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Desperate BoJob Repeats the Tories’ Broken Promises

The signs are definitely increasing that Boris may be on his way out. His personal popularity has plunged to the point where a poll of Tory party members has rated him the second most unsatisfactory member of the cabinet. A poll a few weeks ago found that he was less popular than Keir Starmer, the duplicitous leader of the Labour party, who seems far keener on finding reasons to purge the party of genuine socialists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn than opposing the Conservatives. Rishi Sunak, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, according to a similar poll a few weeks or so ago is actually far more popular. Zelo Street has published a series of articles speculating that as Boris shows himself to be ever more clueless and incompetent, the Tories and the press are starting to consider his removal and replacement. The Murdoch press has published a series of articles criticising him, while the Heil joined in to give him the same treatment they dished out to Corbyn and Ed Miliband. The rag published an article about Tom Bower’s latest book, which happens to be a biography of BoJob’s father, Stanley. This claims that he once hit BoJob’s mother so hard that he sent her to hospital with a broken nose. Bower’s last book was a biography of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which cast various aspersions on him. Of course, the Mail has more than a little previous when it comes to attacking politicians through their fathers. It published a nasty little piece a few years ago smearing Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, as ‘the man who hated Britain’ when Miliband junior was leader of the Labour party. Ralph Miliband was a Marxist intellectual and I think he was Jewish Belgian, who immigrated to this country. He despised the British class system and its elite public schools, but nevertheless joined the army to defend his new homeland during World War II. Which is far more than could be said for the father of the Heil’s former editor, Paul Dacre, who spent the war well away from the front line as the paper’s showbiz correspondent. Reading between the lines of an interview one of the Tory rags published with Michael Gove, Zelo Street suggested that Boris’ former ally was possibly being considered as his successor. But if Johnson does go, it’ll have to be through a coup like that which ousted Thatcher. Former speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow is undoubtedly right: no matter how unpopular Johnson becomes, he won’t leave voluntarily because he’s unaccountable.

So with things looking ominous and the vultures circling, Johnson today gave an upbeat speech in which he promised to build 40 new hospitals, more houses and increase the amount of power generated from green and renewable sources. Mike in his piece about Johnson’s falling popularity includes a Tweet from ‘Russ’, who helpfully points out that Johnson also made the same promise to build 40 hospitals a year ago. And hasn’t done it. He’s allocated £3 billion for their construction, although the real cost of building them is £27 billion. As for his promise to have a greater proportion of this country’s power generated by renewables, like more wind tunnels out in the Severn, we’ve also heard this before. Remember how dodgy Dave Cameron told the British voting public that his would be the greenest government ever and stuck a little windmill on the roof of his house? That lasted just as long as it took for Cameron to get both feet into No. 10. As soon as he was over the threshold he very definitely went back on his promise, giving his support to fracking while the windmill disappeared. Johnson’s promise is no different. It’s another lie from the party of lies and broken electoral promises. Like when Tweezer told everyone she wanted to put workers in company boardrooms. It’s like the Tories’ promises on racism and racial inequalities. After the Black Lives Matter protests, Johnson promised to set up an inquiry into it. Just like Tweezer did before him. All lies, empty lies that the Tories never had any intention of honouring.

And then there was his promise to build more houses. This was fairly bog-standard Thatcherite stuff. Johnson declared that he was going to build more houses so that more people would be able to own their own homes. But this wouldn’t be done by the state. He would do it by empowering people, who would be able to paint their own front doors.

Eh? This seems to make no sense at all. It does, however, repeat some of the points of Thatcher’s rhetoric about homeownership from the 1980s. Thatcher aimed at making Britain a home-owning nation of capitalists. She did by selling off the council houses and passing legislation forbidding councils from building new ones. This was supposed to allow everyone, or at least more people, to own their own homes. Many council tenants did indeed buy their homes, but others had them bought by private landlords. A few years ago Private Eye published a series of articles about the plight of these former council tenants, whose new landlords were now raising the rents to levels they couldn’t afford, or evicting them in order to develop the properties into more expensive homes aimed at the more affluent. And one of the reasons behind the present housing crisis is the fact that many properties are simply too expensive for people to afford. This includes the so-called ‘affordable housing’. This is set at 80 per cent of the market value of similar houses, whose price may be so high that even at this reduced price the affordable houses may be well beyond people’s ability to purchase. Thatcher’s housing policy needs to be overturned. Not only do more houses need to be built, but more genuinely affordable properties and council houses for those, who can only rent. Johnson isn’t going to do any of that. He just repeated the usual Thatcherite rhetoric about people owning their own homes and empowering them against the state. Just as Thatcher said that there was no society, only people and the Tories talked about rolling back the frontiers of the state.

It’s just another set of empty promises. In the clip I saw on the news, Johnson didn’t say how many he’d build, nor who would build them if the state wasn’t. Like the promises to build the hospitals and increase green energy, it’s another promise he doesn’t even remotely mean to keep. Just like all the others the Tories have made.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/10/06/johnsons-popularity-hits-record-low-but-bercow-says-he-wont-quit-as-hes-not-accountable/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/10/bozo-gets-miliband-corbyn-treatment.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/murdoch-abandons-bozo.html

Colorado River: “Lifeline of the Southwest” Suffering Effects of Economic Growth and Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 5:37am in

By Haley Demircan

The Colorado River, also known as the “Lifeline of the Southwest,” spreads along 1,450 miles (2,330 kilometers), from northern Colorado to the Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico. This legendary river provides water for 40 million people in cities such as Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego, as well as millions of acres of vital farmland. Seven states rely on the Colorado River as a primary source of water. But as economic growth and climate change ensue, there is major cause for concern regarding depletion and the impacts of climate change in the Colorado River basin.

Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River system covers a huge expanse of the American Southwest. Image: CC0, Credit: USGS)

Whether residents of the Southwest are using water from the river or groundwater, they are withdrawing the region’s most vital resource much faster than it can be replenished. In other words, the Southwest’s water-use challenges constitute a textbook case of a not-so-steady state economy.

The Effects of Climate Change

Over the past century, regional temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Celsius and water usage has increased, both of which are a function of a growing, environmentally-destructive GDP. Researchers Chris Milly and Krista A. Dunne at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) published a study in March 2020 using a hydrologic model and historical observations to demonstrate that the decrease in water flowing through the river is due largely to the evapotranspiration associated with climate change.

Global warming drastically affects the snowpack that feeds the river. As temperatures in the region rise, more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Snow cover declines, causing the land to become exposed and dry. Without this snow cover, less energy from the sun is able to be reflected back through the atmosphere into space. Instead, it becomes trapped and warms the surface of the earth. Furthermore, plants need more water when temperatures rise. Just in the last century, waterflow from the Colorado River dropped 20 percent, and half of that percentage is from climate change. This reduction of water has left the two largest reservoirs in the nation, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were completely full in 2000, almost half empty. From 2000 to 2004, both had lost enough water to supply California with five times its Colorado River water.

With further global warming, Milly and Dunne estimate that the river will be depleted another 14-26 percent by 2050. They stated that more than half of this depletion is attributable to higher temperatures. As this trend in increased temperatures continues, the risk of severe water shortages for the millions of people who rely on the water from the Colorado River will grow.

The higher end of the percentage of depletion would mean a loss of about 1.5 million acre-feet of water—or 326,000 gallons of water—which is enough water to cover an acre of land about one foot deep. With temperatures on the rise and rainfall and snowpack declining, it is impossible to keep up with the water demand. In an interview with CNN, Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, warned, “Without this river, American cities in the Southwest would dry up and blow away.”

River basin study

Water supply and demand for the Colorado Rover. Credit: March 2016 Report by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Drought Contingency Plan

With the 19-year-drought affecting the Colorado River basin, all seven basin states had to come up with a plan. In an effort to keep the levels of the two major reservoirs from becoming critically low, they created the drought contingency plan (DCP). All seven states signed the DCP for the Upper and the Lower Colorado River basins. The plan is actually a set of specialized plans unique to each state and designed to help stabilize the river system and reduce the risk of reservoirs falling to critically low levels.

The Arizona drought contingency plan goes into effect when levels in Lake Mead reach 1,090 MSL (mean sea level). Currently, Lake Mead is 1,085 MSL. Arizona is only allotted 37.3 percent of the Colorado River’s lower basin water, and the state will receive a drastic decrease in water resource as the DCP and cutbacks are managed, from 2.80 million acre-feet per year to just over a million acre-feet per year.

Ground Water Depletion, Farmland Abandonment, and Economic Impacts

In an effort to source water elsewhere, Arizona is now relying on ground water aquifers, which is not a viable solution for the future. These aquifers provide corporate farms the ability to grow as much food as possible in a short time frame. Using ground water in this way depletes the underground, fresh water much too quickly. Water depletion in Arizona has caused several issues in the past, such as land abandonment, earth cracking/collapse, and major dust storms.

Lake Mead

Recent photo of Lake Mead showing an alarming drop in water level. (Image: CC0, Credit: USGS)

In Pinal county, Arizona, farmers are experiencing a lack of water resources. With the new DCP, farmers have lost two-thirds of the irrigation water they had been receiving from the Colorado River. They are now relying on groundwater; however, drilling and pumping groundwater is costly, and many farmers cannot afford the large increase in the cost of water for their farmlands. Ashley Hullinger, a research analyst from the University of Arizona, conducted a water loss study specifically for Pinal Country, and she found that there could be enormous economic repercussions if ground water depletion continues at this rate.

With the loss of 300,000-acre feet of water, the study found that there would be:

  • $63.5 million to $66.7 million lost in gross farm-gate sales (this accounts for 7 percent)
  • $94 million to $104 million lost in total county sales (farm and non-farm sales)
  • $31.7 million to $35 million lost in county value added (this includes net farm income, profits in other industries, employee compensation and tax revenues)
  • 240 to 480 full-time and part-time jobs lost

Depleting water from underground aquifers at high rates provides a small solution to the large cut in the Colorado River water allocation; however, there are severe consequences to the land as well as the economy.

Where do we go from here?

With temperatures on the rise due to climate change, there is no doubt that water depletion will occur. The next steps in the DCP are critical in reducing the risk of further shortages. One long-term goal is for reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell to replenish and hopefully allow for the water flow to increase in the Colorado River. Scientist like Udall, believe that the only way to save the Colorado River is by addressing what he considers the root cause of the problem—climate change. We might add an even deeper root: the GDP growth that drives greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

“The science is crystal clear—we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately,” he says. “We now have the technologies, the policies and favorable economics to accomplish greenhouse gas reductions. What we lack is the will.”

We’re not so sure about the “policies and favorable economics” part. While the microeconomics of installing renewable energy facilities may be more favorable, we still have pro-growth policies that ensure not only more renewable energy technology, but dipping further into the wells and deposits of fossil fuels.

 

Haley Demircan is CASSE’s fall journalism intern.

The post Colorado River: “Lifeline of the Southwest” Suffering Effects of Economic Growth and Climate Change appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Climate Change Is Pass Fail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 4:18pm in

Although Joe Biden’s website hat-tips the Green New Deal, he is opposed to it. Instead, he wants to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The problem is, scientists project the end of human civilization by 2050. So it’s a moot point. The environment is pass-fail. Incrementalism is doomed.

Wealth Transfers, Carbon Dioxide Removal, and the Steady State Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 5:24am in

By Brian Snyder

In 2019, the U.S. per capita GDP was $65,000. It seems obvious that this level of economic activity is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the U.S. population; after all, if we can’t live fulfilled, productive lives in an economy producing $65,000 per person per year, more money and production will never be enough. Further, additional per capita economic growth in the USA is uneconomic. For example, economic growth to $75,000 per person per year will not increase our economic wellbeing nearly as much as it will decrease ecological wellbeing; hence, the justification for a steady state economy.


Just one example of wealth in the USA. Mansion in Newport, RI. (Image: CC BY 3.0, Credit: silvervoyager)

But much of the world is not like the USA. Afghanistan’s per capita GDP was $502 in 2019. Burundi’s was $261, and the average per capita GDP in sub-Saharan Africa was less than $1600. In these nations, most citizens cannot meet their basic needs—food, water, sanitation, electricity, education, and healthcare—at current levels of economic activity. In these places, a steady state economy is unsustainable because poverty is unsustainable.

There are two reasons we may consider poverty unsustainable. The first is simply definitional. One of my favorite definitions of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While this definition was originally used by the Brundtland Commission for “sustainable development” rather than “sustainability,” it works just as well for either. Given this definition, poverty is unsustainable because it does not allow for present generations to meet their basic needs.

But there is also a more fundamental reason why poverty is unsustainable, and it has less to do with poverty per se than the unequal distribution of wealth. If we consider sustainability to be “able to be sustained” or “able to be repeated for long periods,” then poverty itself is actually quite sustainable. Almost every human in history has lived in what we would consider abject poverty and could continue to do so for millennia.

Syrian Army

Poverty and an uneven distribution of wealth are major factors of the Syrian Civil War. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Freedom)

Yet while poverty may be sustained over long periods, a vastly uneven distribution of wealth cannot; just ask Marie Antoinette or Tsar Nicholas II. While the French and Soviet Revolutions were, in part, a reaction to the inequal distribution of wealth and extreme poverty within a country, unequal power and wealth between nations can also fuel international rivalries, terrorism, and wars, all of which are unsustainable regardless of the definition you choose. A large part of the reason that Afghanistan and Somalia have been fertile soil for terrorism over the last three decades is that they are some of the poorest nations on Earth. Likewise, intranational economic inequality and poverty is an important cause of the Syrian Civil War, the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.

In sum, poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth between nations is unsustainable, and per capita GDP growth is required in the developing world to rectify it. Without such growth, asymmetries in wealth will continue to incite violence.

CDR Systems as a Solution

If we agree that economic growth is counterproductive in wealthy nations yet productive in poor nations, we may then ask which policies will be useful for transferring economic growth from the developed to the developing world. One obvious alternative is to transfer wealth from rich countries to poor countries. However, if this wealth is used to invest in industries, especially extractive industries, such wealth transfers may become counterproductive. For example, imagine that the developed world provides $100 million in cash to country X to build a factory that exports goods to developed markets. In this case, the developed world may benefit from cheap goods, facilitating economic growth in the developed world and defeating the purpose of the transfer. In other words, creating more low-cost production centers in a Western-financed race to the bottom is not in anyone’s interest.

Instead, we need to find a cash flow that facilitates economic growth in the developing world without creating economic growth in the developed world. Given that the economies of poor and rich nations are intertwined, this is unlikely to be possible, but there may be industries that could be targeted and developed that come close. One possibility is investments in carbon dioxide removal (CDR) systems financed with developed-world cash and using developing-world labor and land.

Reforestation

Reforestation in Haiti. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Cunningchrisw)

CDR, also called negative emissions technologies, are systems that use energy to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CDR systems range in technology from very low tech (like reforestation) to very high tech (like direct air carbon capture), and, at first glance, might not be the sort of thing many steady staters are inclined to support. After all, steady-state folks tend toward technological moderation and generally favor halting consumption growth, rather than developing new, often energy-intensive means for mitigating the impacts of consumption. Further, many CDR systems are likely to be unworkable or create larger problems than they solve. Hence, some skepticism is warranted.

But many CDR systems have considerable potential. Reforestation stores carbon and produces ecosystem services like soil protection, water retention, and wildlife habitat provision. Some bioenergy with carbon capture and storage systems may likewise produce ecosystem services if the biomass is harvested and managed sustainably. Enhanced weathering also is promising as a low energy means for sequestering carbon. And while direct air carbon capture systems are energy intensive, that energy could be supplied by renewable resources, especially in parts of sub-Saharan Africa with exceptional solar resources.  

Furthermore, CDR is likely the only plausible path toward meeting the Paris commitments. To limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, we need to be at about net zero CO2 emissions in 30 years and achieve net negative emissions in the last decades of the 21st century. Because of our dependence on fossil fuels in industrial and power applications, it is highly unlikely that our gross emissions of CO2 will be zero around 2050. We would need some negative emissions to achieve a net zero emission. In other words, even if we decarbonize rapidly, it likely won’t be enough.  

The Function of Wealth Transfers and CDR

Consider a policy in which developed-world nations transfer wealth to the developing world for investments in CDR systems. This wealth transfer would act like a tax in the developed world, potentially reducing economic growth. Of course, some portion of this wealth transfer will return back to the developed world for purchasing technology for CDR implementation, subverting the purpose of increasing growth in the developing world without increasing growth in the developed world. Yet much of the wealth will be used to pay for labor in the developed world, especially in lower-tech CDR systems like reforestation and biomass-based systems. If much of the wealth from the policy stays in the developing world and isn’t used to buy developed-world goods and services, the policy may be effective at transferring wealth.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos has accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars. Image how many countries could be supported on his income alone. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Seattle City Council)

The use of wealth transfers to fund CDR has an advantage that less targeted wealth transfers do not have because CDR is, in a sense, parasitic. CDR does not produce something of value that can be sold in the same way that a factory or a coal mine does. Instead, it consumes wealth to produce a theoretical emissions credit that can only have value because governments require them. The physical “thing” itself, stored carbon, has no value—especially in its oxidized form stored in underground formations. Thus, CDR systems are akin to wealth furnaces that take land, labor, and capital and turn them into nothing that can be used to stimulate economic growth in the developed world.

We can think of investing in CDR as akin to investing in sanitation. Like sanitation, CDR produces a public good that is absolutely necessary, but funding it serves as an inefficiency for the economy. By tying CDR with wealth transfers, we may be able to increase this inefficiency, and thus slow growth, for the developed world while creating employment and infrastructure in the developing world.

A Just Transition

The nations of the developing world did nearly nothing to cause climate change, yet they are likely to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of the direct impacts of climate change and the indirect economic impacts of decarbonization. Not only are poorer countries less able to adapt to climate change, but by using up the carbon budget, wealthy nations have effectively foreclosed poorer nations’ abilities to extract and use their own fossil fuels.

village child

We need a just transition for countries who will suffer from climate change and are not economically stable. (Image: CC0, Credit: ajaykhadka)

As mentioned above, the transfer of wealth will help to rectify this injustice, but we need a means to determine how much money to transfer. One possibility is to use a climate easement system in which developing-world nations are compensated for the lost value of their hydrocarbon resources. In such a policy, nations may estimate the net value of their hydrocarbon resources and enter into easements with wealthy nations that compensate them for their lost value and ensure that the resources remain underground.

Climate and Energy are Not Just Developed World Problems

In discussions about climate policy, we tend to focus on wealthy emitters—the USA, China, Europe—and ignore the developing world. This makes sense because it is how we have dealt with nearly every international problem in history: The rich people get together and make decisions, and the poor people get ignored. But energy and climate are the glue that binds us all together. We cannot craft an energy and climate policy that ignores the developing world because, if we do, developing-world nations will either develop into major emitters or remain mired in poverty, susceptible to conflict as temperatures rise and resources decline. Thus, we need a climate and energy policy that includes an explicit path toward sustainable development (as opposed to unsustainable growth) for the developing world. Without such a path, climate policy will fail.

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

The post Wealth Transfers, Carbon Dioxide Removal, and the Steady State Economy appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


The New Solar Farm Is a Real Farm, Too

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/08/2020 - 10:44pm in

When Randolph County’s $242 million Riverstart Solar Park is completed in 2022, it will be Indiana’s biggest. Thousands of photovoltaic panels covering 1,400 acres of rural land will generate enough clean electricity to power 36,000 homes.

Massive solar farms like this can be a touchy subject with locals. So, in the lead-up to the project’s approval, county legislators ensured the developer would be a good neighbor, with measures to avoid glare from the panels and mandated setbacks from roads and highways. And then they took it one step further, requiring the planting of pollinator-friendly plants like wildflowers and clover, in addition to native grasses. It was the first such mandate in state history.

solarA Minnesota solar site uses a diverse mix of pollinator-friendly native flowers and grasses, and is co-located with a collection of beehives. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

The requirement will ensure that Riverstart will benefit the very land it is situated on — a very different approach from the way solar farms have historically been conceived and built. Typically, U.S. solar projects are built on marginal lands or farmland, with panels mounted on ground covered with gravel or turf. It’s a farm in name only, an ecological dead zone, despite the clean energy benefits. But as the ordinance for Riverstart shows, this is changing, and solar farms are increasingly being seen as more than just a means to generate clean energy.

Riverstart’s design takes into account the health of bee populations, which is critical because we rely on pollinators to fertilize our food plants — everything from apples to almonds, blueberries to squash. Bees are in decline in many parts of the world. Fruit trees on some Chinese farms are now pollinated by feather-wielding humans, and just last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded a grant exploring the use of drones to pollinate fruit crops in Washington State. For Randolph County, about 80 miles northeast of Indianapolis, the ordinance approval comes at a time when Indiana’s native pollinator species have declined below the number needed to pollinate crops, with honey bee colonies in some areas facing collapse.

solarThe vegetation required at the Indiana array will be low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

“It will help the bees, which are under attack,” said Michael Wickersham, one of the three Randolph County commissioners who approved the zoning ordinance and notes that the required vegetation will be low maintenance (no mowing) and aesthetically pleasing. “Adding the pollinator [plants] back into the ground is nothing but a win-win.”

It’s not just megaprojects like Riverstart that are embracing new solar farm designs that benefit the local environment. Dave Gahl, Senior Director of Northeast State Affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry, says growing native plants and pollinators on solar farms is a nationwide trend for “community solar projects” — smaller solar arrays (less than five megawatts) typically built on leased farmland. By comparison, a big commercial project like Riverstart will be designed to generate up to 200 megawatts.

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The very act of taking plots of farmland out of production for the typical 20 to 30 year lifespan of a solar project rejuvenates top soil degraded by annual cropping and chemical applications. This speaks to the reality that solar farms are often temporary, which only bolsters the notion that they should maintain the health of the land they’re situated on.

Solar farms with plants can also become fodder for “solar grazers,” like at the Nexamp community solar project in Newfield, New York, where about 150 sheep are “deployed”  to prevent plants from growing tall and interfering with the solar panels. Fencing keeps predators out, while the panels themselves shelter the sheep from sun and storms.

solar sheepSheep can benefit from — and help maintain — a solar farm. Credit: Solar Trade Association

Gahl says solar companies will sometimes enter into agreements with local farmers to allow sheep herds to graze the vegetation around the solar panels, providing another income stream for the farmer who is leasing the land to the solar farm. Such natural grazing also encourages grass regrowth, increases manure nutrients to the soil, and avoids the costs and pollution of mowing.

Meanwhile, new approaches are promising to expand the species of plants that can be grown at solar sites. The U.S. Department of Energy is experimenting with “agrivoltaics” — for example, raising solar panels higher off the ground to enable food crops to be grown in the shade underneath. In the summer heat of a place like Arizona, peppers and tomatoes can be shaded from the scorching sun by the panels, which then retain heat and boost the crops’ growth during the cooler evenings.

solar “Agrivoltaics” raise solar panels higher off the ground to enable food crops to be grown in the shade underneath. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

This co-existence of solar farming and food farming could just be getting started as solar farms become more sophisticated. Some newer solar panels can move, following the sun across the sky, generating up to 20 percent more electricity than conventional designs. To enable the panels to move, however, more space is needed between them, which opens up space for food crops to absorb sunlight alongside the solar panels.

Moving forward, solar farms could play a role in food security, as well. With big utility-scale solar farms alone predicted to cover almost two million acres of land in the U.S. by 2030, a huge opportunity is on the horizon to support pollinators, improve soil health, nurture biodiversity, produce food and, not least, slash emissions, all at the same time.

The post The New Solar Farm Is a Real Farm, Too appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Vocabulary ‘Fitbits’ Are Changing How Babies Learn Words

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/08/2020 - 12:02am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Small talk

By the time they reach kindergarten, children from low-income households have heard up to 30 million fewer words than their wealthier peers. All that lost vocabulary can have consequences for literacy attainment and language skills. So a project in Alabama is using wearable word counters to keep track of how many words young children hear — and encourage their caregivers to stay chatty all day long.

The program, called Birmingham Talks, currently has 250 families enrolled. Each kid gets a “talk pedometer,” a small Fitbit-style device that counts the number and variety of words the child hears, and produces detailed data breakdowns for the parents. Not only does this help them figure out how much vocabulary their child is absorbing, it has a “nudge effect” that appears to increase the variety of words those parents use around their kids.

A study of a similar program found that 56 percent of children involved were exposed to more adult words once they started wearing the device. Best of all, the kids who started out with the lowest exposure to words saw the biggest gains, from an average of 8,000 words per day to more than 12,000. “This provides parents with actual data to make sure they are meeting their goals,” said one of the program’s directors.    

Read more at 100 Days in Appalachia

Local flavor

The pandemic has dealt Phoenix a triple blow in terms of its food needs. Restaurants and caterers are facing a devastating slowdown, unsold food is spoiling in fields and warehouses, and food insecurity is rising as locals lose their incomes. Now, the city is using the CARES Act to connect local food producers with demand, helping to solve all three problems.

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Few cities are using CARES Act funding for emergency food relief, in part because using federal dollars for this sort of thing involves copious amounts of red tape. “Looking at federal guidelines, we would have had to have farmers submit three years of tax returns and huge forms and other reporting requirements,” one local organizer told Next City. “I said we can’t do it that way, so what can we do?” 

To take the bureaucratic burden off farmers, the city improvised its own documentation system in which the city’s Office of Environmental Programs uses receipts and photos to track the food being procured. The food will be sent to local restaurants and caterers for preparation, and each meal will contain at least three locally produced ingredients. These meals will then be distributed to residents experiencing food insecurity. The city council was so impressed that it allocated $500,000 in CARES Act money to put the plan into action — three times what had been requested. 

Read more at Next City

Clean save

The U.K.’s biggest pension fund has officially begun divesting from fossil fuels. With nine million members, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) handles the pensions of workers who save for retirement in the country’s auto-enrollment program. Some £5.5 billion ($7.2 billion USD) will be redirected in “climate aware” investments, which are expected to get a boost from new policies aimed at making Europe’s economic recovery a green one. “We have a unique opportunity to support sustainable growth and transition towards a low-carbon economy,” the fund’s chief investment officer told the Guardian.

Read more at the Guardian

The post Vocabulary ‘Fitbits’ Are Changing How Babies Learn Words appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Kentucky’s Abandoned Coal Mines Are Elk Heaven

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/07/2020 - 11:20pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Herd mentality

In Kentucky, a destructive form of coal mining known as mountaintop removal has, inadvertently, given way to a resurgence in elk populations. The mining method employs explosives to blow apart jagged shale and limestone mountains, and the debris from these explosions often creates a grassy plateau. These plateaus have bloomed with shrubs and trees as many of the mines have been decommissioned, creating opportunities for new uses such as farming and hiking.

They’ve also been discovered by the region’s elk. “Elk are classified as an intermediate feeder,” a biologist with the Nature Conservancy told the New York Times. “They’ll graze, they’ll browse, they’ll eat acorns and stuff that are falling from trees.” For well over a century, however, elk had vanished from Kentucky, hunted to extinction before the Civil War until being reintroduced by conservationists in the 1990s. Even upon reintroduction, however, the animals had trouble locating enough food. Now, they’re finding all the vegetation they can eat growing where the mines once were. Today, Kentucky has some 13,000 elk, all of them subsisting on the grassy plateaus of coal country. “Elk can survive just about anywhere,” said a biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They’ve just got to have some grass.”

Read more at the New York Times

Three wheels good

According to the Washington Post, Ranchi, the capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, “may be the only city in the world where the municipal authorities found themselves grappling with a surfeit of electric vehicles.” 

The source of Ranchi’s unexpected boom in EVs can be traced to a surge in electric rickshaw purchases by people who see tuk-tuk driving as a lucrative side gig. Why electric? The e-rickshaws are slightly smaller and slower than gas-powered ones, which means that until recently, they weren’t subject to motor vehicle regulations. “No permit, no license, no documentation required,” as one Ranchi e-rickshaw dealer put it. As their numbers grew, authorities began regulating them, but already there are 7,000 e-rickshaws plying the city’s streets.

RanchiRanchi, India. Credit: Biswarup Ganguli

The proliferation has caused some problems, including traffic snarls on the city’s main thoroughfare and stolen electricity as drivers power up wherever they can. But the popularity of the e-rickshaws has some wondering if India might become a leader in electric vehicle usage. EV sales rose sharply in 2019, with two- and three-wheeled vehicles accounting for the bulk of the growth. The government is even considering legislation that would require all two- and three-wheeled vehicles to go electric by 2026, though it has been put on hold by the pandemic.

Read more at the Washington Post

Solo riff

La Gare is a jazz club in Paris that was once a railway station. Now, it has transformed again, from a raucous social scene to an intimate venue of concerts for one.

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Like all nightclubs, La Gare closed to the public when France’s lockdown began, but it reopened once social distancing rules eased — to only a couple of patrons at a time. Customers can enter the club alone or with one other person with whom they live. Once inside, solo musicians play a brief mini-concert directly to the attendees. It’s a highly intimate experience that even the performers themselves have had to get used to. “You’re being closely watched and that can be a bit nerve-racking for the first 30 seconds,” one bass player told the Guardian.

Each performance lasts only a few minutes, allowing the club to serve a large number of patrons — in just a few weeks, it has hosted over 3,000 mini-concerts. “Even before the coronavirus we would ask people not to talk during the concerts and never turn their back on the musicians,” said the owner. “In most places, they say the customer is king. Well, at La Gare they’re not. The music is king. And we want people to give it their full attention.”

Read more at the Guardian

The post Kentucky’s Abandoned Coal Mines Are Elk Heaven appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Social Justice in the Steady State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 3:07am in

By Brian Snyder

It is a luxury to be able to worry about future generations, biodiversity loss, or climate change, and it is only available to me because of a great deal of privilege. I don’t have to worry about affording food for my family, or finding a safe place to live, and I’m confident that my kids will inherit much of the same bourgeois life that I did. My privilege frees me to think, worry, and write about the environment, energy, and economic growth. However, in all this self-important thinking about the Anthropocene, it can be easy to forget that the USA, and the rest of the world, is already in severe political and environmental danger. It is easy to forget that the hellscape I worry about future generations inheriting is not dissimilar from the daily experience of billions of people currently living on Earth.

Sustainability Venn diagram

It’s time to rethink the sustainability Venn diagram. How do we ensure that social justice is not viewed as a third wheel? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Sustainability Hub)

This critique about environmental concern—that it ignores the suffering of the present to replicate a prosperous life for the wealthy—is not new. However, the protests convulsing American cities should be a wakeup call for folks like me who tend to be more concerned about long-term sustainability than short-term justice. There are morally compelling issues of injustice happening right now, and any solution we propose to address long-term ecological crises must explicitly address these immediate issues as well.

Just as this critique of environmentalism isn’t new, neither is the observation that “sustainable” solutions must be socially just. Indeed, this linkage is often expressed as a Venn diagram of overlapping “social,” “environmental,” and “economic” circles. In my experience, those of us concerned about sustainability tend to focus on the economic and the environmental and minimize the importance of the social. The social circle is often seen as sort of a third wheel, something we should be mindful of, a side effect of a well-designed policy perhaps, but not the goal of sustainability. It feels tacked on.

No Sustainability Without Social Justice

However, building a socially just society is every bit as critical to sustainability as maintaining natural capital or ending overconsumption. A sustainable system requires social justice, but not just because it is in the Venn diagram. Without a socially just system of government and equitable treatment across race, gender, and class, we will not have a stable, sustainable socioeconomic system.


Black Lives Matter demonstrations are subtly congruent with advancing the steady state economy. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Fibonacci Blue)

Imagine a steady state economy, but one in which some people are born into generational poverty or otherwise unable to provide meaningful, healthy lives for themselves. In such a world, this hereditary underclass will oppose the sociopolitical system and the policies that limit economic growth. From their perspective, the planet may be sustainable, but they remain impoverished and marginalized. Such an economic system will fail due to internal strife.

Thus, we should see the current protests for criminal justice and police reform as a core component of the movement toward a steady state economy because social justice is a prerequisite of sustainability. A common protest sign reads, “No Justice, No Peace.” We could modify that to read, “No Justice, No Sustainability,” and it would remain true. If we cannot figure out how to end racial discrimination, and particularly racial economic inequality, we will not build a sustainable environment.

In other words, the Venn diagram concept of sustainability is short-sighted. There are not three separate but overlapping circles of social, economic, and environmental solutions, but a single circle in which social justice, economic efficiency, and environmental sustainability must be simultaneously solved.

Or perhaps sustainability is more like a Rubik’s cube. In a Rubik’s cube, if one side is wrong, the problem is not solved. Sustainability is likewise; if one systemic issue is not solved, nothing is solved. A steady state economy in a racist society is as useless as a half-solved Rubik’s cube.

Rubik's cube

The steady state economy as a Rubik’s cube. All sides must be solved to achieve equality and sustainability. (Image: CC0 1.0, Source)

This is both good and bad news. It is bad news because those of us who are concerned about environmental sustainability must consider another universe of problems when one universe is already overwhelming. But it is also good news because it highlights the systemic, ethical nature of the problem. Perhaps getting the ethics right will solve problems in each universe.

We often get the impression from media and academics that we are just an innovation away from solving our environmental problems. Sometimes, we are told that if we increase renewable energy use our struggles will fade away; other times, carbon dioxide removal or geoengineering is the solution. While I do not intend to denigrate those ideas, they will not fix systemic environmental problems caused by economic activity and human greed. A new invention will not change the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but a new ethical framework might change our avarice.

Our allies protesting for social and racial justice have a similarly daunting ethical problem. It appears that our ethnocentrism and xenophobia is as hard-wired as our greed. While criminal justice reform is needed, public policy will not solve millennia of racism and xenophobia. Only a cultural and ethical change can move society toward a post-racist future. As in our environmental crises, there is no easy fix.

 

Sustainability, Social Justice, and the Golden Rule

Yet, because our environmental and social problems are fundamentally ethical and cultural, the good news is that fixing one will likely fix the other. Any coherent ethical philosophy that favors social and racial justice will also favor sustainability and vice versa. This occurs because social justice and sustainability are applications of the Golden Rule, the precept in every major world religion that one should treat others as they would like to be treated. Social justice is based on the idea that societies and governments are responsible for following the Golden Rule, and sustainability is simply the application of the Golden Rule to future generations. Thus, a socially just society is one that treats its current citizens by the Golden Rule, and a sustainable society is one that treats its current and future inhabitants by the Golden Rule. As a result, if we move toward a more socially just society that implements the Golden Rule across its contemporary population, we are likely to pursue a more sustainable society that expresses the same ethic to its future population.

Perhaps we should see the protests for social and racial justice as the start of a movement that may be more significant than ending police brutality. The extraordinary progress toward sustainability made in the 1960s and early 1970s did not begin with the publication of Silent Spring or the Cuyahoga River fires. Instead, it emerged from the unrest and uprising of the civil rights and anti-war movements. Without those larger social movements to galvanize and educate people, elect new leaders, and, most importantly, change the ethics of American society, we may never have passed the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts. We might imagine that something similar could happen half-a-century later, and as we solve one side of our Rubik’s cube, the other sides will fall into place too.

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

The post Social Justice in the Steady State appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Climate Advocates Say that Reserves of Oil and Gas are Increasingly Worthless

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 3:09am in

Fossil fuel giant BP announced Monday it will write down nearly $18 billion in existing assets, a move that climate advocates say is more evidence that the industry is undergoing a massive shift that will leave oil and gas reserves less and less valuable as the world pivots to more planet-friendly and financially-viable sources of energy. Continue reading

The post Climate Advocates Say that Reserves of Oil and Gas are Increasingly Worthless appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

What Police Budgets Are Being Spent on Now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/06/2020 - 1:14am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Service oriented

“Defund the police” has become a rallying cry, not to reduce police violence but to redirect money spent on law enforcement toward social services. Minneapolis’s move to reconstitute its police force as a community-led public safety system is the biggest example of this yet. But according to Citylab, at least 15 other cities are also taking steps to divert some of their policing budgets toward social services and neglected communities.

Los Angeles plans to cut up to $150 million from its police budget and redirect it — plus $100 million more — into investments in black communities. In New York, the mayor has committed to shifting police funds into youth and social services when the city’s budget is released in July — a letter from criminal justice employees is asking for a shift of $1 billion. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, a new sales tax that generates $50 million per year was earmarked to hire more cops — now councilmembers want it spent on “violence interrupters, social workers and substance abuse counselors” instead.

black lives matterA protest in Los Angeles, one of many cities already redirecting some of their police budgets toward social services. Credit: Brett Morrison / Flickr

Advocates argue that these reallocations simply rebalance budgets that put far more money into law enforcement than social and community services. For instance, in St. Louis, one-third of the city’s general fund and one-fifth of its total budget go to the police, but only 2.3 percent is earmarked for mental health services. “We’ve continued to underfund social services and human services,” said St. Louis Councilmembber Megan Ellyia Green, adding that it’s time ”to start to go after the root causes of crime in our city.”

Read more at Citylab

It’s electric

A scientist drives a small spike into the stem of a rhododendron, connects it by wire to an LED light and rubs the leaves together. Let there be light! It sounds too simple to be true, but it works. Leaves gather electrical charges from the air, just like your clothes sometimes do. Those charges are funneled into the plant, turning it into a bright green battery. Now, researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology are working on ways to tap that battery — and help trees create even more static charge.

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They’re doing this by adding artificial leaves made of silicon rubber, so that when the wind blows the tree has more leaves to rub together, creating additional electricity. That power can then be channeled out of the tree using common electrical conduits. One tree that the researchers tested in a wind tunnel lit up 150 LED lights once the fake leaves were attached.

Attaching fake leaves to trees is laborious, and large amounts of wind power are probably better harnessed with regular wind turbines. But the researchers say that for certain low-voltage needs — say, powering the lights in a park — trees could provide the electricity needed with minimal infrastructure. One big unknown remains, however: Do the trees need the energy we would be taking from them?

Listen at the BBC

Till death do you part

The U.K. is implementing a long-sought public health solution: It is designating every adult an organ donor unless that person specifically opts out.

organ donorsA 2015 demonstration in London drew attention to the fact that three people die every day in the U.K. while waiting for an organ transplant. Credit: TaylorHerring / Flickr

File this one under no brainers. Over 80 percent of British citizens say they would donate their organs, but fewer than 40 percent have actually registered to do so. In other words, the opt-out model simply gives people what they want without making them take the extra steps to get it. Family consent is still required at the point of transplant, as an added safeguard against unwanted donations. The model has been a success since 2015 in Wales, where consent rates have risen from 58 to 75 percent.

Read more at the Guardian

The post What Police Budgets Are Being Spent on Now appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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