Friday, March 27, 2020

Solar 2020 and Sustainability: Looking for the Silver Lining


Kelly Pickerel, Editor in Chief of Solar Power World magazine was cautiously optimistic in January when discussing the impact of US Import tariffs on the Solar industry and still solar installations were up 14% during 2019. She hoped that an even year, 2020, would bode well for solar. She concluded her opening letter by the editor in the January 2020 Trends in Solar edition of SPW: “Superstitious or not, I’m crossing my fingers for a calm, prosperous year in solar. Knock on wood.”
Wow! Nobody could have envisioned the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on all industries including solar. But, the environment is taking a breather: Environment Wins with Reduced Human Activity.
During the Great Recession, Hall (2010) argued that a massive opportunity was lost by not by not focusing on sustainability related projects and human capital (education). He argued for spending more on specific infrastructure: especially energy efficiency and renewables. He liked projects that would pay back for decades while reducing our collective human footprint. Federal bailout funding should target, long-term, sustainable projects. The destructive innovation associated with recessions should allow industries (and companies) to fail if they are not sustainable.
Make no doubt about it, the COVID Recession will be unlike anything we have ever seen before. It’s like putting parts of the economy in a self-induced coma, while waiting out the passage of the virus. However, waking up exactly where we left off is probably not going to happen. So, what’s the best way to move forward, and why not try to leverage this sudden break in the world’s business-as-usual routine into more permanent action on becoming more sustainable.
Look for SustainZine blogs and articles on video meetings, teleschool, online university and telecommuting. We suddenly have reduced our carbon footprint worldwide by what, 20%. Not the way we would have liked to launch such a massive initiative, but let’s work with the deflection we are given.
People are now at home more than ever, let’s get them to start monitoring their carbon footprint. How much are they saving by working, schooling and entertaining at home. Imagine someone reducing their carbon footprint by 35% in one week? for several weeks? Wouldn’t it be nice measure that savings and celebrate the win!? Wouldn’t it be nice to keep measuring the reduction in carbon footprint and continue to make incremental moves?
The savings associated with remote work are huge. Once workers who can work remotely get the chance to do so, the genie will be out of the bottle. The savings are massive: employer, employee and environment. The reduction in carbon footprint immense. Measuring and monitoring the savings will justify the future workforce to frequently work remotely.
For the homeowner, first would be energy efficiency, like insulation. Start with an energy audit.
Then, with the reduced power usage, most homes should move to renewable energy (solar).
Once we see and visualize the gains, it could become habit forming. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed.
See upcoming articles by Hall about the crazy profitable proposition for businesses to go solar, and for homeowners to feel good and save money by going solar.
Mother Earth is our one and only habitable planet. It’s time we started taking better care of her. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic will be a wake-up call about how serious we all need to be about the health of our planet?
References
Hall, E. (2010). Lessons of recessions: Sustainability education and jobs may be the answer. Journal of Sustainability and Green Management. Jacksonville, FL: Academic and Business Research Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/10659.pdf


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Environment wins with reduced human activity

There's a silver lining, of sorts, in the reduced human activity related to the coronavirus shutdown. Nice visuals from space and discussion here:

https://truththeory.com/2020/03/19/in-the-midst-of-a-tragic-human-pandemic-the-environment-is-flourishing/

Move from lots of pollution to a beautiful clean sky. Very ugly way to get there, but the earth is getting a breather from the humans torturing the land and sky.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Amazon? Lungs of the world? Sinking feeling?

I got into this debate, related to Global Warming, on the "Amazon is sometimes referred to as the Lungs of the world."
Here's a very readable discussion in Newsweek on how much oxygen comes from the Amazon: https://www.newsweek.com/how-much-oxygen-amazon-rain-forest-1456274
Much like Global Freezing, I don't know that I have ever heard/seen an actual scientist say this, but the Lungs of the World is still a pretty well circulated myth. Some times it says 20% of the oxygen in the world is produced by the Amazon Rain Forest. Actually, this is probably true, however the rainforest consumes most of the oxygen it produces. Plants (decomposition) consume it, animals in the forest, not so much so. Oxygen in the atmosphere is about 21% (20.95%, actually). And that's not going to change much, even if the Amazon was burned to the ground... Carbon Dioxide (CO2) on the other hand, that's not so pretty.
There's massive amounts of carbon stored in the trees and peat. That would all get moved from a stored state into the active environment (air and ocean). Same as chopping down 500 year-old native trees and burning them without replanting the same. Same as digging up coal that took 500m years to form and burning it (except that there's no way to return the coal in coal back to the sync from whence it came).
So, when the amazon is converted to grassland and ranching, the original carbon store is released into the atmosphere and the ability to store carbon (sync) is broken. Yes, grass is green, but it does a horrible job related to carbon sequestering compared to trees. Plus cows have a habit of belching and farting that releases a wicked amount of methane (32 to 64 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2).
Of course, there horrific impact on the environment. You could easily call this a crime against humanity and against the environment when native populations are killed and displaced and the rainforest with all it inhabitants of plants and animals are killed and destroyed forever.
National Geographic talks about the same issue, but follows on to discuss biodiversity: Why the Amazon doesn’t really produce 20% of the world’s oxygen: Of the many important reasons to worry about the thousands of fires raging in the world’s largest rainforest, oxygen supply is not one of them.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

EV on SB2020


EVs, aka Electric Vehicles, were the big winners of the Super Bowl 2020. Everybody had an electric car for the occasion. Audi and even a new EV version of the gas-guzzling Hummer.
Imagine the king of EVs, Tesla, jumping $130 per share on Super Monday! TSLA popped 20% up to almost $800 per share, nearing a $150B market cap firmly – 3 times the value of GM. Then on Super Tuesday, Tesla jumps another $100 to reach over $900 (to $164B market cap). Arguably, there are a few extra factors making Tesla’s stock pop: an upgrade and short squeeze. Maybe a little overpriced?
Tesla has a market share of about 1.5%, so… it does have room to run. But only if you believe that we have reached an inflection point where a shift to most or all cars will be electric. Fortunately, the charging stations are now pretty will established.
But, the average age of cars on the road today are 11 years old. Even if we move to 50% EV in 10 years, it will take decades for half of the cars on the road to be electric. Longer, of course, for trucks because they are just now starting to ship.
Still, the trend toward EVs is definitive. Everyone has a few. Some auto manufactures are no longer introducing new gas or diesel models.
You would think that the drop of oil prices (down to $50 for WTI) this week on the corona virus scare might be a boost to gas models?
Related to market cap, remember that Tesla bought sister company Solar City so it does solar systems and battery banks (PowerWall). Tesla GigaFactories crank out batteries (with partner Panasonic). With the cost of batteries dropping, both EV and storage become more and more affordable. The big thing to look for in battery technology is the move to safer and/or more powerful technology. Big break throughs in battery tech – cheaper, better, lighter – will be game changing. Tesla stands to win in every case, old lithium or new whatever.
I could not bring myself to buy Tesla stock at $200 in June; over $900 is nose-bleed levels today. But, it does suggest a momentum shift to EVs in our future.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Opportunity Lost by Waiting until 2020 for Solar Investment

The Renewable Investment Tax Credit, which is currently in 2019 at 30% of the qualifying investment, is a wonderful incentive to put in renewable power including solar, wind and qualifying battery backup. The ITC will drop down by 4% in 2020 and then again by 4% in 2021. After 2021, the ITC drops off a cliff, to 10% for businesses and zero (0%) for residential. Here is the stepdown in Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC): https://seia.org/initiatives/solar-investment-tax-credit-itc
You can still get your foot in the door on the tax credits in December. The “Safe Harbor” on ITC pertains to launching the investment in the current year and locking in that higher level of tax credit. The safe harbor allows businesses to take advantage of the current ITC rate even though they didn’t allow enough time to fully install this year. Generally, figure 5% or more down payment in the current year and continuous progress toward the finished project. One reason for the safe harbor, in general, is that someone might want to launch in 2020, but there is such an end-of-year demand for solar panels that it is not possible to get them before January 1st. Winter storms, trade storms, government permits during holidays, etc., might delay the full installation before the year ends.
Safe Harbor requires continuous progress on the solar project, and there is a fixed deadline when the system must be completed to maintain the qualification for the higher tax credit. Here are some details on when the investment must start, and finalize, in order to be eligible for the higher ITC: https://www.foley.com/en/insights/publications/2019/09/solar-renewable-energy-investment-tax-credits

Solar Example in December of 2019

So let’s work an example for a business that has a $100,000 solar investment in consideration in 2019. (See the table below.)
First there’s the $30k tax credit that reduces the business tax liabilities, dollar for dollar. This is money that you simply do not pay out to the IRS. Then there’s the possibility of 100% depreciation of an asset in the first year, so the tax shield is based on the reduction in net income based on depreciation. (The tax shield is equal to the tax rate times the amount of depreciation; the asset basis is reduced by half of the ITC, or 33% of $85k in this example.) Therefore, the actual investment is only about 42% of the solar system costs, once all the tax benefits of the investment are considered. If the savings are $7,200 yearly (assuming no increases in power costs), then there’s a 17% return on investment each year. Simple payback is less than 6 years!


That is crazy profitable for a long-term investment. It is especially profitable when considering that the business is already committing to paying for power indefinitely from the power company. So, taking a loan of say 15 years could result in loan payments that are lower than the payments for power, especially when considering that the power company raises rates (you should figure at least the rate of CPI inflation). At 2% power inflation, the net present value (NPV) of the investment jumps to $108k from about $75k (30 years at 4.5% loan rate).
So the investment is profitable. Very profitable. But what if you want to do the investment next year? What is the cost of waiting? I’m glad you asked!
With the safe harbor on Solar ITC you can lock in the ITC savings this year. You will need to put 5% down in 2019 and starting progress on the system. Here’s what your cashflow would look like for 2019: $30k ITC savings in taxes less the $5k deposit on the solar system. That’s a positive $25k cash flow this year.

Since the investment tax credit drops by 4% (to 26% in 2020) the lost ITC is $4,000 if you buy the solar system and take the tax credit in 2020. The $4,000 opportunity loss, compared to the $5,000 deposit in 2019 is only $1,000 difference. If you plan to do the solar system anyway, then the costs of delay are relatively large, especially when adding a year of power savings. The delay for a year could easily be a loss of $10k or more in opportunity lost.

Solar is a Different Kind of Investment

There are two major points, however, that make this different from most typical investment analyses. (Three, really, if you were to discuss the environmental savings, but that’s for another article.) First, the money your spending is committed money for power as long as the business is open and operating. Taking a loan to buy the solar system might prove to be cash positive indefinitely. Take $100,000 loan; pay interest only of $4,500 (4.5%) for first year or two until you realize the tax benefits of the solar ITC and depreciation; apply the tax savings to the loan; and then make payments on the loan for 8 years. The loan payments could be about $1,000 less per year than what you would have paid in electric bills, especially as the cost of power from the utility company increase over time. Once the loan is paid off, the price of power that you generate for yourself is pure profit!
Speaking of profit, here is the second point. Every dollar you reduce your power bill is pure profit. Things like smart thermostats, insulation, weather stripping, adjusting habits/processes, etc. might result in reducing the power bill by 5% to 25% at little or no out-of-pocket costs. That could result in a perpetuity of savings. If the firm’s cost of capital is, let’s say 8%, then the present value of the perpetuity of savings of $1,200 per year ($100/mo) would be $15,000 in present value terms. Plus, being more energy efficient means that a smaller system is required when going solar.
An even more interesting concept related to energy savings is looking at the sales volume required to equal the $7,200 savings annually. If the firm has a 10% profit margin, the sales to cover the power bill is $72,000 per year (once the loan is payed off). In the current loan example, cash flows (savings really) are positive every year and go up based on power inflation. When the loan is payed off in year 11 you start to realize huge savings (profits).
By the way, someone buying this property would pay more for the business because it comes with “free” electricity. A Lawrence-Berkley study found that some properties would appreciate by 20 times the annual electric savings. Therefore, the property might be worth about $144k more based on 20 times the $7,200 annual savings. Since the net investment after taxes is about $42k, the property could appreciate about $102k over the solar investment. That’s a property appreciation of almost 3.5 times the net investment.

In short, the investment in solar power can be crazy profitable. After January, it is not quite so crazy profitable. But, if you are planning to go solar in 2020, you need to seriously consider launching the project in 2019 and reaping the additional tax savings (and energy) savings.

About SBP. Strategic Business Planning Company has been working on various telework, solar and energy efficiency projects. There are several factors that we consider in a more comprehensive analysis of a Solar investment that are not represented here. We also enjoy doing the planning associated with Intellectual Property (Patents) ventures; look for our Perpetual Innovation™ line of books on patent commercialization.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sustainability at "the Costco"

Costco wholesale club continues to impress. While many other retailers are struggling to stay alive and relevant, Costco keeps chugging along at a 7% sales growth and an impressive 36 Price/Earnings ratio (32 PE based on foretasted earnings), a PE ratio reserved for rapid growing tech companies not the single digit PE where most retailers find themselves. Investors like this safe, rather counter-cyclical, recession-resistant steady growth company(NASDAQ: COST). Note the huge 4.7 PEG rate (multiple of PE to 5-year growth rate) suggesting an over-priced stock. But the company itself is impressive. At $300 per share and a market cap of $132B Costco continues to push all time highs.

Costco is also a big proponent of sustainability. In terms of paper and wood products (and the related requirements for their suppliers and Kirkland-branded products). Read about Sustainable forest products in November 2019 Costco Connection. As a wholesaler/retailer, Costco has to work through their supply chain, especially with the Kirkland-branded products. As it pertains to wood/paper/tissue, they are working through the certification organizations for trees, forest, etc.
"We believe that the best first step is to source these products from responsibly managed and certified forests. To achieve this, we employ forest management certifications through three leading groups: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), with a preference for FSC. Products that have these certifications have met strict standards to support sustainable forests."

Costco continues to push for better, more sustainable products. You don't have to go to the "organic" section of the store. Because of their buying power, you don't have to pay the Whole Foods' prices to get quality, organic foods. Each year, you find more and more shelves with the only options being "organic", "sustainably sourced", etc. You can spend less time reading the labels and more time packing your cart to the rafters!

The consumer has a cost-benefit and consumer-responsibility consideration. Is the special trip to Costco worth the extra time, and is buying a 5-year supply of something -- say toilet paper -- really the right way to purchase. We often car-pool and share. We don't need an entire box of printer paper, but dividing the box among 2 or 3 people works great. Kind of leaverage our buying power, while minimizing our footprint.

One thing that you gotta love about Costco, Starbuck's and other sustainably minded companies is their open statement about trying to figure it out together: "We do not have all of the answers, are learning as we go and seek continuous improvement."

[Costco's] Sustainability Principles
  • For Costco to thrive, the world needs to thrive. We are committed to doing our part to help.
  • We focus on issues related to our business and to where we can contribute to real, results-driven positive impact.
  • We do not have all of the answers, are learning as we go and seek continuous improvement.
[Costco's] Sustainability Responsibilities
  • Take care of our employees.
  • Support the communities where our employees and members live and work.
  • Operate efficiently and in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • Strategically source our merchandise in a sustainable manner.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Those Sneaky Climate Alarmists

A video came cycling around to me that provided gleeful evidence that the Climate Alarmists use sneaky methods to distort the information and make everyone shake in their boots because the world will end in less than 12 years. This guy, Tony Heller (aka Steven Goddard), even went so far as to create a tool to find the best point in any trend graph for best (mis)representing data.
As with many such reports, I would always like to find myself wrong, and to discover that I've become a Climate Alarmist for nothing. All that lost sleep, spending time developing business ideas and models that are both sustainable, politically viable, and profitable.
Sadly, Heller is simply a fraud. He used his own tool to make fun of activists, and to distract people from facts. Here is a great video by Mallan Baker that takes on a couple of Heller's debunk graphs to debunks the junk.
Why is Heller talking Continental US and pointing at specific US cities when we are talking GLOBAL warming. The US had some wicked hot years during the Dust Bowl, for example.

Wikipedia can be the best overview source for highly active and rapidly updated pages like these: Global Warming, Climate Change, Sustainability in general, and Climate Change Denial.
By now you know that everyone knows that there's global warming. Thermometers tend not to lie.
But I keep finding people who have been convinced that warming is not very much, or that it is a natural cycle to earth, or that humans are only responsible for a fraction of the warming we are experiencing.
Even the oil companies now acknowledge that there's global warming, but their business model is not conducive to any of the logical approaches to deal with the issue aggressively. In fact, according to internal documents, the oil companies have know for half a century that global warming was a byproduct of their product and hidden this from the public in order to protect their business-as-usual profits.

With current technology, we can easily measure the energy that comes from the sun, and the amount that is reflected back into space. All evidence shows global warming is happening, and at an accelerating pace. You can use lots of good data sources related to land, ocean, air, ice coverage, etc. Statistically, solar flares, volcanoes, El Nino and other major factors can be isolated; warming can easily be primarily attributed to human factors.

We don't have time to debunk the deniers, people and lobbyists who are paid by deep fossil interests. We need to go about becoming more sustainable, like as if our collective lives depend on it. Business-as-usual (oil, gas, coal) is unsustainable. Being unsustainable is something that must change, sooner or later. Being unsustainable has a way of becoming more and more expensive, and coming to an ungraceful end.

Fortunately, we will actually save money (i.e., more profits) from doing smart and sustainable things. Solar and Wind are now far cheaper than fossil fuels in most locations (even when combined with battery). Renewable energy is especially cheaper when considering all the externality costs of fossil fuels (pollution, health, national security).

Energy efficiency offers a perpetuity of savings. The greenest gallon of gas is the one never pumped, refined, shipped and burned. The greenest electricity is the negawatt. We also like Teleworking, the greenest commute is zero-distance which consumes no time.

Let's all start with those things that can be done immediately (within weeks or a few months) and those that offer a perpetuity of savings. We need to start putting the magic of compounding to our advantage, not toward more non-sustainable practices.

< * Notes & References * >
Wikipedia is a great source on Climate Change. Start with the Global Warming Book.
An excellent source for fact/fiction/myth is: SkepticalScience.com (I've never seen anything there that was not supported with sources and provable with current data.)

The log entry for Baker video:
A few days ago, noted Climate Change commentator Tony Heller released a new video with some killer facts that completely exposes the conspiracy over climate change. Or does it? Let’s discuss. The Mallen Baker Show is aimed at all people who see themselves as change makers, with commentary on issues and change movements with a particular focus on climate change and environment, social issues, free speech and corporate social responsibility.
References in this video:
Tony Heller’s original video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8455K...
The National Climate Assessment Report https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/down...
Extreme heat and cold graphs https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicator...
Wildfires analysis https://andthentheresphysics.wordpres...
Interview with Dr Ottmar Endenhofer, IPCC (in German) https://www.nzz.ch/klimapolitik_verte... Integrated sea ice graph https://web.archive.org/web/201905241...
Piecing together the arctic sea ice history https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-pos...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Renewable energy of Wind and Solar no longer needs subsidies

Nice Bloomberg article here. Renewable of Wind and Solar are now cheaper than coal, oil, gas, nuclear. No big need for subsidies to make them competitive.
But, there's also no need, quite the contrary given the externality costs, for subsidizing fossil fuels!
Nice article with great graphics show the fall in price for wind and solar.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

That soda will kill ya!

Sodas will kill you, it seems. Sugar, hfcs, or artificial sweerners, all will shorten your life.!
This massive study in Europe followed almost a half million people for an average of 16 years, analyzing death rates. Drinking two or more sodas was correlated to many types of fatal illnesses.

Other studies have shown links to cancers and other ails.

Doctors recommend water instead.

Meanwhile, drinking a glass of beer or wine increases your life and (generally) improves your heath.

https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20190903/once-again-soda-tied-to-higher-risk-of-early-death

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What history suggests about +3 to +4 degrees in sea level rise!

Study of ancient caves in Europe show how high sea levels should rise when temps go up 3 or 4 degree C.
You can figure about 20 to 60 feet (7 to 20 meters).
A study published in Nature looks at what water levels might look like in a +3 world.
The article is summed up in Phys.org.... Scientists discover evidence for past high-level sea rise.
Of course, you can always model the global warming on earth to see where we land with +2 or more degrees.
A scary study just out finds that ice sheets are melting from below at between 10 and 200 times faster than originally expected!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sustainable Supply Chains: 75 including Ryder

Here are 75 supply chain companies as compiled by Inbound Logistics that have significant commitment to efficiency and sustainability in their companies and in the supply chain. Shipping companies include major shipping companies: packaging (FedEx, DHL, UPS), cargo and trucking companies.

Ryder Logistics has been honored with this distinction for 11 consecutive years. See here in business wire. Wow.

Some of the Ryder efficiencies include EV and Fuel cell solutions for (client) trucks.  But a critical first step in shipping is the efficiency of routing and shipping. If a "better" route can reduce the truck and driver time by 10%, the savings are huge. Provide that savings to thousands of client fleets, and Ryder really makes a difference.

Financially, doesn't Ryder (R) stock seem rather cheap, even after a big run up to $59 this week. Forward PE is 9, PEG 0.63, Dividend Yield is almost 4%. The company has orders/contracts for years, even decades.  I guess that's the impact of a little trade warring and economy slowing? Uncertainty can really whack out those companies in the middle of everything -- especially shipping and logistics companies.

Glad to have been associated with Ryder in the past.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Processed Foods will Kill ya

There's a great study out related to letting people eat processed foods, as much as they want, verses giving people healthy food... as much as they want.
Personally, I wonder if the salt alone is not part of the problem.
Those people who eat processed foods for the required 15 days, eat more and gained more weight.
This seemed like an exceptionally well designed study. One group did the 15 days healthy first, then junk-y food; the other group did the opposite.
NPR did a great go at the results of this study that was published in Cell magazine.
Looks like very good controls were used.
When on the ultra-processed foods diet, subjects eat more and eat more quickly. Really. The researchers thought that they might eat more rapidly because the processed foods required less chewing. All health and body weight markers sent along with the over-eating.
The supplement shows the menus each day for the ultra-processed foods and for the non-processed foods. Check out the pictures of 7-days of food each. Really interesting is the snacks in each case. Lay's potato chips, Planter's peanuts, Keebler's cheese 'n peanut butter crackers, etc. vs apples, almonds, etc.
As always in diet, the question is about organic vs. non-organic. First glance did not indicate organic on the healthy side?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Make your own fuel, while air conditioning (HVAC). Carbon Capture.

Imagine a great idea that is entirely possible with new technology coming down the pipeline from various sources. That is what an article in Scientific American by Richard Conniff envisions based on a paper published in the Nature Communications which proposes a partial remedy based on A/C units:  Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (or HVAC) systems move a lot of air. Dittmeyer, Klumpp, Kant and Ozin (2019) describe the idea of using renewable energy from solar, wind and water to produce immediate energy and also produce a portable fuel as the democratization of energy.

Basically, the idea is to take excess energy from the A/C condenser unit (heat dissipation in cooling mode) and extract hydrogen and carbon from the air and produce a hydrocarbon fuel. Sounds cool enough. And surprisingly not way-out there futuristic because some of the basic technologies are already developed. This is a great application of Carbon Capture and Sequester (CCS) technologies. It is extremely local, and would create a local fuel that could be portable (hydrogen and/or synthetic oil).

Personally, I like the fuel cell concept where the fuel cell uses hydrogen and can go basically instant-on, thereby serving as a backup generator. Energy (from any source) can be used to make hydrogen from air, water and other sources including methane and alcohol. As an example, a miniature fuel cell can be implanted into the human body with hydrogen as the fuel, and recharged through the skin (reversing the fuel cell process with hydrogen and oxygen on one side and water on the other); thereby creating a low toxic battery solution.

Implied in this article is the idea of using centralized power plants and then at the point of use, home or business, creating a CCS which also creates a local, portable fuel. This brings us back to industrial solutions where the CCS is done at the plant where about half of all the energy produced is lost (heat from turbines) and CO2 is intense vs the 410 (to 900) parts per million in the atmosphere (and in buildings).

Hidden in this whole discussion is that scenario that is here and now, not futuristic. Renewable energy is cheaper and massively cleaner than conventional energy, and it can be located anywhere. Storage, in some form, is really the bottleneck; and storage in the form of synthetic fuels is a really, really cool (partial) solution.

References

Dittmeyer, R., Klumpp, M., Kant, P., & Ozin, G. (2019, April 30). Crowd oil not crude oil. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09685-x

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Microplastics everywhere... Blow'n in the Wind...

Here is an article in ARS Technica about an article in Nature Geoscience (2019) that talks about microplastics in the French The Pyrenees Mountains, a pristine place, except for, well, plastic!

The researchers made extremely controlled efforts to assure that they were not contaminating the samples gathered. But the plastics are coming in on the wind, and coming down (mainly, it seems) in perpetration. 

If microplastics are everywhere, then our impacts on the planet are far more, and far more prevasive than anyone has predicted. The ARS Technica article by  -
original article, remember the whole biomagnification thing. That's where fish each plants and plankton with plastics, Bigger fish eat those fish, and BIGGER animals like sharks, bears and humans, eat the biggest fish. The heavy metals, plastics and more will build up and up as they go up the food chain. And they tend to be retained at the highest order.

Sources: Nature Geoscience, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0335-5  (About DOIs).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Population is a killer for Global Warming. Good news, Kinda.

The world's out of control human population growth is something that few people want to talk about loudly because it sounds so very insensitive. But the increase in world population at nearly exponential levels is non-sustainable and multiplies all issues of sustainability: exhausting natural resources, pollution, etc. Estimates are that world population will grow to between 9m and 11m by mid century and then slowly decline.
 World Population Estimates
Source: OurWorldInData

The problem with increased population is a double whammy. Not only are there more people, but the footprint of each person should raise dramatically as more people enter the middle class (or higher). Countries like China and India that have burned only 2 barrels of oil per person annually, can be expected to move up their consumption to 4 or 5 times that, more in line with the USA. People that eat lower on the food chain, rice and corn, can be expect to start eating beef and pork which takes 20 to 30 times the resources to produce. 

But, a new study, published in the Lancet, has found that fertility rates since 1950 have dropped faster and further than anyone expected. (See the BBC article by James Gallagher on this study.)

The low fertility rates in developed countries means that their populations should start shrinking (without net immigration). In 1950 women had an average of 4.7 children in their lifetimes, a rate that is now half at 2.4! Fertility rates less than about 2.1 result in a decrease in population (excluding net immigration). Many of the developed countries, like the UK with 1.7, have less than 2. Japan has 1.3. With fewer young people to work, the aging retired population becomes a bigger and bigger burden on the economy. It will take decades for the change in fertility to work through the population levels. 

Economic development has long looks at the use of population to improve the overall economy; more people could/should result in more things produces and a bigger economy. However, per capita economic development can be significantly improved by reducing the number of children. If the economy increases at 5%, but population also increases at 5%, then the per capita income remains the same. China reduced the rate of population growth, and that contributed dramatically to the improved per capita income and the rise of the middle class. I just saw stats talking about the percent of Chinese in extreme poverty at about 1950; more than 90% of the population lived in extreme poverty (currently a purchase-power-parity of $1.9 per day). By 2018, only about 1% of Chinese are in extreme poverty.  Controlling their population was a big contributor to China moving to surpass the USA in terms of economic power (GDP of more than $23T vs $19.5T for US). (Of course their single-child policies have caused many other problems and has recently been relaxed.) 

China and India represent about 35.7% of the worlds population with 1.4B and 1.34B, respectively. China has stomped on the brakes for decades; India has only tapped on the brakes. China's growth rate is only 0.39, while India's is 1.2. US is 0.71 and Japan is -0.23.

So, a big sustainability question, is first to stop the increase in population world-wide and regionally. But should sustainability initiative actually champion the reduction of world population. One way or another we need to get back to the carrying capacity of Mother Earth.  When you look at Earth over-shoot day, which has moved to August 1, it becomes graphically clear how much we are depleting the earths resources to live beyond our means. Stated differently, about 212 days into the year, we exhausted the renewable resources provided by the earth (and sun), so the resources consumed in the remaining 153 days of the year are depleting resources. In 1987, overshoot day was December 19th; in 2000, overshoot day was November 1.

This is the same as your annual salary paying all your bills until August 1 (58% of the year), and then you have to borrow money to pay for the rest of the year. Each and every year, you have to borrow more because the overshoot day keeps moving earlier in the year. Non-sustainable issues like overshoot are cumulative, and compounding. Not only do you owe the cumulative total of all the borrowing, but the interest keeps growing at an expanding rate using the magic of compounding.

We need to get our overshoots (and deficits) under control, and start to make the magic of compounding work for us, not against. Getting countries (and world) population growth under control is probably the most important factor in sustainability, and ultimately, the health and wellness of our plant. It's pretty important, as well, for those things that have become accustomed to living on this planet.!