Tag: environment

Germany Is Phasing Out Coal, Moving to Renewable Energy

Othman Mekhloufi | United States

A government-appointed German ‘Coal Commission’ released a recommendation to the German government on the morning of January 26th. The goals of said recommendation are to curb carbon emissions, turn to renewable energy, and take steps towards the deceleration of climate change.

The Report

The 28-member commission represents various German mining regions and utility companies. After 21 hours of negotiations, they reached a decision to fully phase out coal over a 19 year period (by 2038). This move will, in turn, shut down all 84 of Germany’s coal plants. Germany has also moved to fully shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. This decision is part of another report by the commission that was legislated in 2011.  As of now, Germany shut down 12 of the 19 nuclear power plants in the nation.

The progress will be regularly reviewed by the commission in 2023, 2026, and also 2029. The goal is to find out if phasing out coal is possibly by 2035. Nonetheless, 2038 will remain the legally defined date to fully phase out coal pending German government drafting legislation based on the report.

The commission’s report is not legally binding as it still requires the action of the federal government. The report holds a set of guidelines and suggestions for the federal government to legislate accordingly in hopes of curbing climate change and CO2 emissions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will likely approve the commissions’ proposal.

Coal in Germany

Coal plants in Germany currently account for 40% of electricity and power production. Renewable energy surpassed coal as the leading source in 2018. It now accounts for 41% of energy use. By fully phasing out coal and nuclear power, Germany aims to rely on renewable energy. Ideally, renewable energy will provide 60%-85% of Germany’s power.

Germany is currently #8 in global coal consumption, although the nation only accounts for 2% of such emissions.

The Impact

There are roughly 60,000 jobs with ties to the coal industry. Consequently, phasing out coal would put those jobs in jeopardy. There will likely be negative economic repercussions which will fall upon the companies and workers, as well as the families of workers. However, the commission allocated for $45 billion in aid to ease the economic hardships caused by their decision to end the industry. The aid includes an adjustment fund, as well as pension compensation for all employees aged 58 years or older. Younger workers out of a job will also receive aid in the form of education and training for jobs in renewable energy sources.

As we move towards the future, coal is being phased out on a global scale. Climate change is progressing. Therefore, many believe the shift towards renewable energy sources is a must.


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British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Is Working

Craig Axford | Canada

If we’re ever going to get to a carbon neutral or carbon negative economy, placing a price on carbon is going to be a necessary part of that effort. With new U.S. Government and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports coming out this year warning of extremely expensive and environmentally significant consequences if we fail to act quickly, minor public policy adjustments here and there are no longer an option.

But just because strong action is needed that can be implemented both rapidly and at large scales, it doesn’t follow that the consequences of these actions on people either can or should be ignored. That’s particularly true when it comes to the working poor and middle class. As we’ve seen in France over the past few weeks, taxes targeting fossil fuels won’t receive the kind of public support they’re going to need if States implement them without sufficient regard for the people paying them.

Fortunately, there is a proven solution that facilitates the CO² emission reductions carbon taxes are intended to achieve while also taking into account the burden these taxes impose upon society; simply make the carbon tax revenue-neutral, taking special care to use the money it generates to prioritize tax reductions for the poor, middle class and rural residents that the tax affects most.

This is precisely what the Canadian province of British Columbia did when it implemented North America’s first carbon tax in 2008. This tax survived the financial crisis that reached its zenith just two months after its implementation. That alone is a testament to the fact that even during the worst of times, it is possible to persuade a skeptical and insecure public to support a policy if it truly reconciles environmental protection with equity and fairness.

As in the French countryside, residents of rural British Columbia often have no choice but to drive long distances on a regular basis. Unlike their fellow citizens in cities like Vancouver and Victoria, public transportation opportunities frequently don’t exist or are insufficient to completely replace the automobile.

When the carbon tax was first imposed in July of 2008, it started small. It began at $10 per tonne with incremental annual increases of $5 per tonne scheduled through 2012 until it reached $30. That meant that by July of 2012, the cost of gasoline would rise by 6.67 cents per liter. For American readers, that amounts to approximately 27 cents per gallon. To put that in perspective, the gas tax the French government had been planning to impose next month amounted to roughly 25 cents per gallon.

But unlike British Columbia, France was moving to implement its tax in one fell swoop. It also had no plans to offset the gasoline tax increase with middle and low-income tax cuts or use the revenue to provide other significant tangible benefits. As the British Columbia experiment with carbon taxes shows, phasing in the tax and making it revenue-neutral is crucial to winning public support for any carbon tax that’s going to be significant enough to make a difference.

One study into the effectiveness of the BC carbon tax described the steps the then Liberal government took to achieve revenue neutrality this way:

First, the BC government lowered the tax rate on the bottom two personal income tax brackets. For a household earning a nominal income of $100,000…the average provincial tax rate was reduced from 8.74% in 2007 to 8.02% in 2008. Two lump-sum transfers were also included to protect low-income and rural households. Low-income households receive quarterly rebates, which, for a family of four, equal approximately $300 per year, and beginning in 2011, northern and rural homeowners received a further benefit of up to $200. Finally, taxes on corporations and small businesses were reduced…Since residents’ tax burden did not increase, the government was able to promote the policy as a “tax shift” rather than a tax increase.

President Macron eliminated France’s wealth tax in 2017 in advance of his proposed gas tax increase, not in concert with it, so it proved impossible to claim that ending that tax was part of an effort to implement some sort of revenue-neutral carbon tax “shift”. More importantly, however, by putting the wealth tax repeal first and failing to offer low-income and rural households additional tax breaks to offset the impact of the gas tax, Macron signaled his willingness to let the poor and middle class carry most of the burden when it came to taxes on carbon. Had the BC Liberal government followed a similar approach in 2008, I don’t know if cars would have been burning in downtown Vancouver. But they almost certainly would have been trounced in the following year’s election.

Now, just when we need carbon taxes the most, the ‘yellow vests’ movement threatens to render them a political third rail few politicians will want to touch. Sadly, most environmentalists cheered Macron’s gas tax proposal when they should have jeered, costing them valuable credibility with working-class voters that they’re going to need for any successful campaign against climate change.

The phrase “carbon tax” too often triggers a kind of Pavlovian response in the environmental community, regardless of the impact they will have on those paying them. If the environmental policies these times demand are ever going to exist on a global scale, then we must abandon the view that sustainability and social justice exist in separate policy silos. People don’t like being treated as a means to an environmental end any more than they appreciate being treated as a means to any other end, nor should they.

Carbon taxes, whether they are revenue-neutral or not, will, unfortunately, usually face stiff opposition in the beginning. In British Columbia, the major opposition party had been in favor of taxing carbon, but it flip-flopped when the opportunity to tag the Liberal Party with the initially unpopular policy presented itself just prior to an election year.

That said, the Liberal Party (rather confusingly, BC’s most conservative major party) was able to retain control of the BC government in 2009 in spite of everything. In a March 2016 article on BC’s experience with taxing carbon, the New York Times reported that public opposition to the tax had dropped from 47% in 2009 right after implementation to 32% by 2015.

The left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP) has since flip-flopped back to its original support for the carbon tax. With the help of Green Party members elected to the province’s legislative assembly, the NDP took control of the provincial government in May of 2017. BC’s carbon tax not only again enjoys support across the political spectrum, but is in the process of increasing by $5 a year through 2021. It is scheduled to hit $50 a tonne one year ahead of the federal government’s proposed carbon tax.

. . .

That just leaves the question of whether a revenue-neutral approach to carbon taxation can actually reduce carbon emissions. After all, if all the money raised through the tax is ultimately returned to taxpayers in one form or another, where’s the incentive to reduce spending on gasoline, the largest source of CO² in BC?

Source: BC Government, sustainability page

Well, it has worked. A 2015 review of the existing research on the tax’s efficacy found that up to that point, all the studies indicated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of around 9%. Furthermore, that gasoline sales had dropped anywhere between 7% and 17%. One study found that commercial demand for natural gas had plunged a whopping 67% since the initiation of the tax (coal is not used to any significant degree in BC). These decreases occurred in spite of the fact that the province saw slightly higher annual economic growth than Canada as a whole in the years immediately following the 2008 financial crisis, as well as steady population growth.

It’s important to remember that even a revenue-neutral carbon tax can still function as a tax increase for a significant emitter of CO². The government hasn’t committed to making sure no one pays more in taxes, only that all the money the tax generates goes back to the public in one way or another.

Under a revenue-neutral carbon tax program, those inclined to use cleaner technologies can reduce their taxes considerably below what others in roughly the same financial boat are paying. A low-income person who decides to purchase a car instead of riding his bike or using mass transit still gets to pocket the quarterly refund payments. But unlike his friends who choose cleaner alternative modes of transportation, his refund payments will go entirely toward offsetting the additional cost of gasoline instead of groceries, rent, or other necessities.

It’s difficult to imagine citizens from the French countryside invading Paris to protest quarterly tax credits or reductions in their income taxes intended to offset a 25¢ per gallon gasoline tax. Even if polls indicated opposition to the new tax, as they did initially in BC, it’s hard to work yourself up into a lather about it when the government can demonstrate that your overall tax burden hasn’t really changed. And, in all likelihood, what was at first mild opposition or ambivalence would eventually become support once people began to realize the benefits.

The inescapable reality we now face is that whether we tax carbon or not, the cost of emitting so much of it will only be going up from this point forward. Whether it’s coastal buildings washing into the sea or houses built near the edge of a forest burning to the ground, there’s no avoiding climate change’s toll. A carbon tax that disincentivizes the use of fossil fuels ultimately benefits both the environment and people. Hopefully, from now on national, regional, and local governments will learn from British Columbia’s example as well as France’s mistakes.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

Movements Are Visionary, Not Cautious

Craig Axford | Canada

Hearings, dialogue and debate are, or at least should be, means to an end in a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, they’re too often ends unto themselves. Promising to study a problem or hold a hearing “to look into it” is what politicians do to make it appear as though they’re interested without ever having to risk their necks by endorsing a particular idea.

So when likely incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to bring back a select committee on climate change that had been disbanded by the previous Republican majority, it was reasonable for some of the incoming freshmen Democrats to question its real purpose. If committee hearings are going to be held, they’re insisting the hearings be about meaningful climate legislation instead of even more learned testimony on science that’s was settled long ago. As Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement put it to Politico, “We’ve been talking about the science for the past two decades.”

The incoming Democratic House majority will find it tempting to spend much of the next two years doing little more than poring over Donald Trump’s tax returns, which they will presumably issue a subpoena for early next year. Likewise, the current administration’s cabinet is full of individuals as venal as their chief. It will certainly be refreshing to finally see them all held accountable for their misconduct.

That said, governments don’t build and retain confidence among their citizens merely by diligently investigating corruption. People have proven over and over again that they are willing to tolerate a great deal of unethical behavior in their leaders if, in exchange, they feel they are receiving a reasonable degree of economic and physical security, or even just listened to.

The GOP has mastered the art of creating the illusion that people are getting something in return when they vote for them. Whether it’s so-called “tax relief” or protecting jobs by getting tough on immigration, the Republican Party has consistently been able to convince a significant number of Americans it’s looking out for them even as it stabs them in the back. The antidote to their misleading and often dangerous rhetoric isn’t hearings; it’s direct positive action that translates into real change people can actually see and feel in their lives.

The leadership of the Democratic Party would be wise, therefore, to embrace incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for the creation of a select committee that instead of just talking about climate change is charged with drafting legislation to do something about it. She is calling it the “Select Committee on a Green New Deal”.

The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. ~ Section 2 A(i) of the Draft Text for Proposed Addendum to House Rules for 116TH Congress of The United States

 Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is similar in its approach, if not yet in its level of detail, to Canada’s Leap Manifesto. That document translates the progressive principles that emerged from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s into concrete proposals aimed at achieving both equality and sustainability.

We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term…We declare that “austerity” — which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations — is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.~ Leap Manifesto (Emphasis included in original)

I had the privilege of working as a DNC organizer for three years. I was hired as part of Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy following his election as Chair of the DNC in 2005. Dean’s vision for party-building paid off in 2006 when the Democrats took back Congress, and again in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.

However, the organizing effort that arose from John Kerry’s defeat in 2004 took place in the context of growing opposition to the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party galvanized against the domestic policies of George W. Bush. Then as now, opposition was the driving unifying force on the left. The failure to clearly and consistently articulate what it was for quickly came back to haunt it in 2010.

Yes, there was the passage of Obamacare in 2009, but Democrats have traveled so far from the eloquence and clarity of leaders like JFK and RFK that even when debating universal healthcare they sound wonkish and inconsistent. As I learned upon my temporary return to the United States from Canada last year, even under Obamacare, plans with high premiums and deductibles are still the norm. Mandating the purchase of insurance that doesn’t really provide much coverage is a curious policy to emerge from a political party with a base that consistently argues healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

The Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto offer the left a way out of the political wilderness they’ve been wandering in since at least 1980. These initiatives provide something to be for. They can finally transform the left of the 21st century into a movement that wants to say YES! to something.

By uniting both labor and the environmental movement behind an effort that creates good paying jobs while providing the public with clean technologies that improve lives in both rural and urban communities, the Democratic Party could ensure itself decades of majority status not unlike the one it enjoyed from the 1930s through 1994. It seems like the obvious choice for them to make. So what’s taking Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Leadership so long?

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

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Privatizing Mass Transit Could Solve the Global Gas Crisis

By Indri Schaelicke | United States

With oil and gas supplies dwindling, it is more imperative than ever that we cut back fuel consumption. For years, experts have been encouraging the populace to find ways to scale back. Easy ways to achieve this include carpooling, keeping vehicles up to standards that maximize fuel efficiency, walking, biking, and using mass transit. Public transportation infrastructure has greatly improved since the dawn of the concept. However, like any publicly funded program, public transportation suffers from several major issues.

Economic Flaws of Government Agencies

A flaw inherent to government agencies is that they have no incentive to turn a profit. These programs will continue to exist no matter how profitable they are. Hence, they have no reason to innovate and provide better, more appealing products. In the first three months of 2018 alone, the US Postal Service reported a $1.3 billion loss. A private business could not afford to experience such losses without going bankrupt, but the USPS has been doing this for years now.

In the years between 2001 and 2015, the USPS posted a loss in 11 of them. The Post Office has not been profitable since 2006, when it had a $900 million surplus. By comparison, UPS, a private mail delivery company, has posted a profit in excess of at least a billion dollars in 12 of 14 years since 2005. The company profited by $382 Million in 2007, and $807 Million in 2012. UPS attracts many more customers and makes a much greater profit because the goods and services it offers are more desirable to consumers.

Private companies must offer a desirable, in-demand product in order to make a profit and stay in business. A famous example of a company going bankrupt due to their products becoming obsolete is Blockbuster. The beloved movie rental store was run out of business because of the changing movie rental market. Customers were no longer interested in checking out a movie from a store, but rather, in on-demand streaming services. Blockbuster did not offer this, so its customers took their business elsewhere. As a result, companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon took off.

The Oil Crisis and Private Mass Transit

Current estimates say that the world could run out of oil by 2052. In addition, gas supplies will likely run on empty by 2060. In order to extend this timeframe so that we can find more reserves, we must drastically cut back on the amount we are using as a whole. Admittedly, automobile technology is making great strides every day, which will boost fuel efficiency and eliminate waste. However, this may not be enough. Experts have already been encouraging the widespread use of mass transit, a step in the right direction.

If the widespread adoption of mass transit is to be most effective, the industry must be privatized. Mass transit companies’ privatization would encourage the development of new, more efficient technologies as businesses seek to cut down on costs and offer better goods and services to consumers.

A prime example of the success privatizing mass transit could see is Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnel in Los Angeles. Seeking a solution to the notoriously bad LA traffic, Musk has begun the construction of an underground tunnel, in which specialized vehicles will shuttle cars and people on a two-mile journey. By operating the venture in the private sector, Musk’s venture will avoid the ball and chain of the government bureaucracy. On the contrary, it can harness its profit incentive to drive innovation and provide the best services it can.

Failing Public Transportation

When governments run unpopular businesses, there is little to no chance for innovation. Since the foundation of Amtrak in 1970, the passenger railroad company has never generated a profit. The company has no incentive to survive the competitive transportation market, as it knows it will continue to receive government funding every year. A private company, however, could never afford to take losses for 48 straight years. It instead would need to innovate and create better services to attract customers. Mass transit must be privatized in order to promote innovation and bring costs down for consumers.

If the world is able to use privatized transit systems more than conventional automobiles, global gas and oil consumption will slow down, and the lifetime of our existing reserves will increase. This is crucial, as renewable energy resources are yet to be reliable and mainstream. Further development must go into renewable energy, and private mass transit will ensure that oil and gas do not run out before then.


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EPA Head Scott Pruitt Resigns Amidst Ethics Scandals

By Indri Schaelicke | United States

In a tweet Thursday, President Trump revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt had resigned.

Several ethics controversies plagued the EPA director’s time in office. Mr. Pruitt’s inspector generals were still investigating some of these scandals.

Scott Pruitt’s Travel Funds

The first of the Administrator’s controversies while in office came to the attention of the public this past fall. In August 2017, Congress became aware of Pruitt’s potential misuse of travel funds. Allegedly, he was spending these funds on first class flights to his home state of Oklahoma.

Travel records obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request made by the watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project show that Pruitt spent 48 of 92 days in March, April and May 2017 traveling. 43 of those days were on trips that made stops in his home state, Oklahoma.

Another controversy arose when it was revealed that Scott Pruitt would frequently have his staffers make hotel reservations on their personal credit cards. On occasion, he did not reimburse them for the expenses. When he did, it would often be after a period of several weeks.

Further Scandals

Pruitt would also often enlist his staff to run personal errands for him. On one occasion, his staff drove him around to find a lotion from a Ritz-Carlton hotel. He also had members of his staff search for jobs for his wife. Mr. Pruitt’s use of his staff to fulfill personal tasks for him concerned many.

The former head of the EPA also had a history of failing to keep sound records on his meetings and official business concerning his agency. Kevin Chmielewski, former Deputy Chief of Staff Operations for Pruitt revealed that Pruitt and his aides would regularly hold meetings, at which they decided what information they would and would not release to the public. Essentially, the meetings were meant to categorize information from other meetings.

Moreover, at the time of his resignation, Congress was looking into Pruitt’s alleged use of four separate email addresses at the EPA. It is unclear if the agency searches all four email accounts when asked to produce public records.

Scott Pruitt also rented a condo from the wife of a lobbyist who he had been meeting with at the time of his residence there. A family friend of the lobbyist was being considered for a position at the EPA during the same time.

The Future of the EPA

EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler will fill the now vacant seat. Pruitt, a vocal skeptic of climate change, worked to repeal many regulations put in place to slow climate change. He had been integral to the President’s campaign to cut back regulations.

While Mr. Wheeler will also work to roll back many environmental regulations, he is more likely to avoid media attention. His reputation is not one of seeking the public eye. This may aid him in being a more successful EPA head.

The Inspector General’s office of the EPA has also announced that all investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s activities that are currently open will be continue as planned.

As the EPA progresses forward after this change in leadership at the top, expect it to continue to cut down on regulations, perhaps at an even greater pace.


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