Energy & Environment

President Trump Should Make the Power Grid Great Again

Robert Knake: “The average American endures upwards of six hours per year without electricity. That puts the United States in the bottom category of the developed world with Portugal and Lithuania. Singapore, Germany, Japan and Denmark have close to zero down time. Urban Chinese experience less than half the downtime of an average American. It’s also a 285 percent increase since 1982, when the Department of Energy began collecting the data.”

“While power may be available 99.5 percent of the time, the economic losses from these outages are estimated at $150 billion per year. That figure puts it on par with the lower end of estimates for cybercrime.”

“And yet, despite this relatively poor level of reliability, U.S. electricity does not come cheap at an average of $0.18 per kilowatt hour. And, while there are signs that despite White House support for burning more coal, a renewable energy future is here to stay. U.S. power remains some of the dirtiest in the world. In a study of 34 countries developed countries, the United States came in 26th for the dirtiest power.”

“The United States cannot be great again unless the infrastructure that supports its economy is also great. Right now, the United States is not a leader when it comes to the reliability, cost, or environmental impact of its aging power system.”

What Financial Markets Can Teach Us About Managing Climate Risks

Michael Greenstone: “Last week, President Trump signed an executive order about climate change that runs counter to this insight from financial markets. The headlines rightly highlighted the dismantling of climate policies like the Clean Power Plan. But buried in the details is an administrative tweak to the most important climate measurement in the federal government’s climate toolbox: the social cost of carbon.”

“Before the executive order, the social cost of carbon was set at about $40 per metric ton of carbon released. Under the executive order, President Trump appears to be putting us on a path toward valuing climate damages at much less — possibly less than $5 per metric ton of carbon.”

“A concept known as the discount rate makes it possible to translate future damages into their present value… When discounting future costs, the markets tell us to choose a discount rate that matches the risk profile of the investment. So if the risk acts like a tax on the economy (e.g., it reduces G.D.P. by a fixed percentage), a higher discount rate like the stock market’s average annual return of 5 percent would be justified. But if the risk is potentially disruptive, like a severe recession or worse, then markets point to a lower discount rate, perhaps like gold’s annual average return or even lower… In this way, financial markets tell us that spending a little extra now as insurance to protect against potentially disruptive risk is a wise strategy. This lesson was most recently illustrated during the Great Recession.”

China Surpasses Canada as Top Buyer of U.S. Crude

Bloomberg Markets: “China became the biggest buyer of U.S. crude oil in February, surpassing Canada, at a time when OPEC is cutting back output.”

“The surge in U.S. shipments to Asia, a market long dominated by Saudi Arabia and other Middle East producers, comes as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries trims output in an effort to end a glut that battered the economies of global energy exporters. Saudi Arabia reduced its pricing for some of its April crude sales to Asia as supplies from the U.S. became more competitive.”

Ridding the Oceans of Plastics by Turning the Waste into Valuable Fuel

American Chemical Society: “Billions of pounds of plastic waste are littering the world’s oceans. Now, a Ph.D. organic chemist and a sailboat captain report that they are developing a process to reuse certain plastics, transforming them from worthless trash into a valuable diesel fuel with a small mobile reactor. They envision the technology could someday be implemented globally on land and possibly placed on boats to convert ocean waste plastic into fuel to power the vessels.”

The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People Than Arby’s

Washington Post: “Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren’t that many of them relative to other industries. There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.”

“Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries… Looking at the level of individual businesses, the coal industry in 2014 (76,572) employed about as many as Whole Foods (72,650), and fewer workers than Arby’s (close to 80,000), Dollar General (105,000) or J.C. Penney (114,000). The country’s largest private employer, Walmart (2.2 million employees) provides roughly 28 times as many jobs as coal.”

“The point isn’t that coal jobs don’t matter — they matter to the people who have them and to the communities they support, especially as they typically pay far more than do jobs in the retail and service industries, But if you’re looking to make a meaningful increase in the number of jobs available to U.S. workers, bringing back coal jobs isn’t going to do it.”

Climate Change Can Take a Toll on Mental Health

“Climate change is not only harmful to our physical health — it can be debilitating for our mental health as well, according to a report published Wednesday,” Jia Naqvi reports for The Washington Post.

“Severe weather events and natural disasters linked to climate change have the most dramatic impact on mental health, according to the report by the American Psychological Association and EcoAmerica: Natural disasters cause intense negative emotions in people who are exposed to them, primarily fear and grief. Anxiety, depression and unhealthy behavior are also common responses. Some people, particularly those who experience tragic events, such as the loss of a loved one or repeated exposure to extreme weather, develop post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“The weather people experience also influences their mental health, the report says. Prolonged exposure to warmer weather makes people more aggressive and diminishes cognitive functions, according to earlier studies.”

Our Brains Love New Stuff, and It’s Killing the Planet

Harvard Business Review: “As you read this, thousands of scientists, engineers, policy makers, and advocates around the world are working with all the brainpower they can muster to try to solve this environmental crisis with technological and social approaches. But a number of scientists believe this same inherited neural equipment undermines these efforts because some basic aspects of our brains are designed for a different world than the one in which we find ourselves today. While many behavior experts have focused on our inability to perceive climate change as an immediate threat, others have begun to focus on the major consequences of our excessive consumption. One critical network that may be partly responsible for the latter is the brain’s reward system.”

Americans Tilt Toward Protecting Environment, Alternative Fuels

Gallup: “Given a choice, the majority of Americans think protecting the environment should take precedence over developing more energy supplies, even at the risk of limiting the amount of traditional supplies the U.S. produces. An even larger majority would prioritize developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power over the production of oil, gas and coal. Although these have been Americans’ preferences for some time, support in the past two years has been at record highs.”

These Maps Show What Americans Think About Climate Change

Grist: “These maps show what Americans think about climate change. Darker oranges show where most people acknowledge the existence of climate change, and lighter yellows color where more people still aren’t convinced.”

“What’s surprising is that the divide isn’t all that extreme. Although there’s some visible difference between the coasts and the middle of the country, some 70 percent of survey respondents across the map acknowledge that global warming is, in fact, happening.”

You can find all the results here.

Environmental Hazards Kill 1.7 Million Kids Under Age 5 Each Year

“According to two new World Health Organization reports, about 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of environmental hazards. It’s the first such estimate of the child death toll from environmental causes,” Angus Chen reports for NPR.

“‘That terrible figure’ makes up about a quarter of child deaths under 5, says Dr. Maria Neira, WHO’s public health and environment department director and lead author on the reports. In addition, children can experience mental and physical developmental disorders and an increased lifelong risk for certain diseases because of exposure to pollutants.”

“These deaths are also preventable, Neira says. Policies and regulations that improve housing, sanitation, clean water and emissions often result in large benefits to children’s health, she says.”

Solar Power Growth Leaps by 50% Worldwide Thanks to US and China

The Guardian: “The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by some 50% last year because of a sun rush in the US and China, new figures show.”

“New solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. China and the US led the surge, with both countries almost doubling the amount of solar they added in 2015, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.”

“Solar is still a relative minnow in the electricity mix of most countries, the figures show. Even where the technology has been embraced most enthusiastically, such as in Europe, solar on average provides 4% of electricity demand.”

Wind Power Is an Attack on Rural America

“Urban voters may like the idea of using more wind and solar energy, but the push for large-scale renewables is creating land-use conflicts in rural regions from Maryland to California and Ontario to Loch Ness,” Robert Bryce writes for the Los Angeles Times.

“Since 2015, more than 120 government entities in about two dozen states have moved to reject or restrict the land-devouring, subsidy-fueled sprawl of the wind industry.”

“Rural residents are objecting to wind projects to protect their property values and viewsheds. They don’t want to live next door to industrial-scale wind farms.  They don’t want to see the red-blinking lights atop the turbines, all night, every night for the rest of their lives. Nor do they want to be subjected to the audible and inaudible noise the turbines produce.