Posts Tagged Environment

WHY ARE WE SUBSIDIZING OUR OWN DESTRUCTION?

In 2015, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, the United Kingdom’s central bank (like our “Fed”), addressed the fabled Lloyd’s of London membership.  Mr. Carney spoke to this consortium of insurers about the future of the financial markets.  Namely, the new threat: Climate Change.   He knew that insurers, much more than other group would understand the risks, and want to be out ahead of what lies beyond the horizon!

As insurers, Lloyd’s members should be aware of the many hidden costs to our society which, either directly or indirectly, they might have to insure.   Economists use the term “Tragedy in the Commons”, which is where any entity uses the communal resources—the air, water, fishing, etc—for their own benefit, while leaving any negative aspects of their actions to society, at large.

Although there are many situations where the Tragedy in Commons may occur, perhaps the best example might be the local electric power utility.  The negative aspects of using fossil fuels—coal, oil and gas—to generate power, are not paid for by the utility that reaps the profits.  Increased health issues, replacing obsolete plant and equipment, and environmental clean-up, are left to the local residents.  And as the air and water flow by, one city’s contagion can spread to other cities—and even continents.

Yesterday, I added a most compelling book to the “Books That I Recommend” tab, on this blog: “Climate of Hope”, by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope.  Over the past several decades, the ebb and flow of politics, has caused the commitment of many nations to dissipate, with regard to the various global climate change accords.  Fortunately, many, many cities have stepped-up to fill-in the void!

Michael Bloomberg discusses the fact that much of a city’s needs fall-on the local government.  As the former Mayor of New York City states, when the incidence of asthma spikes, people call City Hall, and not their Congressman.  Besides public health issues, cities assume responsibility for: safe streets; police and fire; functional mass transit; basic utilities; schools; parks and recreation; etc.  And each of these must by budgeted, and paid-for by the taxpayers.

As Bloomberg and Pope point-out, many of these problems are inter-related.  Consider the following: clean air improves health, which provides better attendance at school or work; better-planned cities reduce flooding and expedites the flow of traffic; mass transit improves air quality, and it is cheaper to operate when it is powered by bio- or electric power; updated technology and energy-efficient operations can reduce the business expenses, etc.  And in the end, cities must be vibrant to attract residents and businesses!

In addition to considering many of the concerns we’ve heard for several decades—the air we breathe; over-fishing; auto emissions, etc,—Climate of Hope also describes a number of environmental aspects that we might not even be aware of.  For instance, a chicken dinner has one-sixth the carbon impact as a (similar-sized) beef dinner; there are a number of other toxic gases, besides CO2, that we emit into the atmosphere; and depending on what we import, and from where, we might be encouraging additional climate change.

Working with some 7,000 cities, Bloomberg and Pope have encouraged businesses to join them, rather than as adversaries.  Corporate leaders can better-understand the cause and effect relationship, between up-front investment in plant and equipment, and the long-term stream of lower maintenance costs.  And, once the true costs are included in the analysis, corporate partners want their families, and those of their employees, to live in cleaner, healthier, safer cities, as well.



NOTE:  Welcome to my readers from Panama and Qatar!

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NO, DONALD, EVEN YOU CAN’T SUE THE ATLANTIC OCEAN!

Donald Trump has a reputation as someone with a hair-trigger, ready to sue someone— anyone—at a moment’s notice.  The real estate tycoon even reportedly sued the local airport authority in Palm Beach County, Florida; because, departing aircraft, under certain weather conditions, flew right over hie Mar-a-Lago Estate.  But this time, Mar-a-Lago faces an even greater danger than mere jet noise—the Rising Seas!

The various barrier islands, up and down the Atlantic Coast, are a natural buffer to protect the Mainland from the sea.  But, Americans have built palatial estates, vacation homes, hotels, and condominium complexes all along them.  And every year or two, the expense of such dangerous living becomes greater and greater, when one considers: ever-expensive insurance; property taxes, including beach erosion; home repairs due to the damage done by the elements.  Also, the protection that sea walls and pumps provide, on an island, can be limited.

The linked article, from The Boston Globe, shows aerial photography of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Estate, both currently and at various projected stages in the future.  Even if Donald, age 70, intends to leave the property to his children, the value may very well be plummeting by the time they take over.  And remember, the demand for palatial estates, as the sea is threatening, will surely be limited.  Open house…Anyone?

The Globe article cites the differences in opinions that some of the Trump uber-wealthy neighbors have.  While some have literally read the seawater on the wall; others believe, now that Donald was elected, he will make things better.  Perhaps, he can stick his finger in the non-existent dyke? 

The Globe article is linked, as follows: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/01/13/rising-seas-threaten-jewel-trump-real-estate-empire/bsleB73TesDoLcVxJBK9LP/story.html

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HOW MIGHT DONALD TRUMP HELP VLADIMIR PUTIN?

The Russian Economy is in a shambles.  Too much of its budget has historically been used to upgrade its military technology, to the detriment of the needs of the Russian People.  The Energy Sector accounts for 47.5% of its Economic Production, and it has failed to diversify much of the rest beyond banking and commodities.

The economic sanctions, which were increased by the West in early 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and began encouraging civil war in Eastern Ukraine, have surely hurt its trade activities.  Slumping oil and gas prices during that period, by 35% and 22%, respectively, reduced the Russian access to Dollars.  At the same time, the 87% decline of the Ruble, versus the Dollar, has made many imports cost-prohibitive.

Besides the inflation that the weak Ruble has caused, and the scarcity of consumer goods, unemployment has risen, wages have decreased, and there seems to be no relief in sight for the average Russian worker.  Russians still make family outings to the malls, which were built during the oil boom; however, many stores are closed, and the shelves are quite empty in those that remain.  It’s just something to do during those long Russian winters.

A friendly American President, who seems less inclined to cooperate with an apparently splintering European Union, might cause the sanctions to be eased—either nation by nation, or across-the-board. There has been talk about several European nations initiating more active trade with Russia.  Such improved trade options might ease the Russian economy into a somewhat better situation.

Donald Trump, along with many of his Cabinet nominees, seems to be advocates of fossil fuels, and they claim that man-made climate change is a hoax.  So far, Mr. Trump has not shown any interest in the Paris Accord.  This scenario seems to suggest a reduced interest in alternative energy sources and, thus, an increased demand for gas, oil and coal.

Apparent Secretary of State-Designate Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil, would certainly be Donald Trump’s go-to guy, with regard to Russia.  His so-called personal relationship with Vladimir Putin has been a symbiotic one:  Rex was selling and Vlad needed to buy!  When the sanctions were increased in 2014, the transfer of vital technology, from Exxon-Mobil to Russia’s Rosneft Oil Company, was blocked.  Such a transfer under a Trump Administration, might become more likely, and it would give Exxon-Mobil access to a sector in Russia’s Arctic Region.

We’ll never know, for sure, if Russia helped Donald Trump win the Election; but, Vladimir Putin surely needs Donald’s and Exxon-Mobil’s help now!  Trust me!

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HOW WILL DONALD TRUMP HELP THE MINERS WHO VOTED FOR HIM?

Coal miners , the world over, have very dangerous jobs.  Besides breathing toxic coal dust, day after day, and over long shifts, miners’ lives are also jeopardized by potential gas explosions and collapsing tunnels.  Government regulations also appear  to only loosely enforce overall workplace safety rules,  as encouraged by coal industry lobbyists.

According “…to an investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, federal regulators and the mining industry are failing to protect miners from the excessive toxic coal mine dust, which has toxic effects on miners’ health.   That deadly “Black Lung” Disease is now being diagnosed in younger miners, and evolving more quickly into complicated stages.”

Given the irreversible effects of Black Lung,  why don’t the men (and some women) in the region just change careers?   There are other, safer jobs, such as in carpentry, auto repair, welding, etc.  And why aren’t the younger generations, aware of the dirty, hard work, and the dangerous conditions, discouraged from following their fathers and other relatives down into the mines?  Unfortunately, in many of the small towns, especallly in Appalachia, the mines are the economic lifeblood of the area!

When Donald Trump campaigned in Kentucky, West Virginia, and other regions in “Coal Country”, he promised to bring the jobs back.  But, are these the jobs that a rational person should want—for their husbands, their sons, their brothers, uncles, etc?  Didn’t they also hear Trump say that he would eliminate regulations so that business could prosper?  Don’t the miners realize that those regulations were intended to protect them?

Consider just two of the people who he has nominated for his Cabinet.  Wilbur Ross, a billionaire neighbor of Trump in Palm Beach, is his Commerce Secretary.  Mr. Ross amassed his fortune buying distressed businesses, laying-off workers, busting-up unions and reneging on pensions.  An article from the Miami Herald, describes Mr. Ross’ history with the Sago Mine Number One catastrophe.

Elaine Chao, Trump’s nominee for Transportation Secretary, had been George W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor.  Ken Ward, Jr, a columnist with the Charleston Gazette, reported in his “Coal Tattoo” Blog, that Ms. Chao, when she was Secretary of Labor, “ …encouraged regulators to regulate less, and she cooperated more with a highly hazardous industry, with a history of death and disaster.”

The combination of pledging support for jobs, de-regulating industry and—let’s not forget his pledge not to raise the Minimum Wage—surely doesn’t require a genius to figure out who’s going to win, between businesses and labor!  In a situation where the coal industry has deep pockets and labor unions have been virtually emasculated, is there any question as to how safe coal mining will be under {resident Trump?

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DONALD TRUMP’S INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN—THE ULTIMATE SCAM!

When President Barack Obama took office, in January of 2009, he had inherited the Great Recession—the worst economic crisis that America has had since the 1930s. Similar to what had worked then, he asked Congress to fund a sizable Economic Stimulus Plan, which would put Americans back to work–Government spending!

Although Congress approved the Plan, they downsized the funding considerably, and (now Speaker) Paul Ryan cautioned the Administration:  warning of a budget deficit; a downgrading of our credit rating; and he suggested that no one would buy our bonds.  None of that Doom and Gloom, however, ever came to pass.  That’s what is so ironic that President-Elect Donald Trump has suggested doing the same thing as President Obama.  Well, at least he calls it the same thing!

Trump has suggested selling U. S. Treasury bonds, and using the proceeds to fund the much-needed re-building and upgrading of dilapidated roads, bridges, tunnels, wastewater systems, environmental disasters, etc.; however, the similarity begins to fade right there.  It is an excellent time to sell “T-bonds”, to borrow now, given the current historically low interest rates.

A Plan to Re-build America would help our Nation, both physically and economically—by fixing things that are falling apart, and thereby creating jobs.  Ideally, the government would retain control of the projects—both in construction and the management phase afterward—and reap the future revenue stream which some projects might generate.  But remember, Donald Trump is not prone to giving much detail!

Trump’s vision of Infrastructure, however, would be to sell the same T-bonds; but, focus only on those projects, which corporate buyers could profit from.  The U.S. Treasury would raise $800 billion in debt, sell (really “out-source”) the actual projects to large corporationsmostly public utilities and construction companies. Those corporations would, in turn, then receive the revenue from the projects, which they would own in perpetuity.  And, believe it or not, his outsourcing plan gets even stranger.  Tax breaks!

After the Trump Administration finances the projects, the corporations would then be given tax-credits of up to 82% of the equity capital that they had invested.  Now, unlike a tax-deduction, which is deducted from taxable income, a tax credit provides for a 100% reduction of the actual taxes payable proportionately by the various corporations.

As such, the corporate partners would collectively borrow $800 billion from the Government, put-up just $200 billion, and they would only have to commit $36 million, as a group, after their collective tax bill is reduced by the $164 million tax credit.  The real problem, however, is that the out-sourcing would only apply to those projects that could be turned into profit centers.  Repairing levees, cleaning-up hazardous waste, and other projects without recognizable revenue streams, would remain in the same sorry states.

The Trump Infrastructure Plan is not really intended to repair, re-build and clean-up America after all.  It is designed as part of the GOP’s out-sourcing of America, and it is a true form of Corporate Welfare!  The U. S. Government finances the projects, extends exorbitant tax breaks, gives-up complete control, it would have no guarantee that Americans would even be hired.

Consider that: America would take the risks under the Trump “Infrastructure” Plan, dated October 27, 2016,  and the corporations would reap both the tax breaks and the virtually-guaranteed profit benefits.  I’ll leave it to the reader to figure-out how other corporate welfare recipients might scam the Trump Infrastructure Scam.

NOTE:  The Trump’s Plan also provides for a Corporate Tax Holiday.  The last time that one was implemented was 2005, at a tax-rate of 5.25%, corporations laid-off 20.000 employees and retained the overseas profits offshore, waiting for the next Tax Holiday.  In a prior blog, posted on this subject, I described how Corporate Tax Holidays have just not worked in the past!

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AS TIME GOES BY, THE NEXT GENERATION OF “TREKKIES” IS IN THE WINGS!

It has been 50 years since that first episode of the original Star Trek, “The Man Trap”, was first aired on NBC-TV, in September of 1966.  The show was subsequently cancelled in 1969; however, it’s popularity only grew in syndication.  Over the years, its loyal fan-base—Trekkies—never waned.  And, the original cheesy version eventually gave way to several, more modern TV spin-offs, movies, board and video games, books, etc.

My young son, Andrew, told me as we watched it together, many, many, MANY times, in the 1980s, that the secret attraction was that it was based on actual science.  Real science fiction!  Sure, it used poetic license to enable the crew to walk on planets without helmets and restrictive suits. But, without that accommodation, the storyline would surely not have been effective.

Besides science, Star Trek addressed a myriad of other topics, which caused its viewers—the many loyal “Trekkies”—to actually think.  Consider:  Captain Kirk dealing with a veritable ”United Planets” of a crew, which included non-human members from other planets; the Save-the-Whales theme in one of the full-length movies; saving the life of a maniacal killer; and political/philosophical considerations regarding travel between time periods, such as the episode when Kirk and Spock  visited a Nazi-controlled like planet, similar to America in the late 1940s.  

The partnership between the Star Trek franchise and NASA (our Space Agency) is legendary among fans and agency employees alike.  In fact, many of the scientists, and perhaps some astronauts, have said that the show was responsible for developing their interest in science, at an early age.  Maybe they watch it today on the International Space Station!

There are a number of devices today, versions of which the average person first saw on Star Trek.  For instance: the “Communicator”, that each of the crew wore, is a version of a smart phone; Captain Jean Luc Picard had a device similar to a computer pad in his ready room; the medical crew carried Tri-corders, a version of which is used today by some physicians, providing a patients’ vital signs; and 3-D printers which have been used like Replicators.  Some other items are, no doubt. still in the works.

The show opens with a voice-over, spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner): “Space, the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no (wo)man has gone before.”  To me, this establishes a real curiosity for the viewers’ own adventure, which surely will follow.

Now, my dilemma begins.  I know how important Star Trek had been in awakening our son Andrew’s academic interests, not only in science, but in other subjects, as well.  It also established a curiosity, his willingness to question what this all meant.  Not just the What, but the How, Why and potential Final Outcome! How do I fight the urge to encourage my three and a half-year old grandson, Henry,  to eventually become a Trekkie?

LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!

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IT’S NOT JUST THE EARTH THAT WE ARE POLLUTING!

It’s been 58 years since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik—the first of many artificial Earth satellites. Sputnik was just slightly larger than a basketball, and the orbit was only 359 miles above the Earth.  Since that time, many satellites, both large and small, have been launched to survey the Universe, enhance global telecommunications, transport astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station and even send men to land on the Moon.  While many satellites revolve around the Earth, some are geosynchronous, such as those that maintain fixed positions above Earth, as they provide vital weather data, and perhaps monitor other nations’ activities.

So, what do we do with all of that debris once it has depleted its useful life?   Really, have we done much of anything at all?   To an extent, our planet’s space rubble is similar to the plastic continents, of water bottles and the like, that have been forming in our oceans on Earth.  Besides that mass of space debris, what happens when collisions occur, say really big ones?

Over the years, there have been numerous sightings of fireballs streaking toward earth, presumably due to small asteroids, or one of these used-up satellites.  Perhaps it’s not a problem if it burns-up in the atmosphere…or is it?  Also, what about the ones that are too large to disintegrate as they approach Earth?

Sure, the recent Climate Change Summit in Paris has brought hope to finally—BELATEDLY—clean-up our environment.  And, there have also been numerous stories of successes in renewable energy, here on Earth. But, what about the Space Environment above us?  What are we, could be, should be doing about it?

NOTE: The linked one-minute video shows the build-up of Space Pollution over the past years, since the first Sputnik was launched: http://news.sciencemag.org/space/2015/12/video-watch-60-years-space-junk-accumulate-1-minute

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