First, let me wish all my loyal followers a very happy and healthy new year! So what exactly does 2014 have in store for us on the energy and environment front? Below is a list of things that I am watching, please comment and bring any topics of interest to my attention.
Keystone XL Pipeline – Just today the State Department announced in their report that the Keystone XL Pipeline would have a minimal impact on the environment. This report was greeted with calls for Obama to approve the project by Republicans and even some Democratic lawmakers much to the chagrin of environmentalists. Critics of the report said it did not pay enough attention to the harmful practice of extracting the oil from the tar sands in the first place. The proposed $7B project would carry 830,000 bpd of crude oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and the Bakken Shale formation to Steele City, NE before moving on to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Issuance of this report now begins a 30-day comment period for the public and a 90-day comment period for government agencies, as well as puts the heat on President Obama to take action. As recently as June 2013 Obama stated, “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” Environmentalists have called approval of the pipeline “game over” for the planet.
California Drought – 9% of California is now in a state of “exceptional drought”. While this might not sound like news to anyone who has seen the images of the forest fires in the Bear Republic, this is an extremely concerning issue. In fact, “Thanks to the magic of science (and tree rings), we can now safely say that California hasn’t been this dry since around the time of Columbus, more than 500 years ago. What’s more, much of the state’s development over the last 150 years came during an abnormally wet era, which scientists say could come to a quick end with the help of human-induced climate change.” Lack of rain combined with abnormally low snowpack could leave much of the state virtually dry within 60 – 120 days. If you think this is just a left coast problem, think again – California is responsible for almost 12% of the country’s agriculture.
Emerging markets – If you have been watching the markets lately you have seen a dramatic reaction to perceived threats from emerging markets. I’ll make it quick: Fed removes the free money punchbowl from the party; possible slowdown in China; currency trouble from Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Argentina. So what does this all mean? Stay tuned and I will keep you posted.
Plus we have Super Bowl XLVIII, the winter Olympics and the World Cup all coming up. What a great year this is going to be.
It has been much too long since my last post, but I think this one is worth the wait. Back in February Mrs. Greenbacks and myself were invited to a wedding in Costa Rica and we gladly attended! Special shout out to Connie and Dave – Congratulations Again!
Aside from the beautiful ceremony and spectacular reception, we got to enjoy much of what Costa Rica had to offer – beaches, rainforest and volcano.
Costa Rica is at the forefront of promoting sustainable practices in their everyday life and as Mrs. Greenbacks pointed out, one of the 5 “Blue Zones” of the world where people regularly live to be over 100 and generally enjoy better health and less incidence of disease than the rest of the world.
Just a few of the common practices that we saw in Costa Rica was composting of all organic materials, low flow faucets and showers as well as automatic shut off switches on the room lights after the key has been removed. A heavy public awareness campaign also goes a long way toward making guest appreciate the natural beauty of the land.
On our hanging bridges canopy tour, our guide explained that Costa Rica was well on its way toward meeting its power needs using renewable sources such as hydro, wind, and geothermal. Almost 95% of CR’s power is produced from renewable sources with hydro accounting for a full 75% of the total. Geothermal ranks second due to the areas 5 active volcanos and wind installations have been steadily increasing in recent years. Distributed solar would make a great addition to CR’s renewable energy portfolio and would help to power regions where grid transmission is simply too costly.
“One degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10% productivity loss in farming. For us, it means losing about four million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about US$ 2.5 billion. That is about 2% of our GDP. Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about 3-4% of GDP. Without these losses, we could have easily secured much higher growth.”
-Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Most people think the biggest costs associated with climate change are in trying to avoid it by reducing carbon emissions. However, a new study (Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Ed) by DARA concludes that climate change is already costing us $1.2 trillion in foregone prosperity. Yes, that is trillion with a T. This is roughly 1.6% of global GDP. By 2030 the effects of climate change could amount to 3.2% of global GDP with most of the pain being felt by developing nations. Here are some more stats:
• Climate change and a carbon-intensive economy considered a leading global cause of death today, responsible for 5 million deaths each year – 400,000 due to hunger and communicable diseases aggravated by climate change and 4.5 million carbon economy deaths due mainly to air pollution
• Losses for lower-income countries are already extreme: 11% of GDP on average for Least Developed Countries already by 2030
• Major economies are heavily hit: in less than 20 years China will incur the greatest share of all losses at over 1.2 trillion dollars; the US economy will be held back by more 2% of GDP; India, over 5% of its GDP
However, the future doesn’t have to be so doom and gloom. The report concludes that much of these costs can be avoided by emissions reduction investments of just 0.5% of GDP and $150 billion per year in support to mitigate the effects in the countries most vulnerable.
“Fortunately, we are not doomed to eternal punishment, as Prometheus was for stealing fire for humankind. Nor does the dwindling of the old fire of fossil fuels mean a return to the Dark Ages. Instead, we can create a safer, stronger, fossil-free world by tapping into a far greater resource than fossil hydrocarbons. The real underlying fuel of America and of modern civilization is innovation and ingenuity.”
The last post showing the world at night really sparked an interest for me on economic development and sustainability. I remember seeing a photo in National Geographic several years ago showing the borderlands between Haiti and the DR and stark contrast between the two countries. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and relies on the land for basic survival. Rampant over-logging to make charcoal combined with other unsustainable agricultural and irrigation practices created a humanitarian crisis in the country.
Last year the United Nations Development Program launched a project to teach local authorities and farmers about sustainable practices in order to restore the waterways and forests along the border region that is home to 150,000 people.
Obviously it will take many years to bring the land back to its natural state, but the lessons learned can be repeated in other areas to prevent the suffering caused by unsustainable resource exploitation.