Friday, February 27, 2009

Green Stimulus Spending and Republican Opposition

In the US, Republicans are gearing up to continue their fight against legislation like the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The bill's spending and tax cuts emphasize public-works projects and Green initiatives like a new energy infrastructure focused on renewables. The US government has provided $700 billion to bail out the financial sector. In all the Fed has guaranteed $7.7 trillion dollars in loans, while taking over an insurance group, two loan agencies, and a few banks. The White House's 10-year budget outlook includes federal spending of $3 trillion a year.

President Obama's budget seeks to renew confidence, provide jobs and make America more sustainable. Wednesday's budget outline sees significant government support for efficiency, renewables and a smart electric grid. More money was also being directed towards highly questionable cleaner coal-fired power plants. Although some have dismissed capture technology for coal-fired power plants as nothing more than a myth used by the coal industry to greenwash the public.

The original bill proposed by Democrats contained $144 billion for energy, transportation and environment related projects including, $32 billion “to transform the nation's energy transmission, distribution, and production systems.” $22.6 billion to retrofit and weatherize public and “modest-income” homes to make them more energy efficient. $30 billion for highway and bridge repair/construction. $31 billion to “modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long term energy cost savings.” $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration. $10 billion has been set aside for mass transit and rail and $100 billion of the infrastructure stimulus has already been earmarked for upgrading America's electric grid with 3,000 miles of new transmission lines.

What was truly interesting is the announcement that these massive projects will be paid by a cap-trade-system. A market-based cap* on carbon pollution drives the production of more renewable energy, raising the price of carbon dioxide is the only way renewables can gain ground in a fossil fuel driven energy marketplace. As reported in CNNMoney.com, the White House's cap-and-trade law is expected to generate $79 billion a year in 2012. Making companies pay to emit carbon dioxide will generate $15 billion a year for investments in clean energy. Under the Presidents plan, cap-and-trade revenues will also provide $64 billion in tax cuts for the middle class. An analysis by the Energy Information Agency indicated that cap-and-trade would raise the price of gasoline by about 41 cents a gallon and the price of electricity by about 11% by 2030. This is a small price to pay for reducing carbon dioxide by about 30% from 2006 levels (according to EIA estimates)

Some Republicans in Congress disagree suggesting cap-and-trade will actually result in less government revenue, as it will drive U.S. business overseas. Congress hopes to pass a budget plan by early April but they should not expect support from Republicans who appear to be in a pugnacious mood as they are committed to resisting the democrats efforts to heal the economy.

The President's stimulus bill passed in the house on January 28, but without much support from Republicans who appear unwilling to consider the logic of stimulus spending. Although most economists agree that spending is crucial to head off an even bigger economic disaster. House Republican leader John Boehner said Washington should institute "a spending freeze so we can get our budget in order." Even efficiency measures that save taxpayers money are under assault as Republican's are grasping at straws in a bid to discredit the Democrats. US Senator Mitch McConnell recently called Obama's plan to modernize the fleet of federal vehicles' "wasteful spending."

Obama's $825 billion Green stimulus represent the biggest construction project in U.S. history dwarfing Eisenhower's interstate highway system in the 1950s and President Roosevelt's $11.4 billion in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression ($175 billion in today's dollars). And despite the 25% unemployment rate, that WPA investment created 8.5 million jobs between 1935 and 1943. By some estimates 35,000 jobs will be created for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure. If this number proves accurate, the 28.9 million jobs created would have a major effect on the larger economy.

The backing of President Obama is sure to positively impact renewable energy in the form of tax breaks and credit for renewable energy companies and their clients. This will guarantee a market for products like solar panels and wind turbines. The stimulus bill intends to double the production of renewable energy in three years and this will spur innovation in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

There will be considerable benefit to industries associated with infrastructure (concrete, roads, bridges) and those that manufacture renewable energy sources like wind turbines. Other industries will not fare as well under the stimulus. Certain oil industry tax breaks will be repealed and this is projected to generate $2 billion in revenues by 2011. An additional revenue increase of over $1 billion will come from reinstating a requirement that corporations help clean up toxic industrial sites through funding the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program. Not every company will or should be saved, many will be purged or transformed. The American auto industry is already undergoing a radical transformation.

America has fallen far behind the world's renewable energy leaders and even some developing countries. America simply cannot afford to remain so hopelessly inefficient and be competitive in the international marketplace.

An effective economic stimulus will positively impact the GDP and improve peoples lives in ways the GDP cannot measure. The government stimulus will increase the corporate tax base and help pay off the debt incurred by the financial stimulus.

The Republican response to the most disconcerting crisis of our times, is to resurrect the failed policies of fiscal conservatism that helped create this crisis in the first place. Rather than begin the work that needs to be done, Republicans appear intent on framing issues in the context of old ideological divides while ignoring the fact that government spending, if well placed, can be remarkably helpful in a recession.

As Bush has said, we need to abandon "free market principles to save the free market system.” President Obama's new energy economy contains credible infrastructure investments that will create jobs, make America more competitive and reduce harmful emissions. Just as a lack of confidence is the root of the problem, injecting confidence is the solution. This is the President's job, part hardball economics, part theatrics, both of which coalesce to make mere mortals into great leaders.

If the stimulus jump-starts the stalled economy as predicted, consumers and business stand to benefit. Sensible people find it hard to disagree with a government stimulus and history should judge harshly those who play politics during a time of crisis.

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*In a market-based cap or a cap-and-trade program, companies must initially buy permits from the government to emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Then, the number of permits are reduced each year. Companies trade these permits among themselves, which are expected to get more expensive as the number of them decreases. Companies can either pay to install cleaner equipment, or buy permits from other companies that have them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Way Forward

Excerpts of President Obama's address to Congress, Tuesday February 24, 2009. The President's speech included steps to restore credit markets, and investments in wind and solar energy as well as efficiency. The President also asked Congress for legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution.
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[W]hile our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

[W]e have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here. Now is the time to act boldly and wisely -- to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jump-start job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.

I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That's why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law. Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector -- jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right. That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right. That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort -- because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new Web site called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

[T]here will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system. I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight...The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins. You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

[W]e will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won't solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all. I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer.

My job -- our job -- is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes shortcuts and abuse.

[T]he only way to fully restore America's economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil.

I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity. For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas.

In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world. In each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don't need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy. We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea. Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders -- and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history -- an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward...Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs.. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

[L]iving our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.

For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world's. As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us -- watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead. Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege -- one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth -- to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial. But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn't tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community -- how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity. Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

[I]f we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered."

Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Sustainable World Order

Green is not a new movement, although buried under a mountain of cynical conspiracy theories, many of the logistics for a sustainable world order have been around for more than a decade.

The current economic hardships serve as a catalyst for change. According to William E. Halal, professor emeritus of science, technology and innovation at George Washington University, "the normal level of social resistance and political stalemate is likely to oppose change. Thus, it may take an occasional environmental collapse, global wars and terrorism, or yet unknown calamities to force the move to global consciousness...Even with the turmoil that is sure to follow, this will mark the serious beginning of a unified global intelligence - a fine web of conscious thought directing life on the planet." [1]

Despite the current Conservative government, Canadians have a proud heritage of environmental leadership. Before the dawn of the 21st century Canadians were actively exploring global interdependence and strategies for greater global cooperation. A cynical article entitled "A New World Agenda," written 10 years ago, follows the work of United Nations reformer, Canadian Maurice Strong. He chaired a task force that revealed that the post-cold war period has "become nothing less than a global experiment in international development." [2] He went on to say, Canada "is in a position to make a unique contribution...by committing itself to be a model of sustainable development...It offers the prospect of uniting Canadians behind a new vision of their own future and a new generation of leadership internationally." [3]

As former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien once said, "We are one world. We in Canada feel this deeply. Responsible international citizenship is one of our proudest shared values. And the place we exercise that responsible citizenship is in multilateral organizations the town hall meetings of the world community." [4]

Here is a condensed summary of Canada's past environmental efforts as the planetary meeting ground and sponsor for major sustainable development events.

- Canada co-sponsored the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (the first Earth Conference) held in Stockholm, Sweden.
-The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), producer of the influential report Our Common Future, convened a special meeting in Ottawa, Ontario in 1986. At this WCED meeting, the idea of a "world conservation bank" was forwarded. The WCED was the key organization promoting the term "sustainable development" in the late 1980's.
-The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer formatted international rules to combat "global warming" and was adopted in Montreal, Quebec.
-The World Environment Energy and Economic Conference (WEEEC) hosted by the Manitoba provincial government and held in Winnipeg in October, 1990. It was attended by over 3000 delegates from around the globe, it's official theme was "Sustainable Development Strategies and the New World Order." [13]
-Canada played an influential role at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Maurice Strong acting as the summit's Secretary-Gerneral.
-The creation of The Earth Council, which is headquartered in Costa Rica. Led by Mr. Strong, The Earth Council [drafted] the global Earth Charter -- a new world-wide Green constitution. [5]

In the words of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, "Canada [was] at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the United Nations is prepared for the challenges of the future." [6] Consider the following quotes from a 1992 meeting of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

"We need a unified one world order to replace the collectivity of nation states at the international level. The Euro-American model which now dominates the world systematically disables people, destroys the earth and creates dependency on wage labour." [8]

"In this model, politics loses its left-versus-right conflict and moves instead towards a fundamental concern for the health of the ecosystem...Democracy remains a need within this model, at both local and global levels, but as one part of the whole system. "Participation" becomes more than people's physical presence and deepens to contain a cultural and spiritual dimension...To implement these concepts, we start with bringing the community together and look at the land resources available. We decide how we want the community to evolve and decide who has control of the resources." [9]

Likewise, the following statement from the Canadian federal government to the United Nations contains a similar thread -- a sustainable world order based on complete world management.
"Canada believes the establishment of an international financial and economic system that is conducive to sustainable development must be a cornerstone of efforts to implement Agenda 21. Canada strongly supports efforts to reform international organizations to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in the promotion of global sustainable development." [10]

[An] international tax on world monetary transactions, known as the Tobin tax...would be "a feasible part of a new world order and new world vision," as stated by Lorne Nystrom, member of the Canadian House of Commons. [11] "If there were a 0.1% Tobin tax on foreign currency transactions, that would raise, in 1995 dollars, $176 billion U.S. A Tobin tax of 0.003% would be enough money to fund United Nations peacekeeping around the world. One of the consequences would be the establishment of a global village which would have a common good amongst the nations of the world. There would be a strengthening of international organizations. The United Nations would become a meaningful world government. There could be permanent international peacekeeping forces. There are many things that could be done. How would this be implemented? There are a number of ways of doing it. The International Monetary Fund could be reformed to do it or the World Bank could be reformed to do it. [Or we could create] a new international financial agency to administer the Tobin tax. National governments would collect the tax around the world." [12]

The introduction to the WEEEC's final report [contained] the revolutionary concept of Sustainable Development Strategies as the New World Agenda." [14] The forward to the report explained, "sustainable development principles that will affect policies, plans and the direction of programs in the coming years on a global scale." [15]

Chisman and Holbrook further explained the importance of education, "The overall strategy is to design courses so as to prepare for a 'sustainable development' literate society." [17] [Here we are talking about] the concept of sustainable education, [and] the importance of global "values" for education, including "population control and support," "intercultural tolerance," "the transfer of appropriate technology," and "environmental literacy." [18] The WEEEC educational platform [also included a] presentation on creating a "Global Green Constitution," or "a global perestroika," it was explained that this "revolutionary" global green political machine would encompass a form of "human rights." [19]

The concept of framing a global "green" constitution was directly linked to national education contributions aimed at furthering this new world agenda. As explained in the report, uncooperative nations would not be tolerated.

"[G]reen governments will oppose any culture if it proves to be prejudicial by means of gender, age, colour, race, religion, belief, sexual orientation, mental or physical condition, marital status, family composition, source of income, political belief, nationality, language preference or place of origin." [20]

"Eventually, a public referendum would be held in each nation state with the objective of obtaining a simple majority in favour of enshrining a Global Green Constitution....Every nation's government would ultimately be a signator to the Global Green Constitution. Obligation to do so would come from grass roots pressure within democratic societies. Less democratic nations or dictatorships would be brought on side through sanctions." [21]

"The question is how do we achieve binding agreements in Law complete with effective programs for applying sanctions against non-compliance that would oblige each nation, regardless of size, to abide by a set of principles that are required to guarantee the survival of life on this earth. Perhaps we will find that there is no other alternative to a system of rigid controls that some would equate to a police state. Unfortunately, in order to save the planet from biocide, there have to be very powerful constraints from doing the 'wrong' things. The constraints must transcend national boundaries, be world-around and enforceable. There would be a need for an agency for preventing eco-vandals from acting unilaterally. Enforcement agencies would need the power to act without being invited by the offending nation. Therefore, there needs to be an agency that is acceptable to all nation states on the planet. We can probably accept the fact that there will always be one or more nations that will not go along but there must be effective sanctions in place. If sanctions do not work, then physical occupation and the installation of a World Trusteeship would be imposed upon the offending nations." [22]

As former Prime Minister Jean Chretian said, the United Nations is "the centre piece of Canadian foreign policy." [23] However the author of worries "that this foreign policy, this promotion of "global order," is taking North America down the fast track to international socialism. Hidden under the guise of sustainable development, our two nations are trading freedom for a draconian world agenda."

The idea of a world government animates the ghosts of the cold war and inspires the conspiratorial musings of anarchists. But these sinister allegations should be taken as seriously as a man in a monkey suit passing for Sasquatch. That is not to say that we can afford to leave our democracies to our elected officials, quite the contrary, we need to be ever vigilant, for where there is power, there is also room for corruption. But the pressing need for international cooperation demands that we develop frameworks within which we can assume our respective environmental and social responsibilities.

As British PM Gordon Brown said, “This crisis demonstrates beyond doubt that a global capital market requires much stronger global cooperation and supervision. And we need to ensure that we have an effective global early warning system to alert us across continents to economic and financial risk.” [24]

Recession and global warming are the defining crises of our time and these issues are powerful justifications for a system of world governance. As stated by Halal, "Some new form of global order is needed to avert disaster." A sustainable world order is a pragmatic corollary of our efforts to manage the global environment.[25]

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Endnotes
1. William E. Halal, Emerging Technologies and the Global Crisis of Maturity

2. International Development Research and Policy Task Force, Connecting With The World, p.15.
3. Maurice Strong, Beyond Rio: A New Role For Canada (External Affairs and International Trade Canada, November 10, 1992), p. 20.
4. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Opening Statement by Jean Chrétien to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, (Speech at Auckland, New Zealand, November 10, 1995)
5. International Development Research and Policy Task Force, Connecting With The World, p.39.
6. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Inauguration Diner for the Lester B. Pearson Chair of International Relations, (Speech at Oxford University, February 22, 1996).
7. These points were taken from a private report by Carl Teichrib titled, Charting The Sustainable Society: Agendas for Creating a New Global Future.
8. James Robertson, "Toward a New Economic Paradigm," Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Sustainability: From Vision to Reality (Ottawa, ON: Canadian Council for International Co-operation, February 1992), pp. 5-6.
9. Maximo Kalaw, "A Community-based Model of Sustainable Development," Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Sustainability: FromVision to Reality, p. 8.
10. Government of Canada, Report of Canada to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (Ottawa, ON: Government of Canada, 1996), p. 25.
11. Hon. Lorne Nystrom, "Tax on Financial Transactions," (Private Members' Business) Edited Hansard - Number 144, Wednesday, October 28, 1998, Canadian Federal Government House of Commons, p. 1735.
12.Ibid., p. 1745.
13.Colin N. Power (UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education), "Preface," John E. Penick and John R. Stiles (editors), Sustainable Development For A New World Agenda (A STAM/CASE/ICASE Publication, Proceedings of the World Environment Energy and Economic Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 17-20, 1990) ISBN 962-7532-01-3.
14. Robert Lepischak, "Introduction: Sustainable Development Strategies...The New World Agenda," Sustainable Development For A New World Agenda, p. viii.
15.Evhan Uzwyshyn, "Forward: Principles of Sustainable Development," Sustainable Development For A New World Agenda, p. v. 16.Dennis Chisman and Jack Holbrook, "The Future Direction of Sustainable Development in the Curriculum," Sustainable Development For A New World Agenda, p. 237.
17. Ibid., p. 234.
18.Ibid., p. 235.
19.Jim Bohlen, "Towards A Global Green Constitution," Sustainable Development For A New World Agenda, p. 10.
20.Ibid., p. 11.
21.Ibid., p. 16.
22.Ibid., p. 15.
23.Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, National Forum on Canada's International Relations (Speech in Toronto, ON, September 11, 1995).
24. Gordon Brown, Speech on the Global Economy, October 13, 2008
25. William E. Halal, March-April 2009 edition of The Futurist.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Efficiency and Auto Industry Bailouts

Investments in efficiency are an important part of the stimulus spending initiatives being announced by governments all around the world. From businesses seeking to be more competitive to home owners trying to save money, current economic hardships are driving efficiency. Efficiency is seeping into many aspects of our lives including a more competitive business model that reduces costs and contributes to a brand's marketing appeal. Efficiency is at the core of Green ethics and sustainable business practices.

If we apply the logic of efficiency to assess bailout strategies, we may not be as quick to support the indiscriminate lending of tax dollars to the auto industry. Auto sales are declining all around the world. In the US there has been an unprecedented 40% collapse in vehicle sales, now at their lowest per-capita level in 50 years. With plant closures, layoffs and dealership reductions, automakers are struggling to keep their heads above water. Buick had an accumulated sales decline of 81% since 2003. With numbers like this, whole divisions are on the chopping block as GM is preparing to divest itself of brands like Hummer, Saturn, and Saab. Pontiac has drastically reduced its offerings and Chrysler, is eliminating car lines like the Dodge Durango, Chrysler Aspen, and Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Contingency financing options for GM and Chrysler are being devised as part of a review of restructuring options for the American auto makers. The Treasury is talking with lenders about additional financing of at least $40 billion USD. GM is asking for up to $30 billion USD. By 2013 or 2014, GM said it could require additional financing if its funded pension plan doesn't bounce back with the stock market. GM will receive $6 billion USD by 2010 from the governments of Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Thailand.

The American automotive industry was not doing well even during the boom that preceeded this recession. There has been a steady trend of declining market share. In a Forbes article, Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds, a publisher of auto information says the problems with GM cars can be traced back to the 1980s, when Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Cadillacs, and some Chevrolets began to share engines and underpinnings. "The idea that you could reposition a vehicle by throwing a different label on it just displays a lack of understanding that in the car business the vehicle itself is a major part of the brand," Anwyl says. "So they ended up really destroying a lot of value that, at the time, was baked into [each] brand. It'll just mean fewer American brands on the road in the near future--and taxpayers will foot the bill while automakers figure out which brands make the cut."

Chrysler is asking for an additional $2 billion on top of the $7 billion it requested (it has already received $4 billion). Despite news US automakers may be able to reach a deal with the UAW to reduce labor costs, this may prove to be too little too late. Some rightly contend that it was the UAW that killed the American automotive industry.

The deep distress of auto-parts suppliers further threatens the viability of US carmakers. According to a NewsWeek article, "Two industry groups have asked Treasury for $18.5 billion in emergency bridge funding to avoid a wave of bankruptcies and a deeper crisis that could put one million additional supplier jobs at risk starting next month. The trade groups want the government to guarantee supplier receivables from U.S. automakers, accelerate payment terms or guarantee commercial loans to parts companies."

Predictably, executives from both GM and Chrysler concluded that bankruptcy would be too risky for the US economy and too expensive for taxpayers. But there are legitimate questions about the lack of demand for the type of automobile being produced by US automakers. The PT Cruiser, 2001 North-American Car of the Year, once a top seller, is to be discontinued due to plummeting sales. Car makers like to refer to this as a liquidity gap. However, this may actually reflect permanent changes in consumer attitudes. If this is the case, a market recovery may not translate to the US auto industry.

Unless demand for cars can be revived, it may not matter how much government money is poured into the industry. The most important issue is whether or not the automotive manufacturers are capable of producing a car that people want to buy. Detroit has managed to ignore consumer demand for efficient vehicles for a couple of decades. The American automotive industry has fallen behind in hybrid and other high efficiency engine designs, and it may not be able to compete with the hybrid electric technologies of other automakers.

It is entirely reasonable to question whether it makes sense to invest in companies that are still building relatively inefficient cars that people don't want to buy. If a rescue is to be viable it must reflect a new approach that will produce cars with a future. An example of a viable strategy can be found in the discussion of a broad alliance between Chrysler and Fiat that would give Chrysler access to key small car technology.

Everybody wants a generous slice of federal stimulus pie, but these resources need to be allocated judiciously if they are to have the desired effect. These very trying times demand that we make some difficult decisions. We should be very careful about investing in the old economy where the entrenched logic cannot fully comprehend the ethics of efficiency.

Some believe that the American auto giants should fall because they are inefficient and incapable of producing the kind of vehicles demanded by consumers. Others believe it may be best to keep the auto industry on life support until the economy recovers. We would do well to remember that government bailouts are not a replacement for free markets, they are a bridge to an open highway where companies must be able to compete to survive.

As the business plans of GM and Chrysler are being evaluated by a newly created Presidential Task Force on Autos, let us hope they will give due consideration to their own efficiency agenda and weigh the options afforded by Chapter 11.
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Related Articles:
The Heartbeat of America in Cardiac Arrest
To Bail or Not to Bail: Financing the American Auto Industry
The Way Forward

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama's Visit to Canada

President Obama arrived in the Canadian capital for his first official foreign visit. Canadians were not deterred by snow as supporters lined the streets of Ottawa in anticipation of the passage of the President's motorcade.

The popularity of the President's plan to stimulate the US economy has seemingly spawned its own cottage industry in the nations capital, where T-shirts, coffee beans and a hamburger have all laid claim to the Obama brand. Canadians appear to be caught up in Obama-mania with extensive coverage on all the major Canadian networks, a concert, a symbolic bridge walk as well as a rally on Parliament Hill.

An RCMP honor guard and Governor General Michaëlle Jean met the President at Ottawa International Airport at 10:37 this morning. Obama will meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the two leaders are expected to discuss Energy and the environment, economy and trade, the war in Afghanistan and border security. The two leaders will also discuss a North American climate-change pact and future energy development. Obama and Harper are scheduled to hold a joint news conference at about 2:30 this afternoon.

The most contentious issue confronting the two leaders concerns Canada's oilsands, the largest deposits of crude oil outside the Middle East. Canada is the largest single supplier of energy to the US and oilsands account for almost half of the 1.5 million barrels of crude oil Canada exports each day to the US, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The oilpatch, environmental groups and the Alberta government have been lobbying both the prime minister and president. Green groups have launched an international public-relations offensive and the Alberta government has countered with its own three-year, $25-million effort to improve the Alberta "brand."

Obama needs affordable energy to create jobs and reduce America's dependence on oil from unstable regimes. Alberta's oilsands are an important part of North American energy security but also constitute a major environmental problem. Extracting the heavy crude from the sands releases enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and it has a detrimental impact on air, land, water and local communities. The production of a barrel of oil from the oilsands generates three times as many greenhouse-gas emissions as conventional crude, while using enormous amounts of natural gas and fresh water in the process.

Greenpeace activists unfurled two large banners on a bridge in the Canadian capitol one welcoming the President, the other saying "Climate Leaders Don't Buy Tar Sands."

Obama said in a CBC interview, "What we know is that oilsands creates a big carbon footprint. So the dilemma that Canada faces, the United States faces, and China and the entire world faces is, how do we obtain the energy that we need to grow our economies in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change? To the extent that Canada and the United States can collaborate on ways that we can sequester carbon, capture greenhouse gases before they're emitted into the atmosphere, that's going to be good for everybody. Because if we don't, then we're going to have a ceiling at some point, in terms of our ability to expand our economies and maintain the standard of living that's so important. Canada must partner with the US to find ways to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from petroleum extraction if both countries' economies are to grow in the future."

"The more that we can develop technologies that tap alternative sources of energy, but also contain the environmental damage of fossil fuels, the better off we're going to be," the president said." As reported in the Calgary Herald, "Alberta has already pledged $2 billion to kick-start capturing and storing carbon emissions from coal-power plants, heavy-oil upgraders and potentially the oilsands. Obama, meanwhile, pledged more than $3 billion toward the technology in his stimulus bill that was signed into law Tuesday."

A group of 50 prominent Canadians opposed to exploiting the oilsands sent Obama an open letter on Wednesday saying, "Costly and unproven technological fixes such as carbon capture and storage do not provide 'silver bullet' solutions to addressing emissions from tar sands."

To manage our energy we will need to make some difficult choices that will require close cooperation between the US and Canada. To make meaningful changes in our energy economies we must marry lofty aspirations to pragmatic solutions. We need an approach to energy that balances the environment and the economy, we must acknowledge the pressing importance of environmental considerations, but we also need to recognize the important contribution oilsands make to supply and the economy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Market Reaction to Obama's Stimulus

As President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill in Denver yesterday, markets were falling. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by more than 3.7 percent, while the Nasdaq and S&P both fell by more than 4 percent. Oil for March delivery fell to $34.93 per barrel and to underscore investor uncertainty, gold soared to $967.50 before closing. Some have suggested that investors reacted to President Obama's rebuke of Wall Street, what is more likely is that markets reacted to regional manufacturing reports, problems in European banks and ongoing concerns about the depth and duration of the recession.

Although stock index futures suggest a higher open today, many strong players in the solar industry experienced significant declines yesterday, with stocks like SunPower (SPWRA) losing 8%. Not all Green stock performed poorly, US Wind Farming Inc (USWF) was up 25%, Mass Megawatts Wind (MMGW) closed up over 21%. When Energy Focus (EFOI) announced it was selected as an official "GSA Schedule Contractor of energy efficient lighting projects for Federal stimulus package projects" the stock soared nearly 40% in early trading yesterday before closing with a 28% gain.

A review of the stimulus reveals other Green sectors that should benefit from the stimulus. Renewables, smart grid, mass transit, rail, and energy efficiency are amongst the sectors destined to grow as a consequence of the stimulus package. Here is a breakdown of some of the $21.6 billion alloted for efficiency measures. $1 billion goes to energy efficiency programs including energy-efficient appliances, and vehicles that run on alternative fuel. $4.5 billion to increase the energy efficiency of federal buildings. $6.3 billion for energy efficiency and conservation grants. $5 billion to weatherize old buildings. $2.3 billion in tax credits for energy efficiency technology manufacturers.

It may take some time for the stimulus provisions to be implemented and digested by the market. And as the President said prior to signing the stimulus bill, "None of this will be easy. The road to recovery will not be straight and true. It will demand courage and discipline and a new sense of responsibility that has been missing, from Wall Street to Washington. There will be hazards and reverses along the way. But I have every confidence that if we are willing to continue doing the difficult work that must be done -- by each of us and by all of us -- then we will leave this struggling economy behind us, and come out on the other side, more prosperous as a people."

The emphasis on energy efficiency, renewables and public transportation indicate that this administration continues to make good on its promise to make the environment a prominent part of the national agenda.

This stimulus is but the first salvo of many efforts yet to come. Current market volatility should not obscure the real opportunities that arise from the President's plans. Green stock represents a very profitable investment vehicle and a more sustainable lifestyle. Obama's stimulus will benefit the environment, create environment-friendly jobs and build a more competitive economy.

America is in the midst of a transformational crisis and the President has set the course with the aim of leading America out of recession. The Obama administration is not only building a 21st-century economy, they are also shaping a 21st-century value system.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill Yesterday in Denver, Colorado. Here are the Green highlights of his address.
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"Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles. Nor does it constitute all of what we must do to turn our economy around. But it does mark the beginning of the end -- the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs, to provide relief for families worried they won't be able to pay next month's bills and to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long-term growth and prosperity.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that I will sign today, a plan that meets the principles I laid out in January, is the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history. ...a plan that is both bold and balanced enough to meet the demands of this moment. The American people were looking to them for leadership, and that is what they provided.

What makes this recovery plan so important is not just that it will create or save 3½ million jobs over the next two years, including nearly 60,000 in Colorado. It's that we are putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas that have been neglected for too long, work that will bring real and lasting change for generations to come.

Because we know we can't build our economic future on the transportation and information networks of the past, we are remaking the American landscape with the largest new investment in our nation's infrastructure since Eisenhower built an interstate highway system in the 1950s....bringing critical broadband connections to businesses and homes in nearly every community in America, upgrading mass transit and building high-speed rail lines that will improve travel and commerce throughout the nation...computerizing America's medical records, to reduce the duplication and waste that costs billions of health care dollars and the medical errors that every year cost thousands of lives.

Because we know we can't power America's future on energy that's controlled by foreign dictators, we are taking a big step down the road to energy independence and laying the groundwork for a new green energy economy that can create countless well-paying jobs. It's an investment that will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years and provide tax credits and loan guarantees to companies like Namaste Solar, a company that will be expanding, instead of laying people off, as a result of the plan I am signing.

In the process, we will transform the way we use energy. Today, the electricity we use is carried along a grid of lines and wires that dates back to Thomas Edison, a grid that can't support the demands of clean energy. This means we're using 19th- and 20th-century technologies to battle 21st-century problems like climate change and energy security.

It also means that places like North Dakota can produce a lot of wind energy but can't deliver it to communities that want it, leading to a gap between how much clean energy we are using and how much we could be using.

The investment we are making today will create a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for the broader use of alternative energy. We will build on the work that's being done in places like Boulder, Colorado, a community that is on pace to be the world's first Smart Grid city. This investment will place Smart Meters in homes to make our energy bills lower, make outages less likely and make it easier to use clean energy.

It's an investment that will save taxpayers over $1 billion by slashing energy costs in our federal buildings by 25 percent and save working families hundreds of dollars a year on their energy bills by weatherizing over 1 million homes. And it's an investment that takes the important first step towards a nationwide transmission superhighway that will connect our cities to the windy plains of the Dakotas and the sunny deserts of the Southwest.

Even beyond energy, from the National Institutes of Health to the National Science Foundation, this recovery act represents the biggest increase in basic research funding in the long history of America's noble endeavor to better understand our world. Just as President Kennedy sparked an explosion of innovation when he set America's sights on the moon, I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more, spurring new discoveries and breakthroughs that will make our economy stronger, our nation more secure and our planet safer for our children.

As important as the step we take today is, this legislation represents only the first part of the broad strategy we need to address our economic crisis. In the coming days and weeks, I will be launching other aspects of the plan. We will need to stabilize, repair and reform our banking system and get credit flowing again to families and businesses.

We will need to end a culture where we ignore problems until they become full-blown crises instead of recognizing that the only way to build a thriving economy is to set and enforce firm rules of the road.

None of this will be easy. The road to recovery will not be straight and true. It will demand courage and discipline and a new sense of responsibility that has been missing, from Wall Street to Washington. There will be hazards and reverses along the way. But I have every confidence that if we are willing to continue doing the difficult work that must be done -- by each of us and by all of us -- then we will leave this struggling economy behind us, and come out on the other side, more prosperous as a people.

For our American story is not -- and has never been -- about things coming easy. It's about rising to the moment when the moment is hard, converting crisis into opportunity and seeing to it that we emerge from whatever trials we face stronger than we were before. It's about rejecting the notion that our fate is somehow written for us, and instead laying claim to a destiny of our own making."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Price of Crude Oil

With no evidence of recovery in sight, the shrinking global economy is reducing demand for crude. As explained in previous posts, and as illustrated by the charts on the left, the fate of renewables and particularly solar, is intimately related to the price of crude oil. The lower the price of oil, the harder it is for renewables to be competitive, higher oil prices also make renewables much more attractive to investors. Today the price of oil slipped below $37 dollars a barrel in New York. Less than two months ago, crude oil fell to $32.40 the lowest level since February 2004.

A Bloomberg article published today suggests that declining oil prices are due to speculation that "a deepening recession in Europe and Asia will stifle demand." Fueled by worsening economic data, investors are acknowledging that oil demand is likely to keep falling. Others are casting aspersions on those trying to profit from contango (a condition where distant delivery prices for futures exceed spot prices).

The market does not forsee much of an increase in the price of oil in the short term. The prompt month contract (the nearest month of delivery for which NYMEX futures prices are published during the trading month) shows that the increase in price of oil for delivery between April and March is less than half what it was trading for on February 12 ($8.19 a barrel on Feb. 12 vs $4 on February 17).

“By now it should be clear to everyone out there that spot Nymex crude is untradeable,” Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group Inc., as quoted in the Bloomberg article. “What we have witnessed over the last month in the Nymex March-April market is not reasonable and it is not reflective of underlying fundamentals.”

Expect a further decline today as markets were closed in the US for Presidents’ Day and yesterday’s transactions will be booked today for settlement. The one year forecast is $42 US dollars a barrel, and some believe that it will be years before we see increased demand and even then growth will be slow. "World oil demand may not rebound until 2010, when it may begin rising by about 1 percent a year through 2013" according to International Energy Agency Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka as quoted in the Bloomberg article.

Some Green advocates believe that an oil tax is in order to make renewables more competitive. Market advocates indicate that this would further weaken an already beleaguered global economy. Ideally this problem would be managed by production cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). We are seeing declines in production, this along with the cold weather are helping rebalance the oil market. The Bloomberg article quotes Goldman Sachs analysts who said, “as a result, the bottoming in [oil] prices and time spreads could be closer than we originally expected.” Although in recent months, most of the OPEC's member nations have been uncharacteristically cooperative, the lack of a global oil management strategy afford no guarantees that this will continue.

There can be no serious environmental stewardship without a radical and rapid increase in renewable energy. However, the current price of oil is a very real threat to the kind of growth we need to see to make renewables a truly viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Green Job Market

Green jobs represent a shining ray of hope in an otherwise distressing global employment picture. From America to the land down under, job losses are large and widespread across many industry sectors. The US Department of Labor's February Employment Situation Summary report indicated that payroll employment has declined by 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007 and about one-half of this decline occurred in the past 3 months.

According to a CNN article, news in the rest or the world is no better. In Britain unemployment is at the highest level in a decade and approaching 2 million, in France unemployment is more than 2 million, about 1.7 million Italians are unemployed and in Germany unemployment is more than 3 million. Millions of Asian workers are also losing their jobs because of the global economic downturn. Some official figures are saying in China around 8 million lost their jobs.

"It's time to bail out the people and the planet," says Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. The Obama administration's commitment to energy efficiency and renewables is helping to drive the boom in Green jobs. A report commissioned by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) indicates that Green jobs can put America back to work. The report was conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute and reviewed a list of occupations that gain from Green investments, they include "building retrofitting, mass transit, fuel-efficient automobiles, wind power, solar power, and cellulosic biomass fuels."

The report defines Green jobs,"as occupations that contribute toward building or producing goods to achieve a ‘green’ marketplace. At the same time, it links the idea that green jobs should be sustainable employment opportunities—that is, jobs that pay at least a living wage, offer training and promotional opportunities and some measure of security."

The NRDC report "demonstrates that the quickest way to put Americans back to work is through investments in solving global warming, said Dave Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance. “The jobs we’ll create are the very jobs our country is losing in the current recession.”

“The commitment to a clean energy economy will not only lead to quality jobs in manufacturing unions and the building trades,” says Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers. “It will help stop good-paying jobs from continuing to be exported. [S]olving global warming means new investments in jobs and infrastructure, and the reconstruction of our economy,” said Bracken Hendricks, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The American Solar Energy Society and Management Information Services Inc. together released the report, Defining, Estimating and Forecasting the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Industries in the U.S. and in Colorado. It indicates that Green collar jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors employed more than 9 million Americans in 2007, and produced more than $1 trillion in sales, it estimates that these two sectors could generate 37 million jobs by 2030. However the report makes it clear that this "will be more difficult to achieve without the proper policies in place at the federal and state levels."

"If nothing is done and we proceed in the business-as-usual fashion, the two industries may generate an additional 16.3 million jobs by 2030, compared to 19.5 million in the moderate scenario. Hot sectors with the highest revenue growth included solar thermal and photovoltaics, biofuels and fuel cells. The jobs most in demand will include electricians, mechanical engineers, welders, metal workers, accountants, analysts, environmental scientists and chemists -- the vast majority of which are existing jobs that will take on environmental dimension."

A Fast Company article reviews the Green job market in America and foresees opportunities due to massive investments in clean energy. The article indicates that farmers, urban planners, and green-tech entrepreneurs are amongst the top Green jobs for the next decade.

America has only two million farmers, most of which are older, "sustainable agriculture requires small-scale, local, organic methods rather than petroleum-based machines and fertilizers, there is a huge need for more farmers." According to food guru Michael Pollan we need tens of millions of modern businesspeople-farmers skilled in heirloom genetics as marketing.

Foresters will be in demand as they help "local people transition from slash-and-burn to silviculture--teaching cultivation of higher-value, faster-growing species for fruit, medicine or timber, for example while carefully documenting the impact on the environment." Deforestation causes approximately one quarter of all global warming and many anticipate that it will be a leading source of carbon credits worth tens of billions of dollars.

"Buildings account for up to 48 percent of US energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. LEED, the major green building certification, has over 43,000 accredited professionals. But [as we see in Europe] the cutting edge in efficient buildings goes far beyond LEED. Greening the US building stock will take not only skilled architects and engineers, but a workforce of retrofitters who can use spray foam insulation and storm windows to massively improve the R-value (thermal resistance) of the draftiest old houses. A study by the Apollo Alliance recommended an $89.9 billion investment in financing to create 827,260 jobs in green buildings."

Renewables like solar and wind should see significant growth in job opportunities. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts an increase to over 110,000 jobs in the fabrication and installing of solar power systems (installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells) by 2016. "Wind is the leading and fastest-growing source of alternative energy with over 300,000 jobs worldwide. Turbines are 90% metal by weight, creating an opportunity for autoworkers and other manufacturers to repurpose their skills. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry currently employs some 50,000 Americans and added 10,000 new jobs in 2007. Their job board is an excellent place to start looking for opportunities."

Conservation biologists will be much in demand as the urgent quest to preserve the integrity of ecosystems around the world -- and to quantify the value of -- ecosystems services -- leads to opportunities in teaching, research and fieldwork for government, nonprofits, and private companies.

"Although the market for paper and plastic has slowed down recently due to the economic downturn, demand for steel is still strong -- 42 percent of output came from scrap in 2006 -- and recycling remains the economical alternative to high disposal fees. Worldwide more than 200,000 people work in secondary steel production, and the US is a major center of production. New laws and regulations are also creating a need for specialized companies that can close the loop by recycling and repurposing e-waste, clothing, plastic bags, construction waste, and other materials."

Sustainability systems developers are required to provide the software and engineering expertise to "design, build, and maintain the networks of sensors and stochastic modeling that underpin wind farms, smart energy grids, congestion pricing and other systems substituting intelligence for natural resources. Coders with experience using large scale enterprise resource planning have an edge here, as well as developers familiar with open source and web 2.0 applications."

Urban and regional planning are crucial to lowering our carbon footprint. "Strengthening mass transit systems, limiting sprawl, encouraging use of bicycles and de-emphasizing cars is only part of the job. Equally important is contingency planning, as floods, heat waves and garbage creep become increasingly common problems for metropolises. Employment in this sector is projected to grow 15 percent by 2016, and the jobs are mainly in local governments, which make them a slightly safer bet for the downturn."

"The concept of the triple bottom line has migrated from the margins to the mainstream of the business world. A recent report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayors Climate Protection Center found that business services like legal, research and consulting account for the majority of all green jobs -- over 400,000. This includes everything from marketing to the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) segment, to serving as a VP of sustainability within a large company, to piloting a green startup like Method or Recyclebank."

Another Fast Company article last month reviewed innovative companies around the globe that are hiring here are some of the more enviro-friendly offerings. BMW based in Munich, Germany are looking for engineers in electricity and electronics, information scientists and mechanical engineers who already have experience in motors, chassis and auto bodies. The intersection of automotive engineering, information technology, and sustainability is where BMW expects to see the most growth.

Samsung Electronics in Seoul, South Korea are actively recruiting engineers with electronic, electrical, computer science, mechanical, physics, and material engineering majors and MBA graduates to work in the Digital Media, Telecommunication Network, Semiconductor, and LCD divisions. Available positions primarily fall within the areas of research and development, marketing and sales, and administrative staffing. The company plans to expand into a variety fields, including solar battery and fuel cell.

As illustrated by the NRDC report "given the right strategies, green jobs can be the engine that allows us to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift a lot of people out of poverty" said Van Jones, founder and president of Green For All. "With good policies and strong investments that prepare people who most need work for the work that most needs to be done, green jobs can fight poverty and global warming pollution at the same time."

As employment that helps the environment, sustainability focused career paths leverage the power of free markets and the kind of social responsibility that will auger a better future.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

One Million Acts of Green: The Human Network Effect

CBC's talk show, The Hour hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos and Cisco Systems have succeeded in mobilizing people to commmit over one million acts of Green. The campaign appropriately entitled, "One Million Acts of Green" (OMAoG) started in October 2008 and as of today, 1,103,140 Green acts have been registered with participants logging an average 9,435 Green acts per day, and seven Green acts per minute. Although it originated in Canada OMAoG now boasts grassroots support from people in 50 countries. Participants also include businesses, politicians, celebrities, athletes, schools, universities, municipalities, and environmental groups.

There are many ways to act Green, it can be as simple as changing light bulbs or driving less. As referenced in a Green Market article subtitled, The Power of Small Gestures, small efforts can have a huge impact when they are repeated millions of times. The OMAoG campaign started with just one act, there are now more than one million acts of Green, amassed one act a time.

The goal is to change how we live and how we treat the planet and challenge others to do the same. The OMAoG interactive website is an accessible educational resource where people can register their acts of Green. It’s a virtual gathering place where people can exchange ideas, view content, post photos and videos, and create groups. Thanks to the website's GreenNexxus caclulator, registrants can calculate the impact of their environmental good deeds.

According to an IT in Canada article, Trent University and Dalhousie University led the way in terms of most members and most acts of green, (other noteworthy educational establishments included Bishop Strachan School, Havergal College, Delta Secondary School, Acadia University). Airdrie was the city with the most Green acts (19,000 acts) followed by the Town of Okotoks and North Bay. Many of Canada’s leading corporations including BMO Financial Group, MTS Allstream and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts have joined OMAoG and are complementing the program with innovative employee engagement and customer-facing initiatives. OMAoG’s “greenest” provinces are Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia

Kirstine Layfield, executive director of programming for CBC Television said "I think we helped demonstrate with One Million Acts of Green in particular, the great results you can achieve by reaching out and engaging people.”

OMAoG has not only raised awareness it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 63,326,358 kg. With over one million acts of Green in four months, OMAoG is a shinning example of positive and timely environmental change. This is a tangible demonstration of what can be achieved when we work together as a human network.

Go to One One Million Acts of Green to log your Green acts, challenge your co-workers, friends and family to do the same.

Links/URLS:

OMAoG
OMAoG (French)
The Hour
OMAoG Previous releases
OMAoG Facebook group
OMAoG on Twitter

Video: OMAoG <here>
Video: First two months of OMAoG. <here>
Video: BMO Financial Group on OMAoG <here>.
Video: Cisco CEO on OMAoG and how the human network can change the world. <here>

GreenNexxus greenhouse gas calculator
Cisco Green

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Recession, Recovery and Renewables

The fate of renewables and other Green sectors are tied to the fate of the wider marketplace. With trade contracting and one million six hundred thousand jobs lost in the US since last year, we are beginning to tally the scope of this recession. The concern that our economies could collapse is more than just fear mongering to gain political support. A complete meltdown would be disastrous for everyone including those who are committed to Green. In the US, all financial agencies are committed to bringing their full force to bear to arrest this downward slide. Earlier today the Senate passed an economic stimulus bill and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined his banking rescue plan, the second installment of TARP, which he has called the new financial stability plan.

It appears as though the government has gleaned valuable lessons from the 1930s. And as Japan illustrated in the 1990s, stimulating the economy without addressing the banking system will not produce growth.

As Senator Christopher Dodd said in his introduction of Geithner today, this is a "new era of shared responsibility and cooperation." By focusing on jobs, homes, small businesses, and entrepreneurs, the Obama administration is making good on its pledge to develop a long term comprehensive framework. The administration also acknowledges that unfreezing credit is crucial for economic recovery.

Geithner announced some important government financing support "providing financing that private markets cannot now provide." He referenced a plan with a consumer and business financing capacity of one trillion (US).

Encouraging private interests to get involved in purchasing troubled banking assets makes a lot of sense, as do strings that come with federal money. However, these strings mean that the government will be involved in running the banks. Geithner described the disbursement of government money as "loans and investments with terms and conditions [to produce the] largest benefit at the least cost."

Geithner quoted the President saying that the "doers and the makers of things, the innovators who expand enterprise...this is what drives growth." Without specifically ascribing blame to deregulation in the financial markets, he went on to say that the crisis was caused by "a huge boom in credit, with people and governments borrowing beyond their means...There were failures of checks and balances" without appropriate heed to risk. "Governments were slow to act" he continued "policy was behind the curve."

The new financial stability plan will "cost money, involve risk and take time." The short term goal is to stabilize and repair the financial system. But the wider strategy is part of a long term comprehensive approach which will be "sustained until recovery is established." President Obama is committed to reforming the financial sector to avert future crises like the one we are enduring. However, "the success of the financial stability plan requires cooperation here and around the world."

The recovery will only occur if the Obama administration succeeds in its efforts to reassure America, regain trust and rebuild confidence. "Unless we reestablish confidence and restore the flow of credit," Geithner concluded "the recession will be deeper and longer."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Green Ethics and Trade

The global slowdown is on the mind of investors anxiously awaiting news of a US stimulus and bank bailout. Despite the bleak economic reality, protectionist sentiments were quelled in the US Senate last week after President Obama warned Senators not to violate existing trade agreements by passing 'Buy American' provisions. Last week also saw a spate of reports and announcements indicating that jobless rates are climbing at an alarming rate in North America and around the world. Today the Wall Street Journal announced that Nissan would be cutting 20,000 jobs worldwide. The week ended with news that the US stimulus package was trimmed in an effort to gain some bipartisan acceptance. To counter Republican opposition, the President is going on the road today seeking grassroots support for his stimulus package.

After eight years of reckless Republican spending in a tragic and ill timed display of pure partisanship, Republicans are now attempting to restrict the government stimulus program as they resurrect their long forgotten and rarely practiced conservative fiscal policy.

Green is a powerful catalyst for growth, but some Green advocates suggest that trade itself is the enemy. With ongoing corruption scandals and reports of obscene corporate bonuses, it is easy to see how these old ideas could gain traction. Contrary to these well intentioned yet misguided views, trade is not the enemy. The world's trading infrastructure represents the most expedient mechanism for disseminating the Green agenda.

Traditionally, people who subscribe to religion believe that there is only one way to do something, conversely, relativism suggests that anything goes. The Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, 95 year old institution in New York City, advocates a balanced approach premised on three principles: fairness; rights and responsibilities; and pluralism. As stated in the Fairer Globalization blog, "people generally will prefer a fair outcome over one that benefits them unfairly or disproportionately." This approach advocates "a better way to address problems. It’s bringing everyone to the table, it’s creating a more sustainable and a better-informed solution."

Executives have a fiduciary duty to produce a profit, but this should be expanded to include the welfare of people. A good corporate citizen exercises prudence and enacts long-term strategic thinking. The author references a study of intangibles which indicates that ethical, social and environmental leadership have the greatest impact on valuation and brand.

Carnegie advocates a golden mean fair trade policy, where trade is not completely free, nor is it completely regulated. There are "three freedoms that we might think about truncating or limiting or sacrificing: the freedom to trade with anybody; the freedom to trade anything; and the freedom to trade with impunity. [Y]ou should be responsible for your actions that result from the trade that you make. There is a great deal of business literature...which suggests that if you’re benefiting from the externalities of your business relationships, then you do in fact have a duty to ameliorate them."

Free market purists have been chastened by failures arising as a consequence of deregulation. But those who seek to do away with free markets are as anachronistic as laissez-fair capitalists. Radical ideas like zero growth may be premised on laudable ideals, but they are hopelessly disconnected with political, social and psychological realities.

As explained by the author of the Fairer Globalization Blog, "[Y]ou can’t force people to be ethical on their own, rather you have to embed incentives in the system to encourage people to be ethical, you have to create a system of incentives that are based themselves on ethics, and that’s the challenge."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Renewable Energy Storage

Finding efficient, cost effective ways to store energy is crucial to the future of renewables. Energy storage would stabilize supplies of electricity and enable us to manage the fluctuations inherent in the power production profiles of many renewables.

In an article entitled 'The Element That Could Change the World' , Jim Kelly senior vice president of transmission and distribution at Edison was quoted as saying.“For most of us right now, the real key to effective storage is batteries. And Nick d'Arbeloff, executive director of the New England Clean Energy Council took it one step further saying, "Storage is a critical component. As a technology area ripe for innovation and investment, it's huge - it's a holy grail,"

Specifically, what is needed is a battery that can store enough energy to manage sporadic supply. These storage devices must be able to be charge and discharge large amounts of energy. “We want to make renewables truly dispatchable* so we can deliver given amounts of electricity at a given time,” says Imre Gyuk, manager of energy systems research at the U.S. Department of Energy. "Without storage, renewables will find it hard to make it big,” Gyuk says

The common battery relies on toxic chemicals and is expensive, bulky, and has a limited life span. But there are alternatives and utilities have been using other storage techniques for decades. An Ars Technica article reviewed five promising energy storage technologies.

Hydrogen Chemical Storage: One alternative to the toxic chemicals in regular batteries is hydrogen, which can be produced from water by electrolysis and then fed into a fuel cell later to produce power. The Department of Energy was already looking into this in 2004 (PDF) as part of the much-hyped hydrogen economy. However its reliance on fresh water may constitute a problem.

Charge Storage: At present there are two experimental mechanisms for storing a charge directly, supercapacitors are replacements for current battery technology and high-temperature superconductors are for transmitting electricity.

Compressed Air: Air can be pumped into airtight geologic formations using excess generating capacity. At times of high demand, the air can be used to turn turbines. A single plant is in operation in Alabama and the Iowa Stored Energy Park is slated to open in Iowa in 2011. However finding suitable geology may present a problem.

Mechanical Energy: Mechanical energy storage is already on the market in the form of flywheels. The primary downside of these flywheels is the precision manufacturing needed to fit the tolerances demanded of something that has to spin fast enough to store significant amounts of energy. It's possible that economies of scale can drive these costs down.

Solar Thermal: Insulation is already mass produced, and doesn't have any moving parts to wear out. The National Solar Thermal Test Facility uses mirrors to heat molten salt, which then transfers the heat to a conventional steam generator. With proper insulation, the molten salt can easily retain the heat for generation well after the sun has set.

As reported in Discover Magazine, "Another promising solution on the horizon is an obscure piece of technology known as the vanadium redox flow battery. This unusual battery was invented more than 20 years ago by Maria Skyllas-Kazacos. The vanadium battery can absorb and release huge amounts of electricity quickly and have a virtually infinite life span. Several promising battery technologies are already in early-stage commercialization, but the vanadium battery may have the edge in terms of scalability and economy."

Sumitomo Electric Industries, sells the vanadium redox flow battery in Japan since 2000. Outside of Japan, Vancouver's VRB Power Systems owns the intellectual property rights to the technology. However, price remains a problem ($500 per kilowatt-hour). According to the Discovery article, it would cost $2.4 billion to run a city of 250,000 for 24 hours off a vanadium battery.

Advances have been made in cutting costs and making the venadium redox flow battery smaller. The prototype 5-kilowatt battery stack is the size of a filing cabinet and fits in a household closet. Configured as part of a home-based generation system, it could absorb power from rooftop solar panels and discharge electricity during peak periods. Skyllas-Kazacos estimates that such a consumer-use vanadium battery might eventually sell for around $5,000. (A price that could pay for itself in a few years).

The greatest challenge to the vanadium battery may come from other batteries like sodium-sulfur technology but it doesn’t work well at sizes below 1 megawatt. For smaller applications, such as regulating the flow of electricity from a house’s solar panels, vanadium-based systems look more cost-effective. They can be fit to more modest demands by using smaller tanks.

At MIT fuel cells with catalyst researchers Nocera and Kanan say they have discovered a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy. According to an MIT article, Nocera and Kanan were inspired by a photosynthesis like process that will "allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power a house or electric car, day or night. James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a 'giant leap' toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale." "This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem."

In the US, Obama's emphasis on renewable energy should translate into growth for battery and fuel cell technology companies. At present Obama's commitment to hybrids and specifically to plug-ins electric vehicles favors companies working with lithium-ion batteries. Johnson Controls (JCI Quote) may turn out to be the exclusive provider of high-powered Li-ion batteries for domestic cars. Valence Technologies (VLNC Quote), is an up and coming company that may see significant growth. Energy storage companies that are able to reduce costs and increase efficiency can expect to see the most growth.

Jim Kelly of Southern California Edison says, “Five years from now that will seem so trivial. It’s like comparing the first personal computer you had with the ones we have today. You look back and laugh. I think we’ll see that same thing happen with the battery industry. We are taking baby steps, in part because the industry is not mature, the technology winners have not been determined, and the costs are still high. But these are all the things you expect as a revolution happens.”

Energy storage is crucial to the future of energy management and can be expected to grow alongside renewables. Solar, wind and tidal power all confront a similar challenge when it comes to energy storage. Stabilizing a future national grid that draws its power from renewable sources depends on improving our energy storage capabilities. In the absence of an extraordinary technological breakthrough, it is entirely possible that we will employ a mixture of technologies. However, turning renewable energy into mainstream sources of power will require cheap and efficient ways to store large amounts of energy.

*dispatchable means that means it can be controlled from second to second to keep the grid balanced, so the amount of energy being put into the wires exactly matches demand. If the grid goes out of balance, power surges can damage transmission lines and equipment. Generators are therefore designed to protect themselves by going off-line if the grid becomes unstable. Sometimes this can amplify a small fluctuation into a cascading disaster, which is what happened in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada in August 2003, plunging 50 million people into a blackout. Unless the reliability of renewable energy sources can be improved, as these sources contribute more and more electricity to the grid, engineers will have an increasingly difficult time keeping the system balanced.