Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Energy, economy and climate change

Solar panelThe issues of energy, the economy and climate change, when looked at face value, seem like discrete problems facing not only the United States, but the rest of the world as well. These are the three biggest challenges we will (hopefully) face in our lifetime. But, when looked at a little closer, each of these issues represent a leg on a three legged stool.

If one leg is wobbly or can't hold its weight, then the balance is off and we risk tipping over permanently. Without a solid energy plan, the economy can spiral into ruin and, if we choose a deleterious energy plan (coal, oil, etc.), then climate change is exacerbated beyond potential repair. This is certainly a frightening prospect and this triad of issues can seem horribly insurmountable.

However, if we pursue a green energy plan, then the other issues, by default, have the potential to be resolved. This is the type of resolution that the next administration should focus on.

You see, if we invest in green energy, this creates jobs, not just in the development of new technologies that can be used for the benefits of U.S. citizens, but also can be sold to other nations or shared with developing countries to help reduce their emissions. This clearly helps our economy and the environment.

Additionally, an investment in energy also assumes an investment in energy infrastructure. This means shoring up the electrical grid which, in turn, creates a tremendous number of jobs and industry. Think of it as the Green New Deal. This also means development of more energy conservative products such as appliances as well as cars and transportation alternatives. This is not only good for the economy, but for the environment as well.

A side benefit of a strong green energy plan and investment also necessitates that we no longer are dependant on foreign sources of energy whether that be oil or even natural gas. With that comes increased national security. This is just good all around.

If all this were to be developed, a decrease in carbon and other climate affecting emissions would be lowered rapidly and considerably, hopefully reducing the world's risk of increased issues resulting from advanced climate change. In other words, less flooding, less hurricanes, less polar ice melting.

So, I urge you to consider writing to the president-elect and asking that his focus be on investing in green and renewable energy, the accompanying jobs that would be created and the resulting impact on climate change, air quality and environmental health. It's a one-two-three punch that is low-hanging fruit to some really tough problems.

Related posts:
Clean coal or dirty politics?
Stop drilling the American public
Fool sell

Related books:
The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems
Freedom From Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction
Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots
A Declaration of Energy Independence: How Freedom from Foreign Oil Can Improve National Security, Our Economy, and the Environment


Sandy said...

I was under the impression that this is the approach Obama favors ... green jobs / renewable energy. Right?

Bekki said...

I had *just* told my husband that we ought to to another New Deal, but a green version. :-) Great minds!

jewishfarmer said...

I agree broadly with Crunch, but I think she may overstate the possibilities of an ecological New Deal. I certainly think that's a good way to invest what resources we have. But the New Deal is a fundamentally Keynesian model, that involves borrowing a lot of money from people who have it - or printing money like mad. It involves running up temporary deficits, based on the assumption that we'll boom again.

I realize economics are boring ;-), but I think they matter here, because there are two problems with this. The first is that our ability to borrow is strained - we're not running a temporary deficit, due to a crisis - we're adding additional deficits onto massive, massive obligations we've already incurred. The ability of the US to continue to borrow is an open question.

The second issue is this - the assumption of Keynesian indebtedness is basically "it'll all come around again." That is, after a temporary downturn, we're going to boom again. But if we're going to pay serious attention to both energy and ecology - climate and the rest - booming is just what we can never do again. Taking on more debt on a large scale in order to invest in a major build-out is problematic, if you may not be able to repay it - and the fundamental changes required to produce a sustainable environment prevent us using debt-model to get to sustainability, unless our creditors are prepared to never be paid. We can look at the third world for examples of the dangers of those debts.

There's another subject worth mentioning - let's assume we really did an ecological New Deal - we moved onto a war footing level and began building out green stuff as fast as possible. We've never actually figured the environmental consequences of such an investment - the climate impact of that much industrialization is a real potential problem - all of this major infrastructure uses a lot of cement and smelted metals and other resources produced for now, with fossil fuels.

Some Green jobs are sustainable in the long term - those involved with food and maintaining existing infrastructure. But the last time we did a massive scale build out of any kind, we moved a lot more people to cities and into population centers to do those kinds of jobs. And that's very much at odds with the other shift we need to be making - the shift to more local economies.

It isn't that I don't agree with Crunch - I do - I think that our investments must be in infrastructure. But I think the stool has more structural problems than Crunch is describing - we have to make our economic shifts work in line with the ecological ones - and that limits what we can do in terms of growth. And that in turn limits our economic situation... - we may have to instead work on gradually, slowly stabilizing the stool.



Alison Kerr said...

Crunchy, we are thinking along the same lines. However I am very weak in understanding economics so I'm interested in what jewishfarmer had to say. I've a mind to learn about what a steady state economy, which is what I've heard we need to move to, would actually look like. How we would get there I just don't know. It's clear that something needs to change. Much of that change I suspect is expectations - people need to adjust to a lifestyle that treats the Earth in a reasonable way - and that includes me. Another part of the change I think is scaling down how we do things. I don't think we can justify shipping lots of our needs in from elsewhere, and that includes energy. If I'm going to write to our President Elect I guess I'd better figure out what I should say first.

Squrrl said...

I'm with Sharon, and although I also agree with Crunchy that our emphasis now needs to be heavily on developing green energies, I see this as a mitigation strategy at this point, not a way for everything to go happily back to normal. And the additional danger I see here is that if you sell the "green economy" as the answer to all our problems, then there will be disillusionment and backlash when it becomes obvious that it's not quite that easy. It's hard, though, because "Green energy! It's the thing we need to do now to keep things from getting REALLY horrible!" is a much harder sell than "Green energy For a Brighter Tomorrow" or whatever.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Sandy - You are correct. My point is that, in the next few months, Obama will be getting a lot of pressure from different industries, lobbyists and groups that just may sway him towards a different solution. One good example is the auto industry. So, keeping him on point when it comes to green energy and jobs is important. We are lobbyists too.

Sharon - I'll be the first to admit that this is an extreme over-simplification of the problem. But, here's the deal: like it or not, we are going to be spending a lot of money to turn the economy around and that will involve borrowing money and running deficits.

Instead of just hucking money at businesses, like the auto industry, force them to use the money in a way that is in alignment with green energy, jobs and conservation.

I'm not going to argue against the issues with throwing money at the problem - that is self-evident. But, since we are doing it anyway, we might as well make some good use out of it.

I'll address the rest of your points when I have more time...

BerryBird said...

I am glad you acknowledged the upgrades that are needed to the electrical grid, because transmission lines are not popular. The huge regional interconnects, in particular, tend to experience enormous public opposition (eminent domain will always cause problems). The utilitiy companies can bury the interconnect, which reduces visual and environmental impacts, but they rarely chose to do so given the higher costs.

Idea_Sieve said...

You should post some of your ideas about the economy and the climate on my website: Its purpose is to highlight useful solutions to problems in the world.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I was just talking to my students about these connections today!

Mariano RenterĂ­a said...

Everything most be done gradual, what will happen to the families that live from oil companies?

Green Bean said...

I'm reading Green Collar Economy right now. It totally jives with a lot of what you write and I recommend it for folks thinking about this. The plan laid out in GCE can really happen with Obama in office. And I do agree. We are going to have to spend a whole bunch of money and create a Green New Deal. Our society won't just slip back into caves and live an energy free life. Off to write Obama now. He's got a site up soliciting our opinions - I've been giving him a earful. ;-)

Anonymous said...

yeah, Van Jones needs a post in the cabinet, please.

Neo@, do you think the oil industry are managing their resources for long-term employment? What they've shown in the past is that they push a local economy way past its limits until it crashes, then move to a new geographical area or a new industry. Just look at the boom-bust cycle of Houston real estate for evidence.

Over-production will kill an industry faster than anything else - look at the fishing industry, the forest-products industry, played-out coal and other mineral-mining areas. The companies fighting regulation aren't fighting for jobs, they're fighting for profits - which don't always mean sustaining employment any more than they mean sustaining communities or health.

jewishfarmer said...

Crunch, I agree with you to an extent, again. Compared to bailing out wall street, this idea is brilliant and wonderful. But I think simply saying that we will be throwing money at a project underestimates both the ways that the scale of the project shapes the money spent and vice versa.

If we are talking about even shooting at Al Gore's rather unrealistic 10 year goal (and we probably are, given the NY Times article and the rumors of his role in the Obama admin) or something of that nature, we're not talking about a New Deal, in which fairly cheap human labor was mostly used to accomplish work that needed doing - we're talking about WWII - that's the scale at which we'd need to do this. Instead of a Civilian Conservation Corps making trails in national parks and draining swamps, we're talking about training millions of workers in high technology installation and maintenence of renewables. That's much more like the WWII build out than the New Deal - and the WWII build out cost 45% of the GDP, and was funded in large parts by huge loans from countries who had to lend us money because otherwise they'd be bombed to flinders and by the American people who instead of going shopping, bought war bonds. While a renewable build out may not cost that much, a serious attempt to mitigate climate change will probably operate much more on that scale.

Now the American people are in a fairly dire situation, and the loans may well dry up. Now we can print money, but it won't buy us nearly as many Chinese products anymore. And if the economy really implodes, we may not be able to get the tax dollars to finish these projects. What, in the end, is more helpful to us - half built geothermal projects, or investments in ways of reducing our impact.

We need both - my problem with large scale projects like these is that they don't offer any kind of contingency for the real possibility that huge, pricey investment projects, particularly the kinds that run wildly over budget and take years longer than expected (ie, all the things we need) tend to sit unfinished in really rough times.

I don't disagree that we should be using the money to put people to work - my concern is that we not create temporary jobs that don't lead, in the end, to an economy we can live with. And that we take the build out costs quite seriously - economically and ecologically.