new movement has been growing steadily and waiting to catch fire politically. While there has been a deepening discussion about the impacts of the economy on the environment, there has also been a significant lack of media coverage about it. That was, however, until a few weeks ago, when one documentary ignited the argument against economic growth: Planet of the Humans.

The Gibbs/Moore production has ignited a conflagration of competing worldviews unparalleled by any debate about alternative energy sources in the history of the environmental movement. As a human ecologist, I’ll admit up front that I am in the renegade camp, but I am not blinded to certain weaknesses in Gibbs’ take on our dilemma. This film contains many pros and cons when framing the conversation of environmental protection. Let’s explore what Planet provided.

The Underbelly of Environmental Organizations

Planet of the Humans does a great service in eroding faith in renewable energy, particularly the travesty of broad-scale biomass energy. It achieved less than it could in undermining wind and solar power. This is a shame since the loudest screams of “foul” come from wind/solar advocates, and there are plenty of recent analyses and data which the film could have drawn on to cut them off. It’s an ironic weakness, because the films critics are most adamant about how “dated” the wind/solar information is. Yes, it’s dated, but on both sides of the argument about whether wind/solar is capable of replacing fossil fuels at the current size of economy.

The film also succeeds in skewering several environmental organizations and popular heroes in the process. Though it’s difficult to watch the hypocrisy of environmental champions unveiled, investigating into these advocacy groups is important and necessary. For instance, Gibbs reveals the large and mainstream environmental organizations are highly dependent on the corporate sector for their financing, either directly or indirectly. This certainly compromises what they can say about the (corporate) values of society and helps to explain why so many environmental NGOs support capital-intensive (i.e., profit-oriented) approaches to energy supply and climate change—e.g., electric cars, solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, carbon capture and storage, etc. These organizations make us think they are saving the planet by introducing “green” tech; yet they are supporting—and enjoying the support of—the corporate giants that contribute to destroying the earth. Even the Green New Deal is a false-promise approach that suggests all we have to do is invest in techno-fixes to continue on our growth-bound path.

A Better Refute Against Renewables Replacing Fossil Fuels

As noted above, up-to-date data are important, and accurate data even more so. Planet of the Humans relies excessively on old research and off-the-cuff comments from interviewees. Gibbs/Moore could have better supported their case by referencing current issues with “green” technology, including extended net energy analysis from mine-shaft through operation, as well as the decommissioning of commercial wind turbine and solar installations.

Solar panels in Germany

Germany: Powered by renewables? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Andrew Glaser)

However, Gibbs does bring a critical question to light: Are renewables effectively displacing fossil fuels?

Let’s look first at the case of Germany, a leader in green energy investment. According to Clean Energy Wire, while wind and solar make a significant contribution to German electricity production (21 percent and 8 percent respectively) these two sources supply a mere 5 percent of German primary energy consumption (3.5 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively). Biomass—largely green trees as Gibbs pointed out—supplies a full 7.6 percent. Meanwhile, fossil fuels still account for about 78 percent of primary consumption, and carbon emissions have been more or less plateaued for a decade. (Yes, carbon emissions did drop in Germany in 2019, by about 6 percent, but 2019 also marked a sharp slump in German GDP growth, especially in the industrial sector). All this despite hundreds of billions invested in wind and solar energy. Furthermore, keep in mind that wind and solar require full backup power, either domestic or imported. (Note this well: It is a common error to conflate electricity generated with total energy demand/consumption. The former is typically only about 20 percent of the latter.)

Then there’s the global picture to consider. According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, in 2018, fossil fuels supplied 11,743.6 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) or 85 percent of the world’s primary energy, while non-hydro renewables (mostly commercial biomass, wind, and solar) contributed only 561.3 Mtoe (4 percent).

Are renewables catching up? While the contribution of non-hydro renewables to global primary consumption has expanded by 437 Mtoe since 2008 (16 percent per year), consumption of fossil fuels increased by about 1,750 Mtoe (about 1.5 percent/yr) in the same period. This marginal increase is over three times the total supplied by non-hydro renewables in 2018. This same year, consumption of non-hydro renewables increased by 71.1 Mtoe (14.5 percent), but fossil fuels were up by 276.3 Mtoe (2.4 percent).

Bottom line? Starting from a much larger base, the pre-pandemic annual absolute growth in fossil fuel production/consumption continues to outpace that of renewables, especially non-hydro-renewables, by a wide margin, despite the higher relative growth rate of renewables. Nothing suggests this will change while economic growth remains the goal, especially since new technology requires economic growth based on current levels of technology.

Bountiful Energy Could Do More Harm Than Good

Gibbs underplays (and the subsequent criticism I have seen entirely misses) a critical point: Even if renewables were “the answer”—i.e., even if our techno-industrial, capitalist growth succeeds in contriving any cheap, plentiful substitute for fossil fuels—it would be catastrophic. Without a sea change in expansionist values and our anthropocentric approach to the natural world, humans will simply use the energy bounty to complete their dismemberment of Earth. (Planet’s horrific sequences of stranded orangutans—their habitats destroyed for palm oil and sugar cane for “green energy”—is perhaps the most illustrative example of this potential destruction.)

In short, it’s really beside the point whether “100 percent renewable energy” is possible because any techno-fix would be disastrous given the prevailing cultural narrative and macroeconomic goals.

The Bottom Line

Planet of the Humans is far from inaccurate in undermining today’s overconfidence in renewables and mainstream environmental NGOs but is arguably a bit unfair to some individuals. Gibbs engages people on both sides of a complicated issue, selectively goring some. Wherever one stands on the issue of sustainable energy, though, Planet of the Humans is proving to be a deeply moving and motivating production.

And now there is a complicating—but possibly complementary—factor. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an unscheduled opportunity to rethink our energy and economic futures. The real planet of humans is at a crossroads: Pre-pandemic trends will not simply resume as if nothing had happened.

Homo sapiens is an allegedly rational species. Virtually everyone agrees that we must avoid an ecosystem collapse and reverse global warming. We also recognize that if civilization is to persist, we must have energy sources. So, what is the solution that balances these two issues?

CASSE’s push for the steady state economy is certainly one of the most rational answers to that question. It really ”stands to reason” that we need an economy that fits on the planet, using a reasonable amount of energy from renewable sources and with processes that don’t destroy our ecosystems. Reducing energy use to that reasonable amount surely entails real (not just political) degrowth. “Degrowth toward a steady state economy” summarizes the solution quite well.

William Rees is a human ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, best known for ecological footprint analysis.

The post Crossroads for <em>Planet of the Humans</em> appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Sequence Matters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 2:11am in

By Herman Daly
Nuclear power plant and Planet of the Humans

When prioritized over sustainability, techno-fixes are often dangerous. (Image: CC0, Credit: Not available)

The main message of the controversial documentary, Planet of the Humans, is that unrestrained economic and population growth should be the target of environmentalists’ efforts, not technological fixes. Techno-fixes can be helpful, but belong in second place. If put in first place they are often dangerous (e.g., nuclear power, green revolution, biomass fuel, space colonization, etc.). Technocrats enjoy usurping first place and are not humble about it.

In reviews some have alleged that Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs (producer and director, respectively) must be misanthropists, eco-fascists, racists and sexists, as well as shills for fossil fuel interests. Maybe they are just filmmakers who sometimes overstate an important truth that they are trying to present to an unreceptive audience. When the ideological dust settles maybe there can be a reasonable debate on the proper sequencing of limiting growth vs. accommodating growth by technical fixes.

Michael Moore and Planet of the Humans

Michael Moore, inveterate challenger
of the status quo; suddenly a shill for
fossil fuel interests?
(Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Nicolas Genin)

Big Environmentalism had a reason to put techno-fixes in first place—to avoid confronting the Great God of Growth, and thereby offending wealthy contributors, politicians, and technocrats. Big Green suggests that a policy of complete substitution of fossil fuels by renewable energy is viable. It would surely be viable at some smaller scale of population and per capita resource use, but not at the present scale, not in a reasonable time period, and certainly impossible at the continually growing scale advocated by most economists and politicians. But neither Big Money nor Big Green can accept an end to economic growth, much less a decline.

However, technocrats should be given a chance and encouraged to prove their worth—in the proper sequence. Let us first limit growth in resource throughput, and then encourage the technologists to grow our wealth by increasing resource productivity, rather than growing the volume of resources depleted and transformed into polluting wastes. Sequence makes a difference. First put on your pants—then your shoes.


Big environmental NGOs: Time to change a losing game? (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Carine06)

A further challenge raised by the documentary is to recognize that the environmental movement is failing. We are losing the game—just read the newspapers! As my high school tennis coach frequently had to remind me, the first rule of strategy is to “always change a losing game.” The documentary invites us environmentalists to change our losing game. The invitation was dramatic, poignantly graphic, and forceful. It was also rude, ungenerous, and sometimes unfair. But if it had been polite and technically impeccable I’m afraid we would still be sleepily trying to pull our pants on over our shoes.

Herman Daly

Herman Daly is CASSE’s Chief Economist, Professor Emeritus (University of Maryland), and past World Bank senior economist.

The post Sequence Matters appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Planet of the Humans Puts Sacred Cows Out to Pasture

By Brian Czech

Planet of the Humans is a once-in-a-decade documentary for all concerned with the environment, the economy, and life on Earth. Directed by Jeff Gibbs and produced by Michael Moore, Planet is especially important for advancing the steady state economy. It is reminiscent of Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ in that it makes the case for a steady state economy—resoundingly—while never quite uttering the phrase “steady state economy.”

When viewing a documentary, a political scientist will mind whose ox is being gored. In Planet, entire teams of oxen are gored, including sacred cows. Wind, solar, and biofuels industries are gutted, exposing rotten cores of corporate greed, co-opted NGOs, and an all-too-prevalent intellectual laziness of “green energy” groupies.

Big Environmentalism takes a heavy hit, too. The Nature Conservancy? Gibbs calls it “The Logging Conservancy.” Union of Concerned Scientists? “Union of Concerned Salesmen.” The Sierra Club comes out looking like some environmental Madison Avenue, dazed and confused about what side(s) it’s even on.

Gibbs doesn’t spare environmental heroes, either—not if he catches them with their fingers in the pie or their minds muddled with money. The heaviest hit are Bill McKibben and Al Gore, but Van Jones, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and various heads of the Sierra Club are pummeled as well.

Planet isn’t exclusively a downer with regard to leadership, though. In addition to Gibbs himself, Vandana Shiva comes out clean, and a star is probably born in the form of Ozzie Zehner, a visiting scholar at Northwestern University. Zehner’s mastery of the “green energy” terrain, along with a natural ease in front of the camera, should bring him to the forefront of planning and policy for our energy and environmental futures.

Let’s take a closer look at the sacred cows, their fresh wounds, and the lasting lessons from Planet of the Humans.

Green Energy—“It wasn’t what it seemed.”

While Planet is pitched as a Michael Moore production, it’s really the brainchild of director and narrator Jeff Gibbs, a long-time student and activist in environmental affairs. Gibbs has taken a deep dive into the technics, economics, and politics of energy extraction and marketing. As with most environmental activists, he was naturally inclined to support the movement toward renewable energy development. Surprises laid in store, however. As Gibbs put it, “Everywhere I encountered green energy, it wasn’t what it seemed.”

You’ll see exactly what he means as he canvasses the various businesses, industries, and environmental organizations assembled at “green” energy conferences. The mini-interviews he conducts with folks staffing the booths are full of cringe-worthy moments. Many of the sales representatives and industry spokespersons have no clues whatsoever about what their products are made of. Neither they nor the activists get it about energy return on investment or the net environmental effects of “green” energy.

Few of them know, for example, that a single wind tower requires over 60 truckloads of concrete at the base and needs its own acre to operate in. One tower takes hundreds of tons of steel and several tons each of copper, aluminum, and rare earth elements. It takes around $4 million to install one, and the net energy savings of wind projects are very much in doubt. Factoids and lists such as these make little impression on paper; Gibbs’ genius is bringing us to a site of “mountaintop removal for wind.” Pay keen attention to the ratio of environmental destruction to electricity served up, noting that the site you are visiting vicariously will seat only 21 turbines!

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility: ecologically economic? (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

Folks at the “green” energy conferences might also tell you that solar panels are made of “sand”—easy to come by, cheap as dirt! Yet it’s not the sand of vacant lots or empty backwoods (if you can find any such woods) that goes into solar panels, but rather highly refined quartz, plus the sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid required in manufacturing the panels. And how much space does a solar array require? The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, which opened in 2014 at a cost of $2 billion, required 3,500 acres and was supposed to power 140,000 homes, but already shows ominous signs of wear and tear.

The dull surprise behind these wind and solar follies is the constant idling (as opposed to shutdown) of fossil-fueled, base-load power plants. The sun goes down predictably, but clouds are less predictable, and winds literally come and go. Not so with the appliances, computers, entertainment paraphernalia, and “green” cars plugged into the grid, much less the pumps, generators, and communications infrastructure at the local and regional utilities and manufacturing plants. So, the grid is kept running, and not by “green” energy. As described by an energy consultant interviewed in Planet, “You’ve got to have a fossil fuel power plant backing it up and idling 100% of the time. Because if you cycle up or cycle down, as the demand on the wind comes through, then you actually generate a bigger carbon footprint than if you just ran it [the fossil-fueled power plant] straight.”

As Zehner put it, we would have been “better off just burning the fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend.” Taken out of context, such a statement might sound flippant, yet it was more like the bottom line of a thorough analysis of costs and benefits, including, for example, how much fossil fueling is required for the construction, maintenance, and de-commissioning of “green” energy projects.

Now please, don’t even think of accusing me, of all people, of pandering to fossil fuel interests. I wrote, for example, “BP: Beyond Probabilities” and that was ten years ago! Solar and wind projects have clear environmental advantages over coal-fired and nuclear power plants as well as fracking and tar sands mining. The point, though, is that the “green” energy industry is a charade if we think it will solve the sustainability problem without ever addressing the unsustainable demands of the human economy.

The take-downs of wind and solar power are persuasive and resonant, but Gibbs saves his goriest goring for the oxcart of biofuels. For a conservation biologist like me, biofuels have always seemed like a sham, especially as a form of “green” energy. One of my roles while serving at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters was “biomass coordinator” for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Frankly it was an unwelcome role, and I can tell you that the only green aspect of biofuels is the color of the leaves headed for the chipper. As Gibbs points out in his plain-spoken but insightful way, “Wood chips, which is just a euphemism for trees, are being exported to Europe from America, British Columbia, Brazil and Indonesia.”

Logs headed to the wood chipper; thence the incinerator for “green” energy. (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

In the USA, too, entire groves, woodlands, and forests are headed for the incinerator in the “green” attempt to fuel the economy. That’s in addition to all the trash, dead animals, and even shredded tires that somehow qualify as “biofuels.” But the incinerators need any kind of fuel they can get to put a dent in the energy demand that comes with a $20 trillion GDP. Does any of that sound like “sustainable yield?” It’s another reminder that sustainability is first and foremost about size—in particular the size of the economy—and then about technological efficiency.

It’s hard to do justice to the comprehensiveness of the biofuels take-down in Planet. An entire review could be done just on that component, which addresses a plethora of technical, economic, and political nuances. I’ll leave it at this: If you are inclined to support the notion of biofuels as a significant energy source, you really must watch the film.



Fair to Gore and McKibben?

For steady staters, the world is no oyster. Ask yourself how many prominent figures you’ve heard explicitly advocating the “steady state economy.” Now contrast that with the multitude of figures and followers crowing for economic growth. Steady staters swim straight upstream in the river of political economy, with Big Money rushing relentlessly over us. Therefore, when a prominent figure comes along and signs the CASSE position on economic growth, we’re reluctant to take part in the bashing thereof. Friends are hard enough to find.

Bill McKibben signed the CASSE position in 2009 at the Powershift conference in Washington DC, where he and Gus Speth greeted enthusiastic young students following a session. When McKibben signed the CASSE position, he said, “I love what you guys are doing,” and it was apparent from the pages of Deep Economy (2007) that he’d been aware of CASSE for years. After the Powershift conference, with the signatures of McKibben (and Speth) in hand, the CASSE network was encouraged by the prospect of wider acceptance. Surely McKibben, who ‘loved what we were doing,’ would be a powerful ambassador for the steady state economy. But disappointment followed as news about McKibben never mentioned— because McKibben never seemed to mention—the steady state economy at all!

It’s hard not to notice, then, that numerous clips in Planet suggest McKibben got too far in bed with Big Money. His movement picked up steam—and for that he deserves credit—but naturally it attracted tempting suitors. McKibben found comfortable rafting in the river of political economy, as powerful corporate and political interests sidled up to him to get their slice of the “green” energy pie. By the time he was involved with the Green Century Fund, he was a de facto collaborator with mining corporations, oil and gas infrastructure companies, McDonalds, ADM, and Coca-Cola, along with a laundry list of banks. Advocating a steady state economy in that crowd would be like pushing for gun control at an NRA convention.

Fortunately, the verdict (for whomever may judge) is far from in on McKibben. People get in over their heads all the time; the best of them get back out and onto the solid ground they came from. Our bets are on McKibben. Going forward, he will have plenty of opportunities to clarify—as he once did by signing the CASSE position—that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. He can clarify, in other words, that sustainability is not some newfangled energy technology but rather a steady state economy with stabilized population and per capita consumption.

Al Gore will forever remain a mystery with regard to the net effects of his politics. During my Ph.D. research in the 1990s, and especially with my minor in political science, Gore was one of my biggest heroes. Earth in the Balance (and later An Inconvenient Truth) probably did more to raise awareness of environmental perils than anyone aside from perhaps Rachel Carson. Eventually, however, I caught on to the fact that Gore was also one of the world’s leading proponents of “sustainable growth,” the oxymoronic bane of the steady-state program. Along with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gore favored the win-win rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”

The CASSE network, myself included, has tried on many occasions to reach Gore and encourage him to come clean on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Not that it’s easy to contact vice presidents while you’re swimming for your life in the river of political economy, trying not to drown while Big Foundation Money is funding all the win-win rhetoricians, keeping them more than afloat. But we’ve tried when we could, given the contacts available to us. Our guess is that Gore is quite familiar, by now, with the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth. His intransigence in sticking with the win-win rhetoric tells us plenty.


Orangutan in a clear-cut rainforest. Reality, analogy, and sadness. (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

In Planet, then, we see the sad demise of a surely well-meaning but ultimately corrupted, win-win politician. The segment on “Blood and Gore” is most telling. Gore teamed up with David Blood (who spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs) to establish Generation Investment Management, known most notoriously for its investment in Brazilian sugar cane, where the industry creates severe pollution problems and pushes indigenous Amazonians straight out of their very cultures. The last scene of Gore, cynically defending the hypocrisy of his financial life, has to be one of the saddest clips in the film, albeit not as sad as the very last scene of the film, with the orangutan down to one last tree in a rainforest devastated for logs and biofuel and to make way for more sugar cane.

Big Environmentalism—Why Keep Our Memberships?

Unlike the big environmental NGOs, Gibbs and his guests “go there” on population and consumption issues. They both plop out of the bag a little over 19 minutes in, when an environmental consultant, skeptical about “green” energy, says, “Not being judgmental and not playing God, but we’ve got to deal with population growth and sustainable resources. We’ve all got to cut back.” From then on, population and consumption become the underlying—and eventually the overarching—themes.

The most prominent coverage of population and consumption appears in the alarming graphical display of these two variables skyrocketing since the industrial revolution. Reflecting on the rapidity and enormity of these trends, Gibbs states, “And that is the most terrifying realization I have ever had.”

We wish only that Gibbs had connected these themes of population and consumption with the single most policy-relevant phrase: GDP. Over the years, this has been one of our top priorities at CASSE; to get well-meaning activists and scholars to move beyond relatively impotent (and frankly obvious) warnings about population and connect it with the metric—GDP—that is central to the policy maker’s mind on Capitol Hill, in the White House, at the Fed and in the World Bank. We can lament population growth until we’re blue in the face, but as long as the fiscal and monetary levers are all set for GDP growth, incentives will be devised, installed, and maintained for population and consumption growth. That’s how public policy works: Incentives are provided to accomplish goals. And the #1 domestic policy goal, perhaps of all time, is GDP growth!


Gibbs’ population × consumption graph (top). Same graph with CASSE’s GDP Stamp, and with ten times the policy implications (bottom). (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

Not that Gibbs is oblivious to the connection. Approximately 70 minutes in, while skewering billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his supposedly “Beyond Coal” campaign, Gibbs does hit the nail on the head by recognizing, “the reason we’re not talking about over-population, consumption, and the suicide of economic growth, is that would be bad for business. Especially the cancerous form of capitalism that rules the world, and now hiding under a cover of green.” We only wish he had driven home that singular point about economic growth—coupled with “GDP” as the measure thereof— again and again and again.

Speaking of “bad for business,” now is the time to remind Big Environmentalism of a challenge it has thus far skirted. On September 18, 2018, I challenged the presidents of the Big 10 American environmental organizations—The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others— to a debate on the topic: Is there a conflict between economic growth and environmental protection? While none of them stepped up to the plate, we have certainly noticed some decline in the win-win rhetoric, at least around the Washington, DC beltway.

On the other hand, some NGO representatives and board members have stubbornly stuck to the destructive nonsense that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” And, not a single one of the big NGOs has proactively handled the responsibility of raising awareness of limits to economic growth. Some do at times vaguely reference population, and even more vaguely consumption, yet “economic growth” and “GDP” are treated like elephants in the room. This is simply not good enough for NGOs who collected billions of dollars over the years from millions of members.

So, I have an idea. Let’s drop our memberships in these time-wasting, “green” energy pushing, corporately connected “environmental” NGOs and join, instead, organizations that explicitly raise awareness of limits to growth and call just as explicitly for the steady state economy! Or even “degrowth toward a steady state economy.” As the founder and now executive director of one such organization, I may be biased, but I may be right, too.

But don’t just listen to me. Listen very carefully to Jeff Gibbs and the cast of Planet of the Humans. You’ll be brought to the very doorstep of steady statesmanship!

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post <em>Planet of the Humans</em> Puts Sacred Cows Out to Pasture appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Abandoned Coal Plants Are a Huge Opportunity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/03/2020 - 3:45am in

Before it was shut down in 2013, Nanticoke Generating Station on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie was the largest coal-fired power plant in North America. Built in 1967, it produced nearly as much energy as all of Ontario’s natural gas power plants combined. It was also Canada’s single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Today, Nanticoke is still pumping out energy — only now it’s generated from the sun. Last year, the site was reopened as a 260-acre solar farm. The conversion was driven by the provincial government, which began systematically phasing out coal plants in 2001, and by 2014 had become the first government on the continent to eliminate coal-generated electricity entirely. 

That kind of political will is breathtaking — and rare. Due to a tangle of regulations, remediation costs and competing interests, decommissioned coal plants often crumble away on prime urban land for years. In the past decade, some 546 coal-fired power units in the U.S. have been closed or slated for retirement. A century of electricity generation is becoming obsolete. But what comes next for these sites is often far from clear. 

crawford coal plantThe Crawford Generating Station in Chicago (top right) is being redeveloped into a one-million-square-foot distribution center. Credit: Chris Bentley / Flickr

In some cities, however, an alignment of cooperative funding, political will and public support is reinventing these sites as valuable urban amenities. From a Chicago charter school to a Massachusetts solar farm, the coal plants reborn for the 21st century contain inspiration for how other disused brownfield sites might find new life, as well.

After the dust settles

Coal-generated energy is increasingly unprofitable, a fact that has much to do with the plants that burn it. While wind and solar infrastructure is cost-effective to maintain, a 60-year-old power plant filled with aging machinery is often a money pit. (Plus, you don’t need trains to haul in the wind and the sun.)

“Each plant is like a house with a mortgage,” Eric Gimon, a senior fellow at San Francisco’s said in an interview last year, “and the owner of the mortgage needs to get paid.” 

More and more, coal isn’t covering those bills, which incentivizes cities to convert them into other things: an apartment complex, a public park, a waterfront esplanade, a distribution center. But although these are centrally located spaces that would be snapped up under other circumstances, the costs associated with reclaiming them from their previous lives processing fossil fuels are high. 

chicago power houseInside the former Sears headquarters power station, which was recently redeveloped as a charter school. Credit: Don Harder / Flickr

Who pays these costs varies from state to state. Some states require all costs to be passed down to the electricity rate payers, while others are more free market. None are simple. In most cases, the public is asked to chip in for remediation, which is often met with resistance from residents who say the plant operator should clean up their own mess.

Not surprisingly, the electricity generating companies rarely want to do this, which is why, in many cases, they simply do nothing — unless they start the teardown process or sell the plant to someone else, no cleanup is required. Some of them go so far as to keep their electrical substations on the property after the plant is closed, allowing them to claim the site is still being used for utility purposes.

About 50 miles north of Chicago, the 200-acre Waukegan Generating Station is a prime example. Over the years, it has been cited for numerous air and groundwater pollution violations. Many in the community have been working for years to close it, but they don’t want to pay for the cleanup.

“I don’t think the cost should fall on the taxpayers to pay off a corporate polluter,” says Dulce Ortiz of the green energy coalition Clean Power Lake County. “We’ve already sacrificed a lot. It’s time for us to get what we deserve, and that would be the use of that property. We can’t keep letting them walk away and leaving us to clean up their mess.”

chicago sears power houseTurbines in Sears’s old coal-fired power plant, circa 1920 (left) and today. Credit: Boston Public Library, Don Harder / Flickr

Other plans to repurpose coal plants have run up against competing interests. Troy Hernandez has been working with local groups to find a new use for the Fisk Generation Station in Chicago. Closed in 2012, the plant sits vacant about three miles southwest of the Chicago Loop, on 60 acres with enviable access to the Chicago River. It has been there since 1903. 

“It gets to be such a complicated issue,” says Hernandez. “The neighborhood wants to turn [Fisk] into a park, the city wanted it as a bus maintenance depot and some architects even came up with an office complex with a pier and boat docks.” 

“But a major problem with any urban redevelopment is that they require the right players and the right opportunities and the right projects to all come together at once, and the uncertainty of the remediation is the dominant factor in holding things back,” he continues. “We need collaboration between the EPA and state and local governments, but that isn’t happening much these days. This has turned into a national environmental and economic issue for many parts of the country, but it isn’t being thought of on that level.”


In the absence of a nationally orchestrated program, local governments are working with businesses and advocates to push ahead, with some impressive results. Transforming a former coal plant into something useful — even beautiful — takes cooperative, long-term collaboration between multiple interests, and often, compromise from all sides.

Take the Homan Square Power House in Chicago, built in 1905 and decommissioned in 2004. This plant was originally part of Sears’s headquarters, which was so big it had its own power plant. In 1973, Sears moved into its famous skyscraper downtown, abandoning its old 55-acre campus. Recently, however, the entire complex has undergone a major redevelopment.

homan square power houseThe Power House High charter school in Chicago, housed in Sears’s former coal-fired power plant. Credit: Eric Allix Rogers / Flickr

The power house itself underwent a $40 million conversion, and is now a 460-student charter high school called Power House High. The structure is LEED Platinum certified and contains what Curbed Chicago described as “heroic spaces [that] are ideal for a learning environment.” The mix of public and private funding funding has come from a variety of sources — community development grants, local and national educational foundations, the local park district, neighborhood business groups, even money set aside by Sears over time — and sparked new investment in the surrounding neighborhood. 

A similarly diverse array of funding has given new life to the Ottawa Street Power Station in Lansing, Michigan. It closed in 1992 and sat vacant for 20 years until the insurance company AF Group redesigned it for their corporate headquarters. Contributing to the project were $12.6 million in tax abatements, $11 million in historic tax credits, $10 million in brownfields tax credits, $3.2 million in city investment for riverfront redesign, and $600,000 from the U.S. EPA for cleanup. All told, that public financing helped make the $182 million project possible, and the company moved in in 2011, retaining 600 employees and adding 500.

Other coal plants have found new life as commercial enterprises. The Tennessee Valley Authority, a huge hybrid federal agency that merges electricity generation with flood control and economic development in a seven-state region, decommissioned its Widows Creek coal-fired power plant in 2015. Now Google is building a data center on 360 acres that the plant once occupied. 

holyoke solar farmThe Mt. Tom power plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts as a coal-fired power plant in the 1980s (left) and a solar farm today. Credit: Massachusetts DEP / City of Holyoke

Likewise with the Mt. Tom power station in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which is now a renewable energy facility with 17,000 solar panels. “It became inevitable that the coal plant would close at some point given the economics of the coal industry,” Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse told Fast Company. “The solar project was already sort of a community-agreed-upon value, a goal that everybody could get behind. And we got ahead of the curve, in that sense, when we started that plan even before the coal plant shut down.”

The jobs left behind

These examples of deep cooperation and multiple funding streams show what is possible, but there are limits to what can be done without support at the national level. 

The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, about 250 miles east of Las Vegas in Northern Arizona, was the largest power plant in the western U.S. until it closed last November. Built in the early 1970s, it leased its 1,786-acre site from the Navajo Nation and payed about $52 million per year in wages to 538 employees, 90 percent of whom were Navajo. The plant is now slated for teardown, but it hasn’t been made clear to the people affected what will come next for them, and the tricky business of repurposing coal plants has left their economic prospects uncertain.

“There’s a lot of transitioning happening,” said Arvin Trujillo, chief executive of Four Corners Economic Development group told the Associated Press. “We’re looking at, how do we take the challenges we have and begin to look at more positive aspects and how do we get the full region to begin to work together.”

Trujillo said some people are reluctant to move on from an industry that built the middle-class Navajo Nation. He also said the lack of clarity over what will come of the property is damaging to the psyche. “The biggest piece is that uncertainty,” Trujillo said. “People don’t know, and when they don’t know, they start to get scared and they don’t know how they’re going to take care of their families.”

Even the very environmental advocates who have fought for these closures admit that the U.S. needs the kind of top-level leadership that shut down Ontario’s Nanticoke power plant.

“If you look at the number of coal plants that have already closed, or are slated to close… the response has been just to say, ‘Well, thanks and sorry and good luck,'” said Natural Resources Defense Council’s Noah Long in an interview last month.  “And I don’t think that’s an appropriate response. I think we can do a lot better than that.​”

The post Abandoned Coal Plants Are a Huge Opportunity appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Julia Hartley-Brewer Sneers as Greta Thunberg Visits Bristol

Yesterday, Norwegian schoolgirl eco-warrior and global phenomenon Greta Thunberg visited my hometown, the fair city of Bristol. She was due to speak at College Green by City Hall in Bristol, before leading a march through town to the Tobacco Factory. This was exactly what it’s called, but the tobacco industry has just about vanished from Bristol, and it is now a theatre. Many of the city’s schools gave their pupils the day off so that they could join her. Her visit was naturally the main focus of the local news yesterday. Thousands went to see her, and it was a real family event. Parents and grandparents also went, and took their children and grandchildren. The teenage organisers, who had invited her, were interviewed. They were intelligent and articulate. One of them, a young man, was given the opportunity by the local TV crew to appear again promoting another, different, but equally important issue. The lad had said that he wished there was the same kind of crowds and interest for combating knife crime. He’s absolutely right, as this is a plague claiming and wrecking young people’s lives up and down the country. So the crew told him to wait a moment while they found someone he could talk to about this. With luck this should lead to positive developments so that in a few months’ time or however long, he should be back with us organising a mass campaign against that issue.

Thunberg’s visit was an historic occasion for the city. The people going enjoyed it, and it will doubtless have delighted Mayor Marvin and the other members of the council, who are trying to turn Bristol into one of the world’s leading Green cities. I didn’t go, as I still have this stinking cold, though I didn’t really feel like attending anyway. But I’m glad for the people, who did.

One person, who definitely didn’t approve of Thunberg’s visit was TalkRadio right-wing mouthpiece and howling snob, Julia Hartley-Brewer. According to Zelo Street, Hartley-Dooda got very sneering about the whole affair on Twitter. First she retweeted Mike Graham, another right-wing TalkRadio entity calling Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a ‘plank’, because he was in Bristol with his sister and family to support the demo. Dooda herself then issue the following Tweet explaining why she wouldn’t let her daughter go on the march:

“If my child wanted to join a school #ClimateStrike I’d expect her to: 1. Know enough to pass a test on climate change facts 2. Agree to give up fashion, all lifts home & all holiday flights 3. Even if she did both 1 & 2, I still wouldn’t let her bunk off school”.

She had to sneer at the Beeb’s coverage of pro-Brexit demonstrations, stating

“‘At least 30,000 people.’ Or, if it was the same size crowd at a pro-Brexit rally in a BBC report, ‘hundreds of people’”.

She then sneered at the people, who did attend, with this tweet

“There’s something about the people attending this #climatestrike by #BristolYS4C with #Greta that I can’t quite put my finger on… Gosh, now what *is* it? I wonder if [Jon Snow] or a BBC reporter could help out?” This was followed by “Nope, I still can’t work out what it is. It’s on the tip of my tongue but…”

This was accompanied by photos of the crowd. If she’s trying to imply that they were somewhat lacking in charisma or shoddily dressed or whatever, she’s seriously missed the mark. They don’t look like anything to me except severely normal people with their hoods and anoraks on getting soaked.

She then retweeted a piece by someone called Ben Pile, who completely denies the existence of global warming and who had attacked George Monbiot:  “George invents victims of climate change in Bangladesh and Ethiopia … Both countries have in fact boomed over the last two decades”.

She then followed this by retweeting Darren Grimes, who was in turn responding to Guido Fawkes and their endorsement of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which, you will not be surprised, also denies the existence of global warming. Grimes was moaning that, thanks to environmental concerns, Britain couldn’t build an additional airport even though with contribute less than 1% to global emissions.

The Sage of Crewe concludes of her rather mean-spirited behaviour

‘But seriously, this is a sad show of inconsiderate selfishness by someone who is regularly given a platform by major broadcasters. Just because Ms Hartley Dooda wants to carry on with her long-haul jollies doesn’t invalidate the scale of the climate crisis. And the only reason she seems concerned about the Coronavirus is because that, too, could prevent her jetting off to embark on another exhibition of conspicuous consumption.

Julia Hartley Dooda cares. But only about Herself Personally Now.’


In fact, the event seems to have been positively received by very many teachers and educationalists. Many of the group that organised it, a group of youth climate strike activists, came from Chew Valley school. Chew Valley is the name of one of the neighbouring villages outside the city. The school said that they had been given time off for the pupils to go. One of the girls involved, a 17-year old, was given an honorary doctorate by Bristol University for her work researching birds and working for their preservation. Another teacher, who was going with his pupils, said that they were incorporating the visit into the curriculum. This apparently covers the environment and ecology. Thunberg’s visit was also important to the citizenship part of the curriculum as well, because it is an example of the right to protest.

But as a right-wing Murdoch hack, Dooda doesn’t believe in global warming or cares about the environment, because doing so gets in the way of those all-important corporate profits. It’s an attitude obviously shared by Grimes and the Paul Staines’ collective. Pile pointing to Bangladesh and Ethiopia experiencing significant economic growth is, as Zelo Streets points out, a piece of misdirection. Climate change doesn’t necessarily prevent it. But it does mean a deterioration in the environment and living conditions for those countries hit by it. Bangladesh may well be experiencing a boom at the same time it’s threatened by rising sea levels.

As for organisations like the Global Warming Policy Foundation, they are very definitely in the minority. The vast majority of scientists believe that global warming is an established fact. Groups like the Foundation, on the other hand, tend to be the pet scientists set up and funded by big business in order to protect themselves and their profits. The Koch brothers set up a number of fake ‘astroturf’ right-wing grassroots organisations and research groups denying climate change, in order to protect their companies in the fossil fuel industry.  I dare say the GWPF is a similar organisation, whose findings should be taken with the same scepticism given to the pronouncements of the various medical research groups funded by the tobacco industry, which told everyone that there was no link between ciggies and cancer.

And just looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham a few weeks ago, I came across an academic book about environmental decline and the effects of global warming. The information supporting its existence is out there, if Hartley-Brewer cares to look.

But she won’t. Because that might show her that unrestrained capitalism isn’t completely good and benign, and that she herself might have to change her behaviour to save the planet. Like stop jetting around to exclusive, exotic resorts to show how much wealthier she is than the rest of us.

Everybody in Bristol seems to have had a great time yesterday, despite Dooda’s determination to sneer at it all. I hope the world pays attention to them, than hacks like her. Which will not only annoy Dooda herself, but her master, Murdoch. And that, like fighting climate change, is itself a noble goal.

Trump’s Climate Denial Is a Danger to Post-Brexit Britain

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on Trump’s denunciation of Green activists at the Davos summit. He called them ‘prophets of doom’, who were trying to dominate, control and transform the lives of everyone in the world, and announced that he would not change his country’s high carbon economy. He would, though, sign up for planting, restoring and conserving a trillion trees.

This didn’t impress Greta Thunberg, who was also there. Mike quotes her as saying

“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else,” she said.

“You say: ‘We won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, silence.”

And she asked: “What will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing… climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?”

Beeb wildlife presenter Chris Packham also made a speech about the climate emergency at the BAFTA’s, warning that unless we act to solve the environmental crisis, future generations may look on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin and Australia’s Scott Morrison in the same way as mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, because of the millions killed through climate change.

Mike also makes the point that while the world’s leaders are doing nothing about climate change, Boris is moving closer to a trade deal with Trump, one that will also make him deny the danger. Mike states that our clown of a prime minister has missed opportunities to make a difference, and asks if he will sell us down the river again for the sake of a few American dollars.


The answer is yes, yes, he will. And it’s for the same reasons Trump and the rest of the Republican party are denying climate change: powerful corporate interests. The Republicans received very generous campaign funding from big industrialists like the Koch brothers and the other heads of the fossil fuel industry. These big businessmen also sponsor fake grassroots organisations and biased scientific think thanks in order to lobby against and discredit climate research and laws to protect the environment. The results have been disastrous. Since he took power, Trump has gutted the environmental protection agency and forbidden it from publishing anything supporting climate change or environmental decline in America. Koch money has seen universities close down proper climate and environmental research and their replacement with laboratories and organisations funded by the brothers and others in the fossil future industry. These present as fact the false information they want the public to hear: that climate change isn’t occurring, and the coal and oil industries ain’t wrecking the landscape. But these industries are. There are a whole sections of the Louisiana swamps that is heavily polluted by oil. The oil pipeline through indigenous people’s land in Idaho that made the news a few years ago was opposed because the indigenous people of the area feared that there would be spillages that would pollute the water they use for drinking and which nourishes their wildlife. They were right to do so. There have been a large number of similar spillages, which have not garnered so much media attention, which have similarly contaminated vast acreages of land. And then there’s the whole fracking industry, and the damage that has also caused the water table in areas where it has been allowed.

These are the industries funding Trump’s campaign. They’re part of the reason why there were right-wing jokers all over the internet yesterday sniggering at Trump’s put down of Thunberg. Trump and his supporters really do believe that environmentalists are some kind of crazy apocalyptic cult with totalitarian aims. There’s a section of the American right that really does believe Green activists are real, literal Nazis, because the Nazis were also environmentally concerned. And the corporate interests sponsoring Trump are the same industries that want to get a piece of our economy and industries.

The Tories have already shown that they are little concerned about the environment. They have strongly promoted fracking in this country, and the book The Violence of Austerity contains a chapter detailing the Tories’ attacks on the environment and Green protest groups. David Cameron’s boast that his would be the greenest government ever vanished the moment his put his foot across the threshold of Number 10.

If Boris makes a Brexit trade deal with Trump, it will mean that our precious ‘green and pleasant land’ is under threat from highly polluting, environmentally destructive industries. It will mean further reductions in funding for renewable energy in favour of oil, gas and coal, attempts in this country to discredit and silence respectable, mainstream climate research and scientists in favour of corporate-sponsored pseudoscience. And there will be further laws and state violence against environmental protesters.

Trump’s climate denial is a threat to the British environment, industry, the health of its people, democracy and science. But Boris depends on him for any kind of successful trade deal.

He will sell out and wreck this country and its people for those dollars offered by Trump and his corporate backers.

Quakers Divest from ‘Big Four’ Banks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/01/2015 - 10:04am in